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And here we go… Today we enter the last two days of the 265th papacy. As Benedict undoubtedly looks forward to starting the twilight years of his service to the Church, in St. Peter’s Square, the crowds have been lining up since the early hours of the morning to get their final glimpse of our Holy Father.
Set to begin at 10:30 local time, Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience promises to be only a slight departure from the norm. The Holy Father will teach one last time, but we’ll have to wait and see what his choice of topic will be. He will take an extra long tour across the square before returning to the Apostolic Palace, where he will meet with some of the dignitaries who have travelled to Rome today. There will be no brief meetings with visiting prelates and pilgrim groups at the end of the audience this time around.
And at the same time this will be like no other general audience before. It will be a historical event: an abdicating Pope bidding farewell to his flock – present in the tens of thousands in Rome, and in the hundreds of millions across the globe. And without doubt it will be emotional. Unavoidable distant in space, the Holy Father is still close in the hearts of many, not least mine.
Sure, we will see him in images and video tomorrow, as he bids his farewells to the cardinals and the Curia, with Cardinal Bertone seeing him off from the Vatican, and Cardinal Sodano greeting him one last time on the helicopter pad at 5pm tomorrow afternoon. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the Governor of the Vatican City State, will welcome the Pope at Castel Gandolfo. Appearing on the balcony of the traditional papal summer residence, we will what now seems to be our last glimpse of the Pope, hours before he becomes Pope Emeritus. at 8pm. At that point the Swiss Guards will salute and depart - tasked as they are with the protection of the Roman Pontiff, and tomorrow evening there will be no such person…
And after that rollercoaster ride the next will probably stand ready on Monday, as the cardinals will start their General Congregations in preparation of the conclave.
Photo credit: Looking more tired than we have seen him before, Pope Benedict XVI sits before his last Angelus prayer on Sunday [l'Osservatore Romano].
One-time papabile, youngest surviving Council father and one of Africa’s most famous and well-liked prelates, Francis Cardinal Arinze reached his 80th birthday on 1 November. With this, the number of cardinal electors drops to 115 out of 205 members.
Born in an agrarian town in the Nigerian state of Anambra, located in the Niger delta, Francis Arinze converted from African traditional religion at the age of nine. His family later followed suit. At the age of 15, young Francis entered the seminary in nearby Onitsha, from which he graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1950. He stayed on as a teacher at the seminary until 1953. Two years later, he continued his studies at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. From here, he graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in sacred theology. Francis Arinze was ordained to the priesthood in 1958, at the chapel of the university.
Father Arinze spent the first years of his priesthood in Rome, earning a master’s degree in theology in 1959, followed a year later by a doctorate. He then went back to Nigeria, to teach at seminary, after which he was appointed as regional secretary for Catholic education in the eastern part of the country. Following that position, he studied at the Institute of Education in London. He graduated from there in 1964.
In 1965 Fr. Arinze became the world’s youngest bishop, when he was appointed as coadjutor archbishop of his native Archdiocese of Onitsha. As such, he also became the youngest Council father of the Second Vatican Council, when he attended its final session. He succeeded Archbishop Charles Heerey upon the latter’s death in 1967. Archbishop Arinze was the first native archbishop of Onitsha.
The start of his episcopate was marked by the outbreak of the three-year Biafra War, with the Archdiocese of Onitsha located completely within the breakaway republic of Biafra. The fighting forced the archbishop to flee from Onitsha, only to return in 1970. During his forced exile, Archbishop Arinze worked for the relief of refugees, as well as his priests and faithful who could not flee. The war’s aftermath was also a challenge, as the region was devastated and deeply impoverished, and the Nigerian government decided to expel all foreign missionaries, leaving only the native clergy, who were still few in number.
In 1979, Archbishop Arinze was appointed as pro-president of the Secretariat for Non-Christians next to his duties as Onitsha’s archbishop. When the secretariat became the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, he resigned as archbishop of Onitsha.
Two months after his resignation, Pope John Paul II created the archbishop a cardinal in the consistory of 1985. He became the first cardinal-deacon of San Giovanni della Pigna. Two days after the consistory, Cardinal Arinze became the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He performed several other high-profile tasks in that period, as a member of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of 2000, and before that as chairman of the Synod of Bishop’s special assembly on Africa. In 2002, he was appointed as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
An active catechist, Cardinal Arinze promoted faith education across the world, often travelling far and wide. In this period, the final years of the life of Blessed John Paul II, he was considered by many to be a possible future pope. In the end, he was not elected, although continued to be held in high esteem, evidenced by the fact that Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri-Segni, the titular diocese that the new pope himself had held until his election.
