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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.
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.
Pope Benedict XVI today accepted the retirement of Bishop Joachim Wanke of Erfurt and Wilhelm Schraml of Passau. Bishop Wanke, 71, requested retirement in 2010 for reasons of health, but it wasn’t accepted until today.
Bishop Schraml is 77 and therefore two years over the mandatory retirement age.
With these retirements the number of vacant dioceses in Germany stands at four. In addition of Erfurt and Passau they are Regensburg, whose archbishop, Gerhard Müller, was called to Rome to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Dresden-Meiβen, whose bishop, Joachim Reinelt, retired in February.
Today’s double retirements may be an indication that we will soon see four quick episcopal appointments in a row: the long wait that Bishop Wanke and Schraml had before their retirement was accepted could indicate that something was going on behind the scenes, such as the smelling out of good candidates for the four sees.
Bishop Joachim Wanke, pictured above with the Holy Father as the latter visited Erfurt in 2011, started his episcopal career in 1980, when he became Coadjutor Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt-Meiningen, then not yet a full diocese in Communist East Germany. Three months after his appointment he automatically succeeded Bishop Hugo Aufderbeck upon the latter’s death. In 1994, as Germany was now unified, Erfurt-Meiningen became the Diocese of Erfurt and Bishop Wanke became its first bishop.
Bishop Wilhelm Schraml, left, started as auxiliary bishop of his native Archdiocese of Regensburg, and in 2001 he came to Passau as that diocese’s ordinary.
Both bishops hosted Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s visit to Germany in 2011.
Photo credit:  Kay Nietfeld dpa/lth (cropped version),  dpa
With 5,448 visits last mont, the summer slump didn’t really end until the last week of September. But now that the pope is back in the Vatican and the work in the local dioceses is really starting up again, I expect the coming months to be busier. Not least because of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation set to begin this month.
Anyway, on to the past month’s top 10 of most read blog posts!
1: Unhappy priests? 83
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 61
3: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 58
4: Ecumenism, not as easy as it seems 49
5: Risky trip – Pope to Lebanon 45
6: The bishop and the blogger 42
7: Cardinal watch: Cardinal Baldelli passes away & Words from beyond – Cardinal Martini’s last interview 40
8: Kirchensteuer – sacrament for sale? 39
9: Bishop Liesen on EWTN 35
10: The case of Jesus’ wife, and why it matters (or not) 33
Again some old and some new, with some interesting trends when it comes to search terms used to find my blog. Bishop Jan Liesen has been much searched for, as has Belgian Cardinal Julien Ries, the late Cardinal Baldelli and the first lines of chapter 13 of the Gospel of John, which relate the foot washing of the Apostles by Christ.
Meanwhile, my gratitude remains for the continuous readership my blog draws, which is an indispensable form of support. Another form of support may be give via the button below, for those so inclined. Be assured of my gratitude and prayers for all those who choose to do so.
“Is it not true that in a very short time the Lebanon will become productive ground, so productive you might take it for a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17)
With his return yesterday from a successful three-day visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI concluded what may, beforehand, have seemed like a very risky trip indeed. The ongoing protests (staged or otherwise) in Muslim countries, including some in Lebanon itself, formed a disturbing backdrop, and at times I caught myself wondering if the papal visit would end without incident. Luckily, and thank God for it, it did.
In contrast to the heated emotions and violent outburst in other parts of the Middle East, the Holy Father brought a message of peace, respect and encouragement, not just to the Catholic and other Christians in Lebanon, but to people of faith in the entire Middle East and the whole world.
Below I share some interesting passages from the various addresses and homilies given by the pope. You may read the full texts, which often include further expositions on what I have quoted, here.
