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With Pope Francis residing in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery and Coptic Pope Tawadros II visiting from Egypt, the Vatican is temporarily home to no less than three Popes. But that’s not the only remarkable thing about this week. Tawadros and Francis are repeating a visit that took place exactly forty years ago between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III.
In 1973, the Catholic and Coptic delegates came together on an important confession of faith in Jesus Christ, in many ways the essential unity to achieve before any further steps in ecumenism can be taken. In the next days, we should look with hope to the meetings between Pope Tawadros II and his associates with the various dicasteries of the Holy See.
As Pope Francis said in his address to Pope Tawadros II today:
“Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of communion, among which I am pleased to recall the meeting in February 2000 in Cairo between Pope Shenouda III and Blessed John Paul II, who went as a pilgrim, during the Great Jubilee, to the places of origin of our faith. I am convinced that – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity.”
Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano
There is beauty in dying: if we have to die, it is best, we feel, to do so at home, in the place where we belonged in life. For Bishop Reinhard Lettmann this became true early this afternoon. After celebrating Mass around noon, he passed away, aged 80, in Bethlehem, in the country which had become his second home.
Similarly providential, it seems, the 150 or so deacons and priests who were gathered in Münster fr a day of meeting and study broke up their assembly and offered Vespers for the deceased emeritus bishop.
Bishop Lettmann was bishop of the Diocese of Münster from 1980 to 2008.
A priest since 1959, the native Münsterian held a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University and worked as a stenographer on the official documentation of the Second Vatican Council. In 1973, Msgr. Lettmann, who was administrator of the cathedral of St. Paul at the time, was appointed as auxiliary bishop under Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg, with the titular diocese of Rotaria. Christo tuo venienti occurrentes became his episcopal motto: “Rushing forward to meet Christ coming”.
In 1980, Bishop Lettmann succeeded Bishop Tenhumberg, who had passed away a few months earlier. Within the German Bishops’ Conference, he was a member of Commission on Ecumenism, and he was also a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. I addition to these and his pastoral duties, he was also a prolific author on various topics.
The obituary on the website of the Diocese of Münster characterises Bishop Lettmann as a “builder of bridges, one the one hand between people, on the other between people and God. He was open towards people, showing tolerance and patience. … He was always confident in dealing with complicated procedures, he loved conversations and encounters with people, but he also always drew strength from voluntary solitude, from silence and prayer.”
Photo credit: Michael Bönte
Whereas a cardinal’s 80th birthday usually represent a pretty definite point beyond which he can no longer vote in a conclave, this is not so for Walter Cardinal Kasper. His 80th birthday, yesterday, fell in the sede vacante, and that means that he can still vote in the upcoming conclave. Only cardinals who mark their 80th before the See of Peter falls vacant lose that right.
Born in the heart of southern Germany, Walter Kasper became a priest of the Diocese of Rottenburg in 1957. He started his priestly ministry as a parish priest in Stuttgart, but soon returned to studying. In 1958 he earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübbingen, where he also became a faculty member until 1961. Among other things, he was an assistant to Hans Küng. His academic career soon took flight, and included a teaching post in dogmatic theology in Münster and the job of dean of the theological faculty both there and in Tübbingen. In 1983, Father Kasper was a visiting professor at the Catholic University of America.
In 1989, returned to his native diocese, which by that time had been renamed as Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and he did as bishop. He would helm that diocese for ten years, and in 1994 he became co-chair of the International Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, an appointment paving the way for his future.
Bishop Kasper was called to Rome in 1999 to become the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He became an archbishop then and in 2001 he was created a cardinal, with Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova as his deanery. Today that church is his title church, as he was elevated to the ranks of the cardinal-priests in 2011. Upon his creation, Cardinal Kasper took over the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In 2010, Cardinal Kasper laid down his duties as president and retired, although he remained a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura until the sede vacante began last week.
Over the years, Cardinal Kasper has been one of the more visible curial cardinals, not least because of his critical approach to certain events and development, both within and without the Church. In 1993 he was one of the bishops who signed a letter allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. He also criticised the 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, claiming it was offensive to the Jews. In both cases, he was in an opposite position to Cardinal Ratzinger. On the other hand, his role in ecumenism also led to criticism from the more conservative wings of the Church. His ecumenical efforts were mainly aimed at the Orthodox Churches, and he led multiple Catholic delegations eastward. He also worked much towards mutual understanding between Catholic and Jews.
Most recently, he frankly spoke of miscommunications and mismanagement within the Curia, concerning the lifting of the excommunication of four St. Pius X Society bishops. Leading up to the papal visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, Cardinal Kasper perhaps too frankly about the secularism in that country, and in the end did not join the Pope on his visit.
With Cardinal Kasper’s 80th birthday the number of electors remains at 117. Only after the conclave does he become a non-elector.
Just before day broke today, a raging fire reduced the church of St. Clement in Nes, on the island of Ameland, to ashes. Only the walls of the island’s sole Catholic church remain standing, the mayor of the island has said.
