After the summer, appointment season open

With the summer for the Church now well and truly over (despite the sudden onset of honest to God summer weather here in the Netherlands), as the pope thanks the staff at Castel Gandolfo before returning to Rome, we can perhaps look forward to a few changes in the Dutch Catholic hierarchy. Not to say that there’s any guarantee that these will take place before, say Christmas, but we may as well look ahead.

Of course, carried over from before the summer, we have a vacant diocese, Breda. It’s last bishop, Msgr. Hans van den Hende, took over the glass cathedra of Rotterdam in July. So, with vacancies of Breda in the past century usually lasting any length of time between two and eight months, we may expect a new bishop there come December or January, perhaps sooner. The few rumours that reach this scribe’s ear tend to name any of the recently appointed auxiliary bishops on Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch, although in light of the recent reshuffling of duties within the Bishops’ Conference, one can’t escape the impression that perhaps Bishop Everard de Jong, auxiliary of Roermond since 1998, is being groomed for a diocese of his own…

Another opening, if less visible, is that of the official representative of the Holy See in the Netherlands, the Vatican ambassador, so to speak. Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop François Bacqué reached the age of 75 in early September, at which time he undoubtedly lodged the mandatory resignation with the Holy See. Whether that will be honoured on any short notice remains to be seen of course. But any changes in that field are worth keeping a close eye on for two reasons: the Dutch Catholic playing field is a difficult one, and the Nuncio plays an important part in the selection of future bishops. He receives the terna from the diocese which needs a new shepherd, as well as from the entire conference, and sends it to Rome with his own annotations.

Archbishop Bacqué was appointed to the nunciature in The Hague in 2001, after stints in Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. In those 10 years, he played his part in the appointment of reassignment of eight bishops (in one occasion both), from Bishop Jos Punt to Haarlem in 2001 to the reassignment of Van den Hende to Rotterdam earlier this year. In this longest stint as Nuncio here since that of Archbishop Angelo Felici between 1967 and 1976, Archbishop Bacqué has left a trademark quiet but unmistakable mark on the now and future development of the Dutch Church. Archbishop Bacqué’s replacement will most likely be coming from the extensive diplomatic force of the Holy See, although diocesan bishops have in the past been sent to be representatives in other countries.

But before that is the case, the Nuncio will make at least one more notable appearance during the High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Amsterdam’s St. Agnes on 6 November, which will be offered by Cardinal Burke in the presence of Bishop Punt.

Photo credit: [1] L’Osservatore Romano – Vatican Pool via Getty Images, [2] Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam

The World Youth Days’ positive result for Madrid

A report at Catholic News Agency seems once and for all to put an end to the criticism of those who consider the World Youth Days nothing but a drain on the host city’s economy, and especially those who protested and harrassed youth, priests and religious for it.

The coffers of Madrid gained no less than 159 million Euros, or some 216 million dollar, for hosting the 1.5 million pilgrims, per calculations from a Confederation of Businessman of Madrid. The city itself estimates a total of 146 million Euros (199 million dollar). The article linked above has more positive statistics, as well as the news that Cardinal Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid and host of the WYD, was awarded the Madrid Tourism Prize in recognition of his work and the positive result (financial and otherwise) of the WYD.

These results certainly put a lid on the intolerant and aggressive words and actions of some people, such as these…

Photo credit: Reuters/Juan Medina

Papal soundbytes – Germany

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Berlin and is greeted by President Christian Wulff

After a state visit which was also a pastoral visit and an opportunity to address issues in both Church and state, during which protesters – once again – failed to leave much of an actual impression (despite media efforts to place them firmly center stage) and politicians who stayed away out of protest made a right fool of themselves, it’s perhaps best to focus on what the pope came to say. The texts of the various addresses and homilies are online, and I have paid attention to a mere two of these.

Here is my selection of the most interesting and important passages from the texts, all according to me, of course. It’s by no means complete, and I recommend reading the full texts to get a sense of context and further development of the points touched upon.

