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It’s still an odd concept: the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who also happens to be the successor of Saint Mark, travelling from the Egyptian capital to a midsized northern Dutch town – which is, in itself, not the most thrilling of locations to be – to be with the young faithful under his spiritual guidance.
Pope Tawadros II is doing exactly that this weekend. And the faithful attending the European Youth Conference love him for it. Miriam Yakob, one of the 750 attending, said, “He may even be more important to us [than the Catholic Pope]. He is our shepherd, our teacher. He is our father.” The Pope gave two talks at the conference.
On behalf of the local Catholic community, Father Maurits Damsté was among those welcoming Pope Tawadros to the conference centre in Stadskanaal, located about 30 kilometers to the south east of the city of Groningen, where the event is taking place.
Pope Tawadros’ visit follows one by his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who visited the Netherlands in 2010. Shenouda passed away in 2012, and Tawadros was elected in November of that year. In May of 2013, he visited Rome and met with Pope Francis.
The Coptic Orthodox is sadly not in union with Rome, and hasn’t been since the Council of Chalcedon of 451. The differences lie in Coptic understanding of the nature of Christ, but this is a highly technical issue. The Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Church have established close ties since 1973, and have together confessed unity in the faith in Christ.
Worldwide, there are between 14 and 16 million Coptic Orthodox Christians, with the vast majority, some 12 million, residing in Egypt. In the Netherlands, there are Coptic Orthodox churches in seven cities. There is a single diocese for the roughly 6,000 faithful, headed by Bishop Arseny.
Photo credit: Rtvnoord.nl
Workers at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in the German Diocese of Hildesheim need to keep their eyes peeled for unique guests wandering the grounds of the church, which is undergoing restoration works. Now at an age that they are starting to want to use their wings, three young Eurasian eagle-owls have begun taking the 30 meter leap from their nest box, landing at the foot of the tower, where they wander about, wondering what to do next.
A worker found the above owlet on the ground today, a week after another had probably accidentally fallen out of the nest. While the first owlet got hurt in its fall, this second one is displaying natural behaviour, leaving the nest to stretch his or her wings and learn to hunt.
Hildesheim is on the western edge of the Eurasian eagle-owls natural range, which stretches east to Korea and south to Spain, Iran and southern China. In past years, the nest box in the cathedral was used by kestrels, which are far more common. The expectation was that, when it became clear that the box was in use again, that the kestrels had returned. A webcam, which had not been aimed at the nest because of restoration work, was switched on two weeks ago, when the real occupants were discovered: a pair of eagle-owls with three young.
Photo credit: bph
So the vatican redesigned its website. Reshuffled it, more likely.
Still, at least they got rid of the unnecessary “choose your language” page which would then lead you to the homepage in your language of choice.
But, contrary to appearance, I am not bothered by how the website looks. It has a certain charm, and while intuition is not enough to find what you are looking for, it is there (and if it isn’t, there are countless websites which do – among them the Vatican’s own News.va, the website of Vatican Radio, Zenit, and so on).
My only wish would be proper websites for the Curial departments, with easy access to what they publish.
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp considers the Christian faith’s authenticity and the physicality of the Resurrection.
How do you know if someone is sincere? How do you feel if someone is genuine? There is a simple measure: when the body confirms, or even transcends, the language of words. What use do I have for someone who says a lot about solidarity, but never shakes my hand? What use do I have for someone who has good views about the family, but is never home? What use do I have for someone who speaks about human rights, but always eats at the most expensive tables? The proof of the pudding is not in thoughts or words, but in the body. Where you go, from whom you make an effort, with whom your body wears or ages: that is the measure of authenticity. Ordinary people know this all too well.
Christians believe that God’s Word became “man” in Jesus. In the Greek and Latin it actually says that God Word became “flesh”, or took on bodily form, in Jesus. God did not limit Himself to words and promises. He did not get stuck in conversations with His people. Undoubtedly some wished He did: the continuation of a fiery discussion with God, with arguments for and against. God did not walk into that trap. He became man in Jesus, a man of flesh and blood, who embodied what He said. People looked at Jesus and saw that He was sincere: towards them and towards God.
