BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge understands the complex moment for the Church in Australia as he prepares to lead more than 40 bishops on an Ad Limina visit to meet Pope Francis.
“I think we are a Church that is suffering, is anxious about the future, dismayed by the past – and all of this will be said to the Pope,” Archbishop Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said ahead of his departure for Rome.
“Pope Francis has two gifts I find, that are related. One is to speak the truth in ways that can be very challenging … but in the end he has a gift of encouragement as well.”
The “Ad Limina Apostolorum” visit – from June 23-29 – translated as “to the threshold of the Apostles”, is a canonical requirement of bishops conferences from around the world – a visit to Rome typically made every five years, and culminating in prayer and Mass at the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul.
However, with the change of pope in 2013 and Ad Limina visits cancelled during the Year of Mercy, the ACBC has not made the visit since 2011.
During their dialogue with Pope Francis, the bishops will provide information and insights from their own dioceses and listen to the Pope’s reflections on the Church more broadly.
“It will be vastly different,” Archbishop Coleridge said, reflecting on his two previous visits – the first to meet an ailing Pope John Paul II in 2004, and then an audience with Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.
“We’ve had a royal commission between then and now, and we’ve also had the conviction of Archbishop Wilson and Cardinal Pell, which puts us in new territory,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“We’ve also begun the journey of the plenary council – so we’re caught between the agony of the royal commission and all it represents, and the hopes of the plenary council.
“I think from our Ad Limina visit we will have a deeper sense of what is the truth of our situation, we will be more strongly encouraged … we’ll be more energised for mission, more realistic and hopeful. And we will have a stronger sense of the bond of unity between the bishops.”
Archbishop Coleridge last visited the Vatican in February, as Pope Francis hosted a summit about combating the scourge of clergy abusing children.
At a closing Mass in front of the Pope and Church leaders from every country, Archbishop Coleridge delivered the homily.
He dismisses talk this was a signal that he could soon be elevated to cardinal, especially since Oceania is already highly represented with cardinals in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.
“I think it would be highly unlikely … but with this pope, he can do anything. He’s pulled rabbits out of the hat we didn’t know were in the hat,” he said.
On June 29, as part of the pilgrimage, Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli of Melbourne will be among those receiving the pallium, a woollen stole given to new metropolitan archbishops as a sign of communion with the pope.
While in Italy, the bishops will also have a time of retreat to help them prepare for Plenary Council 2020.