On being part of the Church

“I would say it is important to know that being in the Church is not like being in some association, but it is being in the net of the Lord, with which he draws good fish and bad fish from the waters of death to the land of life. It is possible that I might be alongside bad fish in this net and I sense this, but it remains true that I am in it neither for the former  nor for the latter but because it is the Lord’s net; it is something different from all human associations, a reality that touches the very heart of my being.” [Interview during the flight to Berlin, 22 September]

The link between freedom and religion

“Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours. Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships.” [Welcome ceremony in Berlin, 22 September]

Pope from above: the Holy Father leaves the Bundestag after his address

The pope’s responsibility

“[T]he invitation to give this address was extended to me as Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, who bears the highest responsibility for Catholic Christianity.” (Address to the Bundestag, 22 September]

On what should ultimately matter for a politician

“His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said.”  [idem]

The limitations of the majority vote

“For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws.” [idem]

The limitations and dangers of positivism

“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, as the natural sciences consider it to be, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers. The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded.

[…]

“In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.”[idem]

A strong condemnation of Nazism

“The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and of all who believe in him. The supposedly “almighty” Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the Creator and Father of all men. Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well. What man is capable of when he rejects God, and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God, the terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war showed.” [Meeting with Jewish community representatives, 22 September]

The relationship between Judaism and Christianity

“For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews (cf. Jn 4:22). When Jesus’ conflict with the Judaism of his time is superficially interpreted as a breach with the Old Covenant, it tends to be reduced to the idea of a liberation that mistakenly views the Torah merely as a slavish enactment of rituals and outward observances. Yet in actual fact, the Sermon on the Mount does not abolish the Mosaic Law, but reveals its hidden possibilities and allows more radical demands to emerge. It points us towards the deepest source of human action, the heart, where choices are made between what is pure and what is impure, where faith, hope and love blossom forth.” [idem]

A general impression of Berlin's Olympic Stadium, filled for the papal Mass

Jersus’ identification with the oppressed Church

“On the road to Damascus, Christ himself asked Saul, the persecutor of the Church: “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). With these words the Lord expresses the common destiny that arises from his Church’s inner communion of life with himself, the risen one. He continues to live in his Church in this world. He is present among us, and we with him. “Why do you persecute me?” It is ultimately at Jesus that persecution of his Church is directed. At the same time, this means that when we are oppressed for the sake of our faith, we are not alone: Jesus Christ is beside us and with us.” [Homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium, 22 September]

Christ takes our suffering on His shoulders

“Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine.” [idem]

God’s most beautiful gift

“The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine. The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer”, as Pius XII expressed it (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35 [1943] p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris”), is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks. Thus the Church is God’s most beautiful gift.” [idem]

Catholics and Lutherans are addressed by the Holy Father at the former Augustine convent in Erfurt

Evil is no trivial matter

“[I]nsofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter.” [Meeting with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 23 September]

The development of a shallow Christianity

“Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon – that bishops from all over the world are constantly telling me about – poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.” [idem]

In the face of secularisation

“Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task in which we have to help one another: developing a deeper and livelier faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God.” [idem]

The fundamental unity of Christians

“Our fundamental unity comes from the fact that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And that we confess that he is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The highest unity is not the solitude of a nomad, but rather a unity born of love. We believe in God – the real God. We believe that God spoke to us and became one of us. To bear witness to this living God is our common task at the present time.” [Address during the ecumenical prayer service, 23 September]

Man’s need of God

“Does man need God, or can we do quite well without him? When, in the first phase of God’s absence, his light continues to illumine and sustain the order of human existence, it appears that things can also function quite well without God. But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life. A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him.” [idem]

Why faith is not subject to negotiations

“A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually and negotiate between us.” [idem]

In prayer at Etzelsbach

Mary, our mother

“When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them.” [Marian Vespers, 23 September]

