On Nov. 7, the bishops of the United States will begin travels to Rome in 13 regional groups to participate in visits to the Departments of the Holy See culminating in a meeting with the Holy Father.  

Required by the Church’s Code of Canon Law, these visits (called “Ad Limina visits”) occur every five years or more, following the preparation and submission of an exhaustive confidential statistical and narrative report (called “The Quinquennial Report”) by the residential diocesan bishop on virtually every aspect of his diocese since the year of the last visit (2011-12): the current state of the diocese and its parishes; the status of all clergy, religious and laity within the diocese; the ministry of the bishop; the liturgical and sacramental life of the diocese; Catholic education and schools of every level; vocations; charitable works, pastoral ministries and social services; relationships with civil government and its agencies; communications; the consequences of current scandals confronting the diocese; diocesan finances and resources, and  anticipated future projections.

“This year was the second time I have had to prepare such a report with the input of other officials in the Diocesan Curia,” remarked Bishop O’Connell. “It is an intense and complex project, taking the better part of over six months. I think it was easier writing my doctoral dissertation! Given all the responsibilities associated with exercising the Office of Bishop in a diocese, the experience of preparing the Quinquennial Report provided me with an incredible, in-depth understanding of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Trenton.”

The visits are called “Ad Limina” because of the Latin term referring to their destination – “ad limina apostolorum” – meaning “to the threshold/tomb of the apostles.” In addition to meeting with Vatican officials and the Pope, all bishops are required to visit and pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and other major Roman basilicas during their stay. Pope St. Pius X first decreed this custom to be regularly observed in 1909.

“Although I had been to Rome many times before, my first and only ‘Ad Limina’ visit so far took place December 5-9, 2011,” recalled Bishop O’Connell. “I had been diocesan Bishop for only a year, and the experience was fascinating. In addition to carrying the entire life of the Church in our Diocese with me ‘to the threshold of the apostles,’ the visit gave me a more profound spiritual sense of our belonging to the universal Church. I was particularly moved praying with my brother bishops as ‘successors to the apostles’ before the tomb of St. Peter in the Basilica that bears his name. The opportunity to speak with Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed me Bishop of Trenton, was also a highlight of the trip. He recalled with obvious joy his visit to The Catholic University of America in Washington on April 17, 2008, when I was president.”

Along with all the bishops of the dioceses of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, who constitute Region III of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the “Ad Limina” visit is scheduled for the week of Nov. 25-29.  Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general, and Father Carlos Calisin, assistant to the Bishop and Master of Ceremonies, will accompany the Bishop for the visit. The group will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thanksgiving Day.