Bishop J. Mark Spalding and other bishops from five Southeastern states will make their “ad limina” visit to Rome Dec. 1-7 to report on the status of their dioceses to Pope Francis and officials from the various Vatican offices.
“I go into the room with a lot of blessings to report about the Diocese of Nashville,” Bishop Spalding said.
According to Canon Law, the bishop of every diocese is required every five years to make a trip “ad limina apostolorum” – “to the threshold of the apostles” Peter and Paul. During the visit, they are required to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and typically celebrate Mass at all the major basilicas in Rome.
The other purpose of the “ad limina” visit for the bishops is to report to the pope and Vatican officials on the status of the diocese entrusted to them.
All the bishops of the United States have started making their ad limina visits. The last time the U.S. bishops made their “ad limina” visits was in 2012. The schedule has been disrupted in recent years, when the “ad limina” visits were cancelled during the Year of Faith and the Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, respectively.
Bishop Spalding, who was ordained and installed as Bishop of Nashville in 2018, is making his first “ad limina” visit. He will be joining the archbishops and bishops of the 18 dioceses in Region 5, which includes the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
“It’s new to me,” Bishop Spalding said. But he has been told by other bishops that the visit is first and foremost a spiritual journey “to remember who and what you are as a successor to Peter and Paul,” he said.
The format of the visits has changed over the years. St. John Paul II met with every bishop “eye to eye for 15 minutes,” Bishop Spalding said. Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict before him, meets with the visiting bishops as a group. Pope Francis takes questions from the bishops in a free-flowing dialogue. “It’s a two-hour open forum with the pope,” Bishop Spalding said he has been told.
Besides meeting with the pope, the bishops will be visiting with the staff of various Vatican congregations and dicasteries. Before the trip, each diocese submitted a report on the status of the diocese and the issues facing it that the staff of each Vatican office reviews.
“The report we sent over is about 3 inches thick,” Bishop Spalding said.
He expects the meetings with Vatican officials to touch on a wide variety of topics.
At the Congregation for the Clergy, Bishop Spalding expects to talk about building the relationships among and between himself and the priests and permanent deacons of the diocese.
The visit with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which oversees religious orders around the world, “will be another important one,” Bishop Spalding said, because the diocese is home to several religious congregations of women and many religious order priests serve in the diocese.
He’ll be looking for direction and advice “on how do we build up these bonds with the diocesan Church and the religious orders,” Bishop Spalding said.
The issue of clergy sex abuse is also an issue that Bishop Spalding expects to discuss with the offices that deal with those cases.
The Vatican has been pointing to the work of the U.S. bishops in addressing the issue as an example for bishops around the world, Bishop Spalding noted. But the bishops need to keep working on the issue, he said. “We have to be considerate not only of the present but of the past and of the future.”
At the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, Bishop Spalding expects to discuss the Church’s defense for the respect for life from conception to natural death as well as issues surrounding marriage. Bishop Spalding noted that fewer people in the United States are getting married. The discussion will focus on “what can we do to support our teaching and our outreach to those who’ve chosen marriage,” he said.
At the Secretariat of State’s office, Bishop Spalding expected to discuss “Laudato Si’,” the pope’s encyclical on caring for the earth, as well as issues surrounding migration and immigration and religious freedom.
Overwhelmingly, the bishops who have already made their ad limina visits have reported the pope and the staff at the Curia offices have been encouraging, Bishop Spalding said.
“They know the Church is in challenging times, so they want to help the bishops,” Bishop Spalding said. “They really are trying to be a service to dioceses and bishops.”
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