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In an attempt to stem the development of DIY Church communities in Belgium, Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels has welcomed the initiative by Father Andy Penne to see if it is possible to return to his native land. Father Penne is one of fifteen Belgian priest incardinated in the Dutch Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The reasons for their presence in the Netherlands are varied; Fr. Penne works here simply because he felt most at home in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch St. John’s seminary; others chose to be educated and formed here because they considered the Belgain seminaries too liberal. And for years the general attitude among the Belgian episcopate has been that once in a foreign diocese, the priests had best stay there.
But when Archbishop Léonard came to Brussels, the mood has changed. In a newspaper interview, Fr. Penne reports that he will be leaving his current parish in the Netherlands to work in the Belgian archdiocese, near the town where he grew up. Officially, he is ‘on loan’ from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but the change from the past is striking.
The Belgian priests in the Netherlands are generally considered to be more orthodox, or true to the Catholic faith, than many of their brother priests and pastoral workers in Belgium. That is why their possible future return is no reason for joy for many. They fear the spectres of orthodoxy and conservatism which will threaten their lukewarm version of Catholicism. The opposing party’s feelings sound rather spiteful; “once chosen for the Netherlands, they’d better stay there,” and “Some of these priests were not good enough for Belgian seminaries.” But on the other hand, a poll among lay faithful in Mechelen-Brussels also revealed another sound. A catechist from Mechelen said, “There is a shortage of priests here. We should be thankful to the Lord if Flemish priests from the Netherland want to come and help us out here.” And a prayer group leader, “People call them conservative but they merely proclaim what the Church says. We shouldn’t all be making our own little churches.”
For Archbishop Léonard these priests may turn out to be valuable coworkers in the vineyard.
And, finally, the parishes left behind by Father Penne will be the new home for another Belgian priest who made headlines early last year: Father Luc Buyens.
It took a while, but the Vatican website now features the English texts of all the pope’s speeches, homilies and other remarks made during the pastoral visit to Aquileia and Venice on 7 and 8 May. So, without further ado, here are the papal soundbytes of this first pastoral visit of the year. Go visit the above link to read the full texts.
Christ, God and man
What made the Church which Chromatius loved and served great was her profession of faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In commenting on the Gospel narrative of the woman who pours perfume first on Jesus’ feet and then on his head, Chromatius says: “The feet of Christ indicate the mystery of his Incarnation which is why he deigned to be born of a virgin in these recent times; the head, on the other hand, indicates the glory of his divinity which proceeds from the Father before all the ages. This means that we must believe two things about Christ: that he is God, and that he is man, God begotten by the Father, a man born of a virgin…. We cannot otherwise be saved, unless we believe these two things about Christ” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Catechesis to the People, Cittá Nuova, 1989, p. 93). (Meeting with the people of Aquileia, 7 May.)
The Holy Spirit speaks through community
It is through the “synodal assembly” that the Holy Spirit speaks to your beloved Churches and to all of you individually, strengthening you for a more mature growth in fellowship and mutual cooperation. This “ecclesial gathering” allows all the Christian communities that you represent here, first of all to share the original experience of Christianity, that of the personal encounter with Jesus, who fully discloses to every man and every woman the meaning and direction of our path, both through life and through history. (Preparatory assembly for the Second Ecclesial Convention of Aquileia, 7 May.)
“He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:7). Your pastors have repeated this invitation of the Book of Revelation to all your individual Churches and the various ecclesial realities. In this way they have urged you to discover and to “narrate” what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in your communities; to read with the eyes of faith the profound changes taking place, the new challenges and questions emerging. (Idem.)
Faith and family
Be sure to put at the centre of your attention the family, the cradle of love and life, the fundamental cell of society and the ecclesial community; this pastoral commitment is made more urgent by the growing crisis of married life and the declining birth rate. In all your pastoral activities make sure that you reserve a very special care for young people: they, who today look to the future with great uncertainty, often live in a state of unease, insecurity and fragility, but who carry in their hearts a great hunger and thirst for God, which calls for a constant attention and response! (Idem)
From faith lived with courage, today as in the past, flows a rich culture of love for life, from conception until its natural end, the promotion of human dignity, of the elevation of the importance of the family based on faithful marriage and open to life, and of the commitment to justice and solidarity. (idem.)
The eyes of faith and reason
I invite you all, dear Venetians, always to seek and to preserve harmony between the eyes of faith and reason, which enables the conscience to perceive the true good, so that the decisions of the civil community may always be inspired by ethical principles that correspond to the deep truth of human nature. Man cannot renounce the truth about himself without his sense of personal responsibility, solidarity with others and honesty in economic and working relations, suffering. (Meeting with the faithful at St. Mark’s Square, Venice, 7 May.)
Sometimes, when we speak of conversion we think solely of its demanding aspect of detachment and renunciation. Christian conversion, on the contrary, is also and above all about joy, hope and love. It is always the work of the Risen Christ, the Lord of life who has obtained this grace for us through his Passion and communicates it to us by virtue of his Resurrection. (Mass at San Giuliano Park, Mestre, 8 May.)