Jesus paid a great price for that. When people could no longer stand His words, He had to go. It wasn’t so much His message that had to be fought or denied. It was God’s “becoming man” in flesh and blood that had to be blocked, if need be with brutal violence. That which made Jesus bodily present, that had to end. Silence fell around Jesus on Good Friday. Nothing had to be said any longer. His dead body on the cross surpassed the words He could have said. By the way, there was no one who wanted to hear them anymore. His body was laid in the tomb.
At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In the Creed we will solemnly sing that we believe in “the Resurrection of the body”. That is indeed what Easter is about: about our faith in the resurrection of the body. Jesus is risen completely and forever. Everything in Him has been brought to completion and glory by the Father. Nothing was left behind, least of all the body with which He had confirmed His words and completed His sacrifice. After Easter Jesus carried in His hands and sides the scars from the Cross. Thomas could put his fingers in them. That completed the wonder and joy of the disciples. In Jesus, the Father most certainly made a man of flesh and blood rise from death!
The power of the Resurrection does not hover like cloud above the earth. It enters this world and our loves, into the core of our humanity. And especially: it enters the language of the body. Places where the Resurrection breaks through have everything to do with the proof of the pudding, which has to come from the body. Where strangers shake hands, where a volunteer pushes a wheelchair, where a child is born, where an ill person struggles with pain, where partners remain loyal, where the gun is put down, where a kiss is genuine, where food aid is being distributed, where gossip falls silent, where solidarity can come from gut feeling: that is where the power of the Resurrection breaks through. Where the body can put the signature of God, that is where the world has a future.
I wholeheartedly wish you a happy Easter!”
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Apostolic Administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau, speaks about the freedom and life that God gives at Easter, through the Resurrection of His Son.
“Dear sisters, dear brothers in the community of faith,
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” That is the question that the youngest member present must ask the head of the family during the Jewish feast of Pesach. And in answer, the latter describes year after year the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt, as we have just heard in the reading from the book Exodus. Of course, all who have come together for the feast known this: and yet it is valuable to hear this history anew every time. And this becomes clear to them: It is God who leads to freedom! He who entrusts himself to Him, can stand up to even superior numbers. With His strong arm he gives new courage and leads us to His goal.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” For us as Christians the focus of this question goes even further. The night of Easter is more than the feast of the one liberation from slavery of a superior people. It is about more than the experience that we can trust God in our lives. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we celebrate life having defeated death and sin once and for all. We have become “free from sin”, as we have heard in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (6:7). Jesus having risen from the dead means for us that we “should begin living a new life” (Rom. 6:4). Everything is different from one moment to the next. The event of the Resurrection of Jesus changes the view on our lives. From now on it stands under a different sign. In the end, meaningless and emptiness do not remain. Life is victorious, hope defeats all doubt and fear. Yes, for us it is this night, in wich we experience permanent freedom, in which we are given new and eternal life. It is the basic message as given in an Easter song: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.”
And yet, dear brothers and sisters, we do not find this message very easy. Can it be really true that death has lost its terror, that life has won the final victory? What we hear is almost too great. Do we really dare trust this news, even in the face of so much suffering and injustice in the world? We are at least not alone when we react hesitantly. The women, who wanted to go to the grave early in the morning to show their closeness to the deceased, find it difficult to have faith in the surprising news that jesus is risen and lives. It’s almost too bizarre: the message of the liberation of mankind from sin and death must be so strong that it works by itself . But that is not the case. In the face of the enormity of this message, the joy of the women at the empty grave is mixed with doubt. “Do not be afraid!” (Matt. 28:5, 10) – they need the encouraging words from the angel and from Jesus Himself to face the new situation and to take courage. It would have been far simpler if everything remained as it was! But perhaps we can somehow accept it. Every life ends at some point. The message of life and liberty is not so easy against this supposed realism. We much rather stay with our supposed certainties and are not so quick to let ourselves be surprised by God.
