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A unique remembrance in Munich today, of the only priestly ordination that took place in a Nazi concentration camp, today exactly 70 years ago. Karl Leisner, a deacon arrested in 1939, was ordained in Dachau by the bishop of Clermont, who also happened to be imprisoned there. From the website of the Archdiocese of München und Freising comes this bio:
“Karl Leisner, born on 28 February 1915 in Rees am Niederrhein, was already a deacon when he was arrested in 1939 for critical comments against the National Socialists, and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1940, and later to Dachau. In 1942, because of the hardships in the camp, Leisner’s pulmonary disease arose again and in 1944 he was seriously ill. Josefa Mack, a 20-year-old nurse in training and postulant with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, visited the archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, on 7 december 1944 and received from him the holy oils and other items required for the ordination. Via an imprisoned priest who had to sell produce from his herb garden in a concentration camp store, Mack brought the objects into the camp. Other detainees had made the staff, ring and mitre for Bishop Piguet in the workshops where they were made to work.
In the chapel in Block 26, Leisner was ordained in secret on 17 December 1944 and on 26 December 1944 he celebrated his first and only Holy Mass. After the liberation of Dachau in 1945, Leisner was brought to the sanatorium of the Sisters of Mercy near Planegg, where he died on 12 August 1945. Pope John Paul II beatified him on 23 June 1996.”
The bishop who ordained Blessed Karl Leisner was the bishop of Clermont, France; Msgr. Gabriel Piguet, who would survive Dachau and is now honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. He saved Jewish families by issuing false Baptism certificates. He died in 1952.
Karl Leisner was beatified together with Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg, also a victim of the Nazis, who died en route to Dachau in 1943. In his homily for the beatification, Pope St. John Paul II said:
“Christ is life: that was the conviction that Karl Leisner lived and ultimately died for. His entire life he had sought the closeness of Christ in prayer, in daily Scripture readings and in meditation. And he ultimately found this closeness in a special way in the Eucharistic encounter with the Lord, the Eucharistic sacrifice, which Karl Leisner was able to celebrate as a priest after his ordination in the Dachau concentration camp, which was for him not only an encounter with the Lord and source of strength for his life. Karl Leisner also knew: he who lives with Christ, enters into the community of fate with the Lord. Karl Leisner and Bernhard Lichtenberg are not witnesses of death, but witnesses of life: a life that transcends death. They are witnesses for Christ, who is life and who came so that we may have life and have it to the full (cf. John 10:10). In a culture of death both gave testimony of life.”
Today’s memorial service brings together the archbishop of München und Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx with the current archbishop of Clermont, Msgr. Hippolyte Simon and the bishop of Münster, Msgr. Felix Genn, who is the protector of the Internationalen Karl-Leisner-Kreises and whose predecessor, Blessed Bishop Clemens von Galen, ordained Blessed Karl to the diaconate.
The Dutch bishops have not yet spoken much in public about the upcoming Synod, but today Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch, does. And he makes a point that has been emphasised before by both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke: the Synod is not about divorce, remarriage and admission to the Eucharist. The question is a bigger one, as Bishop Mutsaerts explains:
“With the extraordinary Synod of the Family which opens on 5 October, Pope Francis mostly aims for a greater appreciation of the Christian marriage as a sacrament. It is clear that in today’s culture the Biblical vision on marriage and family is considered to be virtually unattainable, and is seen more as a burden than as good news. Perhaps that is the reason for Pope Francis to have scheduled the beatification of Paul VI at the end of the Synod, as a closing statement.
Paul VI was a staunch defender of Christian marriage. His famed and infamous encyclical Humanae Vitae, however, achieved the opposite according to public opinion. The Biblical ideal was almost completely forgotten. It is to be hoped that October’s Synod will not result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. Expectations, after all, are high. Some fervently hope that the Pope will change the Church’s teaching about divorced and remarried people; others fear he will. That would result in a repetition of Humanae Vitae. And that is exactly what Pope Francis is afraid of: “I have not been happy that so many people – even church people, priests – have said: “Ah, the Synod will be about giving communion to the divorced”, and went straight to that point”, the Pope told reporters on the return flight from Israel.
The questions is much broader. The family is in crisis. Young people rarely choose marriage. They choose others ways of living together. The family is in crisis because marriage is in crisis, according to the firm opinion of Francis.
