By Christopher Wells
Australia’s Bishops have been in Rome this week for their visit “ad Limina Apostolorum” (“to the threshold of the Apostles”). Normally, bishops are required to travel to Rome every five years to report on the state of their local churches; for the Australian Bishops, it’s their first opportunity to do so since the election of Pope Francis in 2013.
During the visit “to the threshold of the Apostles”, the Bishops meet with the Holy Father, and with the heads of the various dicasteries. Pope Francis received the Bishops of Australia at the beginning of their visit, on Monday of this past week.
A wonderful as the last time, but entirely different
Among those taking part in the visit is Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the new Archbishop of Melbourne. It was his second ad limina visit; his first came in 2011, when he was an auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Sydney. Speaking with Vatican News, Archbishop Comensoli said his experience of meeting with the Pope was “as wonderful as last time, but entirely different from last time.” He explained that on the previous visit, each Bishop was able to meet individually with Pope Benedict, albeit for a very short time. On this visit, all the Australian Bishops met together with Pope Francis for about two and a half hours.
Archbishop Comensoli described the conversation with Pope Francis as “very private, spiritually intense, pastorally astute, and [a] very honest, free and frank discussion.”
Spiritual and pastoral dimensions
Describing the ad limina visits, the Archbishop noted that “spiritually” the key moments of the visit were going to the four major papal Basilicas – St John Lateran, St Peter’s, St Paul’s Outside the Walls, and St Mary Major – and the meeting with Pope Francis, the current Successor of St Peter.
He also spoke of the importance of the “pastoral dimension” of the visit, in being able to be together with his brother bishops “as a body of Bishops, as a college, as brothers.” Together, he said, “we’ve been able to just be with one another spiritually, fraternally, hearing each other’s personal stories, circumstances, making the journey with each other.”
On pilgrimage together
As head of the Church in Melbourne, Archbishop Comensoli said he also brought with him the people of God in his Archdiocese. “They come with me,” he said. “We’re on this pilgrimage together. They may not be here physically, but they’re certainly with me spiritually.”
Archbishop Comensoli said it was “providential” that the ad limina visit coincided with the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, when new Metropolitan Archbishops receive their “pallia” from the Pope. The pallium, an ecclesial garment made of wool that is worn over the shoulders, points to the “pastoral leadership” of an Archbishop over the dioceses within a particular province. It points to the unity of Archbishops with the See of Peter, but is also a recognition of their being sent to a particular portion of the People of God.
While the link to the universal Church is important, Archbishop Comensoli said, “Nonetheless, it’s to the local Church that I belong.” So, he said, “I bring back with me, something of the universal, into our local Church in Melbourne, to our people. So I’ve been carrying with them. They’ve been carrying me, with them, spiritually. We’ve been on this pilgrimage together. And I’ll come back in among them, to be with them."