‘To the thresholds of the apostles’
Bishop Kinney, other bishops from region to travel to Rome to meet with pope, pray, review local church life
By Joe Towalski
St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney will travel to Rome next month for a weeklong visit that will include a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and celebrating Mass at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
He will be there from March 4-11 with bishops from nine other dioceses comprising Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota as part of their “ad limina” visit, which bishops from around the world are required to make approximately every five years.
The visits combine prayer and liturgy with more business-oriented meetings with officials of key Vatican agencies. These include the congregations in charge of doctrine, clergy, bishops, worship, education and religious orders, and pontifical councils that deal with ecumenism, the family and laity. The meetings are an opportunity to review church life in the bishops’ particular part of the world.
The meeting with the Holy Father is one of the highlights of every “ad limina” visit. Instead of meeting individually with bishops, he is meeting with them in groups and engaging them in a conversation during which he listens and asks questions on relevant themes and topics.
Bishop Kinney said he looks forward to meeting with Pope Benedict as well as spending time together with his brother bishops.“I think it’s a very important week for us as bishops to be together,” he said. “We will concelebrate Mass together at St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls and probably at several other major churches in Rome. To be able to pray at those places, at those tombs, is a highlight because it’s a reminder of what we are called to be and where we have come from.
“To be with the Holy Father confirms us in our ministry,” he added. “And to do it with the bishops that I serve with in this province and in this region, I think is a tremendous grace and blessing — for us to pray and just have a good time together as we go from office to office and have dinner together.”
The ‘new evangelization’
“Ad limina” visits for U.S. bishops began last November. Of the 15 groups that will make the trip, the pope planned to give a formal speech to only five. Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was recently notified that the pope has chosen to address this regional group.
While it isn’t known what Pope Benedict will talk about in his speech, the overall theme of the U.S. bishops’ “ad limina” visits is the new evangelization, which is focused on discerning the best ways to deliver the Gospel message anew in a secularized society. His past addresses hint at what he might say to the bishops from Minnesota and North and South Dakota.
In a November speech to bishops from the state of New York, Pope Benedict encouraged the bishops to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth” on a wide variety of issues,
including the institution of marriage.In another address to bishops from the eastern United States, the pope warned of the "radical secularism" that threatens the core values of American culture — including religious freedom — and he called on the U.S. church, including politicians and other laypeople, to render "public moral witness" on crucial social issues.
The name of the visits comes from the Latin phrase, “ad limina apostolorum” (to the thresholds of the apostles), a reference to the pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome that the bishops are required to make.
Since being ordained a bishop 35 years ago, Bishop Kinney has made several previous “ad limina” visits to Pope John Paul II — the last being in December 2004, just four months before the pope’s death.
“I have on my wall at the chancery the photographs of the ‘ad limina’ visits I have had,” Bishop Kinney said. “If you look at the photographs, at least in the time when I first visited with Pope John Paul II [in the early 1980s], he looked at me and said, ‘You are very young.’ You can see what has happened over the years in the photographs between the Holy Father and me.”
Bishop Kinney will be staying at the Pontifical North American College during his time in Rome, and he said he looks forward to meeting with the diocese’s four seminarians who are studying there.
The diocese’s planning for the visit began in the last six to eight months with the preparation of a report detailing diocesan life since the last “ad limina” visit in 2004.
The quinquennial (Latin for “five years”) report, sent to Rome ahead of the visit, contains chapters covering a variety of pastoral areas, including liturgical, educational, sacramental and charitable, Bishop Kinney said, “to give a full picture of what the life of the church is in the Diocese of St. Cloud.”
The document acknowledges the strengths of the diocese as well as the challenges it faces.
The current report, when compared to the one from 2004, highlights some of the trends and challenges the diocese faces, he said.
“One, of course, is the challenge of the number of ordained priests and the availability of priests to serve in our parish communities — the whole vocations question,” he said. “We are blessed with a good number of seminarians, but we are also facing the reality … we have a whole group of priests who are in their upper 50s, 60s and 70s who are still serving. We need to address that issue.”
Bishop Kinney said the decline in the number of members of men’s and women’s religious communities, who have in the past and continue to provide vital ministries, also presents a challenge.
Another focus is in the area of pastoral planning. “Getting ready for the future and how parishes need to be realigned for the future is a huge issue,” he said.
And, he added, there is the renewed flourishing of immigrant communities in the diocese. Vatican officials are likely to addresshow dioceses are “getting ready for the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants, which is not just taking place in the southern part of the United States, but up here in our diocese, too. We have a vibrant Hispanic community, and we need to be ready with ministries to serve them.”
This story contains information from Catholic News Service.
Photo from Foto FELICI
Pope John Paul II greeted Bishop John Kinney during his 1998 “ad limina” visit to the Vatican as Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis looked on.