I hope that the Pope will get the Synod he has in mind, and not the Synod which is mainly concerned with the single question of divorced and remarried faithful. That is certainly a genuine problem, but a far more complex problem lies at its root: few understand marriage as a Christian vocation, strengthened by sacramental mercy. Not without reason did the Pope give it “The pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelisation” as title, and he placed it as such emphatically within the context of evangelisation. Evangelisation is without meaning if we consider it without the Gospel. The words of Jesus to both the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery was hard to accept for those who heard it then and those who hear it now. Don’t forget that the Apostles thought that Jesus’ teachings about marriage were so difficult that it would be better not to marry. If the Synod is true to the Gospel – can she be otherwise? – she can expect the same response, and it will be her duty to inspire confidence that the Christian marriage is still recommendable.
Pope Francis is keen to emphasise that Christian marriage is a sacrament. Much of the confusion surrounding marriage and divorce arises when we lose sight of the fact that marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is not indissoluble because two people make a promise for life. The Church can dispense people from their promises. That is een true for the vows of religious. But the Church can’t undo a sacrament. Marriage is indissoluble for the same reason that we have tabernacles: a consecrated host can’t be ‘deconsecrated’, just like Baptism or the ordination of a priest can’t be undone. Even a priest who has ben laicised remains a priest, even though he can’t exercise the office of priest (although he can hear confessions in emergencies). Nobody, no Synod and also no Pope, can undo a valid sacrament. That’s simply how it is. We shouldn’t therefore expect a relaxation of rules regarding divorced and remarried people in regard to their receiving Holy Communion. Those who do expect this will be disappointed from the outset.
Most Catholics are unaware of the sacramental character of their marriage. Marriage, by the way, is the only of the seven sacrament which is not administered by a priest or deacon, but by lay people, by husband and wife when they say yes to each other. This is the sacrament that gives strength and mercy to be able to keep promises. That is what it is about for the Pope.”
In Hamburg, Archbishop Werner Thissen entered retirement accepted today, making Germany’s largest diocese the fifth to become vacant, after Passau, Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau and Cologne. Archbishop Thissen came to Hamburg in 2002 and turned 75 in December.
The Archdiocese of Hamburg in its current form is very young, being restored in 1994 out of territories formerly belonging to the Dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück and the Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, which was completely absorbed by the new circumscription. Hamburg is the only diocese to cover parts of both former West and East Germany. But although it didn’t exist for the major part of the 20th century (from 1930 to 1994), Hamburg does have a long history.
It was first established in the ninth century from the Diocese of Bremen and was already a metropolitan archdiocese then. It not only included parts of modern Germany, but also most of modern Denmark. In 1972 it was unified with Bremen, becoming the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, which covered also parts of modern Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states. In the 16th century the Reformation hit, and Hamburg-Bremen was suppressed. Almost a century later the Church in northern Germany reached a new semi-stability as the Apostolic Vicariate of the Nordic Mission, which included roughly the northern half of Germany, parts of modern Poland, the Nordic countries including Iceland. After much of that territory was split off into various new dioceses and administrations, the rump of the Nordic Missions vanished again, becoming part of the Diocese of Osnabrück in 1930. Schwerin, the part of Osnabrück that was in East Germany, became its own administration in 1973. In 1994, the new Archdiocese of Hamburg was restored as outlined in the image above, taking the bishop of Osnabrück, Ludwig Averkamp, with it as its first archbishop.
A short video on the Archdiocesan website serves as a small note of thanks to the retired archbishop, highlighting, among other things, the funeral of Archbishop Averkamp and Archbishop Thissen’s efforts that lead to the beatification of the martyrs of Lübeck, three priests and a Lutheran pastor who were murdered by the Nazi regime.
Archbishop Thissen hails from the Diocese of Münster, having been born in the city of Kleve near the Dutch border. After his ordination in 1966 he was a parish priest, spiritual councillor and subregent of the diocesan seminary. Following his promotion in 1974 he worked in the diocesan offices in the sections for general pastoral care and pastoral care for clergy and employees of the diocese. He became a resident cathedral chapter member of Münster in 1984 and vicar general in 1986. In 1999, Msgr. Thissen was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Münster and titular bishop of Scampa. In 2003 followed his appointment as archbishop of Hamburg.
