For Bishop Bill and many of the bishops, this will be their first time meeting with Pope Francis and, for quite a few, their first Ad Limina. This is a result of delays in the rotation of Ad Limina visits for other episcopal conferences. The last visit was in 2011.
“As well as meeting the Pope, we will visit and say Mass in each of the four major basilicas,” Bishop Bill said. “In the case of St Peter’s, at the tomb of Peter.”
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the topics to be discussed in the Vatican include the church’s ongoing response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It will also include the preparations for the Plenary Council and the church’s changing profile in Australian society and what this means for healthcare, education and social welfare.
“The visit is a time for us to celebrate our communion with the Pope despite the separation of distance,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “It’s also a time for us to learn from those who serve in the offices of the Holy See and for them to learn from us.”
Bishop Bill echoed that sense of communion.
“It is a time of connection with some of our sacred sites, for even the bishops of ‘the best country in the world’ to refresh their sense of belonging to the church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” Bishop Bill said.
This week, the bishops are on retreat, as part of their journey of the Plenary Council. They will reflect deeply on the council’s six National Themes for Discernment, which were announced at Pentecost.
“When the bishops decided to convoke a Plenary Council to consider the church’s place and mission in contemporary Australia, we knew it would have to be a journey of prayer, a time to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“This week, we are going more deeply into that experience of listening to the voice of God in our lives and in the church in Australia at this complex time – and doing so in the shadow of the great feast of Pentecost.”