On not cancelling the visit, and the reason to go ahead:
“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.” [Interview during the flight to Lebanon, 14 September]
“Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world… [T]he essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.” [Idem]
On the Exaltation of the Cross:
“Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!” [Address at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September]
On peace through human dignity:
“Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 3). The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.” [Address to members of government, diplomats, religious leaders and cultural representatives, 15 September]
The workings of evil:
“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.” [Idem]
Freedom of religion:
“The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!” [Idem]
The challenges of youth
“The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.” [Address to young people, 15 September]
“I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” [Idem]
In closing, here is the rendition of Panis Angelicus that was sung during the public Mass in Beirut:
All photos: CNS photo/Paul Haring
A week from today, on 14 September, Pope Benedict XVI will depart on what is, in some ways, one of the most risky apostolic journeys of his papacy. He will be returning to the Middle East for the fourth time – after Turkey (2006), Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and Cyprus (2010) – and this time the ever-looming spectre of local tensions is very concrete in the form of the civil war raging in next-door Syria. And with Lebanon’s recent history firmly tied up with that of Syria, the papal journey has been in limbo until recently.
Lebanon is the most Christian country in the Middle East, with almost 40% of the population belonging to several Christian churches, with the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch being the largest of these. Other Churches in union with Rome that have a significant presence in Lebanon are the Greek Melkites, the Armenian, the Chaldean, the Syrian and the Roman Catholic Church. All these Churches have their own circumscriptions, which makes for an intricate landscape of dioceses, patriarchates and vicariates. There are 33 active bishops and patriarchs in the country, headed by the Patriarchs Béchara Pierre Raï (Maronite), Nersès Bédros XIX Tarmouni (Armenian) and Ignace Youssif III Younan (Syrian). Also of note are Lebanon’s only cardinal, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir (Maronite emeritus) and Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad (Syrian emeritus).
The upcoming papal visit will be a three-day affair, with major events careful spaced over the available time. On 14 September, the Holy Father will obviously be welcomed in Beirut, and he will sign the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (which he himself kicked off during his visit to Cyprus two years ago). On 15 September, Pope Benedict will meet with representatives of the government, diplomats, religious leaders (always interesting in a country with a strong Muslim presence) and the world of culture. He’ll also meet with young people, another staple of papal visits abroad, at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerké. The last day, 16 September, will see a public Mass and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation, as well as the recitation of the Angelus and the departure ceremony.
A fairly short visit, but an important one, as its impact will not be limited to Lebanon. Countries like Syria and Iraq, which also have fairly significant Christian minorities, are no doubt also a focal point of this visit.
In the meantime, let’s pray for safety for the Holy Father during his journey to a place where tensions run high, and for a fruitful apostolic journey, for Christians in Lebanon and abroad.
As expected and as ever, July has been a slow month. Interesting events peter out until after summer, so the number of visitors peaked at 6,688. A significant percentage of those visited in the first week of te month, as the news of Archbishop Müller’s appointment to the CDF broke.
Here’s the month’s top 10:
1: An introduction to Abp. Müller 869
2: In Rio, a white dove for a late cardinal 70
3: Lectio Divina over het Doopsel 66
4: Why am I Catholic? 65
5: Het Probleem Medjugorje 55
6: Papal visit to England and Scotland, day one 51
7: The order of love – Woelki’s statements, one more time & Adoro to devote, two versions and a translation 49
8: A long-awaited appointment – Müller at the CDF 45
9: Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference 41
10: Cardinal watch: Cardinal de Araújo Sales passes away 40
Yesterday, the summer for the Church truly began as Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. While we may see some news and appointments trickle out of the Holy See until the middle of the month, things will only really start picking up until late August, as the papal return to Rome comes closer. Last summer was an anomaly in that respect, as Benedict travelled to Spain for the World Youth Days in the middle of his summer vacation. The first major event this year will be his visit to Lebanon in September.
Let’s use this time, which will undoubtedly be reflected in a rather less frequent posting routine here, as a time of rest, reflection, prayer and recharging for the coming year. And as we do so, let’s add a prayer for our Holy Father, that his summer at Lake Albano may offer him enough rest, so that we may soon see the joyous pope which we have too often had to trade for a tired-looking pontiff in recent months.
Photo credit: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images