We arrived at the Residenza Madri Pie, five minutes’ walk from St Peter’s Basilica, on Sunday, in time for supper and an orientation session for the days ahead.

Bishops, individually and in groups, have been making these visits Ad Limina Apostolorum (“to the thresholds of the Apostles”) since at least the 4th century. In the Middle Ages, bishops were expected to visit the pope annually, but this became problematic as it meant they were too often out of their dioceses. So Sixtus V (d 1590) established the current practice of visiting once every five years.

The purpose is to pray at the tombs of SS Peter and Paul and to strengthen the bonds of communion with the Successor of Peter. In the modern format it also gives an opportunity to discuss matters with the various departments of the Holy See.

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Providentially, Monday was the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham and we had Mass at the tomb of St Peter led by Cardinal Vincent. I was delighted when a group of catechists from the Diocese of Portsmouth joined us. They had been attending a conference in Rome over the weekend.

I never knew that many of the Vatican departments are located not behind St Peter’s but in the buildings along the Via della Conciliazione. Today we began the action-packed schedule of visits. Each conference lasts up to 90 minutes and with some of them you have a choice to attend or not. Today we all went to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and also to the important Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

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