You know the bishops of the United States are making what are called “ad limina” visits to Rome at this time. The bishops of New England just finished, and those of New York are there now. Archbishop Rodi (along with the bishops of Region V of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) will be there right after Thanksgiving. The other regions’ visits will run through February of 2020.
These visits have also been called quinquennial, on the original idea that they were to occur every 5 years. That hasn’t happened since before Pope Benedict XVI. And these meetings will be, for most of our bishops, the first time they have a sit-down with Pope Francis.
The bishops are expected to have group meetings with various arms of the Curia, as well—some of these meetings being compulsory for some of the bishops, and other optional. So the visit is a combination of taking care of business, taking an oral exam for a report card, and getting to know and be known. But this is not the original meaning of the name of these visits.
The full name, translated, is a visit “to the thresholds of the Apostles”—that is, St Peter and St Paul. And the bishops do indeed make group pilgrimages for Mass and prayer at the tombs of these great saints: St Peter’s in the Vatican, and St Paul’s Outside the Walls on the Via Ostia.
I mention this since this Monday is the Optional Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss Peter and Paul (that is, the churches I’ve just referred to). Both original churches as ordered built by Constantine are long gone, but the structures now in place preserve and mark the original sites and the actual tombs of Peter and Paul. In architecture they are very different, and they differ in “feel,” as well—St Paul’s is always less crowded out with tourists, and if it is not so filled with the creations of more “modern” masters (eg, Michelangelo, Bernini, Canova…) it preserves one of the oldest mosaics of Christ in glory (known as Pantocrator) in all of Rome. It is the virtual equal of the splendid mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore, or Santa Maria in Trastevere (all built in roughly the same period).
If St Peter’s is renowned for all the papal liturgies and the sheer size and scale of the building, St Paul’s has a fame of its own. It is staffed by Benedictine priests, and in pre-Reformation days the King of England was an honorary member of the community, while the abbot was an honorary member of the Knights of the Garter. It is here that the popes celebrate a solemn ecumenical service of Evening Prayer to mark the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a week that ends with the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. It was here, too, that Pope St John XXIII announced his intention to convene Vatican Council II.
Yes, conferring with Pope Francis and the various departments of the Curia is important, but even more so is the gesture of faith that leads the bishops (and all pilgrims!) to these holy places—to be signs of prayer and unity—to celebrate the Church as one, holy, catholic, and (especially) apostolic.