A spiritual bouquet for the pope

Father Z started an initiative of support for the Holy Father. He proposes a ‘spiritual bouquet’ for the pope. You can participate by going to this page on Father Z’s blog and indicating in the poll what your contribution is to support Pope Benedict. You can vote once per 24 hours until the 19th of March, which is the feast day of Saint Joseph, the ‘name day’ of the pope.

Being pope is never a light duty. Today, the 264th successor of Saint Peter is the visible head of a 1 billion+ strong Church, exercising his ministry as universal pastor. He has many who support him, visibly and invisibly, but also many who work against him, again visibly and invisibly. The most powerful forms of support go sometimes unnoticed. So it is with prayer; the direct relationship between man and God bypasses the radar of all around us, but works unlimited.

Take a minute to pop over to Father Z’s blog and offer your support for the Holy Father.

Fr. Gagliardi on the crucifix on the altar

Father Mauro Gagliardi, professor of theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum of Rome, and consultor of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments – in other words, a man who knows a thing or two about liturgy – has written a short article about a seemingly minor detail: the place of the crucifix on the altar. But, like all elements of the liturgy, this too is not without meaning and function. Fr. Gagliardi not only expounds on this, but also offers a brief background on prayer in the context of the Mass, and the role of depictions of the crucified Christ for the assembled faithful. His remarks – as well as his quotations from Pope Benedict XVI – about the direction of prayer and the differences between the liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic prayer should also prove very interesting for Catholics in the Netherlands.

Read the original text at Zenit, and my translation right here.

Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come?

With today’s acceptance of the resignation of Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky, a major European capital’s Catholic flock is left without an archbishop. For the time being of course, but the cardinal archbishop, who turned 75 some two weeks ago, leaves an interesting act to follow. When he was appointed in 1989 there was no Archdiocese of Berlin. Sterzinsky, until then a priest of Erfurt-Meiningen (now simply Erfurt), became the bishop of a divided diocese in an East Germany that started to show the cracks that would lead to the German reunification in 1990. Because of the important role of Berlin in the new Germany, and its position in history among other German cities, Bishop Sterzinsky was elevated to Cardinal in 1991, aged only 55. The reorganisation of the dioceses that followed the Wende saw Berlin elevated to an archdiocese and Sterzinsky as its first archbishop.

Berlin, which includes the city of the same name, north and central Brandenburg and eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (including the Baltic island Rügen), is now temporarily led by its auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Matthias Heinrich, who is obliged to convene the cathedral chapter to elect a diocesan administrator, who will run the archdiocese until the pope appoints a new archbishop.

In north and western Europe, where bishops and Catholics are a bit thinner on the ground than in the south, there are a number of bishops approaching the required retirement age of 75, and also some who are already past that age. In Germany, for example, they are Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (75) and Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Köln (77). Archbishop Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meissen will reach that age later this year. Related to that, the Diocese of Görlitz has been vacant since last year.

Outside Germany, the situation is comparable, although most surrounding countries have far fewer bishops. In Norway, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim has been vacant since 2009, with the bishop of Oslo running things temporarily. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam is vacant, although no other Dutch bishops will turn 75 for the next seven years. In Belgium, too, the next bishop up for resignation is Bishop Jousten of Liège in November of 2012. The archbishop of Luxembourg, Fernand Franck, on the other hand, will turn 77 in May, and is still in office. In the United Kingdom then, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Bishops Peter Moran of Aberdeen and Edwin Regan of Wrexham are all 75 or over and still in office. Meanwhile, the bishops of Brentwood, Hallam and Portsmouth will all reach 75 this year, while the Archdiocese of Cardiff remains vacant. Ireland, then, with its spate of bishops’ resignations in the wake of the abuse crisis, is a story in itself.

The current vacancy of Berlin may be a herald of some interesting changes in the Church in and around the Netherlands, but how long those changes will take is anyone’s guess.

All that being said, Cardinal Sterzinsky’s illness leaves him bedridden in the hospital, so his resignation is nothing but understandable, although it is said that he would have liked to be able to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in function when the latter will visit Berlin in September.

Photo credit: Deutscher Depeschendienst

Devastation

The remains of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Christchurch

The earthquake that struck New Zealand on Tuesday, and which has left at least about 100 people dead, has also brought devastation to the local Diocese of Christchurch. The cathedral, pictured to the left, is partially ruined, and the diocese is virtually out of business. This due to no computer access and their offices being closed.

