By Anita Sanchez Bourdin
ROME, FEB. 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- What goes on during a bishop’s five-yearly visit to the Vatican?
There is fraternal pilgrimage, enriching visits to the Roman Curia, and a meeting with a Pope with “presence” — said two French bishops at the end of their own “ad limina” visit in late January.
“Ad limina apostolorum” — to the thresholds of the apostles — is the full phrase for the visit that every head of a diocese is required to make to the Vatican every five years.
At a time when U.S. bishops are preparing to undertake their visit to Rome, two French prelates, Archbishop Emile Marcus of Toulouse and Bishop Guy Tomazeau of Montpellier shared their thoughts about these meetings, during an impromptu conversation held in the French Seminary in Rome.
The two bishops began by emphasizing the sense of pilgrimage of the visit, underlined in particular by the bishops’ concelebration of the Mass in such places as St. Peter’s Basilica and the tombs of the apostles. Something special happens at such moments, they acknowledged.
In regard to the visits to the organizations of the Roman Curia, the bishops said they visited all the pontifical councils and congregations, three in the morning and three in the afternoon.
It was a bit too much, they said. Yet they found the contacts “precious.”
What most impressed the bishops was the welcome they received on each occasion.
“They read our reports, were interested in what we had to say, listened to us, and were up-to-date on the problems of our dioceses,” Archbishop Marcus commented. “We felt we were understood.”
It was a “warm and peaceable” visit, he added, “even when we touched upon difficult issues, such as the erosion of religious practice. There was a great desire to hear us. We came to explain our lives, our joys, and to be instructed.”
Bishop Tomazeau added that “from the dawn of the Church, unity was maintained through two privileged means — letters and visits. In the visits of the early Churches, there was ‘no inspector,’ but ‘a brother who visited his brothers.'” The same happens in “ad limina” visits, he indicated.
For the two bishops, the Roman Curia has the richness of its “internationalism,” which allows them to see the problems from another point of view, with a universal vision.
In each “ad limina” visit, the bishops prepare a report and responses, divided in 22 chapters, which constitute in a certain sense an X-ray, “the most dynamic possible,” of the diocese, Archbishop Marcus explained.
The preparatory work for these visits lasts several months. Thanks to the bishops’ aides, the information is gathered in a dossier that can run 450 pages — as was the case with the one presented by the archbishop of Toulouse. He pointed out that much of his report had to do with the fact that his diocese has a Catholic university with 120,000 students.
These visits constitute an example of “collegiality,” Bishop Tomazeau emphasized. The meeting never has “an inquisitorial form,” he said, echoing the opinion of bishops, vicars general and apostolic administrators who participate in the meetings.
“We work together with the persons we have met here to proclaim Christ, and the experience that the Churches transmit here, in Rome, might serve the whole Church,” Archbishop Marcus added. He referred, for example, to the support the Holy See gives to countries where Christians face persecution.
Archbishop Marcus and Bishop Tomazeau also mentioned the awareness they acquired of “the great poverty” in the world, after visiting the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
In the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, they felt the need for solidarity with the mission Churches, for example, by sending priests, especially formators, for those seminaries that are full of young vocations.
In regard to meetings with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the bishops emphasized “the extraordinary correctness” of the French spoken by its prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. They noted, at the same time, that the particular questions that come up in their dioceses that are the domain of this congregation are clarified by regular contacts. There’s no need to wait for the quinquennial visits.
Bishop Tomazeau acknowledged the theological service this congregation offers, for example, with its reflection on the relations between theology and politics, and between reason and religion, which allows one “to understand that the state cannot assume the role of being arbiter of religions.”
If to confess faith in Jesus the Savior is considered as “an act of intolerance,” the bishop added, it is worth asking oneself about the supposed existence of “freedom of belief.”
Another issue addressed in almost all the Vatican dicasteries was Islam, in particular because of the debate under way in France. “In the Church the debate is far more peaceable than in the public” arena, Archbishop Marcus said.
Bishop Tomazeau acknowledged that in France “the dialogue with Islam on religious topics is difficult.” However, he added, “it is up to us to take the first step, just as in the dialogue between Catholics and Protestants.”
The two bishops agreed on the “impressive capacity of presence” of John Paul II in his personal meetings, with his word (he speaks French fluently) and with his look.
Archbishop Marcus said that although he saw a Pope who “is tired, he is exemplary, totally given to his mission, even if he works less than before.”
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Anita Sanchez Bourdin is editor of the ZENIT French edition.