That is why this night differs from all others. It wants to encourage us. We must not be satisfied with too little. Supposed realism, which is often nothing more than pessimism in disguise, is only plausible on first glance. This night tells us: away with pessimism and all prophets of doom! Trust freedom and life! God Himself gives it to us! Pope Francis summarises it: “Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! […] Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.” Yes, dear sisters and brothers, the call of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!” – it also applies to us! We can trust the possibilities that God grants us. We can live in the freedom into which He leads us. We have every reason to be lieve the promise that He gives us life, eternal life. Like the small light of the paschal candle that has driven the darkness out of our cathedral, to God defeat all darkness and gloom of the world with the Light of Life. There may be needs and misery, sickness and death in our daily lives: these do not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than all indifference.
This night teaches us that we are fundamentally freed by God, because do not need to be held prisoner by our concerns and needs. It shows us that we should not have any fear, since life is stronger than death. But it is not content with that. It looks for our answer. The event of this night wants our voice for life and freedom! It wants us to be carriers of hope ourselves and distributors of light. We should gather the courage that the women had; while they were still fearful, but hurried with joy to the Apostles to tell them of this nigh-unbelievable news. Yes, he who has experienced that life is victorious, can’t keep it to himself but carries the message further into the world. Whoever it is, he stands for life and freedom.
This becomes especially clear, dear sisters and brothers, in the Sacrament of Baptism. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). This commandment from Jesus to His disciples concludes the encounters with the Risen One. The liberating message of His Resurrection is not ours alone. It applies to all people. That is why we bless the water of Baptism, with which the Sacrament of Baptism is conferred, in every Easter vigil. At the same time it reminds us of our own Baptism. That is why I am pleased that we will give, in this Easter night in our cathedral, new life through the water of Baptism, given to us in this special night, to Ms. Nina Shokira. And she wants to share this life with her son Yuri, who will also receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the external sign in which we experience the liberation from the trappings of sin and are called to new life in Jesus Christ. In the extent that baptism changes our lives, so important it is that we agree with from within and always remember what it means to belong to Jesus Christ and to be blessed by Him with new life. When we live from this, we feel how much this night changes our lives. Because all our days are permeated and carried by the liberating power of God. So: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.” Amen.
On his 87th birthday, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI will undoubtedly mark today quietly with friends, family and music. May it be a happy day for him!
Msgr. Klaus Metzl called it the most beautiful day of the year so far, and well he might. The Diocese of Passau, located where Germany meets Austria and the Czech Republic, had been without a bishop for 18 months, so the appointment of a new shepherd on Friday was indeed what both he and the faithful had “waited, hoped and prayed for”.
In october of 2012, Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired after almost eleven years at the helm of the almost 1300-year-old diocese, but stayed on for one more year as Apostolic Administrator, after which Msgr. Metzl took over.
And now the choice has fallen on Bishop-elect Stefan Oster to be the 85th bishop of Passau. The new bishop is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (an order which boasts an additional 124 bishops and cardinals among its members) and will be the youngest ordinary of Germany upon his consecration on 24 May. There are five German bishops younger than him, but they are all auxiliaries.
The appointment of Bishop-elect Oster has been welcomed almost everywhere, which seems to be generally due to his unassuming yet communicative personality. A former journalist, the 48-year-old future bishop never held positions of power, either within or outside the Salesians. The fact that he was chosen must therefore be due to his person qualities, or, as the case may be, those which he exhibited in his life before joining the Salesians, when he was a journalist, student of philosophy, history and religion in Germany and the UK, and ultimately theology before ordained in 2001. After an award-winning dissertation at the University of Augsburg, he joined the future bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, in Trier. In recent years he has been mainly active as a teacher. And he also juggles.