Al the same, the diocesan website offers several updates in the situation in parishes, and it also calls for people to assist the Carmelites in clearing up an area of liquefaction, where soil behaves like a liquid due to the stress of the earthquake.

Bishop Barry Jones released the following message to his flock:

“With all the people of Christchurch and Canterbury I am stunned and deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives, the serious injuries to so many and the destruction of property that that has been visited upon us so violently and suddenly. I pray for those who have been killed and injured, and also for those closest to them who never imagined when they last saw them that anything like this would happen. There had been a sense of hope and confidence gradually growing as we came to terms with the consequences of the big earthquake last year, and this horrific disaster is a cruel blow to that hope.. I am greatly moved by the courage, dedication and skill of all those who are involved in rescuing and helping victims of this tragedy and I know that they will be supported by the heartfelt prayers of many many people for their safety and protection.”

Let us join those heartfelt prayers with our own, for the safety and security of the people of Christchurch Diocese and all New Zealand.

Photo credit: Diocese of Christchurch

Papal message for Lent

Lent 2011 is two weeks away – with Ash Wednesday being 9 March this year – so the Vatican has published the Holy Father’s Message for Lent for this year. The pope draws upon the topics of his three previous Lenten messages, in which he focussed on fasting, almsgiving and prayer as the three pillars of the Lenten period, offering a summary and synthesis. He takes us through the Gospel readings of the Sundays of Lent, and links it all back to the Sacrament of Baptism. “The journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism,” he writes.

Go and read the message in English here or in Dutch here.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Max Rossi

The archbishop gets his wish

A little over a year since the appointment of a new archbishop, the Brussels episcopate returns to full force. As has become standard in the Belgian archdiocese, the three vicariates (Brussels, Brabant Wallon and Flemish Brabant & Malines) are headed by one auxiliary bishop each. When Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard started his job in succession of Cardinal Danneels, two of these vicariates still had their auxiliaries in place, but soon after a reshuffle which saw Bishop De Kesel switch vicariates, Archbishop Léonard was left with no auxiliaries at all. Bishop Jozef de Kesel went to Bruges and Bishop Remy Vancottem to Léonard’s old stomping grounds in Namur.

Today, Brussels and Rome simultaneously announced the appointment of three auxiliary bishops. Pictured above with the archbishop they are, from left to right; Msgr. Léon Lemmens (56), who will be the vicar for Flemish Brabant & Malines; Msgr. Jean Kockerols (52) for Brussels; and Msgr. Jean-Luc Hudsyn for Brabant Wallon (63). The three new bishops will be consecrated at the National Basilica in Koekelberg on 3 April.

Non of the three new episcopal faces are that familiar, but the question unavoidable rises: what school of clergy do they represent? The one at odds with Catholic teachings and their own archbishop, or the small percentage who are firmly at home in the Catholic Church and their own archdiocese? That will remain to be seen. It is perhaps indicative that Archbishop Léonard welcomed the appointments: “The new auxiliary bishops have much complementary pastoral experience. […] We entrust them to your prayer so that the Lord may help them in their new pastoral mission.”

Msgr. Léonard also plans to give them each a task beyond their responsibilities in the vicariates, based on his pastoral priorities and the individual competences of the bishops.

Bishop elect Lemmens is a priest of the Diocese of Hasselt, ordained in 1977. His titular see will be Municipa in modern Algeria. Bishop elect Kockerols was the dean of Brussels South and director of the Centre d’Etudes Pastorales. His see will be Ypres in Belgium. He was ordained in 1993 for the archdiocese. Lastly, Bishop elect Hudsyn already was the vicar for Brabant Wallon. He was ordained for the archdiocese in 1972 and will have the titular see of Apt, in the south of France, as that diocese’s first titular bishop.

Photo credit: BELGA/Julien Warnard

“He got up from table … and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5)

Emotional scenes at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception yesterday. Emotional, but also poignant and important, as Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Boston’s Seán Cardinal O’Malley prostrated themselves before the bare altar before beginning a Liturgy of Lament and Repentance. Cardinal O’Malley is in Ireland as part of his work as one of the Apostolic Visitors appointed by the pope to investigate how the Irish Church can weather the abuse crisis.

