Ad Limina Visit to the Holy Father, Pope Francis
The Episcopal Conference of Malawi comprising the eight dioceses subdivided in the two ecclesiastical provinces of the Archdiocese of Blantyre and the Archdiocese of Lilongwe was accorded the opportunity for a visit ad limina to the Holy Father and the tombs of St. Peter and St Paul in Rome from Wednesday, 5th November, to Wednesday, 12th November, 2014.
Quinquennial visit ad limina apostolorum are visits done by Bishops every five years (quinquennial) to the successor of St. Peter, the Pope, and to the thresholds of the [tombs of the] Apostles (ad limina apostolorum) Peter and Paul. This is in accordance with a long standing tradition for centuries in the Catholic Church the norms of which were set by Pope Sixtus V in 1585 in the constitution Romanus Pontifex.
The highlights of the visit ad limina apostolorum were the following:
- Celebrating the Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the St. Peter’s Basilica on 6th November, 2014
As per tradition in such occasions of ad limina apostolorum to visit the thresholds of the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Bishops celebrated Mass in one of the Chapels adjacent to the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope.
After Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) Christians were allowed to construct places of worship. On the place of the crucifixion (67 a.C.) of St Peter, the Emperor Constantine, at the request of Pope St Sylvester I, built a basilica in 315-349. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter's Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that Saint Peter's tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been buried at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period. St. Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. It is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.
It is on this holy site and right overlooking the tomb of St. Peter that the Bishops of Malawi celebrated the Holy Mass from 8:00am to 8:45am during which they prayed for all Catholics in Malawi and their intentions.
- Meeting with the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness Pope Francis on 6th November, 2014
In their address to the Pope, the Bishops, among other things, expressed gratitude to God for the growth of the Catholic Church in Malawi and noted that the strength of the Church in Malawi lies in the tireless dedication and collaboration of ministers, Brothers, Sisters and above all the lay people, lay volunteers and catechists.
With regard to the wider environment in which the Church is working, the Bishops expressed satisfaction at their working relationship with the government and noted that amidst the social challenges Malawi experiences as one of the poorest countries in the world, the Church shares the aspirations of the people to remain a God-fearing nation and rise against external secularist tendencies and money-driven agendas. Listening attentively to the genuine joys and griefs of the people of Malawi, the Bishops said that, through their preaching, pastoral letters and active involvement in the development of the country, they strive to foster the good of the nation and draw the attention of people towards what is compatible with Gospel values and the dignity of human beings.
Turning to the challenges the Church is facing, the Bishops spoke of the hostile environment in which Catholics find themselves in certain parts of the world and the growth of the spread of HIV-AIDS within married couples in Malawi. The Bishops also noted with regret the creeping in of policies that are increasingly reflecting the secular interests of powerful governments and organisations outside Malawi especially on issues such as abortion and same sex unions.
In his address to the Bishops, the Pope deplored the general tendency to replace God and ethics with money and regretted the pressure subjected to poor countries like Malawi in order to obtain financial aid.
Turning to the issue of evangelisation, the Pope emphasized the need to have a good formation programme for the priests, Brothers, Sisters, catechists and the laity and above all the need to reach out to the people and to be missionaries first and foremost amongst one’s own people.
Responding to a specific question to clarify the teaching of the Church on homosexual unions in the wake of the recent Synod on the Family, the Pope emphatically said that in this matter the doctrine of the Church will not and cannot change for it belongs to God. The Catechism of the Church has not changed and the doctrine has not changed. There is nonetheless the need to find pastoral responses to reach out to those living under these conditions. He faulted the media for interpreting the efforts of the Church to reach out to homosexual persons as signaling change in the doctrine of the Church and said that he had since instituted a committee to look into the media strategy of the Church so that what the Church says is reported correctly.
The Pope then circulated a prepared address to the Bishops in which he praised and thanked the Bishops for the effectiveness of their pastoral and administrative ministry and also bemoaned the poverty and low life expectancy in Malawi.
- Visiting the tomb of St. Paul in Saint Paul Basilica outside the Walls on 9th November, 2014
As per tradition in such occasions of ad limina apostolorum to visit the thresholds of the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Bishops visited the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls.
At the beginning of the 4th century, with the end of the persecutions and the promulgation of the Edicts of Tolerance in favour of Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation of the cella memoriae, the place where Christians venerated the memory of Saint Paul the Apostle, beheaded under Nero around 65-67 A.D. Above his grave, located along the Ostiense Way, about two kilometres outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome, Constantine built a Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. Paul's tomb is below a marble tombstone in the Basilica's crypt, at 1.37 metres (4.5 ft) below the altar. The tombstone bears the Latin inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART ("to Paul the apostle and martyr").
In the fifth century under the Pontificate of Leo the Great, the Basilica became the home of a long series of medallions which would to this day depict all the popes throughout history. Contemporary work in the Basilica has uncovered the tomb of the Apostle, while other important and beneficial works are carried out, as in the past, thanks to the generosity of Christians from all over the world.
The Bishops from Malawi spent Sunday afternoon, 9th November, in this Basilica, in a prayerful pilgrimage to the Holy site of St. Paul.
- Visiting and Holding Discussions with Dicasteries (departments) and Commissions of the Curia
The Roman Curia is the ensemble of the dicasteries (departments) and bodies that assist the Pope in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and in service of the Church throughout the world assisting in the maintenance of the unity of the Faith and the communion of the People of God. Amongst these dicasteries (departments) and bodies are the Secretariat of State, the various Congregations and Pontifical Councils and Commissions.
On the sidelines of their visit ad limina apostolorum the Bishops visited and held discussions with the following:
Thursday, 6 November: 16.00 – 17.00 Meeting with the Pontifical Council for the
Friday, 7 November: 10.00 – 11.00 Meeting with the Supreme Tribunal of the
Saturday, 8 November: 12.00-13.00 Meeting with the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith
Monday, 10 November: 10.30-11.30 Meeting with the Congregation for Catholic
12.00-13.00 Meeting with the Pontifical Council for
16.00-17.00 Meeting with the Pontifical Council of
Justice and Peace
Tuesday, 11 November: 10.00-11.30 Meeting with the Congregation for the
Evangelization of Peoples
12.00-12.45 Meeting with the Secretariat of State
16.00-17.00 Meeting with the Pontifical Council for
- Visiting and Holding Discussions with Social Development Partners
Conscious of their role in the socio-development of the country, the Bishops took time off their busy schedule to meet some development partners based in Rome. In this regard, the Bishops had bilateral discussions with:
- the Committee for Charity Interventions in favour of the Third World of the Episcopal Conference of Italy (Friday, 7th Nov, 2014 from 16:00 to 17:00)
- Sisters of St. Peter Claver (Saturday, 8th Nov, 2014 from 16:00 to 17:00)
- Holding Working Dinners
The Bishops had working dinners with
- Volunteers of the “Work of the Church” group Sunday, 9th November from 18:00
- The community of the Religious and priests from Malawi on various assignments in Rome (Tuesday, 11th Nov, 2014 from 19:00)
Fr. George Buleya
Secretary General – Episcopal Conference of Malawi
26th November, 2014