Hermit on film, part 2

In June I wrote about a documentary about diocesan hermit Brother Hugo, shot for a film festival in Amsterdam. The documentary was shown on national TV last Sunday and is now available via the website of the hermitage. Although the small amount of dialogue is in Dutch, most of the footage is silent. As such it is a reflection of the life of a hermit: solitude with God, in prayer and in the daily chores, interspersed with encounters with all kinds of people – villagers, workmen installing new clock-faces on the tower, and faithful at a Christmas celebration – and Brother Hugo’s trademark dry wit.

The documentary is a quiet portrait which doesn’t delve too deeply into the life of a hermit (I especially missed the role of prayer in a hermit’s life, which doesn’t appear until well into the second half) but offers some beautiful footage of the wide landscapes in summer and winter, where one man takes care of a haven of prayer and tranquillity, as well as northern down-to-earthness.

Writing for Advent – Bishop Wiertz about the new evangelisation

Prepared to be read out at Masses this coming weekend, the Advent Letter from Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond sees the light of day. In it, the senior ordinary of the Netherlands focusses on a topic dear to the pope’s heart and of major importance for the Church in western Europe today: the new evangelisation. The bishop considers an active role of the faithful in society very important in that regard:

“In our concrete encounters of every day we must not be afraid to discuss what deeply motivates us from within. As faithful, we can not withdraw from public life. In the process of evangelisation we must all keep on searching for a visible place in society. People of our time are industriously searching for spirituality, to inwardness. He or she must then be given the chance to hear the voice of the Gospel in all freedom.”

Read my translation here.

A look at Bishop-elect Hendriks’ coat of arms

The website of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam today published the coat of arms of its new auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Jan Hendriks, who will be consecrated on 10 December.

As is standard for a bishop’s coat of arms, it features the green gallero with six tassels on each side, the cross and the motto chosen by the new bishop. Specific details relevant to Msgr. Hendriks are contained in the shield. In the centre, in red on gold, we find the eagle, symbol of St. John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the new bishop, and the author of the motto underneath the shield. Top left we find a host surrounded by flames; a reference to Msgr. Hendriks’ devotion to the Eucharist, as well as to the Miracle of Amsterdam. It’s also a connection with Msgr. Hendriks’ predecessor, Bishop van Burgsteden, who belongs to the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.

In the lower right corner, in silver on azure, is the lily representing the Blessed Virgin. It is taken from the coat of arms of Bishop Jos Punt, the ordinary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and indicates both the new bishop’s devotion to the Mother of God, but also his bond with Bishop Punt.

The other two fields, with the red crosses on white, containing three St. Andrew’s crosses, come from the coat of arms of the diocese.

Details of the consecration have also been released. Due to restoration works in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, it will take place in the parish church of Sts. Vitus and Willibrord in Hilversum, starting at 11. After the consecration Mass there will be a reception where guests may congratulate new auxiliary bishop and  extend their best wishes to Bishop van Burgsteden, who is retiring as auxiliary bishop. That reception will last until 15:30. The principal consecrator will be Bishop Punt, while Bishop van Burgsteden and Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende will be co-consecrators.

A new insight in the abuse crisis

And especially, how Dutch Catholic institutions tried to deal with it at the very start.

RTL News has unearthed a 1954 letter (translation here) from the then-Superior General of the Congregation of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, in these parts of Europe, better known as the Tilburg Fathers. It is  a letter, as the preceding note says, that was intended to be read out by the superior when all the brothers are together – so its target audience was every single member of the Congregation.

What is striking about this letter is the attitude that the Superior-General expresses to the cases of abuse which, he writes, seemed to be on the rise. He does not say that such things only happen within the walls of the boarding schools that the congregation ran at the time. No, he writes, it can happen everywhere where adults teach children, and what’s worse, he seems to continue, it also happens among us Catholic brothers.

This is, in fact, not too dissimilar to what Pope Benedict XVI recently said:

“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.” [Address to the Bishops from the United States of America on their A”d Limina” visit, 26 November 2011]

The understanding of the crisis as being not limited to the Catholic Church seems to have been present at a very early stage.

While many media in and outside the Church take the discovery of the letter as evidence that the Church has been lying about not knowing about the abuse that took place in boarding schools and other Catholic institutions, I think the letter should be seen as what it is: an expression of concern and a serious admonishing to the brothers to take care of each other and to do all they can, making use of the means available, to prevent themselves and others falling in the trap of carnal lust and ultimately sexual abuse of minors. In hindsight, the approach may not have been the wisest, but the efforts from one religious congregation do not equate to the efforts of the entire Church.

