By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Region VII — which includes the states of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin — started their “ad limina” visits to Rome Feb. 9 with morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, before the Altar of the Tomb of St. Peter.
During their visit, which will end Feb. 17, the bishops will discuss a wide range of pastoral matters with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials. A major theme is likely to be the new evangelization, which will be the subject of a Vatican synod this October. In recent weeks, the pope has told other visiting American bishops of the urgent need to defend religious freedom against the threat of “radical secularism.”
The bishops’ periodic visits are formally called “ad limina apostolorum,” which means “to the thresholds of the apostles” Peter and Paul, who were martyred in Rome. Traditionally, the visits serve as an occasion for leaders of local churches to draw inspiration as well as guidance from the center of Catholicism.
The spiritual aspect of “ad limina” visits is most evident in the liturgies that the bishops concelebrate at Rome’s four major basilicas: St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major. The Region VII bishops will return to St. Peter’s Feb. 11 for Mass at the Altar of Blessed John Paul II.
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