And a second video, showing Archbishop Thissen’s love for music as he says goodbye to a number of faithful at the chapel of St. Ansgar in Hamburg:
The process of selecting a new archbishop is not unlike the one I outlined earlier, when discussing how a new archbishop of Cologne is chosen. A diocesan administrator is to be chosen within eight days, and in the meantime the senior auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Norbert Werbs, runs the archdiocese. The cathedral chapter, the nuncio and the bishops of the Province of Hamburg (which also includes Osnabrück and Hildesheim), as well as those of the Provinces of Cologne and Paderborn, the Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Erfurt and Görlitz are all to present candidates. The Pope will then draft a list of three names from all of these proposals, from which the cathedral chapter is to choose a new archbishop. The expectation is that this entire process can take as long as a year.
In the Diocese of Roermond today, Bishop Frans Wiertz officially closed the diocesan phase of the case of Limburg-born Bishop Frans Schraven. The paperwork, documenting the bishop’s life and the reasons for a possible future beatification, is now to be sent to Rome, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will eventually present it to Pope Francis, who has the final say about what will happen next. The file includes the proposal to declare Bishop Schraven a martyr, which negates the need for a miracle before his beatification.
Franciscus Hubertus Schraven was born in Lottum, Diocese of Roermond, in 1873. At the age of 21 he joined the Congregation of the Mission, in which he was ordained a deacon (1898) and a priest (1899). In that year he departed Marseille for China, and in 1920 he was appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Southwestern Chi-Li in China, and consecrated bishop with the titular see of Amyclae. He led the community which is now the Diocese of Zhengding until 1937, when he died at the hands of Japanese troops engaged in the lengthy war with China that led into the Second World War in Asia.
On 9 October 1937 the Japanese conquered the city of Zhengding where Bishop Schraven was responsible for the protection of some 4,000 refugees, mostly women and children. As the soldiers plundered the city and killed and raped at will. At length, the Japanese authorities demanded that Bishop Schraven hand over some women to fill the soldiers’ need for “comfort”, in other words, to serve as sex slaves. The bishop refused. In the evening of the day that the city fell, Bishop Schraven and nine priests were arrested and deported by truck. It took until 1973 before their fate was discovered: they had been burnt alive on a pyre…
In his homily today, Bishop Wiertz spoke the following words about Bishop Schraven:
“Someone who found out firsthand what it means to follow Jesus, is Monsignor Schraven, for whom we are gathered today. Because of his refusal to supply comfort girls, he chose in favour of a human existence for some one Thousand women. He chose against seeing women as objects, as commodities. With that he also chose for a literal following of Jesus.
When Bishop Schraven met with the Japanese soldiers, he must have realised what the risks of his position were. He literally told the commander, “You may kill me if you want, but giving you what you want, never!” A courageous attitude, which fits completely with what he wrote earlier that year to his family here in Limburg: “Essential is that we are ready when God calls us”.
Sometimes it becomes clear that – surprisingly enough – different times have the exact same needs. Bishop Schraven resisted sexual abuse of women. In many places in the world this sort of abuse still takes place. As Church, as faithful people, it is our task to resist that in the name of Jesus.
In recent years there has been much to do about abuse by people of the Church herself. It was shameful to find that faithful were guilty of something like that. Bishop Schraven shows us that in the Church there have also Always been people who chose the good side, who condemned abuse and even gave their own lives if need be. In Monsignor Schraven we have an example of someone who radically stood up for the protection of girls and women from sexual violence.
Where we are able to support efforts who aim to do the same, we, as Church, can’t fail to do so. We are obliged to do so in Jesus’ Holy Name. Hopefully we are soon able to invoke the intercession of Blessed Bishop Schraven, who gave his own life in imitation of Jesus in the fight against the abuse of people.”
An interesting suggestion from the bishops of South Korea to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: start the process to beatify the bishop of Pyongyang. Rather than a fairly improper effort to underline the holiness of one of their own, the bishops instead point to the strange and worrisome story of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-Ho and the plight of all the faithful in North Korea, Catholic or otherwise.
According to the official records of the Holy See, he is the oldest serving bishop of the Church, at the age of 106. But paperwork and reality do not always match, and the reality is that no one has seen Bishop Hong Yong-Ho in the past 51 years. No one knows if he is dead or still lives in some North Korean re-education camp. The North Korean regime isn’t exactly friendly to any religion, and publicly belonging to any faith is a risky business in that country. There are no priests in North Korea that we know of, but the Holy See steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the state-imposed reality as far as the appointment of bishops is concerned. Several South Korean bishops are officially appointed as administrators of North Korean dioceses, but no ordinaries, since the regime does not allow any priest to exercise his ministry.