A trained dogmatist, Bishop-elect Oster has the ingredients for a long and fruitful occupation of the see that was first established by Saint Boniface: communication, an unassuming and fraternal personality and theological acumen.
The number of vacant dioceses in Germany is now back to five – Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne, Limburg and Hamburg.
Photo credit: DPA
Christmas is the day on which we reopen our hearts to Christ, to receive Him as He was received more than 2,000 years ago. We find Him also in the people around us, with their questions, curiosity and need for confirmation in and strengthening of their faith.
Hence another round of questions to be answered. I find these questions in the search terms that have lead people to my blog. In some cases their search will have given them an answer, in other cases it won’t. For them, and for other as well, I will try and give short comprehensive answers that may be of help. All questions were asked in the last month.
Will Archbishop Georg Gänswein become a cardinal?
Archbishop Gänswein is the Prefect of the Papal Household, personal assistant to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and one of the most visible prelates next to the Pope. At general audience and other major events with the Holy Father, he can be seen at his side. Will he be made a cardinal in next February’s consistory? I would expect not. There are a few reasons for this. No Prefect of the Papal Household has been a cardinal since Pietro Gasparri from 1914 to 1918, and he was already a cardinal when appointed to the office. However, the five Prefects between Gasparri and Gänswein were made a cardinal later: Giovanni Tacci Porcelli in 1921, after wrapping up his duties as Prefect of the Holy Apostolic Palaces and before being made Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Mario Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano in 1969, also immediately after completing his work as Prefect; the same goes for Jacques Martin in 1988; Dino Monduzzi in 1998; and James Harvey in 2012, when he was made Archpriest of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. So there is certainly a precedent for Archbishop Gänswein being made a cardinal after being given another position in the Curia or in a diocese somewhere. But will Pope Francis be the one to do it? I have my doubts. I expect that his first consistory may be fairly light on Curial prelates and heavy on diocesan bishops, shepherds in the truest sense. And creating men as cardinals as a form of reward? I don’t see Francis doing that either.
I am a Catholic but have not been to Church in a very long time. How do I get back?
Go. Just go to a Church near you, or further away of you want, and enter. You are always welcome. Christ is there and He will not turn you away. Enter and sit down, open your heart to Christ. Take all the time you need. And if the time is right for you, strike up a conversation. With a volunteer, the sacristan, a Massgoer, the parish priest, even. They can and will welcome you and help you in whatever way you want and need. Don’t think there is a lot you need to do as soon as you walk into the church. God is patient. Once you are ready, the priest can help you take the next steps to return to full communion with Christ and His Church.
Who is Catholic Bishop Lewis Zeigler?
He is the Metropolitan Archbishop of Monrovia in Liberia. Archbishop Zeigler is 69 and was appointed as Bishop of Gbarnga in Liberia in 2002. In 2009 he was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Monrovia, ie. auxiliary bishop with right of succession, in 2009. In 2011, he became the archbishop. He has also been the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Liberia since 2005.
Cardinal Burke demoted?
I’ll leave that to Father John Zuhlsdorf to explain and interpret.
Sviatoslav Shevchuk as cardinal?
This one is a bit more likely. Major Archbishop Shevchuk is the head of a Church united to Rome, and Pope Francis knows both him and the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Until 2011, Archbishop Shevchuk was auxiliary bishop and apostolic administrator of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires, the Ukrainian Catholic jurisdiction in Argentina, with its see in the same city where Pope Francis was archbishop until this year. Pope Francis has shown sympathy to the eastern churches, and Archbishop Shevchuk has lobbied for his church to be elevated to a Patriarchate. His position and Pope Francis’ familiarity and sympathy make him a very likely future cardinal. And at the age of 43 he would be the youngest cardinal by far.
77 years ago, one Jorge Mario Bergoglio cried his little lungs out in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Happy birthday, Papa Francesco!
Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring