This weekend I will leave for Rome to make my visit “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold [of the tombs] of the Apostles). This official and required visit usually takes place every five years; however, it has been eight years since my last visit. Both Popes Benedict and Francis have lengthened the time between these visits.
I will join the bishops of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah as we spend five days reporting to the various dicasteries (departments of the Holy See) on the activities of our dioceses over these last eight years.
In preparation for the visit, each bishop must compile a detailed written report on his diocese, including information on the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the diocese. In addition, the bishop reports to the Holy Father on the sacramental life of the diocese, the financial condition, vocation efforts, and the many programs of education, evangelization and charity. I am grateful to the heads of our diocesan curial departments for their help in compiling this report, which was sent to the Vatican six months ago. This allows various members of the Roman curia to review the report and address any issues they might have when we meet with them.
There is an intensely spiritual dimension to the ad limina visit. Each day our group of bishops will concelebrate Mass together. Our first Mass will be at the tomb of St. Peter beneath the Vatican Basilica. This is one of the highlights of the visit, because it is at the tomb of Peter that we are united in a very special way with Peter’s successor, Pope Francis. We will offer Mass also at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, is buried beneath the high altar. It is these two apostles that give the name (ad limina apostolorum) to this visit. Praying at the tombs of Peter and Paul is an essential part of every bishop’s visit.
We will also offer Mass at St. Mary Major, the first church in the West dedicated to Our Blessed Mother. The church was built after an apparition by Our Lady, and on the site where snow miraculously fell in August, the hottest month of the Roman summer. And we will concelebrate at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This is the pope’s own cathedral church, from which he presides as Bishop of Rome. I am very honored to have been asked to be the principal concelebrant and homilist for this Mass.
The fifth Mass will be offered on Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. That day is a holiday for both the Vatican and the Italian State. It is the anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the pact which granted sovereign status to Vatican City State under the Holy See, and also gave the Vatican financial compensation for the loss of the Papal States. The site for this Mass is yet to be decided.
Please know that I will remember each of you at these Masses, and ask the Lord to bless and keep you and all your loved ones.
Another highlight of the visit will be the time we spend personally with Pope Francis. On previous visits, each bishop met individually with the Holy Father for a few minutes. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have chosen to meet with the bishops in small groups, and for a much longer period of time. This will be our opportunity to speak directly with the successor of Peter, to renew our obedience and loyalty to him, to hear his message to us, and to direct to the pope any questions or concerns that we might have. Bishops from other parts of the United States who have already made their visits have said that these group meetings with the Holy Father are both pleasant and instructive.
Please hold me and the other bishops of the region in your prayers during the days of our visit to Rome. Pray that our pilgrimage will be fruitful for each of us bishops and for each of our local Churches. And, again, be assured that I will remember all of you in prayer.