The Bishops of France in Rome

Source: FSSPX News

The ad limina visit of the French bishops will take place between September 20 and December 3, 2012.  And so the French episcopate will travel to the tombs of the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in three groups:  currently being received in Rome, from September 20 to 29, are the bishops of the provinces of Rouen, Rennes, Poitiers, Tours and Bordeaux, led by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux;  then those from the provinces of Lille, Rheims, Paris, Besançon and Dijon—together with the Diocese of Strasbourg and Metz, the military ordinariate, and the eparchies of the Eastern Catholic Churches located in France—will be received from November 12 to 22, led by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris.  Finally the bishops from the provinces of Clermont, Lyons, Marseilles, Montpellier, and Toulouse will be received from November 23 to December 3, led by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyons.

The visit ad limina apostolorum (“to the threshold of the basilicas of the apostles”) is the expression referring to the visit that every bishop must make to the Holy See every five years.  The preceding ad limina visit of the French bishops took place between November 24, 2003, and February 28, 2004, more than eight years ago.  The delay is explained by the death of John Paul II in 2005, and the visit of Benedict XVI to France in 2008.

As the website of the Bishops’ Conference of France explains:  “To prepare for their visits, the bishops compose a report about their diocese, based on a questionnaire provided by Rome.  These reports, which run to several hundred pages, are sent to the Holy See several months before the visits, and their contents are divided up among the different dicasteries of the Curia, according to the topics addressed therein.”

Within the Congregation for Bishops, the Office for Coordinating ad limina Visits is the one that organizes the visits to the different dicasteries, to which the bishops go together—one of them is designated to be the spokesman for the group.  The Office is also in charge of all questions concerning preparations for the official visits, the calendar and the program of celebrations in the four major basilicas.

Cardinal Barbarin declared to the news agency I.Media that the bishops had accomplished a major work of synthesis for this ad limina visit.  They expect that the meeting with the pope will help them “to find the harmony between the institutional nature of the Church, of which we must not remain prisoners, and everything that draws us onward”.  He explained that it was also a matter of striking a balance between freedom of initiative and discernment, because “not everything that is new is good.”

A tense political context

This visit is occurring in a political context that is particularly tense in France.  Elected last May, the Socialist President François Hollande revealed his intention to legalize euthanasia and “marriage” between persons of the same sex.  The bishops have not failed to react on these two subjects, sparking a debate in the media.  For the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, the President of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, had invited all the parishes to recite a prayer asking in particular that all children might have the benefit of a father and a mother.  This initiative gave rise to a controversy, because some saw it as meddling by the Church, while others on the contrary acknowledged her right to express herself on a question with important implications for society.  (See DICI no. 260 dated September 14, 2012.)

On September 20, during the Mass celebrated at Saint Peter’s in Rome, at the beginning of the visit of the bishops from Western France, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard declared:  “Today we feel strongly the need for a new evangelization, the urgency of hazarding an initial proclamation [of the faith], of opening up new paths to the Gospel,” adding that the example of the martyr Saint Peter reminds bishops that they are “invited to give their lives, to confront barehanded, like Jesus, the forces of evil present in the world”.  “Evangelization is not only a joyous communication campaign,” the cardinal explained, emphasizing that it was also “a spiritual battle, a time of trial in which one may take some hits”.  He added that there were “many ways of experiencing martyrdom, the martyrdom of blood, media martyrdom, martyrdom in public opinion, martyrdom at the service of communion in a Church that is racked by terrible tensions”.

The next day, September 21, in Castel Gandolfo, speaking to the 32 bishops from Western France, Benedict XVI recalled “the Christian roots of France” and its “long spiritual and missionary tradition”, then he mentioned “the excess of work that weighs on priests” and invited the bishops “to pray and to have people pray” for vocations.  He declared that the “parish regroupings” underway in France should not make Catholics forget that “the solution to the diocesan pastoral problems that present themselves cannot be limited to organizational questions, as important as they may be.”  “There is a risk,” he maintained, “of placing the emphasis on the search for efficiency with a sort of bureaucratization of pastoral ministry, by focusing on structures, organization and programs, which can become ‘self-referential’, for the exclusive use of the members of those structures.”  The risk, the Pope continued, is of having only “little impact on the lives of Christians who have strayed from the regular practice” of their faith.  On the other hand, he invited them to “concentrate on the witness to be given so as to help our contemporaries to recognize and to rediscover the signs of God’s presence”, thus saluting the “times of adoration” that are offered to the faithful.

Benedict XVI insisted on the necessity of “always” confirming “the function of the priest” in a country where laymen are especially involved in pastoral work.  Although he praised “the generosity of the laity”, he was anxious to recall that they had a “specific task” and that it was advisable to “be vigilant with respect to the difference between the common priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of those who were ordained to serve the community”.  This difference, the Pope explained, “is not only of degree but of essence.”

The endangered family

The Supreme Pontiff did not fail to allude to the ongoing debates in French society, in particular to the question of legalizing homosexual “marriage” and euthanasia, pointing out the dangers that currently weigh on human life and the family.  The family, he observed, “is threatened in many places, as a result of a concept of human nature that proves to be faulty”.  The Pope then assured his listeners that “defending human life and the family in society is not at all backward, but rather prophetic, because it amounts to promoting the values that allow for the full flourishing of the human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God.”  “We have here a real challenge to take up,” the Supreme Pontiff remarked, before recalling that marriage and the family are institutions that must be “promoted and safeguarded from any possible ambiguity as to their truth, because any damage done to them is in fact an offense against life in common.”

Before the Pope’s speech, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard had stated that the French bishops were witnesses of a “weakening of the ecclesial fabric” and of a “loss of Christian culture”, but that they observed at the same time the presence of a generation “ready to take up the challenge of the new evangelization”.  He mentioned the discernment that must be exercised in order to “see in the major trends of public opinion that characterize our environment those that serve man and those that are harmful to him.”  The prelate then pointed out that the bishops would thus, “in the weeks to come, have to recall the meaning of marriage, of the family, and of parenthood, which seems to us to be truly fundamental for our social life”.

(Sources:  CEF/apic/imedia – DICI no. 261 dated September 28, 2012)