I left for Rome on Tuesday, Feb. 7, along with our auxiliaries, Bishops Sklba and Hying, and some 25 other bishops of Region VII, for our “ad limina” trip to Rome.
“Ad limina” means to the threshold or the entrance. In this case, the entrance is to the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul. It is a pilgrimage to the Holy See, canonically required by every bishop. A bishop is obligated to make a report on the condition of the diocese to the pope. During the visit, the bishops will receive reports from the various congregations which influence the workings of the church – clergy, religious, worship, laity, doctrine and faith, ecumenism, etc. – and the bishops can ask questions of the congregations.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee also has approximately 35 pilgrims, many experiencing Rome for the first time. There will be an opportunity to visit the major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter, St. Paul outside the walls, St. John Lateran and Mary Major. Each basilica is unique. It’s difficult to explain the beauty of the churches of Rome; descriptions fail to embrace how large these churches are and don’t convey the experience of viewing their grandeur for the first time.
A visit to all four basilicas permits pilgrims to obtain a plenary indulgence – an indulgence that can remove all the temporal punishment due to forgiven sin – after fulfilling the conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intention of the Holy Father) associated with the visitation.
There will be a side trip to Assisi, the home of St. Francis. The Franciscan spirituality captures the imagination and the heart of its visitors and leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime.
The bishops will be required to recite the Apostles Creed at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. A bishop is a successor of the apostles and the Creed is a proclamation of belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
For me, there is always an excitement about going to Rome. It is a city that begs to be shared. I lived in Rome from 1979 to 1983 at the Casa Santa Maria (the graduate house for priests studying in Rome). It was a time to study and meet priests from across the United States and the world; I met priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee – Frs. Mike Witczak and Ken Omernick. It was a wonderful time filled with discoveries at every turn.
Rome is a city with a connection to the ancient, medieval and modern worlds. It satisfies almost every aspect of historical interest. It’s almost too much for one trip and yet it’s too much to pass by, according to many people who say they will return to Rome. The new pilgrims will discover their favorite Italian piazzas, their favorite Italian restaurants and, most of all, their favorite pastas.
Just in case you think that the “ad limina” is all fun, there is work for the bishops. The presentation of the quinquennial report which contains the work of the archdiocese over the last eight years is presented to the pope. While we are in Rome, the communications department will film two TV shows (March 3 and April 7) for the “Living Our Faith” series. Hopefully this will bring a bit of Rome into our archdiocesan homes.
An added treat for us will be the consistory, a meeting of the cardinals with Pope Benedict XVI, as he names new cardinals to the College of Cardinals. Of course, adding to the celebration is that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, former archbishop of Milwaukee, is among the new cardinals and will receive a red hat from His Holiness.
I have said over and over again that I have three major themes for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship. The “ad limina” furthers the very first theme, Catholic identity. What better way to demonstrate our allegiance to the Holy See than a presentation of the works of the archdiocese.
We should all take pride in the works of the archdiocese. They have furthered the ministries of the church and have promoted the common good.
However, we live in a society that more and more challenges our ability to be Catholic. Being in Rome gives us a sense of the rich tradition of our Catholic heritage that traces itself to the faith of the early Christian martyrs. It offers us a connection and it reminds us that there was a price that was paid in the profession of the faith.
As Catholics, we must know who we are and embrace our history. We are a church that professes a living Lord. We are the Body of Christ, his church. We are the Catholic Church committed to serving our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the children of the martyrs who must be willing to pay the price to profess his love.
Please know that I take you with me in my prayers before the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and you will be in my thoughts as I meet with the successor of Peter Benedict the XVI.