Archbishop Leonard P. Blair
At every Mass, one of the prayers proclaims that those present are “in communion with Francis our pope and Leonard our bishop.” Full communion with the pope and the Diocesan Bishop are an essential element of our Catholic faith.
One way of expressing the spiritual bond between the pope and all the local Churches and their bishops is a traditional visit to Rome “Ad Limina Apostolorum” which I will explain in a moment. All the bishops of the United States are scheduled to make this visit, starting in November and continuing into 2020. The bishops of New England are scheduled from Nov. 3 to 9.
The Latin words ad limina apostolorum literally mean “to the threshold of the apostles.” This refers to the fact that foremost among the bishops’ obligations while in Rome is to make a personal visit to pray at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul in the basilicas that bear their names. It is an ancient custom that goes back at least to the time of Pope St. Leo III who died in the year 816. Later, it developed into a discipline of the Church. It requires bishops to make a programmed visit to Rome, usually every five years.
Our New England group will offer Mass together in both of the basilicas. This is an important reminder that bishops are not businessmen or bureaucrats reporting to “corporate headquarters.” We are successors of the apostles with the successor of St. Peter as our visible head. We are shepherds, and we accomplish our mission in and with the help of the communion of saints.
And that leads to the second purpose of our visit to Rome. During the ad limina visit, bishops meet with the pope. It is an opportunity for us as pastors, to discuss with him the state of the Church in our dioceses and in our country.
The bishops spend much of the rest of the week visiting the various offices (called dicasteries) of the Roman Curia, which assists the pope in his pastoral care of the universal Church. The areas that are covered include doctrine, worship, education, family life, child protection, evangelization, clergy, religious, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, among others.
These various offices will have received ahead of time a report which each bishop submits about the general state of his diocese. It is a kind of “snap-shot” of the diocese at this moment in history. You will understand that in assembling the report I revisited in mind and spirit many of the joys and sorrows, the rewarding times and challenging times, the accomplishments and crosses, not only for me personally, but for our archdiocese over the last several years. The Church is living in a turbulent era, and we her members are pulled in every direction by competing voices, both within and without. She is rocked by the sinfulness of her all too frail members, including the clergy in a most painful way. But what does Jesus say? The sheep that are his always hear and recognize his voice, no matter what. So we can be absolutely confident of the Church’s future and our future inasmuch as we hold fast to Christ. He warned us that the road is far from smooth, but he makes all our yokes easy and all our burdens light.
If this sounds a bit somber, I want to assure you that many joys are highlighted in the report. Many good things are being accomplished, whether by the archdiocese as such or by parishes, schools, Catholic institutions and by individual clergy, religious and laity. I think too of our joyful 175th anniversary celebration of the archdiocese and our archdiocesan synod “Grow and Go” which is meant to stir up enthusiasm and commitment for sharing our Catholic faith with other people, especially our unchurched neighbors and friends and those even of our own families who are not practicing the faith.
Since my episcopal ordination in 1999, I have made two ad limina visits — as bishop of Toledo in 2004 with Pope St. John Paul the Great and with Pope Benedict in 2012. Now, I will be able to convey to Pope Francis the prayerful greetings and good wishes of all the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Hartford. May God be with him — and with all of us.