Mary as a channel of grace

“Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveller and protector on life’s journey. “By her motherly love she cares for her son’s sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home,” as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.” [idem]

The quality of the saints

“Still today Christ comes towards us, he speaks to every individual, just as he did in the Gospel, and invites every one of us to listen to him, to come to understand him and to follow him. This summons and this opportunity the saints acted on, they recognized the living God, they saw him, they listened to him and they went towards him, they travelled with him; they so to speak “caught” his contagious presence, they reached out to him in the ongoing dialogue of prayer, and in return they received from him the light that shows where true life is to be found.” [Homily during Mass in Erfurt, 24 September]

Shared faith

“Faith always includes as an essential element the fact that it is shared with others. No one can believe alone. We receive the faith – as Saint Paul tells us – through hearing, and hearing is part of being together, in spirit and in body. Only within this great assembly of believers of all times, who found Christ and were found by him, am I able to believe. In the first place I have God to thank for the fact that I can believe, for God approaches me and so to speak “ignites” my faith. But on a practical level, I have my fellow human beings to thank for my faith, those who believed before me and who believe with me. This great “with”, apart from which there can be no personal faith, is the Church. And this Church does not stop at national borders.” [idem]

The hope of union with our closest brothers

“[A]mong Christian Churches and communities, it is undoubtedly the Orthodox who are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox have maintained the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church; in this sense we are all the early Church that is still present and new. And so we dare to hope, even if humanly speaking constantly new difficulties arise, that the day may still be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together (cf. Light of the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 86).” [Meeting with representatives of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Church, 24 September]

What the seminary is for

“As Saint Bonaventure once said: the angels, wherever they go, however far away, always move within the inner being of God. This is also the case here: as priests we must go out onto the many different streets, where we find people whom we should invite to his wedding feast. But we can only do this if in the process we always remain with him. And learning this: this combination of, on the one hand, going out on mission, and on the other hand being with him, remaining with him, is – I believe – precisely what we have to learn in the seminary.” [Meeting with seminarians, 24 September]

Learning about the present from the past

“In exegesis we learn much about the past: what happened, what sources there are, what communities there were, and so on. This is also important. But more important still is that from the past we should learn about the present, we should learn that he is speaking these words now, and that they all carry their present within them, and that over and above the historical circumstances in which they arose, they contain a fullness which speaks to all times. And it is important to learn this present-day aspect of his word – to learn to listen out for it – and thus to be able to speak of it to others.” [idem]

“Faith comes from hearing”

I sometimes say that Saint Paul wrote: “Faith comes from hearing” – not from reading. It needs reading as well, but it comes from hearing, that is to say from the living word, addressed to me by the other, whom I can hear, addressed to me by the Church throughout the ages, from her contemporary word, spoken to me the priests, bishops and my fellow believers. Faith must include a “you” and it must include a “we”. [idem]

Faith in a scientific world

“Our world today is a rationalist and thoroughly scientific world, albeit often somewhat pseudo-scientific. But this scientific spirit, this spirit of understanding, explaining, know-how, rejection of the irrational, is dominant in our time. There is a good side to this, even if it often conceals much arrogance and nonsense. The faith is not a parallel world of feelings that we can still afford to hold on to, rather it is the key that encompasses everything, gives it meaning, interprets it and also provides its inner ethical orientation: making clear that it is to be understood and lived as tending towards God and proceeding from God.” [idem]

The light of Christ

“While all around us there may be darkness and gloom, yet we see a light: a small, tiny flame that is stronger than the seemingly powerful and invincible darkness. Christ, risen from the dead, shines in this world and he does so most brightly in those places where, in human terms, everything is sombre and hopeless. He has conquered death – he is alive – and faith in him, like a small light, cuts through all that is dark and threatening. To be sure, those who believe in Jesus do not lead lives of perpetual sunshine, as though they could be spared suffering and hardship, but there is always a bright glimmer there, lighting up the path that leads to fullness of life (cf. Jn 10:10). The eyes of those who believe in Christ see light even amid the darkest night and they already see the dawning of a new day.” [Vigil with young people, 24 September]

“Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life, our life. You are holy, we are holy, if we allow his grace to work in us.” [idem]

The pope ascends the steps to the sanctuary to celebrate Mass

Power and freedom

“There are theologians who, in the face of all the terrible things that happen in the world today, say that God cannot possibly be all-powerful. In response to this we profess God, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. And we are glad and thankful that God is all-powerful. At the same time, we have to be aware that he exercises his power differently from the way we normally do. He has placed a limit on his power, by recognizing the freedom of his creatures. We are glad and thankful for the gift of freedom. However, when we see the terrible things that happen as a result of it, we are frightened. Let us put our trust in God, whose power manifests itself above all in mercy and forgiveness. Let us be certain, dear faithful, that God desires the salvation of his people. He desires our salvation, my salvation, the salvation of every single person. He is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, and his heart aches for us, he reaches out to us. We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready freely to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word. God respects our freedom. He does not constrain us. He is waiting for us to say “yes”, he as it were begs us to say “yes”.” [Homily during the Mass in Freiburg, 25 September]

Our personal relationship with God

“So let us ask ourselves, in the light of today’s Gospel, how is my personal relationship with God: in prayer, in participation at Sunday Mass, in exploring my faith through meditation on sacred Scripture and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Dear friends, in the last analysis, the renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith.” [idem]

The exchange between God and man

“The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory: a truly unequal exchange, which is brought to completion in the life and passion of Christ. He becomes, as it were, a “sinner”, he takes sin upon himself, takes what is ours and gives us what is his. But as the Church continued to reflect upon and live the faith, it became clear that we not only give him our sin, but that he has empowered us, from deep within he gives us the power, to offer him something positive as well: our love – to offer him humanity in the positive sense. Clearly, it is only through God’s generosity that man, the beggar, who receives a wealth of divine gifts, is yet able to offer something to God as well; that God makes it possible for us to accept his gift, by making us capable of becoming givers ourselves in his regard.” [Meeting with active Catholics, 25 September]

Detaching the Church from the world

“[I]t is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world: quite the contrary. A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers.” [idem]

As the sun sets over Freiburg, the pope bids farewell to Germany

Photo credits:
[1], [12] Johannes Simon/Getty Images
[2] AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
[3] AP Photo/Frank Augstein
[4] Reuters/Miro Kuzmanovic
[5] Patrick Lux/AFP/Getty Images
[6] Norbert Neetz/Pool/Getty Images
[7] Reuters/Andrew Medichini/Pool
[8], [10] Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
[9] Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images
[11] Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

The privilege to be blunt – Pope Benedict points out the common ecumenical goal

Flanked by the president of the German Lutheran Church, Nikolaus Schneider, Master of Ceremonies Guido Marini, personal secretary Georg Gänswein, and members of the Council of the Lutheran Church, the holy father arrives for an ecumenical celebration

Closing the day yesterday with a bit of translation, I can now offer you another wonderful piece of writing by the pope. Yesterday, he spoke to representatives of the Council of the Lutheran church in Erfurt. He did so at the convent where Martin Luther became a priest and lived as a monk for seven years. Naturally, the focus of his address was ecumenism and, more narrowly, the things Catholics and Lutherans share, which should always be the focus in ecumenical relations.

It certainly looks like the holy father feels right at home in his native Germany, and he knows exactly which buttons to push to get the message across. Sometimes his wording almost seems blunt, as in this address’ section about evil being no trivial matter. It’s serious and wonderful to read.

As ever, you may choose between the text in English or in Dutch.

Photo credit: Norbert Neetz – Pool/Getty Images

Impressive words from the Holy Father to the German parliament

I am impressed. Over the past hours, I have been working on a Dutch translation of the pope’s address to the German Bundestag. In the process, I got a fairly thorough read of the text, and I must say that this is one of the most eloquent, intelligent and challenging reflections (as the Holy Father himself calls it) from Benedict’s pen than I have read.

