Bishop Dennis Sullivan will soon be on his way to the Vatican, and he will take with him a thorough accounting of the state of the Diocese of Camden, everything from the number of baptisms and abortions to the state of ecumenical activities and communications efforts.
But more importantly, he said he will have the intentions of the faithful in his heart when he prays at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and celebrates Mass at the Rome basilicas.
The bishop and Father Robert Hughes, Vicar General, along with all the bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are preparing for their “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold of the apostles). They leave for Rome on Nov. 23.
The ad limina is a pilgrimage that groups of bishops from throughout the world are required to make every few years to Rome to strengthen their faith and their bond with the pope and to report on the status of their dioceses.
Preparations for the trip are extensive and intense, with each bishop preparing what is called a quinquennial report. Filled with data and statistics, it ends up being more than an inch thick. Copies are sent to the nuncio in Washington, D.C., and to the Vatican weeks before the bishops make their plane reservations.
Compiling the report turned out to be a satisfying project for Bishop Sullivan.
“I felt very positive about the diocese,” he said. “It showed a lot of work has been going on the past seven years. We have been working. As challenges come up, they are met.”
Despite the bureaucratic aspect of the trip, it is primarily a pilgrimage. The “Directory for the ‘Ad Limina’ Visit” states that the bishops’ visit has “a very definite purpose: that is, the strengthening of their own responsibility as successors of the Apostles and of their hierarchical communion with the Successor of Peter.”
One of the most important parts of the trip will be an informal meeting where the bishops will be free to discuss whatever they want with Pope Francis.
The U.S. bishops’ last ad limina visits were in 2011-12, when Benedict was pope and Bishop Sullivan was an auxiliary in New York. “I have vivid memories of the meeting with Pope Benedict,” said Bishop Sullivan, who had prepared a report on Catholics of Asian descent in the New York Archdiocese. “He had clearly read the report, and he was fascinated. He asked one question after another.”
In all, 15 groups of bishops will go to Rome throughout November, December, January and February. The first group of U.S. bishops, from the New England states, began their visit on Nov. 4 and reportedly met with Pope Francis for a couple of hours. They discussed the role of women in the church; immigration; priestly formation; the growth of secularism; and the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Bishop Sullivan said he expects similar themes to surface when the local bishops sit down with the Holy Father.
While in Rome, the 20 bishops also will have meetings at various offices of the Roman Curia. At each meeting, one bishop serves as a spokesperson, and Bishop Sullivan will lead the discussion at the Holy See Offices of Integral Human Development and New Evangelization. He said he wanted to talk about evangelization because of the success of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey that took place in Atlantic City in March, and the many positive comments he has heard about it while travelling throughout the diocese for confirmations.