On the threshold: Bishop Olson brings diocese to Vatican for ad limina visit

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

February 25, 2020

Pope Francis shakes hands with Bishop Michael F. Olson during the ad limina visit with U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas Jan. 20, 2020. Pope Francis shakes hands with Bishop Michael F. Olson during the ad limina visit with U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas Jan. 20, 2020.
Pope Francis shakes hands with Bishop Michael F. Olson during the ad limina visit with U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas Jan. 20, 2020.  (CNS photo/Vatican Media) 


FORT WORTH — Bishop Michael Olson traveled to Rome with 17 brother bishops plus “the entire Diocese of Fort Worth, in prayer, in spirit, and in heart” for his first “ad limina apostolorum” visit.

While not physically near, the people of the diocese were ever present, because in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch – “Where the bishop is, there is the Church,” Bishop Olson explained.

Ad limina apostolorum, which means “on the threshold of the Apostles,” takes its name from the pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. The week-long visit includes an extended conversation with Pope Francis; Masses at the Roman basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major; and appointments at Vatican offices.

Unlike previous popes, Pope Francis hosts an open and unstructured conversation with the groups of bishops. His meeting with Bishop Olson and the other bishops of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas lasted two-and-a-half hours.

An “informal but important conversation among brothers,” the discussion covered evangelization, refugees, right-to-life, vocations, and the pastoral care of priests and seminarians, Bishop Olson said.

“The Holy Father’s chief concern about the Church in the United States is the tendency toward radical individualism and congregationalism, the inclination to see ourselves as not belonging to the Church, but instead viewing the Church as a smorgasbord where you pick and choose,” Bishop Olson recalled.

Bishop Olson shares the concern and noted that some Catholics identify more strongly with a political party than with the Church.

The pope, observing that U.S. policies extend beyond the country’s borders and aware of the upcoming presidential election, offered some advice to the bishops on how to give counsel and guidance to the flock in a polarized political landscape.

The pope suggested, “First, pray. Then state you are a pastor, not a politician. Articulate Jesus’ teachings on moral issues and what the Church teaches. Encourage and direct the people to pray, which is the beginning of formation of conscience. And, if you do it right, people will be very angry with you,” the bishop recounted, recalling Pope Francis’ truth leavened with humor.

Pope Francis thanked the bishops and the Church in the U.S. for its positive attitude towards refugees. “Despite the current struggles, we are leaders, compared to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Olson. “He encouraged us to not turn away from refugees, to listen to our better angels.”

On the threshold
Bishop Olson found praying at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul particularly meaningful.

Bishop Michael Olson and other U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas leave after concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 21, 2020. Bishop Michael Olson and other U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas leave after concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 21, 2020.
Bishop Michael Olson, and other U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, leave after concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 21, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


For the Diocese of Fort Worth, he prayed, “For peace. For protection of young people. For vocations. For family life. For renewal of priests, that they will be shepherds after the heart of Christ.”

Standing before the tombs of the martyred Apostles, “I was conscious of my vocation as successor to the Apostles, and I am willing to give my life for the truth, for salvation,” said the bishop.

Father Jonathan Wallis, who accompanied Bishop Olson, was also moved at visiting the tombs of our fathers in faith.

The priest, who serves as dean of men and director of seminary formation at St. Joseph Seminary College, said, “Seeing the bishops united around the tomb of St. Peter, reciting the Creed, then visiting the person who occupies the chair of St. Peter — the Pope — demonstrates that there’s something greater than yourself. We can get caught up in our daily concerns, but this is about salvation, about eternity, about leading others to Christ.” 

At the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Bishop Olson prayed at the cathedra, the chair of the Bishop of Rome: Pope Francis. “I prayed for him and his ministry,” said the prelate. “And I thought about the day I will stand before Christ seated on His throne and give an accounting of my ministry as bishop.”

During the five-day ad limina visit, the bishops individually visited about ten dicasteries, or departments of the Roman Curia, which administer particular aspects of the Church, such as clergy, family life, or Catholic education. 

Prior to the meetings, the dicasteries received relevant sections of the quinquennial report for the Diocese of Fort Worth. This document, submitted last summer, details the state-of-the-diocese in 23 sections and is compiled prior to each ad limina visit.

Bishop Olson said the Diocese of Fort Worth received praise for the V Encuentro conference, and the Vatican was “supportive and encouraging” of the diocese’s safe environment program, noting the efforts of priests, teachers, deacons, and lay people who work to protect young people and vulnerable adults.

Bishop Olson concluded his appointments with the dicasteries feeling “clearly, firmly supported by the Holy See in my ministry and responsibility as bishop of Fort Worth.”

Every bishop in the world is required to make an ad limina visit regularly. U.S. bishops are divided into 14 regions, the first of which visited in early November 2019, and the last of which finished in late February. The previous round of ad limina visits for U.S. bishops was eight years ago.

Currently, there are 3,017 dioceses, prelatures, and vicariates across the world, according to the Vatican.

The “Directory for the Ad Limina Visit” compares today’s ad limina visits to the meeting between Paul and Peter, which helped both apostles in their respective ministries. The direct contact between the bishops and the pope promotes and guards the unity of faith, while giving the pope “authoritative information on the actual situation of the various Churches.”

Accompanying Bishop Olson, Father Wallis observed the give and take between the bishops and the Holy See.

He said, “The bishops carried the daily lives of the people in the diocese, their hopes, their dreams, and their sufferings to the Vatican, and the bishops carried back the blessing of the Holy Father to us.”

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and other U.S. bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas leave after concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 21, 2020.

FORT WORTH — Bishop Michael Olson traveled to Rome with 17 brother bishops plus “the entire Diocese of Fort Worth, in prayer, in spirit, and in heart” for his first “ad limina apostolorum” visit.

Published (until 2/25/2036)
Back