Every five years bishops from every diocese in the United States make a very important trip to the Vatican.

And now it’s Albany’s turn.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, along with Rev. David LeFort, will head to Rome for the Quinquennial Ad Limina visit from Nov. 10-16. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, leader of the Archdiocese of New York, will lead the visit in which bishops from New York State report on the status of their eight dioceses.

The U.S. bishops’ visits began Nov. 4 with a group from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont and will run through February with a total of 15 groups of U.S. bishops traveling to Rome.

According to Catholic News Service, “the ‘Directory for the ‘Ad Limina’ Visit’ makes clear, the bishops’ visits are a pilgrimage with “a very definite purpose: that is, the strengthening of their own responsibility as successors of the Apostles and of their hierarchical communion with the Successor of Peter. The point of reference is a visit to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, pastors and pillars of the Roman church.” There are also Masses at St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lantern and St. Mary Major.

The visits have changed format from St. John Paul to Pope Benedict and now to Pope Francis, who meets “each group together — with sometimes 20 bishops sitting in a circle in the papal library — devoting between 90 minutes and two hours to a free-wheeling discussion,” according to CNS.

The Evangelist asked Bishop Scharfenberger about the visit and what he expects in Rome.

TE: What is the Quinquennial Ad Limina?

BE: It’s basically a status report of where the Diocese is right now. All the various works of the Diocese, administrative and pastoral and also the charitable works, health care, Catholic Charities, basically the whole scope of our ministry. It’s an update on that, it’s done every five years and it’s submitted as foundation for whatever dialogues and discussion will go on during the course of the Ad Limina.

TE: Why is it necessary?

BE: Every Diocese does this, every five years, it’s required by Canon Law that we update the Holy See and they will process that, and analyze that to help us do our work.

While there is some information about the status of parishes and some demographical information, it is primarily the works of the Diocese itself. It is not a detailed analysis of the individual parishes.

TE: How does the Ad Limina work?

BE: The purpose of the Ad Limina is really an expression of two fundamental realities of the Church; one is communio in Latin, or communion and the other is collegio, or collegiality. The best way I can describe it is I like to think of the Church as a family of families. And that is the way I describe parishes, dioceses … so just like any family has its own identity, that natural identity … that communion is a part of our Ecclesial life. So by that I mean communion with the Holy See, the pope successor of Peter, communion with brother bishops that’s the reality and people in communion with one another, the bishops and with Jesus. That is the foundation of our reality, that we are communion. … There is a certain autonomy in each diocese but the desire is to always remain part of the communion. Just like a son or daughter goes on to marry, but everybody comes home for Thanksgiving, and that’s sort of like the collegiality part. You come together once in a while, to not only express your communion, your solidarity, but also to engage in a conversation where by visions can be set, decisions can be made, plans put into place that are done with collaboration and consultation. The Pope not only wants to celebrate with us that we are united with the chair of Peter, but also wants to hear from us about the struggles we are facing so he may be of help to us. And he may also want to help us to take a look at things that he sees from his knowledge of us that he would like us to pursue too. And then we will have a conversation.

TE: Are there specific items covered in your visit that relate directly to the Diocese?

BE: The two areas that I will be addressing, one will be the (Pontifical Commission for the) Protection of Minors, the other thing that I will be addressing is the (Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.) Underneath that is the Commission for our Relationships with the Jewish people. I am an advisor to that particular commission and I will be introducing the bishops in both of those areas. I am going to emphasize the importance of our ongoing relationships, particularly with the Jewish community, who are increasingly interested in engaging in dialogue with us, not only on works that we can do together, but also the roots of our belief.

On the protection of minors, we are going to try to talk about the importance of our priorities. First of all, stop the bleeding; to do everything to put an end to the harm (and) to stop the harm from increasing. Then we have to address the harm that’s been done (and) then we have to go to the healing. In the process of healing, we put survivors first, those that are immediately affected by it and we always have put that as a priority. And then we recognize that the scope of survivors and victims is broader than even those immediately affected; families, friends, the larger church community, including our priests, even those that have been abusers, because they are all part of our family. Again that is that family approach, that community that we try to maintain. I will have to say something about the high cost and the financial challenges and I think that is something that they will need to hear from me, particularly in light of the CVA (Child Victims Act). Now we don’t know exactly what we are facing. Some dioceses have already strongly considered bankruptcy, and it has already had an effect on our operations. So we want to make sure that our operations continue in spite of the challenges.

TE: The USCCB meeting is taking place in Baltimore when the New York bishops are in Rome. How will you participate in that?

BE: What the USCCB has arranged to do is organize a way in which we can participate from Rome in any decisions that are being made that require the vote of the bishops. It’s been arranged in such a way that in secure fashion we will be able to vote remotely.