Visita Ad Limina Apostolorum. This is the visit of the Catholic Bishops to the See of St. Peter in Rome. It is supposed to be done every five years but the last ad limina visit of the Philippine bishops was in 2010 at the pontificate of Benedict XVI. This scheduled visit to Rome in meant to strengthened the bond of unity of the bishops with the Holy Father. During this visit the bishops have a dialogue with the Pope. They also get to visit the different departments of service (called dicasteries) of the Vatican Curia. There they are consulted about what is happening in their dioceses and their countries; they can put their questions concerning their situations, and they get to know the initiatives being done in Rome to serve the worldwide Catholic community. The dicasteries are organized according to specific concerns, like the dicastery for integral human development which deals with social justice, peace, ecology, migrations, charitable works, health, etc.

There is the dicastery which deals with the concerns of the bishops, like the appointment and transfer of bishops. We have the dicastery of social communications, the dicastery of the clergy and seminary formation, the dicastery of the laity, the youth and life, the dicastery for religious and consecrated life, the dicastery for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the dicastery for Catholic education, and many others. The visits to the dicasteries are very enlightening. It gives the bishops a wide view of the issues, concerns and initiatives being done by the Church all over the world. The ad limina visit is also a kind of pilgrimage of the bishops to Rome. There are moments of visits and prayer to the four major basilicas where they are able to celebrate mass and pray together for their local churches.

The Philippine bishops are scheduled this year for their ad limina visit. Since there are around 100 active bishops in the country, we are divided into three groups. The first group, mostly the Luzon bishops, just finished theirs, which took place from May 20 to 25. The next batch will be the bishops from the Visayas and the Bicol region, and the last batch from Mindanao and the Southern Tagalog region.

We started our ad limina visit last Monday with an early morning mass at the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is so touching to celebrate mass together in front of the tomb of the head of the apostles. Then in the same morning we had our audience with the Holy Father. It was an informal meeting for two full hours with him.He encouraged us to shot any question, to give comments, and even to criticize him during the session. It was very familial and lively, and Pope Francis was so cordial and open to us. To my surprise he knows full well our situation in the Philippines, especially with the present president! We also were able to greet him individually. That meeting set the tone for the whole ad limina visit—cordial and open exchange. We had visits to the different dicasteries. We were divided to the various dicasteries which we were interested to visit. Everyday we visited 3 or 4 dicasteries. The Cardinals and Archbishops who head the dicasteries were our dialogue partners.

During the week too we were able to schedule masses in the other major basilicas. On Wednesday afternoon we had mass in the Basilica of St Paul Outside of the Walls. That was the burial place of St. Paul, who was also martyred in Rome. On Friday we had the mass in St. John Lateran, which is the Cathedral Church of the Pope, and this morning in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the main church dedicated to Mother Mary.

Another bonus of the ad limina visit is the rare bonding opportunity that we bishops have together during our meals, our trips, and our free moments.  Since we are all housed only in one place, at the Collegio Filipino where Filipino students who study in Rome stay, we bishops have a lot of time to share with each other, to joke together, and also to share our experiences and problems with one another. Not only is our bond with the universal church strengthened but also our bond with one another. We go back to our dioceses renewed and energized. We are indeed in a common mission of service in the Roman Catholic Church!