Of course, over the course of yesterday, I got the impression through Twitter and other media that the pope’s visit to Germany was of to a good start, and that several people already considered this address one of the most important in this pontificate. And I don’t think these people are wrong. The address is a serious discourse about the nature of politics and its foundation in natural law and reason – a union of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome.

Go, read, think about it (and that goes doubly if you’re a politician – triple if you’re a Dutch politician).

In the meantime, we’re off to see what today brings. If yesterday in Berlin was anything to go by, Erfurt today should be a success as well.

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Looking ahead to this year’s big trip

Last year all eyes were on Pope Benedict’s successful visit to the United Kingdom, and now we are at the brink of what I think could be an equally momentous visit: the first official state visit to Germany. And while 100 parliamentarians plan to be somewhere else than the Bundestag tomorrow (and Archbishop Zollitsch optimistically hopes they’ll give the pope’s address a good read afterwards), while protesters claim to be able to muster several tens of thousands to their cause (and the Holy Father is rumoured to have some trepidation because of that – not that it’ll keep him away from his native country), and while even Hans Küng is stirred from his slumbers to make some old-fashioned comments, many thousands of people from Germany and abroad eagerly await to papal shoes setting foot on the concrete of Berlin’s Tegel airport.

A giant reproduction of their April 5, 2005 front page decorates the publisher's headquarters of the Bild newspaper in Berlin.

If the UK visit is anything to go by (and that remains to be seen), this visit certainly has the potential to stir things up and reinvigorate the German faithful and Church, and even those beyond. And what with Germany’s leading position in Europe, this visit is in many ways a visit to Europe as well. What the pope will say and do will have a bearing on Germany, but. I expect, no less on all Europeans, especially those in the secularised west. As the Holy Father said in his televised address three days ago: “[I]n these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.” The hearts and minds of the people of the secularised west must be reopened to God, so that He may become visible again in our lives. The visit will therefore be a missionary visit: like Saints Paul and Peter travelled to strengthen the faith of small Christian communities, so does the Successor of Peter visit the Christian communities, Catholic or not, of Germany this week.

Archbishop Woelki is still getting to know the people of his new diocese, here a group of Roma in Berlin.

For Archbishop Rainer Woelki, installed less than a month ago as Berlin’s ninth bishop (and second archbishop), this will the big event he never had the time to prepare for, and the one his predecessor, Cardinal Sterzinsky, had hoped he would live long enough to see. But Archbishop Woelki, who will welcome the pope upon his arrival in Berlin tomorrow, will be used to the rocky start of his heading the Church of Berlin; one day after his own installation, he was called upon to consecrate new Bishop Ipolt of Görlitz, one of Berlin’s two suffragan dioceses. Having the pope come for a visit will perhaps be something of a matter of course now. Although his joy, his awe and his desire to impress the magnitude of this occasion on the people of Berlin do shine through in a letter which was read in all churches of the archdiocese this weekend.

And it is a momentous occasion. For the pope, certainly, who has few chances to visit the country where he grew up and which he clearly loves. But also for the Church in Germany, for the people of all faiths and also for the political world in and beyond Germany. The pope comes as a head of state, certainly. He was invited as such by the federal president. But the pope can never be just a head of state. He also comes as the Successor of Peter as the visible head under which all Catholic faithful are united, as the man to whom Christ Himself entrusted the care of His Church in these times. We do well to give him our ear and our mind, and pay loving attention to what the Holy Father will teach and express in the coming days.

Because, as the motto of this papal visit says, Where God is, is the Future!