Bishop Hong Yong-Ho, appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Pyongyang in 1933, and then as its first bishop in 1962 (the date of his disappearance), is the only North Korean prelate of whom we don’t know his date of death.
Of course, we may assume that the bishop has been dead for a long time. But the continued listing of his name as ordinary of the North Korean capital is a silent but solid protest against the violently anti-religious regime in that country; As long as we don’t get to hear anything about the fate of our man, we are not going to acknowledge anything you say or do (or don’t say or do), that sort of stuff.
In the meantime, Bishop Hong Yong-Ho has unknowingly become a symbol of the Church’s stance against the totalitarian regime of the Kim family and the worship they demand from their subjects. A future Blessed Bishop Francis would not only once more bring the situation in North Korea to the world’s attention, but would also serve as an inspiration for Christians in similar situations in other countries.
Nota bene: Of course the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can’t suggest anyone for beatification if that person hasn’t died yet, so there seems to be an obstacle there.
The markedly strong-chinned Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán marks his 80th birthday today and so looses his position as a cardinal elector. There are now 118 electors remaining.
Born in Toluca in Mexico’s heartland, Javier Lozano Barragán attended seminary in Zamora and subsequently studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a doctorate in theology. In 1955 he was ordained to the priesthood.
Returning to Mexico, Fr. Lonzano Barragán taught dogmatic theology and history of philosophy at the seminary of Zamora. He later headed the Pastoral Institute of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference.
In 1979 he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of México with the titular see of Thinisa in Numidia. In 1984, Bishop Lozano Barragán was transferred to Zacatecas to become ordinary there. After twelve years, he once more returned to Rome as President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance of Health Care Workers. Two months later, at the start of 2007, he was granted the personal title of archbishop.
Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal in his last consistory, in 2003. Cardinal Lozano Barragán received the title church of San Michele Arcangelo. In 2009 the cardinal retired as president of the health care council. He remained a member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Congregation for Causes of the Saints, and the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses until today.
Cardinal Lozano Barragán made headlines several times, mostly in defence of life. He is strongly opposed to abortion and euthanasia and received criticism over his stance on homosexuality, although he never advocated discrimination towards homosexuals. The cardinal anticipated Pope Benedict XVI several times, in his advocacy for a quick beatification of Pope John Paul II, and also in his alleged preparation of a report which would state that the use of condoms would be a lesser evil if one of two partners was infected with HIV. That report was never published, and the pope would later state that the use of condoms could signal a moral improvement on the part of the user.
It is the first year after the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and while a Blessed’s feast day is normally limited to those places where he or she was active (in this case, the city of Rome and the country of Poland), special dispensation has been given for every diocese in the world to organise one celebration in this first year. The Dutch bishops have chosen this weekend, 32 years on the day after Blessed Pope John Paul II called a special Synod on the Church on the Netherlands, for this celebration to take place.
The most high-profile Mass for the Blessed Pope will be the one in the Basilica of Saint Lambert in Hengelo, Archdiocese of Utrecht, which will be televised. Cardinal-designate Wim Eijk is the main celebrant, and most other bishops are to concelebrate.
But in this time, when the clouds of the abuse crisis still hang over us, a potential blemish has appeared. Mr. Frank Oude Geerdink, who was abused by a priest, has called for other victims to gather at the Basilica and stage a ‘silent protest’ in the presence of the bishops. Now, just like previous protests we’ve seen in the past years, this is completely misplaced. Mass is not the place for protest, since it is not primarily about policy or whatever passes between people. In essence, when a protest is staged at a Mass, the chief means by which we receive healing and reconciliation, and which belongs to God, is hijacked to merely make a point. This protest, which has trouble getting of the ground, by the way, is a protest against the lack of response from the bishops to the abuse committed by the Church. Now, the entire premise is wrong (the abuse is not committed by the Church, but by individuals) and the protesters must have missed the Deetman report and the initial reactions to it from the bishops and the religious superiors. While there is still more that needs doing for the victims the premise that the bishops stayed silent simply can not be upheld. Maybe that is the reason why, so far, only six people have signed up to join Mr. Oude Geerdink.
Two hopes, then; that the bishops continue working for the good of all the victims of sexual abuse; and that Sunday’s Mass will not be disrupted. That will simply do not an ounce of good.
Image credit: RKK/Dutch Bishops’ Conference