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Images speak louder than words, and this is no exception…
Pope Francis, the 266th bishop of Rome, cradles the relics of the first Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter. With this display of continuity from the time of Christ to today, the Year of Faith was closed yesterday. Looking back, we must also look forward, as we, being Christians, are ever called to do.
As Pope Francis said in his homily:
“Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!”
Just before the weekend, Cardinal Eijk wrote a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Utrecht about what could perhaps be considered the single most divisive topic in the Dutch Church today: parish mergers and the closing of church building.
The letter is, in my opinion, one of the better written outings of a bishop in recent years. Cardinal Eijk starts out by explaining his understanding the pain of seeing one’s church closed, and the role the building plays in the lives of so many faithful.
“It is the church where they let their prayers ascend to God, where they were baptised and had their children baptised, were they were married and were they said goodbye to their loved ones. The church also which the faith community itself saved up for: stone by stone, beam by beam, roof tile by roof tile. Until the church was ready to enter service as the highest attainable purpose for a building: as a House of God and meeting place for His people. The church is the place where we may receive the Eucharist and so can come closest to Christ.”
In recent years, the project of parish mergers in several dioceses has led to communities splitting off from the diocese and choosing their own path. These communities are usually driven by their very strong sense of community which they want to preserve. About that, the cardinal writes:
“There are faith communities where the sense of community is so strong that it acts like a barrier. We must strive to also be a faith community “with the neighbours”. And while a sense of community is a great good, it can’t put up walls. Solidarity transcends the boundaries of local faith communities, because as the human body has many limbs, we are all together in Christ one body. Among us as Christians the sense of community must reach further than the direct environment. What matters is that we desire to grow in unity of brothers and sisters in Christ: not just in our own faith community, but also and especially across the boundaries of our own faith community.”
Cardinal Eijk also devotes words to how the process works: that the initiative of closing churches does not lie with him, but with the parish councils in question, and that no one enjoys such a necessary step. But needs must, as they say, and the reality of today means that we can’t stick our heads in the sand, but that we must face it head on. And that is not always enjoyable.
And at the root of all these considerations? There lies our true support: the Lord Himself. When we become dejected, lose faith and even hope when our church is forced to close, we may find ourselves in the good company of the Apostles. But in Christ there is always hope, even if our home of many years is lost. As Catholics, we have a higher home to strive for, after all.
A good letter, well worth a read. I have an English translation available here
Following a week in Rome, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis on Monday, and today we learn the result of that meeting, which the bishop called “very encouraging”. Below is my English translation of the official press release, which contains some significant information.
The Holy Father has at all times been informed fully and objectively about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg.
In the diocese a situation has developed in which the bishop, H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst can’t exercise his episcopal service at this time.
After the “fraternal visit” of His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo this past September, the German Bishop’s Conference, pursuant to an agreement between the bishop and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, has established a commission to carry out a thorough investigation into the construction of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of said investigation and the related responsibilities in this matter, the Holy See considers it advisable for H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst to remain for some time outside the diocese.
Upon the decision of the Holy See the appointment of city dean Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, which was planned by the bishop for 1 January 2014, becomes effective today. Vicar General Rösch will manage the affairs of the Diocese of Limburg in absence of the bishop with the authority associated with his office.
First of all, we learnt hat the Holy Father “has at all times been informed fully and objectively”. We may therefore assume that the decision was made on the basis of facts instead of media assumptions. The fact that the Pope not only heard Bishop Tebartz-van Elst on the matter, but also Archbishop Zollitsch and Cardinal Meisner is evidence enough that he got the real story.
Furthermore, we find that the bishop will spend the course of the German Bishop’s Conference investigation into the matter outside the Diocese of Limburg. Other sources inform us that he will be in a monastery somewhere. Some have seen this is evidence that Pope Francis is paving the way for a quick succession when the investigation is over, but in my opinion it would simply be a precaution against stirring up the situation even more. If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be to return to Limburg immediately, many would use that against him, seriously impeding both his own work as bishop and the work of the bishops’ commission into the finances. In essence, it keep things quiet enough for everyone to do their work. And it allows the bishop the time to reflect on any thing he did wrong, to pray and eventually to return home strengthened and refreshed.
Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch (pictured above), in the meantime, sees his upcoming appointment as the new vicar general of the diocese moved forward. Current vicar general, Msgr. Franz Kaspar was to continue in his office until the star of the new year, but has to make way for his successor now.
A short history of Msgr. Rösch:
54-year-old Msgr. Rösch was until now the area dean of Wiesbaden. An engineer by trade, he studied philosophy and theology in Frankfurt and Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Bishop Karl Lehmann (now a cardinal) of Mainz in 1990. After various appointments as parish priest, Fr. Rösch was appointed by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s predecessor, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, to lead the diocesan seminary in 1997. He held that position until 2003, before returning to the parishes in Königstein and Wiesbaden.
The press release above states that Msgr. Rösch (the monsignor title comes with the office, and will be relinquished should the vicar general take on another appointment) will perform his duties “with the authority associated with his office”. What is that authority?
Canons 475 to 481 of the Code of Canon Law describe the function and authority of the vicar general. He assists the bishop in the exercise of his duties and has the same executive power as the bishop, except for those rights and duties which the bishop has reserved for himself or which are solely his by law. This means that the authority of vicar general Rösch is somewhat more limited than that of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. In essence, he will be able to manage the daily affairs of the diocese, but is limited in making changes and introducing new policies.
It is perhaps striking that Limburg’s auxiliary bishop (yes, there is one, who has remained outside the media frenzy quite effectively), Msgr. Thomas Löhr (pictured at right), has not been tasked with managing the diocese in the ordinary’s absence. Then again, while it is usual for an auxiliary bishop to be vicar general, it is not mandatory.
Lastly: despite what too many media outlets have claimed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not been suspended. He remains the bishop of Limburg with all the rights and duties attached to that office. The current ‘time out’ merely means he can’t exercise those duties until the Holy Father, or those speaking for him, decide otherwise. The bishop may at any time be allowed to resume in his episcopal ministry. There are no sanctions undertaken against him.
Photo credit: Bistum Limburg
As many will know by now, Pope Francis called for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in the world, with a special focus on Syria. In last Sunday’s Angelus address he said:
“I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.
On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.”
I highlighted two lines which are especially noteworthy or important. In praying for peace we need not hide behind our identity as Catholics. Here we can reach out to and join with all other believers, and even those who do not believe. We are all Gods creation, and we can all turn towards Him, whatever differences may exist between us.
And humanity needs to see and hear the desire for peace, as well as the trust and faith so many have in their Creator. The debates around a possible intervention in Syria tend to limit themselves solely to the political arena, and the human element gets snowed under. But this is not a matter of prestige, political gain or even personal conscience; no, this is about human lives and the future of countless thousands.
As part of Creation, let us display solidarity with another part of that same Creation. Fast, pray, and allow the peace of the Lord to take root and bear fruit in Syria and everywhere in the world.
The Dutch bishops have recommended the following intercessions for tomorrow’s intentions:
“That God, who has said that they who bring peace are called His children, grant us the willingness to work ceaselessly for justice, which is the ony guarantee for a lasting and true peace. Let us pray.
That God, who cares for us like a father, may make us one family in peace, united forever in a spirit of fraternity. Let us pray.”
Photo credit: AP Photo/Michael Sohn