In late 2008, Cardinal Arinze retired as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Cardinal Arinze was a member of many Curial departments: The Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Oriental Churches, Causes of the Saints, and Evangelisation of People; the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, Christian Unity, and Culture; the Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses; and the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
With the Saturday sessions, presided by Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (pictured), the Synod of Bishops wrapped up its first week. As usual, there were interventions, 24 by Synod fathers and one by a fraternal delegate.
The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, made an important point about catechesis and youth:
“[T]he majority of young people, once their Christian initiation is complete, lose their relationship with the Church, the faith, God. There are multiple causes for this: however, I believe that in a not insignificant number of cases the faith is not supported by a catechesis that is friendly towards reason, able to offer a true anthropological instruction and able to legitimize the plausibility of the Christian choice. It is necessary to relaunch the CCC, giving greater space to its content in order to avoid reduction to a “do-it-yourself” faith; the fides quae is often missing from our catechesis.”
Other topics discussed were the personal experiences in the social pastoral field of several countries, but also, once more, the use of mass media in the new evangelisation.
Cardinal George Alencherry had interesting things to say about the lives and ministries of priests in recent decades:
“During the 50 years after Vatican II, the renewal of the Church has been multifaceted and highly productive. At the same time the lives and ministry of priests and men and women of consecrated life have become more functional than spiritual and ecclesial. It would seem that the present-day formation of priests and the religious personnel tends to make them functionaries for different offices in the Church, rather than missionaries inflamed by the love of Christ. Even in places of ad gentes missions of the Church, functioning through institutions have made the priests and the religious lose the impelling force and strength of the Gospel to which they are committed by their vocation. Secularization has impacted the lives of individual Christians and also of ecclesial communities. New Evangelization demands a thorough renewal of the lives of individual Christians and the reevaluation of the structures of the Church to empower them with the dynamism of the Gospel values of truth, justice, love, peace and harmony.”
Bishop António Da Rocha Couto (pictured), of Lamego in Portugal, asked himself, his fellow Synod fathers, and in extension all of us,
“Yes, we need proclaimers of the Gospel who are without gold, silver, copper, bags, two tunics… Yes, it is of conversion that I speak, and I ask myself this question: why did the Saints fight so hard, and with so much joy, to be poor and meek, while we work so hard to be rich and important?”
Bishop Berislav Grgic, prelate of Tromsø in Norway, painted the following picture of the Church in Scandinavia:
“The Catholic Church in the Northern Lands – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – is a very small minority and therefore has neither the advantages nor the disadvantages that the Catholic Church often comes across in traditional and prevalently Catholic regions. Despite its limited relevance, numeric as well as social, our Church is nonetheless a growing Church. New churches are built or bought, new parishes are instituted, non-Latin rites are added, there is a relatively high number of adult conversions and baptisms, there are vocations to priesthood and to religious life, the number of baptisms is much higher than the number of deaths and number of those who abandon the Church, and attendance at Sunday Mass is relatively high.
In certain sectors of society there is great interest for the faith and spirituality, by non-believers who are searching for the truth as well as by Christians committed to other religions who wish to deepen and enrich religious life. It is also interesting to see that during the past years a relatively high number of contemplative orders have opened their own convents.
The transmission of the faith, often however, is made difficult because of the vast distances. Our priests must travel far – sometimes up to 2,000 km per month – to visit our faithful who live in distant places and celebrate Mass. This is very tiring during the winter months.”
The fraternal delegate who also intervened was Dr. Geoffrey Tunnicliffe, general secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance. He spoke about ‘holistic evangelism,’ evangelisation which lies at the heart of the person and which is radically committed to worl evangelisation.
Following the interventions, the composition of the Commission for Information, supplying media and interested parties with information about the Synod, was announced. The Commission is chaired by Archbishop Claudio Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, with Archbishop Ján Babjak, of Prešov of the Catholics of the Byzantine Rite in Slovakia, serving as vice president. The other regular members of the Commission are:
Archbishop John Onaiyekan, of Abuja, Nigeria
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus
Bishop Manuel Macário do Nascimento Clemente, of Porto, Portugal
Archbishop José Gómez, of Los Angeles, United States
Archbishop Francis Kovithavanij, of Bangkok, Thailand
There are two members ex officio: Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, the Synod’s general secretary, and Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.