Photo credit: [1] Reuters/Tobias Schwarz , [2] Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Four days before Germany, Holy Father poses the question of God

Paving the way for his first state visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI recorded a message for German tv program Wort am Sonntag yesterday. The Holy Father will travel to Germany on Thursday. In his address, which can be read in German here and in English here, the pope looks forward to his visit, emphasising especially his visit to the monastery “where Luther began his journey”. He also emphases that the visit is not religious tourism or a show. For the pope, his visit is about God, of whom we have such dire need, returning to our world. He closes his address with words which touch upon the basic crisis of faith in the west: the question of God’s existence. I’ll simply share it here.

Perhaps you will ask me: “But does God exist? And if he exists, does he care about us? Can we reach him?” It is true of course that we cannot put God on the table, we cannot touch him like a utensil or take him in hand like any object. We must again develop the capacity to perceive God, a capacity that exists in us. We can intuit something of God’s grandeur in the grandeur of the cosmos. We can use the world through technology because it is made in a rational manner. In the great rationality of the world we can intuit the creator spirit from which it comes, and in the beauty of creation we can intuit something of the beauty, of the grandeur and also the goodness of God. In the Word of sacred Scriptures we can hear the words of eternal life that do not come merely from men, but that come from him, and in them we hear his voice. And, finally, we glimpse God too in encounters with persons who are touched by him. I am not thinking only of the great ones: from Paul to Francis of Assisi to Mother Teresa; but I am thinking of the many simple people of whom no one speaks. And yet, when we meet them, there emanates something of goodness, sincerity, joy, and we know that God is there and that he touches us too. So, in these days we want to try to return to seeing God, to return to being persons through whom the light of hope might enter the world, a light that comes from God and helps us to live.

Photo credit: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

The new language of the Mass

Yesterday I heard the new English translation of the Mass for the first time. There is a regular Mass in English offered on Saturday evening in the parish I attend which uses booklets provided by the Archdiocese of Dublin. That diocese, like others in most English-speaking countries, have started to use parts of the new translation in recent weeks, and so, automatically, have we.

Sadly, no catechesis or explanation was offered for the new translations of the well-known regular replies and prayers of the liturgy. I am thinking if I can perhaps offer something through the media of the student chaplaincy I am involved with. Many of the faithful attending the English Mass are students, after all…

That’s something for after the weekend, though.

Of course, new texts focus the attention on the changes, especially when we’re not used to them yet. But that’s good. People should be well aware of the words they hear and speak in the Mass, because these are more than communication. They are also teaching us about who God is, what our relationship with Him is and what we do at Mass. It may sound logical and simple, but in reality it is not. At every Mass we should try to be aware of what we see, hear and do, because those actions directly communicate what we believe. Of course, we won’t succeed every time, but that’s no reason not to try.

Regular Mass attendance greatly helps with that, though. What may escape our attention – because we are busy mulling over some other words perhaps – at one Mass, may grab us at a subsequent one.

The opportunity to do just that, to mull over what we say and hear, is one of the great strengths of our Catholic worship, I think. We are not mindless automatons going through the motions. No, our worship is educational and transformative; in it, we hear the Lord speak to us and we speak to the Lord – sometimes directly, and at other times the priest does so on our behalf. And we must allow ourselves to be educated and transformed, and sometimes that means that we trust the priest to pray, to communicate, on our behalf, while we let some idea – from the readings, from the homily, from the Eucharistic prayer perhaps – sink in.

The liturgy of the Mass is rich. Very rich. It is virtually impossible to take it all in in one go. But we are not expected to do so. Sure, we should be focussed and attentive, but we are also called to attend the Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which allows us to become better acquainted with the liturgy, which in turn means that we can go on a journey of deeper understanding every time we attend Mass.

The new translation (and every non-Latin liturgy of the Mass is a translation of the original texts) is more accurate, which means that meanings are no longer hidden behind words, that we more clearly say what we believe, that we get closer to the heart of the matter, however inadequate our language sometimes is. Because a translation always remains a translation, and can therefore never be perfect. But we are also independent people who can take initiatives. Let the liturgy of the Mass, our words and those of the Lord, be an invitation to take initiatives in our hearts and minds, to learn, to understand and so to teach and be transformed. If not always in that order.