Bishop de Korte presents the new parishes of his diocese

A look at the proposed new parishes in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden after the mergers and reorganisations, as presented today by Bishop Gerard de Korte. It’s a bold plan, which aims to cut back the number of parishes from 81 to a mere 19. The reasons are multiple, including both financial and pastoral concerns. The reorganisation is set to be completed by 1 January 2018.

As a resident of this diocese, the plan also affects me and those in the parish where I live and attend Masses (which are, incidentally, not the same). I am therefore quite glad that the parish of St. Martin in Groningen (number 10 on the map), which includes the cathedral, remains unchanged. In a cartographical oddity, though, the southern suburbs of the city remain split off as they are today, but will be merged with the parishes in Haren and Zuidhorn – all parishes which today lack priests.

Other interesting plans include the merger of the parishes of Dokkum and Bergum with the island parishes of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog (3 on the map); the large  and, as far as Catholics are concerned, empty quarters of Drenthe (14 and 16); and the parish along the German border (19), traditionally Catholic because of the Catholic peat workers moving there in the 19th century.

The new parishes, which the bishop says will be “learning, diaconal communities working out of the Eucharist”, may often be big, it will once more allow each parish to actual have its own resident priest. Hopefully this’ll mean the start of a turnaround away from the too-ubiquitous “Word & Communion services” that take place every Sunday throughout the diocese.

A new home back home – Bishop Liesen comes to Breda

As a leak in the official embargo of the news virtually established as fact yesterday, the Diocese of Breda announced the name of its new bishop at noon today. He is Msgr. Jan Liesen, currently one of the two auxiliary bishops of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In a first reaction to the news, published minutes ago on Youtube, Bishop Liesen comes across as overwhelmed at the news, yet also humble, well-spoken and amiable.

Bishop Liesen was appointed to Breda fairly shortly after his consecration to bishop, which happened on 18 September of last year. A reassignment this soon after the previous one began is not unheard of, but pretty rare.

The appointment of Bishop Liesen to succeed Bishop Hans van den Hende, who was appointed to the Diocese of Rotterdam in May of this year and installed in July, provides for continuity. Both bishops know each other from their studies in Rome and seem to be equally all-round and firmly rooted in the Church. Bishop Liesen is an established teacher and theologian (as member of the International Theological Commission, he is off to Rome tomorrow for that body’s annual plenary meeting), with ample experience, as both bishops attest to in the video above.

Bishop Liesen will be installed as the 11th bishop of Breda on 28 January.

Photo credit: Bisdom Den Bosch

Ever wanting to share Christ, the cardinal turns 80

Four-and-a-half years into his retirement as Archbishop of Utrecht, Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis – Ad in conversation – reaches another milestone today: his 80th birthday. A respectable age for anyone, of course, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “The span of our life is seventy years — eighty for those who are strong” (90:10a), but for a cardinal it is something of a further step back from the intricacies of the Curia, locally and in Rome. Upon reaching his 80th birthday, a cardinal can no longer vote in a conclave, to elect a new pope.

Luckily, it would seem that Pope Benedict XVI is still in reasonably good health for a man his age (even if the rumours of his suffering arthritis in his legs are true), so a conclave is still in the semi-distant future. I would be surprised, therefore, if Cardinal Simonis still harboured any hopes of participating in another one.

As the Psalmist continues about the years of our life: “their whole extent is anxiety and trouble, they are over in a moment and we are gone” (90:10b), Cardinal Simonis certainly had his share of anxiety and trouble. Ordained a priest in 1957, the dentist’s son from Lisse first made Catholic headlines at the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout, where the young priest, then in his late thirties, was a voice for orthodoxy and thus soon placed by many in the camp of the bad guys. Rome, however, thought otherwise, as Father Simonis was appointed to be the second bishop of Rotterdam. His appointment there, as well as that of Bishop Gijsen to Roermond in 1972, is often considered to have been Pope Paul VI’s response to the new liberalism in the Dutch Catholic Church, especially considering that the name of Fr. Simonis appeared on none of the ternae supplied to Rome.