Doubt, sadness and disappointment
The many testimonies that have spread everywhere are an eloquent expression of this faith: churches, works of art, hospitals, libraries and schools; the actual environment of your cities, of the countryside and the mountains, is everywhere spangled with references to Christ. Yet today this existence of Christ risks being emptied of its truth and of its deepest content; it risks becoming a horizon that only superficially — and rather, in its social and cultural aspects — embraces life; it risks being reduced to a Christianity in which the experience of faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus fails to illuminate the journey of life, as we have heard in today’s Gospel concerning the two disciples of Emmaus, who after the crucifixion of Jesus were going home immersed in doubt, sadness and disappointment. Unfortunately such an attitude is beginning to spread in your region too. This happens when today’s disciples drift away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified and Risen One, no longer believing in the power and in the living presence of the Lord. The problem of evil, sorrow and suffering, the problem of injustice and abuse, fear of others, of strangers and foreigners who come to our lands and seem to attack what we are, prompt Christians today to say sadly: we hoped that the Lord would deliver us from evil, from sorrow, from suffering, from fear, from injustice. (Idem.)
Staying with Jesus who has stayed with us, assimilating his lifestyle, choosing with him the logic of communion with each other, of solidarity and of sharing. The Eucharist is the maximum expression of the gift which Jesus makes of himself and is a constant invitation to live our lives in the Eucharistic logic, as a gift to God and to others. (Idem.)
Defending the eternal values
I know that you have made and are making a considerable effort to defend the eternal values of the Christian faith. I encourage you never to give in to the recurring temptations of the hedonistic culture and to the appeal of materialistic consumerism. Accept the invitation of the Apostle Peter, contained in today’s Second Reading, to conduct yourselves “with fear throughout the time of your exile” here below (1 Pt 1:17); an invitation that is put into practice by living intensely on the thoroughfares of our world in the awareness of the destination to be reached: unity with God, in the Crucified and Risen Christ. (Idem.)
Be holy! Make Christ the centre of your lives! Build the edifice of your existence on him! In Jesus you will find the strength to open yourselves to others and to make yourselves, after his example, a gift for the whole of humanity. (Idem.)
Strength and encouragement
Today, symbolically, I come to redeliver the Gospel to you, the spiritual children of St Mark, in order to strengthen you in the faith and encourage you in the face of the challenges of the present time. Move ahead with confidence on the path of the new evangelization, in loving service to the poor and with courageous testimony in the various social realities. Be aware that you bear a message meant for every man and and for the whole man; a message of faith, of hope and of love. (Assembly for the conclusion of the pastoral visit, Venice, 8 May.)
The holiness of the laity
May you always and everywhere know how to account for the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). The Church needs your gifts and your enthusiasm. Know how to say “yes” to Christ who calls you to be his disciples, to be holy. I would remind you, once again, that “holiness” does not mean doing extraordinary things, but following the will of God every day, living one’s own vocation really well, with the help of prayer, of the Word of God, the sacraments and with the daily effort for consistency. Yes, it takes lay faithful who are fascinated by the ideal of “holiness”, to build a society worthy of man, a civilization of love. (Idem.)
[O]ur spiritual life depends essentially on the Eucharist. Without it, faith and hope are extinguished, love cools. I therefore urge you increasingly to pay special attention to the quality of Eucharistic celebrations, especially those on Sunday, so that the day of the Lord is lived fully and may illuminate the happenings and activities of daily life. From the Eucharist, the inexhaustible source of divine love, you can tap into the energy needed to bring Christ to others and to bring others to Christ, to be daily witnesses of charity and solidarity and to share the goods that Providence gives you with brothers and sisters who lack the necessities of life. (idem.)
“Salute” is an all-encompassing, integral reality: it extends from “being well” which enables us to live serenely a day of study and work or of vacation, to the salus animae, on which our eternal destiny depends. God takes care of all this, excluding nothing. He takes care of our health in the full sense. Jesus demonstrates this in the Gospel: he healed the sick, suffering from every kind of illness, but he also freed those possessed by the devil. He forgave sins; he resurrected the dead. Jesus revealed that God loves life and wants to deliver it from every denial, even to the point of rescuing it from that radical denial which is spiritual evil, sin, a poisonous root that contaminates all things. (Meeting with the worlds of culture and economy, Venice, 8 May).
The Council fathers
We must not [...] forget that the Council Fathers [...] lived in the period of the two World Wars and totalitarianism. Their perspective was certainly not dictated by an easy optimism, but by Christian faith which enlivens hope at the same time great and patient, open to the future and attentive to the historical situations. (Idem.)
The Gospel is the greatest power for transformation in the world, but it is neither a utopia nor an ideology. The first Christian generations called it rather the “way”, that is, the way of living that Christ practised first and invites us to follow. (Idem.)
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