Such a liturgy was called for in the pope’s letter to the Irish Catholics, to be held as part of the healing and reconciliation that is so needed to deal with the crisis. The liturgy is a public and visible statement of regret and sorrow at what has been in institutions of the Church and by people who belonged to her. As part of the liturgy, the archbishop and the cardinal washed the feet of eight victims of abuse, in a ritual similar to the washing of feet on Good Friday. The liturgy was planned in close cooperation with these victims, although others interrupted three times over the course of the ceremony. The congregation listened to all statements, planned and unplanned, quietly and responded with applause.

The liturgy is part of the Apostolic Visitation being made by Cardinal O’Malley and four other prelates of Irish descent – Archbishop Dolan of New York, Archbishop Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, formerly of Westminster.

Archbishop Martin spoke the following words about ‘the three silences’:

There are moments where silence and listening are more important than words and what we say.

What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious? I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered. I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours. Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way. I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent. I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives.

I can recognise the humiliation you suffered, the assault on your dignity and self-esteem, the fear and anxiety, the isolation and abandonment you experienced. I can listen to you tell me about your nightmares, your frustrations and your longing for a closure which may never come. I can imagine your anger at not being believed and of seeing others being cared for while you were left on your own.

I can try to imagine all those experiences but I know that it is only you who have had that experience. Whatever I imagine, what you experienced must be a thousand times worse.

I can express my sorrow, my sense of the wrong that was done to you. I think of how you were not heard or not believed and not comforted and supported.

I can ask myself how did this happen in the Church of Jesus Christ where as we heard in the Gospel children are presented to us as signs of the kingdom. How did we not see you in your suffering and abandonment?

The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese [of] Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility.

Someone once reminded me of the difference between on the one hand apologising or saying sorry and on the other hand asking forgiveness. I can bump into someone on the street and say “Sorry”. It can be meaningful or just an empty formula. When I say sorry I am in charge. When I ask forgiveness however I am no longer in charge, I am in the hands of the others. Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.

I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.

There is a time for silence. But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth.

There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent. Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.

All survivors are indebted to those who had the courage to speak out and let it be known what had happened and how they were treated. The Church in Dublin and worldwide and everyone here today is indebted to them. Some of you in your hurt and your disgust will have rejected the Church that you had once loved, but paradoxically your abandonment may have helped purify the Church through challenging it to face the truth, to move out of denial, to recognise the evil that was done and the hurt that was caused.

The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out. The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not with designer soap but with a fire that burns and hurts and lances.

Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered. I appeal to you to continue to speak out. There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.

There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon. It is the silence of the cross. I was asked who should preside at this liturgy. My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ. We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us. It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.

The final moments before the death of Jesus were marked by darkness and silence. That silence is broken by the words of Jesus: He forgives those who kill him. He also brings forgiveness and new life to one of the thieves who surround him. But that forgiveness is not cheap forgiveness. One thief mocked Jesus; he did not recognise that act of injustice that was being carried out. The other recognised his own guilt and that recognition opened the door to forgiveness. No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.

The silence of Jesus on the cross is again interrupted by his prayer of abandonment: “My God why have you forsaken me?” It is the prayer that so many survivors must have made their own as they journeyed with the torment of hurt which for many years they could not share and which haunted them day after day, from their childhood and into adult life.

But Jesus faces that abandonment and finally hands himself over to the Father bringing his self-giving love to the utmost moment of giving his own life in love. That opened the door to newness of life.

We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.

This afternoon is only a first step. It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. It will always bear this wound within it. The Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be.

Cardinal O’Malley made the following remarks:

My brothers and sisters, I am very grateful for this opportunity to be with you today and to take part in such a moving service of reparation and hope. I am especially thankful to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, for his care for the Church in Ireland and for inviting me to be part of this Visitation.

On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the Church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome, the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse. Publicly atoning for the Church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions – and inactions – gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.