Lastly, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, serves as secretary ex officio.
In the afternoon the interventions continued, this time by 15 Synod fathers. Father Heinrich Walter, Superior General of the Schönstatt Fathers, spoke about the role of the family in the renewal of the Church in the west:
“The family remains the foundation for learning the faith. The family means seeing one’s home as the house of God. Children, with their parents, follow the lengthy path in learning the faith. The vitality of a community is connected to these homes. Families are not only the privileged location for evangelization, but inasmuch as they are laity they are also agents of evangelization.”
Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner (pictured), auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, raised an interesting point. He said, “New evangelization should take youths into consideration as ‘new agents’ of evangelization: the young who evangelize the young.” Rather than seeing young people strictly as ‘consumers’ of catechesis and education, it should be possible to turn some of them also into educators themselves. That would mean a different focus on the sort of catechesis presented to young people. Not only would they need to be able to learn, but also to teach by example and certainly also through being catechists themselves.
Just before the weekend, Archbishop Salvatore ‘Rino’ Fisichella delivered the closing remarks at Proclaim 2012, a three-day conference hosted by the bishops of Australia in Sydney. The text, which is available in my Dutch translation here, is not only full of enticing sound bytes, but also serves as an excellent primer for the upcoming Year of Faith and the new evangelisation. Not coincidentally, Archbishop Fisichella runs the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
There are several focal points in the talk, but the first, and most important one, is Jesus Christ being at the heart of the new evangelisation. His resurrection, and our proclamation of it, are what the whole thing is about.
“[W]e are called to renew the proclamation of Jesus Christ, of the mystery of his death and resurrection to stimulate people once more to have faith in him by means of conversion of life. If our eyes were still capable of seeing into the depths of the events which mark the lives of our contemporaries, it would be easy to show how much this message still holds a place of special importance. Therefore, we need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people’s existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith.”
Without divulging the entire contents of the text which you should just go and read for yourself, there is one remark which can be a good suggestion for catechesis:
“Central to the Year of Faith will be a focus upon the Profession of Faith. This will serve to return the Profession of Faith to its prominent place as the daily prayer of every Christian. To facilitate this, we have produced an edition of the Nicene Creed, which is the most familiar symbol to Christians due to its frequent usage within the context of Sunday Mass.”
The Creed, or Profession of Faith, is something we profess in every Mass we attend. But, as with all things we hear and say often, there is a risk of it losing its impact and meaning for us. Let’s dive into the Creed and analyse it step by step, line by line, word by word even, if need be. Just a suggestion for the Year of Faith.
In an address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference, of which he, as bishop of Rome, is a member, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the Church’s mission of communicating the faith in a secular world, in which even Catholics know increasingly less about their own faith. An address that not only applies to the bishops of Italy, but all Catholics.
The Holy Father once again refers to this year’s major anniversaries – those of the opening of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago, and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 20 years ago – and reaches his main point via the words of Blessed John XXIII: “What interests the Council most is that the sacred deposit of the Christian doctrine be protected and taught more effectively.”
In order to achieve that, the pope, after painting the major problems in this respect, urges for a new openness to the Transcendent, something sorely lacking in modern society. A solution must start with the liturgy:
“[D]ivine worship orientates man to the future City and restores to God his primacy, molds the Church, incessantly convoked by the Word, and shows the world the fecundity of the encounter with God. In turn, while we must cultivate a grateful look for the growth of the good seed even in a terrain that is often arid, we perceive that our situation requires a renewed impulse, which will point to what is essential of the faith and of Christian life. At a time in which God has become for many the great unknown and Jesus simply a great personality of the past, there will be no new thrust of the missionary action without the renewal of the quality of our faith and our prayer; we will not be able to give adequate answers without a new reception of the gift of Grace; we will not know how to win men over to the Gospel if we ourselves do not first have a profound experience of God.”
The text, in its translation at the link above, is not always equally accessible, but it is worth a read. It is a reminder to us, not only of what we are up against, but also of how we can start to turn the tide.
My translation is available here.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
“Instead of a vaccine that numbs, we must be a medicine that heals.”
Words from Archbishop André Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, at the Mass he concelebrated at our cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. The nuncio made the closing remarks in rather decent Dutch, considering that he has only been here since December. I imagine it’s due to his being part of the Holy See’s diplomatic mission here before.
