Conversations with Archbishop J
QUESTION: Archbishop, what is an ad limina visit?
Every Sunday at Mass we say in the Creed, “I believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church”. These four characteristics must be present for the Church to be the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The fourth mark, apostolic, indicates that our Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone. We literally go back to the apostles.
If you go to www.catholic-hierarchy.org and look for any bishop you will see everything about his tenure as bishop. You will also see who ordained him as bishop and his episcopal lineage.
My lineage, through Archbishops Harris and Gilbert, is through the Patriarchs of Antioch of the Maronite rite. Like every Catholic bishop, my lineage can be traced back to the apostle who handed on this ministry through many generations to me. I am a ‘Successor of the Apostles’, one of the titles of the Roman Catholic Bishop.
The Catholic Church is at once local and at the same time universal: we belong to the Church of Port of Spain and a Church existing throughout the world. ‘Catholic’ means universal. We are not a provincial Church, responding to the specifics of one locality. We are a universal Church manifested in each local reality. This paradox is at the heart of the visit ad limina apostolorum. It is a visit to Peter and, through Peter, to its very universality.
Speaking of the ad limina visit, the Directory for Bishops says: “Canonical discipline requires the diocesan Bishop to observe the ancient tradition of the ad limina visit every five years, by venerating the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and by meeting the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome” (15).
On the first day of our visit we celebrated Mass at the tomb of St Peter, where Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, president of our Bishop’s Conference, presided. It was very moving to have all the bishops of our region gather at the tomb of Peter, in the crypt under St Peter’s Basilica, to profess the Faith of the Church and celebrate the same Liturgy the apostle would have presided over in Rome.
We, the living bishops of the English, French and Dutch Caribbean had come to Peter. We prayed and asked his intercession for us and that we would be fitting successors to the first apostles.
Then, after breakfast we went to ‘Peter’. We gathered at the Apostolic Palace of the Holy Father and met with him for two hours. The pope holds the Petrine ministry, a unique ministry given to Peter and handed down, from one generation to the next, to Pope Francis.
The Holy Father welcomed us as brothers and sat with us as we spoke with openness and candour, respect and admiration. We brought to him the concerns of the Church in the Caribbean. He gave us a perspective that was universal. Through an exchange of brothers, we were confirmed in our role as successors of the apostles, “cum Petrus et sub Petrus”—“with Peter and under Peter”.
The style of the encounter was that of a genuine conversation where we felt listened to: when Pope Francis responded it was from the heart, from his experience and the depth of tradition. His humility and openness were remarkable. He made eye contact and spoke to you directly and was available for the encounter.
On the Tuesday we gathered at the tomb of St Paul and prayed at the tomb of this second great apostle. Cardinal Kelvin Felix led us in this Mass. He reflected on those who had gone before us, and their missionary zeal for the Caribbean Church.
To pray at the tombs of the apostles is an incredible reminder of the responsibility we hold. We are the apostles for the Caribbean Church. We were given the same Spirit and the same responsibility they were given. Their mandate is our mandate. This is a terrifying and electrifying thought.
For the first time, in my over six years of being a bishop, the full immensity of the responsibility struck me. As a successor of the apostles, there is a responsibility for the Church that I share in common with them. There is also a grace that I share with them. This is humbling.
Encountering the Church
Our meeting with the many departments in Rome confirmed this experience. They see the whole world and so have a very different perspective. These meetings, like our first, with the Holy Father, started with a time of listening and then fruitful dialogue. We gained in perspective and in connecting to the universality of the Church and her mission.
Another dimension of the visit was the fraternal spirit of the bishops. We do not get to be together very often, but when we do it is always a wonderful occasion. Many of us have known each other for many years as friends before we became bishops. Gathering in Rome, sharing the common experience of our encounters, sharing together around the Table of the Lord and meals were very special.
Key Message: We belong to a Church Universal that manifests itself in our local archdiocese. This is a grace and an incredible inheritance.
Action Step: Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 811ff.
Scripture: Matthew 16:13–20
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