The O’Malleys hail from County Mayo, a part of Ireland that was hallowed by St. Patrick’s ministry there. They tell the story of a dramatic conversion of an Irish chieftain by the name of Ossian. A huge crowd assembled in a field to witness his baptism. St. Patrick arrived in his Bishop’s vestments with his miter and staff. St. Patrick stuck his staff in the ground and began to preach a long sermon on the Catholic faith. The people noted that Ossian, who was standing directly in front of St. Patrick, began to sweat profusely, he grew pale and fainted dead away. Some people rushed over to help and they discovered to everyone’s horror that St. Patrick had driven his staff through the man’s foot.

When they were able to revive Ossian they said to him, “Why did you not say something?” And the fierce warrior replied, “I thought that it was part of the ceremony.”

The warrior did not understand too much about liturgy and rituals, but he did understand that discipleship is often difficult. It means carrying the Cross. It is a costly grace and often we fall down on the job.

Jesus teaches us about His love in the Parable of the Good Samaritan where in a certain sense the Samaritan represents Christ, who is so moved to compassion by the sight of the man left half dead on the road to Jericho. The innocent victim of the crime is abandoned by all. The priests and levites turn their back on him, the police fail to protect him, the innkeeper profits from the tragedy. It is Christ who identifies with the man who is suffering and showers compassion on him.

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy. Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel. He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse. The Parable ends with injunction; “Go and do likewise!”; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused.

We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

We have no doubt of Jesus’ compassion and love for the survivors even when they feel unloved, rejected, or disgraced. Our desire is that our Church reflect that love and concern for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families and be tireless in assuring the protection of children in our Church and in society.

From my own experience in several dioceses with the tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors I see that your wounds are a source of profound distress. Many survivors have struggled with addictions. Others have experienced greatly damaged relationships with parents, spouses and children. The suffering of families has been a terrible and very serious effect of the abuse. Some of you have even suffered the tragedy of a loved one having taken their own life because of the abuse perpetrated on them. The deaths of these beloved children of God weigh heavily on our hearts.

The wounds carried in Ireland as a result of this evil are deep and remind us of the wounds of the body of Christ. We think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he experienced his own crisis. He, too, was overwhelmed with sorrow, betrayed and abandoned. Not only survivors of abuse and their family members, but many of the faithful and clergy throughout Ireland can echo our Lord’s plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But today, through the saving power of the Cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future. We come together to bind up the wounds we carry as a result of this crisis and to join in prayer for healing, reconciliation and renewed unity.

Based on the experience I have had with this Visitation, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the Church here to respond to the crisis in a way that will build a holier Church, that strives to be more humble even as it grows stronger. While we have understandably heard much anger and learned of much suffering, we have also witnessed a sincere desire to strengthen and rebuild the Church here. We have seen that there is a vast resource, a reservoir of faith and a genuine desire to work for reconciliation and renewal.

During the course of many meetings, I have been blessed to hear from many survivors and their families, lay women and men and religious and clergy who seek reconciliation and healing. Today’s service, which survivors so generously assisted in planning and are participating in, gives testimony to the longing of so many to rebuild and renew this Archdiocese and the Church throughout Ireland.

Just as the Irish people persevered and preserved the faith when it was endangered, and carried it to many other countries, the commitment to sustain the faith provides the opportunity for the hard lessons of the crisis to benefit the Church in our quest to do penance for the sins of the past and to do everything possible to protect children in the present and in the future.

I would like to conclude my remarks by sharing another parable with you that further illustrates the demands of the Great Commandment which contains the whole Law and the prophets. The Japanese tell the story of a man who lived in a beautiful home on the top of a mountain. Each day he took a walk in his garden and looked out at the sea below. One day he spotted a tsunami on the horizon coming toward the shore and then he noticed a group of his neighbors having a picnic on the beach. The man was anxious to warn his neighbors, he shouted and waved his arms. But they were too far off, they could not hear nor see him. So the man set fire to his house. When the neighbors on the beach saw the smoke and flames some said let us climb the mountain to help our friend save his home. Others said: “That mountain is so high and we’re having such fun, you go.” Well, the ones who climbed the mountain to save their neighbor’s home were themselves saved. Those who remained on the beach having fun perished when the tidal wave hit the shore.

The Gospel of Christ is about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope and salvation. The burning house on the top of the hill is the Cross, and it is the suffering of all those children who experienced abuse.

Climbing the mountain, we are not doing God a favor, we are saving our souls.

Photo credit: [1] RTE News, [2] John Mc Elroy, [3] Daily Mail