The Mass itself was the main closing event of the week which marked the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral church of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. As such, the nuncio, concelebrated not only with our current bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, who also gave the homily, but also with cathedral administrator, Father Rolf Wagenaar and Father Marius Kuipers, who works in the parish as emeritus priest.
In his homoiy, Bishop de Korte looked back on the events of the week, ads ahead to the future. He outlined some of his wishes for the church to be a learning and teaching community, where the faith is lived and communicated, not only in the liturgy (for which he explicitly noted Fr. Wagenaar’s contributions over the past thirteen years), but also in our service to the world beyond the cathedral walls.
After the Mass, the bishop and the cathedral administrator returned to the sanctuary to receive the first copies of the memorial book about the cathedral. Titled Van Volkskerk tot Kathedraal, de St.-Jozefkerk in Groningen (From people’s church to cathedral, the St. Joseph’s church in Groningen), the book looks chiefly at the building and everything in it. As Fr. Wagenaar writes in his foreword:
“Several studies have already appeared about this church, but never a true monograph, and this church does deserve one, because she provides such a complete program of what a Catholic church wants to be. A church is a meeting place [...] but a Catholic church means so much more. “Awe-inspiring is this place, abode of God, the gate of heaven,” the introit of the Holy Mass of dedication of a church says, taken from the book of Genesis 28:17.”
The book, the end product of two years of work by a team of historians, looks in detail at several aspects of the Gothic Revival church: history, construction, architecture, furnishings, symbolism, vestments and liturgical vessels, organs, clocks and the liturgical disposition. For me as a parishioner it offers a new look at things I’ve often looked at – providing a sense of history and context beyond the building and into the larger community of faithful that is the Church.
The cathedral has known its ups and downs, as the book makes clear. From the threat of closure and demolition in the early 80s, it is now the home of a faith community with members of all ages, with an adequate liturgy and catechesis, and a large team of volunteers. With the bishop, I sincerely hope that the future is one of growth and development and these and other aspects.
In an address at Tilburg University, last Friday, Bishop Gerard de Korte gave an extensive outline of his vision of the future of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and the main priorities we, as Catholics must have today. The text, which I have available in English, is perhaps the clearest and most extensive game plan of a Dutch bishop. Bishop de Korte, who was appointed ordinary of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden in 2008, has been much-maligned in orthodox circles for his perceived Protestant leanings, but here he gives his vision on practical orthodoxy – orthopraxis – which crystallises into a ‘living Catholicism’: “open to all questions from contemporary culture, but at the same time with a clear identity.”
Bishop de Korte outlines several priorities for the future. Most important among them is what he tentatively styles a “catechetical offensive”: “It may sound dramatic, but I sometimes feel that only a great catechetical offensive can secure Catholicism in our country. Without it, the strength of our faith seems to continue to weaken and Catholics become more and more religious humanists for whom important aspects of classic Catholicism have become unfamiliar.”
It is good to know the priorities of your bishop, to see the direction in which he leads you. Bishop de Korte is firmly grounded in the realities of today’s society, but from there looks to Jesus Christ as our lifeline. All we need to do is grab His hand.
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and Bishop Jean Kockerols have sent a letter to the faithful, both clergy and laity, of the Vicariate of Brussels about the Metropolis 2012 project I wrote about earlier.
After an introduction about the context of the project, the ordinary and the auxiliary bishops outline the five points that the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation has outlined when it selected prelates of twelve major European cities to spearhead its first major endeavour.
Here they are, with the specific plans that the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels has:
The importance of the proclamation of the Word of God. The continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark falls under this point.
The grace of conversion. Four well-known Christians will be giving witness of their conversion. This will take place on every Sunday during Lent, and will be followed by Vespers.
The (re)discovery of Gods mercy. A ‘day of encounter and reconciliation’ will be organised on the Saturday before Palm Sunday in fifteen inner-city churches, located in busy places.
Catechesis by the bishop in service of the proclamation of the faith. Both bishops will be hosting catechesis meetings, the details of which were mentioned in a previous blog post.
Service and engagement to others, inspired by the faith. On 18 March, a great Lenten meal will be organised for all Christians. The Latin American community of Brussels has been asked to organise this.
These points, given these specific hands and feet in Brussels, can perhaps be considered the main focal points of the entire Pontifical Council. The realisation in other cities are undoubtedly different, but it may be a good starting point, like I said earlier, that gives momentum to the new evangelisation.
Photo credit: RTL.fr