The devastating fire comes just two days after the new pastoral team was presented by the bishop. Under the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden’s consolidation of parishes, the local island parish is to be united with several mainland parishes. Parish priest Fr. Paul Verheijen travelled to the island this morning to support the local community.
Bishop Gerard de Korte calls the situation “dramatic”, but expects the church to be rebuilt and the local Protestant communities to be hospitable to the Catholic faithful on Ameland.
The church of St. Clemens was the church where Cardinal Jan de Jong, archbishop of Utrecht from 1936 to 1955, was baptised and where he offered his first Mass. In his days, the territory of Groningen-Leeuwarden was still part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. The church was a national monument, built in 1877 by famed architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the diocese’s cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen.
In a series of Tweets yesterday, the former secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (the de facto head of that church community), announced that he was “done with the pretense of the Catholic Church. I see her as a church among churches and freely take part in the Eucharist”.
Dr. Bas Plaisier, who today works as a teacher at a Lutheran seminary in Hong Kong, was the scriba of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands until 2008.
In his statement on Twitter, which was met with both praise and criticism, Dr. Plaisier presumably means to say that he attends Holy Mass (which he is of course very welcome to do) and also receives Communion. He supports this action by saying that many Catholics agree with him and that what matters is who you invite. “And in that respect teachings or church do not matter”.
The Catholic Church invites, to use Dr. Plaisier’s words, those to Communion who are not only in a state of grace, but who also live according to and agree with the faith of the Church. Part of that faith is the consecration: the bread and wine truly becoming the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Protestant churches generally do not share that faith and can therefore not receive Communion. For, in addition to building community in Christ, Communion is also a confession of our faith. By receiving the Body and Blood of Christ we basically express our faith in God, and our intention of following all His teachings that come to us via His Church.
In the Protestant Church of Dr. Plaisier, the Last Supper does share similarities with the Eucharist in that is a communal meal. But in the Protestant service, bread and wine remain bread and wine. That is something that Protestant agree with. Leftover bread can be fed to the ducks and leftover wine may be poured down the sink. That is unheard of in the Catholic Church, as any leftover bread and wine are the physical Lord and must therefore be treated with due reverence.
With his statements, Dr. Plaisier does a great disservice to ecumenism. He basically tells the Protestant Churches’ main partner in ecumenism, at least in the Netherlands, that her teachings and faith don’t matter to him. His own opinion and feeling becomes decisive. Dr. Plaisier is a Protestant, and very obviously does not believe in the transsubstation. But is that reason to take the most precious treasure of the Church, Our Lord Himself, and receive Him without agreeing with what He teaches us? That is tantamount to saying, “Lord, that’s all nice what you are saying, but I know better than you, and will simply do what I think is best.”
The Catholic Church is very emphatically not a church among churches. The Protestant church communities are not a church in the way that the Catholic Church is, and the faith the express and share differs in important ways from the faith that has been preserved through the ages in the Catholic Church. We can’t water that faith down by saying that important things, such as the Eucharist, do not really matter, that what matters is that people feel welcome. Of course people should feel welcome, and we should do our best to make them feel welcome. But does that mean that we should bend every which way to do so, to even ignore or change our very identity to make things easier?
People, Protestant or otherwise, are very welcome to come to a Catholic Church, to attend Mass, to pray with Catholics. They are not free to take Catholic teachings and faith and change them to suit their perceived needs. That is deeply insulting for the host (both human and divine) and makes the human person, not God, the decisive factor in such matters. And when it comes to God, we do not decide. He does.
Photo credit: Gerard van Rhoon
Bold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.
What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. ”Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.
A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.
Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.
This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.
It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.
More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.
In 2009 I had the privilege of being a guest at the Maranatha church in Tilburg, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. This church is the home of the student chaplaincy in that city and as such hosts the activities of several student bodies. A priest is appointed for the pastoral care of students and staff of nearby Tilburg University.
The students and priest during my visit were perfectly hospitable to me and the other guests. There was food, there was conversation, there was interest in one another. There was only one problem. Only after my visit had concluded did I realise I had in fact been in a Catholic church.
While merriment and nourishment that was on offer are not alien to Catholics (on the contrary), there was little else to indicate the Catholic identity of church and even the priest. The interior of the church, picture at left, was a rectangular space marked by bare stone, concrete and bricks. There was an altar table of sorts, but no visible tabernacle, or any other indication of the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest, Fr. Hub Lenders, was dressed in his casuals, perfectly fine for the warm summer weather of that day, but perfectly unsuitable to indicate the fact that he was a priest and as such available for pastoral care and distributing the sacraments. If I was told he was the caretaker of the church, I would have also believed it.
This is a situation which is, sadly, not unique to the Maranatha church. There is still a major lack of identity in many Dutch churches and priests. And the results are easily understood, and in evidence at the Maranatha church: the Catholic identity is watered down in order to befit communion with the local Protestant communities. Ecumenical services in which a cracker is shared with anyone who wants to, whether they are Catholic or even religious or not, and the condoning of same-sex relations, abortion, euthanasia and many other things which society promotes, but which are at odds with Catholic teaching, were the result. For many of the students and staff attending services at the church there was virtually no clear difference between Catholic and Protestant, religious and irreligious. The message being communicated was that the only thing that matters was goodwill. While there are always exceptions, I do think this was generally the rule.
