By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, SM | Published March 5, 2020 | En Español
Editor’s Note: Bishop Konzen reflects on the “ad limina” visit to Rome
Ad limina? Latin for “to the threshold” or “the edges.” Of what? Of the Apostles. So, it’s a visit to the precincts, the vestiges, the traces, of the Apostles, observed especially in celebrating Mass at the four great basilicas of Rome. Bishops, successors to the Apostles, are called back to their beginnings, to tread some of the footsteps of the Apostles.
There is no doubt that the highlight of the experience is time spent in conversation with the Holy Father. Pope Francis received us warmly and made clear that his time was ours—as much as four hours, if we desired it. In the end, we 15 bishops from Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas spoke with him for about two hours and twenty minutes. Through a priest-interpreter, Pope Francis received our questions in English and responded in Italian. He spoke of the ways that he maintains hope (the reassurance of the Gospel and the strength derived from the Eucharist). He reminded us of the need to make adequate time each day to pray and to have a special care for the priests in our charge. He devoted considerable comment to the ways that the devil represents a great threat to bishops as well as to all Christians. And he referred to assaults against creation in the Amazon and elsewhere as offenses needing our attention. We should not be afraid to preach the social teachings of the church, he said, because there is, after all, only a single Gospel, and Jesus is earnest about the ways he expects us to respond to injustice and indifference in our midst.
Bishop Ned and I did not experience our time at the Vatican alone. A group of pilgrims from Atlanta, including Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese, was in Rome at the time we bishops were there, as were four priests of the archdiocese. These priests joined us for the Masses we celebrated at the basilicas, as well as at a Mass we celebrated with the Atlanta pilgrims at the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The priests, Deacon Dennis, and seminarian Pete Coppola, who is studying theology in Rome, joined us in meeting Pope Francis. They greeted him and had their photos taken with him. The Pope engaged in conversation with Atlantan Father Nicholas Azar, who presented him with a copy of his recently-defended doctoral dissertation in moral theology. Atlantan Father Victor Galier greeted the Holy Father and presented him with a gift.
Our visits to the various Congregations (offices) of the Vatican, many of which are required for bishops, were cordial and valuable. Often, an English-speaking prelate or priest served as the spokesperson for the office, but many of the cardinal prefects addressed us in English. All gave us ample time and a cheerful welcome.
The hospitality of the North American College, the United States’ seminary in Rome, was unsparing. They arranged our accommodations, transportation, liturgy schedules, and meals.
I found one moment of the visit overwhelmingly poignant. It was when, at the end of a Mass near the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt of the great Basilica, we sang together the Latin creed, “Credo in unum Deum,” the creed of my youth. We were joined that day by many of the Atlanta pilgrims, as well as priests and sisters from the dioceses we represented. It was a powerful statement of our identity as Catholics in the very core of the church’s earthly hub.
Clearly, I could not help but be in awe throughout, given that this was the first such experience I have had. I am even more dedicated than before to praying each day at Mass for the Holy Father, whose necessary leadership and whose role as pontiff, bridge-builder, is thoroughly apparent, is felt mightily in the “ad limina” visit. And I am forcefully reminded that my ministry, my calling, is apostolic—to go as the Apostles would have gone and to banish fear, as they did, through reliance on the sure direction of the Holy Spirit.
To hear Atlanta’s bishops speak about the “ad limina” experience, go to vimeo.com/395253589.