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N.Y. bishops prepare for ad limina pilgrimage

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

November 27, 2019

In the November 6 issue of the North Country Catholic, I gave a broad overview of the ad limina Apostolarum. From November 10-16, the New York State bishops (Region 2) made the ad limina visit to the Holy See. The eight diocesan bishops and their auxiliaries, as well as some retired bishops made this pilgrimage “at the threshold of the Apostles.”

A major feature of the ad limina visit was prayer. We celebrated Masses at the tombs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, as well as at St. Mary Maggiore and St. John Lateran, the four Basilicas of ancient Rome. I felt particularly honored to be the principal celebrant and homilist at the Pope’s cathedral as the Bishop of Rome at St. John Lateran.

As I was praying at the tomb of St. Peter, I thought that if these walls could talk about what had transpired there through the ages, they would speak of the struggles of our Church in an antagonistic, pagan world. The walls would tell me about the many heresies that confronted the Church; the extreme poverty that was endured by so many, tyrant rule, slaughter of the innocent, anti-popes, Inquisitions, schisms. The walls would weep with such anguish as so much evil would try to have its way. Then I recalled what Jesus told Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt.16:18). Over two millennia later, Jesus’ words continue to ring true! The gates of hell shall not prevail against our Church today despite the evil that has infiltrated it! Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We follow Him.

In the quiet of my prayer, God’s Spirit reminded me of His Presence throughout the ages. I reflected on the tremendous courage and rock-solid faith of the early Christian women and men. I thought of how the gifts of the Holy Spirit would aid Church leadership as the Church met one challenge after another as the decades passed.
Much has happened in the world, our Church and our Diocese since Monsignor Murphy and I made my first ad limina visit back in 2011. In his homily at our Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, Cardinal Dolan reminded us that St. Peter was crucified upside down. The Cardinal invited us to consider how Christ turned the first Pope’s world upside down. Is that not the fate of any who would seek to follow Jesus, be it in the first or twenty-first century? Those same gifts of God’s Spirit are available to you and me today in a special way, by virtue of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

After Mass, while at St. Peter’s tomb, the bishops chanted together the Nicene Creed in Latin. This was a particularly powerful moment for me. Given the divisiveness and disunity among Christians today, this gesture reminded me of the unique responsibility I accepted on the day of my consecration as bishop. On April 30, 2010, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cardinal Dolan asked me: “Do you resolve to guard the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the Apostles and preserved in the Church everywhere and at all times?” I responded: “I do.” This was truly a graced opportunity for me to rededicate myself to this awesome duty and privilege as a successor to the Apostles.

A second feature of the ad limina are meetings with many of the staff (Congregations or Dicasteries and Councils) that assist the Holy Father in ministry to the Church Universal. Some of the Pope’s curia that I visited were: Congregations for Bishops, Clergy, Institutes of Consecrated Life, Catholic Education, Sacraments and Divine Worship, and Doctrine of the Faith. We, also, met with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; Council for Laity, Family and Life, Causes of Saints; as well as the Secretary of State. There was little time for sightseeing, but I confess I did find time for certain pasta pleasures and gelato breaks.

Most of these meetings lasted almost two hours. The topics ranged from faith formation, Christian marriage, family life, clergy sexual abuse, Church closings, Church vocations, gender identity, consecrated life, Catholic schools, religious freedom, the non-affiliated youth and so much more. There was excellent discussion as we were consistently told of their desire to assist the bishops in carrying out our pastoral responsibilities. I came away very much impressed by the depth of discussion and fruitful dialogue that took place. Our Diocesan Priorities that we established several years ago and we continue to address were timely topics of concern.

With the other bishops, on Friday, November 15, I had the blessed opportunity to be welcomed by the Successor of St. Peter to his home and share concerns about the flock entrusted to our care. I look forward to sharing with you my experience of this most inspiring personal encounter with Pope Francis in next week’s issue of the North Country Catholic, the third and most treasured feature of my ad limina Apostolarum 2019.

Ciao for now!

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