Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is visiting Rome for the “ad limina apostolorum” visit. CNS photo/Paul Haring
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is visiting Rome for the “ad limina apostolorum” visit. CNS photo/Paul Haring
" The highlight of the week, of course, is the meeting with the Holy Father. "

The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires that the diocesan bishop travel to Rome every five years or so “to venerate the tombs of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and to present himself to the Roman Pontiff (canon 400.1).”  It is known as the “ad limina apostolorum” visit, meaning “to the thresholds (tombs) of the Apostles.” 

Six months before this visit, the bishop must submit a “quinquennial report” to the Holy See, describing the state of their diocese since the time of the previous visit to the present. Bishops are called “successors of the Apostles” since their reception of Holy Orders and the office they hold traces its origin in an unbroken sacramental line back to the Twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus (canon 375.1).  They serve a diocese assigned to them by the Holy Father to whom they are directly and exclusively accountable.

As a body, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is divided into fifteen regions.  The diocesan bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania constitute Region III, and they make this pilgrimage as a group.  Their last “ad limina" visit occurred December 6-10, 2011, during Bishop O’Connell’s first year in office.  This year, Region III’s visit takes place November 25-29.

During the week, the bishops will visit the major departments or “dicasteries” of the Vatican to discuss the section of the quinquennial report relevant to each distinct department.  An individual bishop may be assigned as a “capo” or presenter to the officials of the various dicasteries, beginning the discussion on behalf of the bishops of the region. 

Bishop O’Connell has been assigned to serve as “capo” for the bishops’ meeting with the Congregation for Catholic Education. Comments and questions follow as the bishops and officials engage each other in points of mutual interest. In total, sixteen meetings have been scheduled throughout the week, usually lasting an hour. Some meetings require the mandatory attendance of all the bishops of the region – the Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith, of Bishops, of Clergy, for the Protection of Minors and the Secretariat of State.  The bishops choose to attend other meetings from among the remaining departments, according to their interest. 

The highlight of the week, of course, is the meeting with the Holy Father that all the bishops will attend, 20 in all, including the diocesan bishops, their auxiliaries and bishops emeriti from Region III. This year, Pope Francis will receive the bishops on Thanksgiving Day for 90 minutes.  After his brief address, the bishops are free to engage the Holy Father in an unrestricted discussion.

In addition to the meetings at the Vatican, the bishops will also spend time in prayer at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and will celebrate daily Mass in the major basilicas of Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. 

Several priests from the various dioceses will accompany their bishop on the trip and will join him for some of the meetings.  Monsignor Thomas Gervasio, vicar general of the Diocese of Trenton, and Father Carlo Calisin, Episcopal Master of Ceremonies, will travel with Bishop O’Connell. They will stay with the Bishop at Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the Holy Father resides. Along with the other bishops and priests from Region III, they will enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner with the faculty and seminarians at the Pontifical North American College.

Check back to for updates through the week from Bishop O'Connell.