Bishop Simonis would remain in Rotterdam for 13 years, until 1983, when he was appointed to be Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht under Cardinal Willebrands. At the end of that year, on 3 December Archbishop Simonis succeeded the cardinal, who continued for six more years as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As Utrecht’s archbishop, Msgr. Simonis was the principal host of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his cold reception in the Netherlands in 1985. Because of the hostility of many Dutch Catholics towards the bishops and especially Rome, personified in the pope, Archbishop Simonis was put under police protection for ten days. His elevation to the College of Cardinals in the consistory of 25 May 1985 is often seen as a way to strengthen the archbishop in his difficult position.

That difficult position did get easier over the years, as the climate in the Church mellowed, and Cardinal Simonis moved from being a voice of orthodoxy to one speaking for all Catholics, something that he considered to be an important attribute for all bishops.

In April of 2007, Cardinal Simonis retired and took up residence in a Focolare community in Nieuwkuijk. But even after his retirement, the cardinal remained a well-known face of the Church. His name appeared several times concerning abuse cases under his jurisdiction in the archdiocese, as well as ill-advised comments on national television. In recent year, many seemed to prefer to depict him as an evil genius, but the worst accusation that may, in my opinion, be brought against Cardinal Simonis is a naive attitude.

As  shown by his motto, Ut cognoscant te, Cardinal Simonis is driven by the desire to let people know Christ, doing so as a humble and friendly prelate who tends to first see the good in people.

The paths of the cardinal and I have crossed several times, although we never formally met. As chief celebrant at the Catholic Youth Day of, I think, 2007, during the installation of Bishop de Korte, and most recently in Spain during the World Youth Days, a constant was the cardinal’s health. In the years immediately following his retirement, his figure turned ever more stooped, but that seems to have reversed itself in later years. The quiet life seems to have done Cardinal Simonis good.

But now, as the Dutch Church Province is left without a cardinal elector, eyes turn to Cardinal Simonis’ successor in Utrecht, Archbishop Wim Eijk. With a consistory rumoured to be scheduled for this time next year, he is now among the chief candidates for the red hat, considering the fact that Pope Benedict tends not to appoint new cardinals in a country which still has an elector.

We will see how that turns out, but in the mean time, the only suitable way to wrap up this post, is with a heartfelt birthday wish to Cardinal Ad Simonis: ad multos annos!

Photo credits:
[1] NRC Handelsblad / Rien Zilvold
[2] Bisdom Den Bosch
[3] Ramon Mangold

The weak case of the disobedient priests

The disobedient actions of priests in Austria (there most visibly, but similar feelings are also present among clergy in other countries), who call for married priests, ordination of women and lay people ‘celebrating’ the Eucharist (a sheer impossibility, equal to, say,  having fish wait tables), has also spread to Belgium. From the Diocese of Bruges, to be exact. A manifest titled “Faithful have their say” (‘Gelovigen nemen het woord’) has by now been signed by several hundred people, among them 155 priests. The full text, along with the names of the priests who signed it, is available, in Dutch, here.

The seriousness of the blatant disobedience of these people to their faith, Church, faithful and bishop, is explained by theologian Stijn Van Den Bossche, in an article he wrote for Tertio:

“The manifest at least remains more careful, but because of that also vaguer than its Austrian compeer. It expresses the wish that formed ‘fellow faithful’ be allowed to ‘lead Sunday celebrations’. If that means lay people leading the Eucharist – as is proposed in Austria – this is not only forbidden to Catholic and Orthodox understanding, but it also results in an invalid sacrament – therefore we do not receive a sacrament there.”

The manifest itself expresses the concerns of its author(s) in the form of propositions to which they want answers (provided, I fear, that these answers suit their agenda). The problem that, they say, needs solving is the existence of parishes without priests, Masses on unsuitable hours and prayer services without Communion. While this ‘problem’ in itself already showcases the serious lack of understanding of such things as Holy Orders, the sacraments and the nature of Communion (the latter being not a right of ours), the proposed solutions, presented in the form of aforementioned propositions, are equally untenable.

Let’s go over the propositions one by one, and analyse them. It may seem that I am a bit strict in my definitions of the ‘rules’, so to speak, but for clarity’s sake, I think it’s good to present things as bare-bones as possible. That does not mean that exceptions and adaptations are not possible, but these do not change the rules, of course.

