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To The Threshold of The Apostles
March 28, 2004

Bishop Victor Galeone Recounts His Visit With The Holy Father

Everyfive years, all Catholic bishops are expected to meet with the HolyFather in a visit that is identified from its Latin title, Ad LiminaApostolorum – To the Threshold of the Apostles (Peter and Paul). Itshould be noted that months before the actual visit to Rome, everybishop is expected to supply a detailed report, outlining the status ofhis diocese since the previous visit. For example, how many Catholicsare there in the total population? How many baptisms were there, bothof infants and adults? Are vocations increasing? Have any new parishesbeen established? In addition, every diocesan entity has to give adetailed report of its ministry. I am most grateful to our Chancellor,Father Keith Brennan, for having coordinated the compilation of ourdiocesan report.

The dioceses of the UnitedStates are divided into 14 regions. The first region to be scheduledfor this round of visits was Region XIV, comprised of the states ofFlorida, Georgia and the Carolinas. We bishops from that regiongathered in Rome the week of March 28th.

We began our Ad Limina on Monday by concelebrating Mass at the tomb ofthe apostle Peter in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. What fondmemories that Mass evoked for me from my seminary days spent in Rome!While praying quietly after Communion, I recalled the promise thatJesus had made to Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi: "You are Peter –the Rock – and on this rock I will build my Church, and the power ofdeath will never overcome it…" (Mt. 16:18) According to the earlyChurch Fathers, Peter was the first one to bring the faith to Rome. Andit was there that he was crucified head-down in the circus of Nero,located at the foot of the Vatican hill. In a word, he was the firstbishop of Rome – the first pope. And here we were, almost 2,000 yearslater, visiting the present bishop of Rome – the 264th successor ofSimon the fisherman.

Wednesday was a rainy day in Rome. But the rain could not dampen ourspirits as we made our way late that afternoon to the Basilica of St.Paul’s on the Ostian Way. There, we concelebrated Mass at the tomb ofSt. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, whose name is always associatedwith that of St. Peter in the founding of the Church in Rome.

The second segment of our Ad Limina visit consisted of a series ofmeetings between the bishops and members of the Roman Curia. During thecourse of the week, we met with the Cardinal director or his secretaryof the following congregations: Clergy, Bishops, Doctrine of the Faith,Catholic Education, Divine Worship, and the Secretary of State. For themost part, we had candid discussions with the directors of thecongregations about matters that were both timely and of concern.

The third and final segment of our Ad Limina visit was our meeting withthe Holy Father. Throughout the week, the bishops met individually withhim for about ten minutes. During my visit with him, the Holy Fatherasked about the status of vocations in our diocese, both to thepriesthood and to the religious life. We also discussed issues dealingwith family life and the challenges posed by the large number ofMexican immigrants and how to minister to them properly.

I would like to underscore two points of my visit with the Holy Father.First, for the most part, he kept his eyes fixed on me the entire time,making me feel like the most important person in the world. And second,even though his Parkinson’s condition had slurred his speech, he wasstill very alert and most interested in what I had to say.

On Friday, all the bishops of Region XIV concluded our Ad Limina at aspecial audience with the Holy Father. First he read a portion from aprepared text. Then he bid us farewell individually, giving each of usa pectoral cross as a parting gift.

I would like to conclude with an anecdote. Most of the bishops of ourgroup were lodged inside Vatican City at the residence of Casa SantaMarta. Whenever leaving on foot to attend one of the Curia meetings, wehad to walk past the Swiss guards standing at attention at the entranceof the Vatican next to the Basilica of St. Peter’s. As the guards notedour episcopal robes or pectoral crosses, they would click their healsand give us a military salute. There would often be tourists watchingand snapping pictures of this rather impressive display. After severaldays of this, I thought, "This is heady stuff. If a man’s not careful,he could mistakenly develop a sense of self-importance, which would betragic." Obviously, the guards were honoring not us – the individualbishops – but rather the office we held. So we must never lose sight ofwhat Jesus had to bring to the apostles’ attention in Mark 10:42-44.Those who wish to lead in his kingdom must serve the rest; and whoeverwishes to be the first, must become the servant of all. Please praythat we bishops never forget that most important lesson ofservant-leadership.

I’m writing this report on my return flight to the States. It’s theideal way to relive the highlights of my first Ad Limina, especiallythe beautiful experience of meeting with Simon Peter in the person ofJohn Paul II, who is still fulfilling the command that the Lord gavePeter to "strengthen the brethren." (Lk. 22:32)

Excerpts from The Holy Father’s Report to the American Bishops

The following are excerpts from the Holy Father in his report to theBishops of Region XIV, including those from dioceses in Florida,Georgia and the Carolinas, who made their Ad Limina visits to Rome theweek of March 28, 2004.

•“Our meetings are taking place at a difficult time in the history ofthe Church in the United States. Many of you have already spoken to meof the pain caused by the sexual abuse scandal of the past two yearsand the urgent need for rebuilding confidence and promoting healingbetween Bishops, priests and the laity in your country. I am confidentthat the willingness which you have shown in acknowledging andaddressing past mistakes and failures, while at the same time seekingto learn from them, will contribute greatly to this work ofreconciliation and renewal.”

• “The history of theChurch demonstrates that there can be no effective reform withoutinterior renewal. This is true not only of individuals, but also ofevery group and institution of the Church. …The renewal of the Churchis thus closely linked to the renewal of the episcopal office. Sincethe Bishop is called in a unique way to be an alter Christus (anotherChrist), a vicar of Christ in and for his local Church, he must be thefirst to conform his life to Christ in holiness and constantconversion.”

• ”I wish to reaffirm my confidence inthe Church in America, my appreciation of the deep faith of America’sCatholics and my gratitude for their many contributions to Americansociety and to the life of the Church throughout the world. Viewed withthe eyes of faith, the present moment of difficulty is also a moment ofhope, that hope which ‘does not disappoint’ (Rom 5:5), because it isrooted in the Holy Spirit, who constantly raises up new energies,callings and missions within the Body of Christ.”

•“…The exercise of this prophetic witness (the episcopal office) incontemporary American society has, as many of you have pointed out,been made increasingly difficult by the aftermath of the recent scandaland the outspoken hostility to the Gospel in certain sectors of publicopinion, yet it cannot be evaded or delegated to others. Preciselybecause American society is confronted by a disturbing loss of thesense of the transcendent and the affirmation of a culture of thematerial and the ephemeral, it desperately needs such a witness ofhope. It is in hope that we have been saved (cf. Rom 8:24); the Gospelof hope enables us to discern the consoling presence of God’s Kingdomin the midst of this world and offers confidence, serenity anddirection in place of that hopelessness which inevitably spawns fear,hostility and violence in the hearts of individuals and in society as awhole.”

• “In the coming months, I would like toengage you and your Brother Bishops in a series of reflections on theexercise of the episcopal office in the light of the threefold munus(function) by which the Bishop, through sacramental ordination, isconformed to Jesus Christ, priest, prophet and king. It is my hope thata consistent reflection on the gift and mystery entrusted to us willcontribute to the fulfillment of your ministry as heralds of the Gospeland to the renewal of the Church in the United States.”

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