Do you remember times past when many devout Catholics carried in their wallet or purse a card reading “I am a Catholic. In case of an accident please call a priest”? Then there was the apocryphal card, “I am an important Catholic. In case of an accident please call a bishop.”

Should there be such a distinguished person in Pennsylvania or New Jersey this week who suffers an accident on the roadways, he or she will have to settle for a monsignor.

That’s because all the active bishops, both ordinaries and auxiliary bishops in the eight dioceses of Pennsylvania and the five dioceses of New Jersey (Region III of the church in the United States) are in Rome. They are participating the in the region’s ad limina (to the threshold of the apostles) visit to the Holy See.


The periodic visits are required, if they can possibly be made, of all the bishops around the world on a cyclic schedule.

The ad limina visits by American prelates began in early November with the dioceses in New England and New York. The rest of the dioceses of the country will follow over the next three months or so.

The Philadelphia delegation includes Archbishop Charles Chaput and his four active auxiliary bishops: Bishop Timothy Senior, Bishop John McIntyre, Bishop Michael Fitzgerald and Bishop Edward Deliman.

The group does not include retired bishops. Also not included are bishops of the Eastern-rite churches in communion with the Holy See; they will attend in a separate group.

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre sings the entrance hymn for a Mass with fellow bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey Nov. 25 in St. Mary Major Basilica, Rome.

For Bishop McIntyre this will be his second ad limina visit, having gone in December 2011 when Cardinal Justin Rigali was Philadelphia’s archbishop.

Traditionally the ad limina visits had been every five years, but now there are longer intervals in between. That is probably because there are more bishops around the world today and it would be difficult to arrange visits from all of them within five years, especially because recent popes are often away from the Vatican visiting other lands.

An audience with the Holy Father is a normal part and a highlight of the ad limina visit.

While in Rome the bishops will visit various offices in the Vatican that handle the many functions of the church, and they will have sent in advance a detailed report on the condition of their diocese.

Most of the bishops of Region III departed for Rome on Saturday, Nov. 23, and they are staying at the North American College, the residence for American seminarians studying in Rome.

The real highlight of the visit will be the meeting with Pope Francis, which is scheduled for Nov. 28, according to Bishop McIntyre.

The Basilica of St. Mary Major, built in Rome in the mid-fifth century, is one of the oldest and grandest shrines built in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey celebrated Mass together in the basilica Nov. 25 during their required ad limina visit to Rome.

Each pope has his own style for the meetings. As Bishop McIntyre understands it, this will be a two-hour meeting. It is not just the heads of the dioceses; all of the bishops participate in this exchange with the Holy Father.

“He asks the bishops for questions and uses (them) as the basis for his conversation with us,” Bishop McIntyre said. “Based on the questions he will make comments.”

Of course Nov. 28 is also Thanksgiving Day this year, but it is a strictly American holiday, something not celebrated in Rome.

For himself Bishop McIntyre already celebrated with his family before he left for Rome, but because they are staying at the North American College there will be another celebration there with turkey and the trimmings, bringing a bit of the U.S.A. to the Eternal City.

The visiting bishops will join the seminarians in thanking God for his many blessings, including this ad limina visit.