But the diocese is finally ready to change things, using the retirement of Fr. Lenders as an excuse. It has appointed Fr. Michiel Peeters (picture at right) as his successor; a young priest with experience abroad and also a Dutch blogger at the critical and active blog Voorhof.net. While Fr. Peeters intends the maintain the church community’s ‘living room’ atmosphere, he is also tasked with bringing it back in line with the diocese and the world Church and her teachings and faith. This requires an accurate presentation and communication of what that faith is. Ecumenical ‘table prayers’ are out, a proper licit Mass in is.
Of course there are protests, as there usually always are when things change ofter a long time. And now, like often, these protests flow from a lack of knowledge about the faith of the Church and an almost Protestant understanding of what faith and church are. And while we share much with our Protestant brothers and sisters, this is not one of those things.
For the students of Tilburg and the Maranatha church this means a renewed introduction to the Catholic faith and the Catholic understanding of what the Church is: in the first place sacramental and educational, and from that flows her outreach to the world, Catholic or not.
Photo credit:  Baasjochem/Flickr,  Peter de Koning/Brabants Centrum
The first stage of the Synod is slowing coming to an end. Wednesday was the last day largely devoted to interventions from the Synod fathers. There will be a final chance to intervene in Friday’s second session, but the time has come to get to work with the contributions made in the interventions and the ensuing discussions.
In yesterday’s morning session 25 Synod fathers and 2 auditors intervened. Here are some notable contributions.
Bishop Charles Drennan, of Palmerston North in New Zealand, outlines four points in which schools are important for the new evangelisation:
1. The encounter with Jesus Christ: befriending the Risen Lord, will see our schools animate with prayer, liturgy, the respect that stems from relating to others as brothers and sisters in Christ, and charitable service.
2. The diakonia of truth: in societies where the winds of relativism and individualism leave the tragic debris of moral confusion and crushed aspiration, our schools stand out as beacons of hope. Knowing the loving truth of Jesus and his Gospel – creative and life-changing, performative not just informative (cf. Spe Salvi, 2) – leads our young to discover the good: the path of inner peace, inner beauty and respect of self and other.
3. The spirit of wisdom: an antidote to the superficiality and triviality which can entrap the young and a foundation from which to strengthen the art of discernment and critique.
4. The sense of belonging to God’s people: identity and conviction are galvanized when the school reverberates with the Church’s ecclesial life of faith. Essential, is a manifest appreciation of the significance of the Day of the Lord and participation at Holy Mass.
These four points are clearly not a reality in many parts of the world, even in Catholic countries and schools, but they point in the right direction of what Catholic schools can be.
George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney in Australia, addressed the issue of penance and fasting.
“Recently I hosted a dinner to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadan fast. The Sunni mufti was on my left, the head of the Shiites on my right, with Jewish representatives adjacent. The topic of the night became fasting and penance.
It quickly emerged that the only group who fasted less than our Latin Church was some Protestants. It would be a break from Jewish and Christian tradition if this ancient practice disappeared. I commend the English bishops for reintroducing the traditional Friday abstinence.”
Bishop Raphaël Guilavogui, of N’Zérékoré in Guinea, called for a very practical measure to better facilitate the new evangelisation:
“With the concern for a pastoral of proximity, the Conference of Bishops of Guinea asked the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples for the creation of new dioceses in Guinea.”
Guinea’s Catholics, no more than a quarter of a million, are currently spread out across three dioceses (map at left). With so few faithful it is easy to imagine that it is a challenge for the bishops to be permanently close to their flock.
Archbishop Petro Malchuk, bishop of Kyiv-Zhytomyr in Ukraine, gives the reason to evangelise:
“Here is the reason for being for an evangelizer - to prepare and accompany he who seeks Jesus to the encounter with Him. This is exactly what Andrew did: he immediately led his brother to the Messiah, saying that he had encountered He whom we have awaited for centuries. An encounter with a living God, an entirely original and transforming experience which restores everything to its place, overturns from head to foot. Immediately, there is the need to proclaim a reality, which filled with joy, is liberating and salvific. John the Evangelist will remember about this his first encounter with the Master for his entire life: when he wrote the Gospel he was over ninety years old; this marked the beginning of a new day.”
In the afternoon, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the general relator of the Synod, read the Relatio post disceptationem, a summary of the points made in the interventions. Seven auditors offered final interventions after this reading.
Francisco Gómez Argüello Wirtz, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, pointed out the responsibility of those who have already been baptised:
“Faith comes from listening and today we find ourselves in a secularized society that has closed its ears.
If we want to evangelize, we need to give the signs that open the ears of contemporary man. But how can a Christian community reach this stature of loving faith in the dimension of the Cross and perfect unity? Here we find the need for the post-baptismal catechumenate to make faith grow.”