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What with the celebration of Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands and the assorted social engagements that accompany it, I find little time to write something substantial about tomorrow’s big event: the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom we may from then on call Blessed John Paul II. Luckily, several other bloggers and reporters are in Rome to share the amazing atmosphere in the eternal city with their readers. I happily link to them.
Father Roderick and Steve Nelson are in Rome for SQPN. They give a foretaste of the excitement and the crowds here. Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald shares her first Roman blog post to give an excellent overview of the events of today, including the closure of St. Peter’s Square at 1 this afternoon until 5:30 tomorrow. Finally, Rocco Palmo, of the excellent Whispers in the Loggia, offers several detailed posts about the preparations as well.
I will spend tomorrow morning in front of the tv. Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK will start live coverage at 10 in the morning.
Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK
Later today, Pope Benedict XVI will board a plane and fly to Malta for a two-day pastoral visit. The program, missal and other important facts about the trip are or will be published by the Vatican here, and of course there are plenty of reporters tagging along. One of them is Anna Arco, who is already previewing the visit at her blog.
An item not on the program but which may be included nonetheless, is a meeting between the pope and Maltese victims of sexual abuse. A group of men who were abused as boys have already met with Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta and they have requested to meet the pope as well. Archbishop Cremona said he would forward the request to the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has met with victims of abuse in the past, most notable during his trips to the United States and Australia. Those meetings have always been private and never part of the program of the trip. While it is theoretically possible that the Holy Father meets with the men, a look at the program shows there won’t be much time for it. Maybe on Sunday afternoon, in between the luncheon and the farewell at the nunciature.
A point of minor concern is the virtually omnipresent ash cloud over Europe. Some airports in northern Italy are closing down today, but Rome is expected to remain open. If not, the pope could always follow the example of Saint Paul and travel to Rome by boat… But without a shipwreck on Malta, please.
Both Anna Arco and Father John Boyle write that Church attendance seems to have been up this Easter. I can certainly say the same when I look back at the Easter Vigil here in Groningen. The number of baptisms and confirmations was at a steady nine this year (although Pentecost will see some more, especially confirmations), but the cathedral especially was well filled. Some people stayed at home because of the rain, but they made up for it by making Mass on the Sunday morning well-attended.
Of course, this year Easter has been overshadowed by the crisis the Church finds herself in, a fact not ignored in the various homilies I heard. I am happy to see, though, that the media does not always succeed in its attacks on the Church or the pope (at least those that try). The letter composed by Eric van den Berg and Frank Bosman has reached over 1,000 signatures now, local parishioners interviewed outside the cathedral remained supportive of the pope and the Church, a short article in a local newspaper echoed the same, and last night Fr. Antoine Bodar offered a well-spoken defence of the pope on television.
Of course, some media got in a huff about the fact that the pope did not mention or apologise for the abuse during his Urbi et Orbi speech. Apparently, some believe that the pope must make renewed apologies at every public appearance. But at the same time they refuse to acknowledge the apologies he and others already have made. It’s a no-win situation and one best not given too much attention.
It’s a crazy Easter, but one that is not even close to being overwhelmed. The resurrection of Christ, His defeat of death, continues to shine brightly in our lives even if, as my bishop said, the Cross of Good Friday is still firmly present in the Church and in our hearts.
Below are a few more impressions of the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen.
Numerous bloggers, especially those in the UK, have reported the news of the formal announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK from 16 to 19 September. There is an extensive website about the visit, offering all the details and then some.
Anna Arco has some comments from Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
American Papist, lastly, focusses on the great news that Pope Benedict XI will personally beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham.
From the Very Rev. Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Actor of the cause of John Henry Newman come these words:
The Fathers and many friends of the English Oratories are delighted by the official announcement that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will beatify our founder, the Venerable John Henry Newman, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during his visit to Britain in September. Newman made his home in the Archdiocese for all his adult life, first in Oxford, where he lived as an Anglican and was received into the Catholic Church, and later in Birmingham itself where he founded and worked in the Birmingham Oratory for over forty years.
The Holy Father’s life-long devotion to Newman has made a profound contribution to understanding the depth and significance of our founder’s legacy. His decision to beatify Newman in person confers a unique blessing upon the English Oratories and all who have drawn inspiration from Newman’s life and work.
The soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman also has a place in the banner at the top of my blog (he is the second from the right), since I consider him a great teacher, both knowledgeable and pastoral, especially for our often difficult times.
Austrian newspaper Oberösterreichischen Nachrichten ran an article last week, in which it reported a marked increase in people leaving the Church in the state of Oberösterreich. The paper speculated that the reason may be found in the Wagner affair (Father Gerhard Wagner was appointed as auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Linz, causing havoc within the heavily polarised Church there. Fr. Wagner asked the pope to rescind his appointment). The SSPX/Bishop Williamson affair would be an important secondary reason, the paper suggests.
All in all, the number of people leaving has increased with 43 percent, and although that is no more than some 1,000 people in total, the relative increase is enormous, and mirrored to a lesser degree in the rest of Austria (and the rest of Europe, I would say).
The newspaper interviewed Fr. Wagner for his opinion about it all. The translation from the original German is my own, although I relied somewhat on Anna Arco’s blog post.
OÖN: Father, what is the reason that the hhighest number of people in decades left the Church in the diocese of Linz last year?
Wagner: It is tendency that we can see in all of Austria: In the first place the people for whom the connection to the Church is already very thin, leave.
OÖN: But there were multiple affairs in the Catholic Church that angered the faithful…
Wagner: We must see it in a larger context: there was the affair of the Pius X society which some people did not like. But we must also not ignore conflicts within the Church. This divide also became clear with my appointment to the episcopate.
OÖN: In that regard, most of the criticism was about the way you were appointed. Many parishes had the impression that the decision was made without their input. Did the Church make mistakes?
Wagner: No. I don’t know who thinks that the decision was made over people’s heads. Why would the procedure be wrong in my case and right in someone else’s? We must acknowledge that there were people who immediately started to agitate when my appointment was announced. And there were others who did not notice how I was treated. Perhaps people should wonder how everything affected me. But everyone knows I have broad shoulders. This is about power struggles within the Church.
OÖN: Have these power struggles been resolved after your stepping down?
Wagner: What is clear is that, even if everything is quiet in the diocese, the problems are not resolved.
OÖN: Does that mean that the diocese should be ready for another turbulent year?
Wagner: We can count on it.When I say something that the people do not want to hear there is the risk that they will leave the Church. I really regret that development. But is it also not right when we avoid all heavy topics out of fear for the statistics. I don’t want the Church to only communicate silence.
OÖN: Is it also not so that the Church no longer addresses contemporary topics?
Wagner: When I say something that isn’t true anymore tomorrow, it is soon forgotten. The Word of God should serve to urge people on and give them food for thought. That’s why I hope that the bishops will have the courage to speak clearly. Even when they know that this will set things off.
OÖN: What are your wishes for the new auxiliary bishop?
Wagner: I wish him courage and confidence.