The charisms of the faithful

Continuing on with the theme of bishops, here is a translation of an address by Pope Benedict XVI to more than 100 newly-ordained bishops at Castel Gandolfo yesterday. These bishops, among them blogging bishop Chris Coyne (who recounts meeting a Dutch bishop there, but I have been unable to find out who it may have been), are in Rome for an annual course organised by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregations for Oriental Churches.

In his address, the pope speaks about the charisms that the Holy Spirit gives to all faithful, and how it is a bishop’s task to unify and harmonise all these different charisms for the sanctification on the Church and the faithful.

Read the English text here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

Legal consequences of the bishop as boss

The Low Countries have been in the news again when it comes to legal actions against the Church and her shepherds. A group of victims of sexual abuse by priests has filed an appeal with the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals William Levada, Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano. The victims hold these four men – the current and previous prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the current and previous Secretary of State – responsible for their abuse and wishes them persecuted under international criminal law. I am not that well-versed in criminal or canon law, but I have the distinct impression that the International Criminal Court has no legal jurisdiction in the Vatican, and neither can it arrest people without any form of evidence.

In the meantime in Belgium, another group of victims has filed an appeal against the Belgian bishops and superiors of religious orders. They claim that the bishops are the employers of priests and should also have acted against religious orders, although the bishops have no jurisdiction over these. Add to that the fact that the Belgian court has previously stated that priests are not employed by bishops.

At first glance it is logical to assume that the bishop is indeed the priests’ boss. He is, after all, the highest cleric in a diocese, and the priests owe him obedience, as per their vows at ordination. But on the other hand, a bishop does not get to choose his personnel, so to speak. The diocese that he is appointed to, is not his property, nor can it be run like a company. Sure, like an employer, a bishop may discipline or promote a priest, but that is done for the needs of the diocese and the faithful, not because of the personal accomplishments of the priest in question (although these do play a role in deciding what priest would be best in what position, of course).

Canon 384 of the Code of Canon Law describes the relation between a bishop and the priests of his diocese:

“He is to have a special concern for the priests, to whom he is to listen as his helpers and counsellors. He is to defend their rights and ensure that they fulfil the obligations proper to their state. He is to see that they have the means and the institutions needed for the development of their spiritual and intellectual life. He is to ensure that they are provided with adequate means of livelihood and social welfare, in accordance with the law.”

As in the original meaning of the word episcopus, the bishop is depicted here as an overseer, one who provides for his priests so that they can provide for the faithful entrusted to them. Furthermore, Canon 391 describes the powers of a bishop in his diocese:

“The diocesan Bishop governs the particular Church entrusted to him with legislative, executive and judicial power, in accordance with the law.”

Just like the state is not the employer of the citizens, but has legislative, executive and judicial power over them, the bishop is not the employer of the faithful, be they priests or laity. Canon 393 then, summarises this as follows:

“In all juridical transactions of the diocese, the diocesan Bishop acts in the person of the diocese.”

In essence, the bishop is never bishop for himself. He is, in many ways, the diocese, and certainly has to act in its – and its faithful – interests.

Claiming that the bishop and the priests of his diocese have an employer-employee relationship is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. A bishop oversees, and does so for the wellbeing of the faithful. The priests are his helpers in that respect. The bishop is the first among equals, but with certain duties and obligations to ensure the unity, formation and salvation of the faithful for which he is responsible. This is not the relationship that an employer has with his employees.

Can the bishops of Belgium or the pope and his cardinals be held accountable for the crimes committed by other priests and religious? Not automatically. They do have an obligation to act against the crimes they are aware of, in the ways that canon law permits. Being unaware is not a reason to be tried, although in some cases it may be proof of a culture of silence or simple naivety. And as for the claim that the bishops and cardinals undertook active steps to hide the evidence? Well, let that first be proven, before heads start rolling.