Bishop Stika represents diocese on papal ad limina visit

Pope Francis receives bishops of Southeast provinces for decennial meeting in Vatican

By Jim Wogan

The last time Bishop Richard F. Stika visited the Vatican, he carried a 20-pound slab of polished Tennessee marble with him. Even the bishop admits it was a bit cumbersome.

The stone, which was blessed by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, became an integral part of the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. As its dedication stone, it is now on display in the cathedral’s narthex.

That visit, and the blessing by the Holy Father, took place in October 2015.

For the first time since that trip, Bishop Stika returned to the Vatican on Dec. 1 for “ad limina apostolorum,” a pilgrimage that requires bishops from all over the world to pray at the tombs of the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul. Bishop Stika’s visit culminates in a meeting with Pope Francis the week of Dec. 1.

Bishops from 17 dioceses in Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky have joined Bishop Stika for this particular “ad limina,” part of a series of visits by bishops from all of the dioceses in the United States that take place from November through February.

“Ad limina visits are mandated by Church law, and they’re very productive on many different levels,” Bishop Stika said prior to his trip to Rome. “All of the bishops on our ad limina will meet with many of the various Vatican congregations, including education, worship, and clergy, and we will present a report on what our specific diocese has been doing to help build the Catholic Church.”

This is Bishop Stika’s second ad limina. He met with Pope Benedict XVI on one of his first official visits to the Vatican as bishop in 2012.

Much of the information Bishop Stika will share this time is contained in a report compiled by Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville. It’s a hefty, 350-page report called the quinquennial.

“Fortunately, unlike the dedication stone, I don’t need to carry the quinquennial report to Rome,” Bishop Stika said before leaving. “It was sent by Deacon Sean’s office to the Apostolic Nuncio here in the United States, who then sends it to the Vatican.”

While the Diocese of Knoxville has shown growth in the number of registered Catholics and parishes since the last quinquennial report, the most recent report says that “… we are not satisfied to rest on our laurels, but we continue to build upon the solid foundation of our committed clergy, religious, and laity of the Diocese of Knoxville so that we might better witness to the Gospel of Christ and become the saints we are called to be.”

In addition to meetings with many of the Vatican congregations, Bishop Stika will meet with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He will use that meeting to offer an update on Father Patrick Ryan, Servant of God, whose promotion for sainthood was initiated by Bishop Stika in 2016.

Another very important ad limina highlight is a meeting with Pope Francis to be attended by all of the bishops on this particular visit. While there won’t be much one-on-one time with the Holy Father, Bishop Stika said he expects the session to last more than two hours—giving plenty of time “for a good exchange of ideas, and time for the bishops to ask and answer specific questions.”

The trip to Rome also will provide Bishop Stika with an opportunity to see Diocese of Knoxville seminarian Matthew Donahue, who is studying at the Pontifical North American College, located a short distance from the Vatican. Mr. Donahue will be ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Knoxville in Rome next year.

“I am really looking forward to seeing Matthew again,” Bishop Stika said. “His ordination to the diaconate will be special and, God willing, I will ordain him as a priest in the Diocese of Knoxville at the cathedral here in 2021.”

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