In the letter to the Galatians St. Paul writes: ‘…I set off to Jerusalem to meet Kefas, staying at him for fifteen days’ (1.18). In this way we find out about the first visit of St. Paul to St. Peter. Because the expression ‘meet ‘ means here ‘arrive with visit and homage’ – the words of Paul are supposed to emphasize the Peter’s primacy. This visit to the first of the Apostles was surely an occasion to exchange sentences on the proclaimed Gospel and the state of the evangelical mission, therefore, it is considered as the prototype of bishops’ visits ‘Ad limina apostolorum’ to Peter of our times. In the year 743 pope Zachariasz officially decided that every bishop should make a pilgrimage to the apostolic tombs in Rome from time to time. This duty was already acknowledged in the closest times to ours by Sixtus V – in the constitution ‘Romanus Pontifex’ of 20 December 1585 (the pope decided that visits would take place every three years) and Benedict XVI – in the constitution ‘Quod sancta’ of 23 November 1740. The frequency of these visits was changed in 1909 into every five years, which was acknowledged in the previous Code of Canonic Law (341), but not only diocesan bishops were obliged to pay the visit ‘Ad limina apostolorum’, but also prelates and territorial abbots, administrators, military bishops. At those times, considering difficulties connected with the journey to Rome, bishops from outside Europe had a duty to pay the visit to pope and for ten years – in the Code of canonic law of 1983 there is not the clause anymore and everybody should make a pilgrimage ‘ad limina’ once in five years.

John Paul II prepared two documents, which deal with, among the others, the visits ‘ad limina’: the apostolic constitution ‘Pastor Bonus’ (About the reform of the Roman Curia) in 1988 and the apostolic exhortation ‘Pastores gregis’ (About bishops’ ministry in the Church) in 2003. In the paragraph number 57 of the exhortation John Paul II analyses the visits ‘Ad limina’, First of all, he reminds that they are a ‘sign and the means of communion between a bishop and the Peter’s Cathedral’.

At present they are constituted by the three main points, each of them of specific and deeply symbolic meaning: a pilgrimage to the tombs of the princes apostles Peter and Paul, which points to the reference to the only faith which was proved by their martyrdom in Rome, a meeting with Peter’s Successor and a meeting with those responsible for dicasteries (congregations and councils) of the Roman Curia.

John Paul II emphasizes a special significance of the meeting of bishops with the pope: ‘What takes place is not an ordinary mutual exchange of information, but, first of all, the confirmation and strengthening of collegiality (‘collegialis confirmatio’) in the body of the Church, which results in the unity of the variety, which creates a kind of ‘perichoresis’ between the universal Church and particular Churches (…). In the first centuries the final reference point of the communion is the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul gave their testimony of faith. For, considering its exceptional position it is necessary for every Church to maintain in accordance with it, because it is the final warranty of integrality of tradition passed by the Apostles. The Church of Rome presides over the universal communion of love, is taking care of legitimate differentiation and is also guarding particularity so that it would not bring harm to the unity, but serve it. All this brings a necessity of communion among various Churches with the Church of Rome, so that they would be able to be as a whole in the apostolic Tradition and in the unity of canonic discipline to maintain faith, sacraments and a particular path to holiness. This communion of Churches is expressed through the hierarchic communion among particular bishops and the Bishop of Rome. The communion of all bishops ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’, realized in love, entails a duty of cooperation between everybody and Peter’s Successor for the sake of the Church, and also for every particular Church. This is the purpose of the visit ‘Ad limina’.

The third aspect of the visits ‘Ad limina’ are meetings in the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, thanks to which bishops can present and discuss problems and issues under the responsibility of particular dicasteries.

John Paul II mentioned that bishops expressed their desire about more frequent contacts between them and dicasteries of the Roman Curia in order to inform about particular problems of local Churches. Thanks to it, also dicasteries could fulfill their universal ministry in a better way. However, the problem is that because of the increasing number of dioceses and bishops (there are already over 5 thousand of them), the time among particular visits became longer – for example, Polish bishops are arriving in Rome after eight years from their previous visit which took place in the end of the year 2005, in the first year of pontificate of Benedict XVI. Moreover, private meetings with pope have become limited – traditionally every bishop used to meet pope for 15 minutes during private visits. That is true that such visits are still possible, but they have been limited – now bishops meet the Holy Father in small groups.

It should be mentioned that in 1988 in the Congregation for Bishops, the Office of coordination of visits ‘Ad limina’ was established. This office helps in organizing meetings with the pope (for this purpose it cooperates with the Prefecture of the Papal Residence), in preparing liturgical celebrations during a stay in the Eternal City (a visit at the tomb of St. Peter, Holy Masses and the Liturgy of Lauds in the basilicas of Rome) and meetings in dicasteries. This is just the office to which reports of the events in the diocese come and which are prepared by bishops for every visit ‘Ad limina’ – they are distributed among particular dicasteries of the curia, according to their competences and they present issues which are later discussed by the bishops and employees of dicasteries.


"Niedziela" 5/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl