To the threshold of the Apostles – Australian Bishops Begin their Ad Limina visit

By Fr Brian Lucas and Beth Doherty

The Australian Bishops have begun their Ad Limina visit with a reception at the Vatican Museum which featured a presentation on the Australian indigenous collection.

The following is an extract from the homily of the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Wilson at the tomb of St Peter.
“Today we begin our Ad Limina visit. It is an act of pilgrimage. As bishops we come to be renewed in faith and love as we renew our unity with one another as successors of the Apostles and with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict; the successor of Peter. We come seeking peace in our lives as bishops. A peace fostered by our obedience; an obedience framed in different ways at different levels of our faith; an obedience framed firstly in our relationship with God; to Jesus’ rule of faith and love; then an obedience framed in our love and fidelity to the Holy Father and the Church. Finally, we come in an obedience of love to one another as brother bishops and to all our people, our sisters and brothers in the communion of the Church.”

The Bishops were joined at this Mass by a number of Australian religious workingin Rome and other Australian visitors.

Some background on the Ad Limina

In 2004, the Australian Bishops travelled to Rome for an obligatory visit called the Ad Limina Apostolorum – which means “to the threshold of the apostles (Sts Peter and Paul)”. All Bishops theoretically make this visit every five years, although due to the failing health of the late Pope John Paul II and a number of other factors, the Australian Bishops have just begun their 2011 visit.

The visit is an opportunity for the Bishops to give an account of the reality in their Dioceses, and share with the Holy Father their hopes for the future of the Church. They also visit various Vatican Congregations during this time.

Much has changed since 2004. There are new Australian Bishops, and there is a new Pope in Benedict XVI. The President of the Bishops Conference is now Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, while in 2004 it was the now-retired Archbishop Francis Carroll, former Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn. Even more significantly, since the Ad Limina in 2004, Australia has been gifted with their first Saint in Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

Last Ad Limina, Pope John Paul II commended the Australian Church on their defense of the poor and marginalised, in particular their advocacy on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers.

“….I wish to acknowledge the noble contribution the Church in Australia makes to the attainment of social justice and solidarity. Your leadership in the defense of the fundamental rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and the developmental support offered to indigenous Australians, are shining examples of the “commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being” (“Novo Millennio Ineunte,” 49) to which I have called the whole Church. Australia’s growing role as a leader in the Pacific region presents an opportunity for you to respond to the pressing need for a careful discernment of the phenomenon of globalization. Vigilant concern for the poor, the abandoned and the mistreated, and promotion of a globalization of charity will do much to indicate a path of genuine development which overcomes social marginalization and favors economic benefit for all.” (Pope John Paul II’s address to the Australian Bishops, March, 2004).

He acknowledged all efforts by those in the Australian Church who promote the dignity of human life and institutions such as marriage and the family.

“I am pleased to acknowledge your steadfast efforts to uphold the uniqueness of marriage as a life-long covenant based on generous mutual giving and unconditional love. The Church’s teaching on marriage and stable family life offers saving truth to individuals and a sure foundation upon which the aspirations of your nation can be anchored.”

He also recognised that Australia was a fertile ground for the growth of secularism, a challenge which remains the same, if not more urgent today than in 2004.

“The Church’s witness to the hope that she holds (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) is especially powerful when she gathers together for worship. Sunday Mass, because of its special solemnity, the obligatory presence of the faithful, and its celebration on the day when Christ conquered death, expresses with great emphasis the Eucharist’s inherent ecclesial dimension: the mystery of the Church is made present in a most tangible way (cf. “Dies Domini,” 34). Consequently Sunday is the “supreme day of faith,” “an indispensable day,” “the day of Christian hope!”

This phrase was significant and pertinent in the address by the Pope to the Australian Bishops in 2004, and it is likely that Pope Benedict XVI will say something similar. It considers in a special way the gathering in community through the celebration of the Eucharist.

Reflecting on the Pope’s message, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Philip Wilson said today:

“I pray that during this Ad Limina visit, that we, the Bishops of Australia, will return renewed and invigorated to collaborate with all Catholics in Australia to enhance our Sunday worship – “the day of Christian hope.” Today, so often, Sunday is seen as the same as any other day. The celebration of the Eucharist is seen as simply an obligation, something that has to be done – or even something that can be missed in favour of other demands, or not essential to our vocation as Catholics. It is my hope that we might through prayer start to repair any wounds caused by the Church which may prevent Catholics from feeling truly welcome or embraced by the faith community.”