State of the Archdiocese: Cardinal DiNardo, Bishop-elect Sheltz update Pope Benedict on the local Church during ‘ad limina’ visit

March 13, 2012

HOUSTON – In just a few days, Pope Benedict XVI will hear about six years of change in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 
Between March 14 and 21, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Auxiliary Bishop-elect George A. Sheltz will join bishops from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas for an "ad limina" visit to the Vatican: a time for bishops to report to the Holy Father about the progress happening in their respective dioceses and discuss how they've cared for the Catholic faithful in their region. 

Pope John Paul II posed with a group of bishops from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during their last "ad limina" visit to Rome. Pictured from the local Church were then-Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza (seated, LEFT), then-Coadjutor Bishop Daniel DiNardo (standing, fifth from left); and then-Auxiliary Bishops Vincent M. Rizzotto and Joe S. Vasquez (standing, second from right and far right), who is now Bishop of Austin.

Prior to this week's meeting, Cardinal DiNardo submitted an 80-page "quinquennial report" to the Vatican detailing the transformation that took place in the Archdiocese between Jan. 1, 2004 and Dec. 31, 2010. 

In those six years, the local Church experienced an influx of peoples, particularly from Mexico, Central America, Vietnam, the Philippines and Africa; witnessed the dedication of 16 new church buildings, including the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart; experienced the elevation to an Archdiocese; and endured a Category 4 hurricane.

"It has been invigorating and challenging work to lead this local Church, an archdiocese that has doubled in size in the last 30 years," Cardinal DiNardo wrote in his first quinquennial report to the Vatican since he was named head of the Archdiocese in 2006.

‘A brother's visit to his elder brother'

The "ad limina" visit comes from the Latin phrase "ad limina apostolorum," which means "to the thresholds of the apostles." During their "ad limina" visits, bishops are required to make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, where the bishops celebrate Mass and renew their commitment to the faith. 

But the pilgrimage also affirms the bishops' tie (and that of their dioceses) to the pope, the successor of St. Peter and the visible head of the Church, according to Father Paul Lockey, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and an adjunct professor of theology at St. Mary Seminary and the University of St. Thomas.

"An ‘ad limina' visit is [an] apostle's visit to the chief of apostles – [it is like] a brother's visit to his elder brother," Father Lockey said, adding that in some ways the visits have been part of the tradition of the Church from its earliest days, though only formalized in the last century.
"Ad limina" visits are required from the active of the Church's some 30,000 bishops and occur roughly every five years – though as the Catholic Church has grown, a scheduling backlog has developed. 

Groups of U.S. bishops began their "ad limina" visits in November 2011, the first visits since 2004 during Pope John Paul II's pontificate. By the end of 2012, 15 groups representing 15 different geographical regions in America will have traveled to Rome to see the pope. 

During the "ad limina" visits, the bishops meet not only with the Holy Father, but with the various dicastries, or Vatican bureaus, pontifical councils, commissions and offices. During these encounters with Vatican officials, bishops discuss issues pertinent to their own dioceses.

"The dicastry relationships are critical because that is what the local diocese will deal with most of all with the Holy See," Father Lockey said. 

Time of transformation

In their visit with the Holy Father, Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop-elect Sheltz will share facts and figures that paint a picture of explosive transformation in the 10 counties of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 

In 2004, then-Bishop DiNardo was named coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. That same year, Pope John Paul II elevated the local Church to an archdiocese, creating a new ecclesiastical province comprised of seven dioceses in Texas. The local Church's first Archbishop, Joseph A. Fiorenza, retired in February 2006, and Archbishop DiNardo took the helm of the largest diocese in Texas. 

Cardinal DiNardo was named to the College of Cardinals on Oct. 17, 2007. Seven months later, the cardinal consecrated the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on April 2, 2008. 

Also in 2008, St. Theresa Catholic School was built and in 2009, Cristo Rey Jesuit, a new Inner City high school, opened. The Archdiocese completed a comprehensive plan, "Lumen Pro Via," for its Catholic Schools in January 2009. The Cardinal's Circle – a special initiative to raise resources for Inner City schools – launched in 2010. A new program, "Sacred and Safe," for students in grades kindergarten through high school, was developed to help youth keep themselves safe from sexual abuse; the program is now used by every parish religious education program and must be conducted annually in every grade.

After his elevation, Cardinal DiNardo instituted the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council to assist him in teaching and shepherding the local faithful. 
Hurricane Ike, a Category 4 storm, struck the Gulf Coast with 110-mph winds on Sept. 13, 2008. It was the second costliest storm in the history of the United States. St. Mary Cathedral Basilica took in eight feet of water and mud during Hurricane Ike. St. Peter the Apostle Church and Queen of Peace Mission on the east side of Galveston Island, along with the Catholic churches on Bolivar Peninsula, also experienced severe flooding and wind damage. 

During nine months of dialogue among pastors and lay representatives of the Galveston and Bolivar parishes and Archdiocesan leaders, a consensus developed that consolidating the island and peninsula parishes into a single community would best serve the needs of Catholics along the Gulf Coast. The Archdiocese consolidated the parishes on Galveston and Bolivar into Holy Family Parish. Galveston Catholic School, the only Catholic elementary on the island, was renamed Holy Family Catholic School. St. Mary Cathedral Basilica continues its campaign to raise funds for the restoration of the historic church. 

In 2009, Auxiliary Bishop Vincent M. Rizzotto resigned. In 2010, then-Auxiliary Bishop Joe S. Vasquez was named the Bishop of Austin. Cardinal DiNardo was without an auxiliary bishop until Feb. 21, 2012, when Bishop-elect Sheltz was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Challenges and opportunities

In preparation for the "ad limina" visit, Cardinal DiNardo said in his report that the Archdiocese faces unprecedented opportunities for new evangelization, as well as a chance to celebrate the "Year of Faith" declared by Pope Benedict XVI. (The "Year of Faith" will begin in October 2012.)

According to the quinquennial report, challenges for the 12th largest diocese in the U.S. include: encouraging priestly and religious vocations; fostering ongoing formation for youth, young adults, catechists and pastoral and administrative staffs of the Archdiocese; cultivating financial resources for Catholic schools and seminarians; and championing work for the poor and immigrants. "Comprehensive immigration reform is essential," Cardinal DiNardo wrote of the difficulties in providing pastoral care for immigrants in the Archdiocese.