‘To the thresholds of the apostles’

| February 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Nienstedt, other bishops from region to travel to Rome to meet with pope, pray, review local church life

During his last “ad limina” visit in 2004, Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was bishop of New Ulm at the time, met with Pope John Paul II. L'Osservatore Romano

Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché of St. Paul and Minneapolis will travel to Rome next month for a weeklong visit that will include a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and Mass at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The local prelates will be there from March 4-11 with bishops from nine other dioceses comprising Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota as part of their “ad limina” visit, which bishops from around the world are required to make approximately every five years.

The visits combine prayer and liturgy with more business-oriented meetings with officials of key Vatican agencies. These include the congregations in charge of doctrine, clergy, bishops, worship, education and religious orders, and pontifical councils that deal with ecumenism, the family and laity. The meetings are an opportunity to review church life in the bishops’ particular part of the world.

The meeting with the Holy Father is one of the highlights of every “ad limina” visit, and Pope Benedict “is putting his own stamp on things,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. Instead of meeting individually with bishops, he is meeting with them in groups and engaging them in a conversation during which he listens and asks questions on relevant themes and topics.

“Ad limina” visits for U.S. bishops began last November. Of the 15 groups that will make the trip, the pope planned to give a formal speech to only five. Archbishop Nienstedt was recently notified that the pope has chosen to address his regional group.

While it isn’t known what Pope Benedict will talk about in his speech, the overall theme of the U.S. bishops’ “ad limina” visits is the new evangelization — discerning the best ways to deliver the Gospel message anew in a secularized society. His past addresses hint at what he might say to the bishops from Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

In a November speech to bishops from the state of New York, Pope Benedict encouraged them to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth” on a wide variety of issues, including the institution of marriage.

In another address to bishops from the eastern United States, the pope warned of “radical secularism” that threatens the core values of American culture — including religious freedom — and he called on the U.S. church, including politicians and other laypeople, to render “public moral witness” on crucial social issues.

Other opportunities

The name of the visits comes from the Latin phrase, “ad limina apostolorum” (to the thresholds of the apostles), a reference to the pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome that the bishops are required to make.

This will be Archbishop Nienstedt’s third “ad limina” visit. He made his last one in 2004, when he was bishop of New Ulm, and his first when he was an auxiliary bishop in Detroit. This will be the first “ad limina” visit for Bishop Piché, who was ordained a bishop in 2009.

Archbishop Nienstedt said “it will be a pretty full week” due to all the scheduled meetings, but he hopes to visit seminarians and friends in Rome as time allows. The bishops will be staying together at the Pontifical North American College, near Vatican City.

Another Minnesota prelate, Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud, said he was also planning to meet with his diocese’s seminarians studying in Rome.

Bishop Kinney said he looks forward to meeting with Pope Benedict as well as spending time together with his brother bishops.

“I think it’s a very important week for us as bishops to be together,” he said. “We will concelebrate Mass together at St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls and probably at several other major churches in Rome. To be able to pray at those places, at those tombs, is a highlight because it’s a reminder of what we are called to be and where we have come from.

“To be with the Holy Father confirms us in our ministry,” he added. “And to do it with the bishops that I serve with in this province and in this region, I think is a tremendous grace and blessing — for us to pray and just have a good time together as we go from office to office and later have dinner together.”

The report

The archdiocese’s planning for the visit began last spring, Archbishop Nienstedt said, with the preparation of a report detailing archdiocesan life since the last “ad limina” visit in 2004.

The quinquennial (Latin for “five years”) report, sent to Rome ahead of the visit, contains some 24 chapters with statistics and commentary on various topics of church life, including liturgical and sacramental life, Catholic education, catechesis, clergy, religious life, laity, social communications, ecumenism, social justice, health care, pastoral care of migrants, and the financial state of the archdiocese.

It acknowledges the strengths of the archdiocese as well as the challenges it faces. “They want to know how the church is doing,” Archbishop Nienstedt said.

The report also explains the context for the archdiocese’s Strategic Plan for Parishes and Schools announced in 2010, he added.

While the archbishop said he didn’t conduct a detailed comparative analysis between this year’s report and the one from 2004, he said one noticeable trend would be the growing influx of Hispanic, African and Asian residents, many of whom are Catholic and need pastoral care.

From 2000-2010, for example, Minnesota’s Asian and Latino populations have grown by 50 percent and 74 percent respectively, according to the archdiocese. Mass is currently celebrated each Sunday in eight different languages.

This story contains information from Catholic News Service.

Prayer for the ad limina visits

Blessed Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — you are the source of all life, salvation and holiness. Together with the bishops of our country, we pray to you as they make their pilgrimage “to the threshold” of the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome. May this be a time of blessing for them, for our dioceses and for our country.

Jesus, as the glorious Lord and Savior, you are the head of your body, the church. As you appointed the 12 apostles to be the first shepherds of your church, so now you have appointed the bishops of our country as our shepherds today. May their visits with the Holy Father, the chief shepherd on earth of your flock, and with the offices of the Holy See under his care, be a time of grace and blessing. Lord Jesus, renew the bond of love and strengthen the ties of unity between them and the Successor of St. Peter, so that your church may be truly one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Together with the Holy Father may our bishops grow in love for the truth of your Gospel and may they re-affirm their dedication to serve your church in love.

Christ Jesus, during their visit to the See of St. Peter, confirm within them again the charge that you first gave them when they were ordained bishops — to preach and teach the truth of the Gospel in love and with conviction and courage, to shepherd their dioceses with wisdom and prudence, and to work diligently for the sanctity of all who are under their care. Drive far from them all fear, worry and sadness. Fill them instead with your Spirit of joy, peace, patience and endurance.

May they return to our dioceses refreshed to continue to guide your people with the strength and vitality of your Holy Spirit and so lead them to eternal life with you and all of the saints.

We pray especially for [Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piché]. May God the Father’s love be upon [them] as [they] travel and may Mary wrap her mantle of protection around [them].

Father, through the Holy Spirit, we make this prayer in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.

Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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