January 17, 2020

Archbishop Thompson meets with pope, prays at tombs of Apostles in Rome visit

Pope Francis presents Archbishop Charles C. Thompson with a gift on Dec. 12 after the pontiff met in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican with bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin as part of their “ad limina” visit, a pilgrimage to Rome that all bishops from around the world are required to make every five to seven years. (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis presents Archbishop Charles C. Thompson with a gift on Dec. 12 after the pontiff met in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican with bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin as part of their “ad limina” visit, a pilgrimage to Rome that all bishops from around the world are required to make every five to seven years. (Vatican Media)

By Sean Gallager

“To the threshold of the Apostles.”

That is the description of a trip that bishops around the world are required to take to Rome every five to seven years. It is known traditionally in Latin as “ad limina apostolorum” or “ad limina” for short.

Bishops are today’s successors to the Apostles, and they go to Rome to pray at the tombs of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul, who died as martyrs in the earliest days of the Church in the Eternal City.

They also meet in these visits with the pope, the current successor of St. Peter, and those who assist him at the Vatican in his ministry.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and the bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin made their most recent ad limina visit to Rome on Dec. 9-13.

For the archbishop, the past and the present, the original Apostles and their successors today, the Church in Rome and the Church in central and southern Indiana all came together in his heart and mind during the pilgrimage.

He reflected on his experience in Rome in a recent interview with The Criterion.

‘Ask me anything you want’

The trip culminated when the 35 bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin met for two-and-a-half hours on Dec. 12 with Pope Francis.

It began an hour late, Archbishop Thompson noted, with the pope immediately apologizing to his brother bishops.

“Even though he was an hour late, he was never rushed,” Archbishop Thompson said. “He never indicated in any way that he needed to be somewhere else than right there.”

The way seating was arranged at the meeting indicated how the pope saw the bishops as his brothers.

“He sat in a chair in a semicircle among us, like the rest of us,” Archbishop Thompson said. “Other than him wearing a white cassock and we wore black ones with maroon trimmings, he was in the room right there with us.”

The discussion he had with them was frank and open. To further that atmosphere, the bishops were asked to leave their phones in a room outside the one where they met with the pope. Thus, no recordings or videos were made of the meeting.

“At the very beginning, he said, ‘Ask me anything you want. You can even criticize me. Whatever you need to do,’ ” Archbishop Thompson recalled. “He was very candid, very sincere, very pastoral, very gracious. And the bishops were very candid with him. They asked very sincere questions and didn’t shy away from asking questions that might be challenging.”

While some bishops in the group chose to ask the pope questions, Archbishop Thompson did not.

“I don’t do that,” he said. “I’m one of the more reserved ones.”

The archdiocese was mentioned to the pope, however, when a bishop remarked about it hosting more than 20,000 youths last November at the National Catholic Youth Conference.

“So a couple of guys came to me afterward and said, ‘You got a really good plug,’ ” Archbishop Thompson said. “I was just glad that it was somebody else and not me.”

Holding his people in prayer

An essential part of each ad limina visit is to pray at the tombs of SS. Peter and Paul. When the bishops gathered at these holy sites, they renewed their profession of faith and oath of fidelity to the pope.

“That’s a profound thing to do,” Archbishop Thompson said. “You’re renewing your faith. And probably what makes it more profound for me is that I was ordained [as a bishop] on the solemnity of Peter and Paul. And our cathedral is the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. So, they have all those additional connections for me.”

Doing this with his brother bishops was as meaningful for Archbishop Thompson as praying at the tombs of the Apostles.

“I enjoyed the living successors, the bishops who were with me right now,” he said. “So, there was not only a connection to the past, but a connection even more so to the present, which was kind of powerful.”

The significance of those moments was deepened as Archbishop Thompson kept in mind the faithful he leads in central and southern Indiana.

“When we made that profession of faith, we made it on behalf of the people we serve,” he said. “We renewed our profession on behalf of Jesus Christ whom we serve and the people entrusted to our care in his name.”

At the same time, Archbishop Thompson noted that archdiocesan Catholics were no more present in his heart and mind in Rome than they are any other day.

“There’s not a moment of prayer where I don’t hold the people in my prayer,” he said. “As a bishop, as a shepherd, you’re always holding your sheep, your people, in your prayer. At every Mass, I’m holding them in my prayer.”

Renewing his faith on behalf of archdiocesan Catholics at the tombs of two Apostles was significant. So was the fact that these two early leaders of the Church gave their lives in witness to the Gospel, something Archbishop Thompson noted all believers are to do, even if it does not strictly mean they are to die as martyrs.

“There are various forms of martyrdom,” he said. “People have to make all kinds of sacrifices for their faith. Sometimes, it’s the ridicule that you take, your reputation being damaged, the sacrifice of someone’s good name, enduring great humiliations.

“All of us who have been baptized have died with Christ and have risen with Christ. From the moment that we claim Christ, the Scriptures tell us to pick up our cross and deny ourselves. We are to suffer with him if we are to rise with him.”

‘Passion and devotion to the faith’

In addition to meeting with Pope Francis and praying in Rome’s holy sites, Archbishop Thompson and the bishops of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin also met with the leaders of various dicasteries at the Vatican, offices that help the pope oversee such aspects of the Church as liturgy, Catholic education and doctrine.

Months before the ad limina visit, each bishop is to submit a detailed report to the Vatican about the life of the Church in the dioceses they lead. This helps the pope and his co-workers prepare for the meeting.

Archbishop Thompson noted a significant change in the meetings this time from what happened in 2012 during his first ad limina visit, then as bishop of Evansville, Ind.

Then, he said, “for the most part, they had a prepared presentation to us about what they had gleaned from [our report]. They might be affirming, challenging, critiquing—whatever. Then, at the end, you might get to ask a question or two.”

Last month, he said, “there was a lot more dialogue, a greater sense of the principle of subsidiarity,” in which decisions are to be made at the lowest or most local level possible.

“I remember a couple of situations where the bishop would ask where [the dicastery leaders] were on this or that,” Archbishop Thompson recalled. “And he’d say, ‘If you’re asking us, here’s what we would say. But you’re the bishop. It’s your diocese.’ You wouldn’t have gotten that in 2012. In 2012, it would have been, ‘Here’s what we say it is.’ ”

Archbishop Thompson noted that this change may be in response to cardinals in the conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013 mentioning a greater desire for openness and dialogue in Vatican officials.

Pope Francis and his co-workers still face many of the same challenges in the broader culture that were challenges to their predecessors—something that Archbishop Thompson recalled Pope Francis mentioning in his meeting with him.

“He addressed some things where sometimes the media will represent him in a certain way and his frustration with that,” Archbishop Thompson said. “It was good to hear that perspective from him. He has to deal with the same things that we have to deal with.

“It just reminds you that he understands.”

Archbishop Thompson was amazed at how Pope Francis, who turned 83 just days after he met with him, had energy to meet with so many people on a daily basis.

What’s the source of this energy?

“I don’t think you can keep up what he’s doing without passion and devotion to the faith, to the people of God, to the Church,” Archbishop Thompson said.

The free give-and-take of his and the other bishops’ meeting with the pope, Archbishop Thompson said, was reflective of Pope Francis’ approach to pastoral ministry. Shortly after he was elected pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis now famously said that shepherds should have “the smell of the sheep.”

Do those sheep for the pope include the bishops? Yes, said Archbishop Thompson.

“Well, we can be the smelliest sheep,” he said with a laugh. †

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