  1. We do not understand why the leadership of our local communities (such as parishes) is not entrusted to a man or woman, married or unmarried, professional or volunteer, who received the necessary formation. The innate nature of the priest is to be a shepherd, in name of the local bishop, of a set group of faithful. This is not just a purely administrative task or a job description given to a man in a clerical collar. Just like Jesus appointed twelve men (specifically men) to lead the developing Church, and gave them the means and abilities to do so because of their faith, so He still appoints men to do so. These men are ordained to be shepherds and to administer the sacraments. That is a core element of our faith and understanding of how God works among His people. The priests, once they are sent to a group of faithful to be their shepherd in the faith, do that 24-7. It’s not a job, so it’s not a question of being a volunteer or a professional. It goes beyond that: through his ordination, a priest is a priest forever. After all, ordination is a sacrament, and a sacrament is forever. It goes without saying that a priest must be an example to the faithful: he needs to practice what he preaches, so to speak. The Latin Church today asks her priests to be celibate, in order to fully devote their life to the Lord and His Church. There are exceptions, such as married Anglican clergy who convert and are later ordained as Catholic priests. But these are exceptions, which change nothing about the rule. In short, The Church established by Christ had a structure, a hierarchy, which she maintains to this day. That means that it is not a matter of simple appointing someone who was ‘formed properly’ to do the work of a priest, who is specifically tasked to lead an educate. Of course, there are such things as parish councils, but these work with the priests and do not, can not, replace him.
  2. We need dedicated shepherds. We do not understand why these fellow faithful cannot lead Sunday services. As already touched upon in the previous answer, a layman or -woman is unable to administer the sacraments. It really is as simple as that. God has chosen to work to specific people when it comes to the sacraments, thus providing structure and certainty. A layman can obviously lead a prayer service – any faithful can pray. He can also read from the Bible and speak about the faith. He can not consecrate or hear confession.
  3. In every living community we need liturgical leaders. We do not understand why – when there is no priest – a service of Word and Communion is not allowed.As far as I understand, this is allowed. But care must be taken that such services remain the exception and do not become the rule. The heart of our faith is the Eucharist: God who became man and saved us through His death and Resurrection. Because of this importance, the Church asks us to attend the Eucharist every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. A service of Word and Communion, despite the value of the Word and of receiving the Lord, does not fulfill this obligation. To pretend it does, is depriving the faithful of a valuable treasure.
  4. We do not understand why skilled laypeople and formed religious educators can not preach. We need the Word of God. We do. And we get it, every time we read our Bibles. But the context of the Mass is not the same as us reading our Bible at home. In the Mass, Christ is present: in the people, but certainly also in the priest and most of all in the Blessed Sacrament once consecrated.  We hear the Word of God in the readings, after which the priest exercises his shepherdly duties of interpretation, education and encouragement. In essence, because the priest is the alter Christus during the Mass, we hear Christ speak to us. A priest is formed and ordained to be able to do this. A priest can not sit back and let someone else discourse about hat he has just read. That would be negligent and deceptive, and possibly simply lazy.
  5. We do not understand why faithful of good will who remarried after a divorce have to be denied Communion. They are equally part of the community. True, but Communion is not a matter of being a community together. It is about being in communion with Christ. In Christ, we form a community. We cannot be a Christian community without Him. Marriage is a sacrament, and as I said above, sacraments are forever. The Church can’t pretend this is otherwise, and therefore can’t allow divorce or remarriage. This doesn’t change of people divorce and remarry all the same. From the position of the Church it is a pretense. This creates a barrier between the people involved and the community of faithful-in-Christ, the Church. The demand Communion anyway is to pretend there is no such barrier.
  6. We plead that, as soon as possible, both married men and woman are allowed to the priesthood. We, faithful, desperately need them. The necessity of priests is not in questions, but altering their identity, or pretending such identity exists, is not the answer. We would be lying to ourselves. As I wrote above, the nature of the priesthood is such that only men are called to it. It is the law of the Church that these men can best fulfill there priestly duties if they remain unmarried and celibate. And besides, the bishops of Belgium, or of any country, can’t change this, since the nature of the priesthood is not a local thing. It’s universal.

Questions about such matters are only understandable, and should be encouraged. Through questions we arrive at understanding, after all. But we must not stop at questioning others, but we must also question our motives when we want to change these things. Do I consider myself above the community, above the Church, above God? Our do I see myself as one who needs God and the community?

The priests who signed this manifest, however… Were these men not educated in seminary? Have they no idea of what they received at their ordination? Do they not know what their duties are to the people and the Church? Are they, I must wonder, their own little bishops and popes?

The first Advent letter of 2011

With Advent soon upon us, the annual Advent letters from the country’s bishops will start appearing. One, in fact, already has. Almost like last year, when Archbishop Eijk and Bishop Wiertz were virtually equally fast, Bishop Gerard de Korte of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden is first out of the gates with his letter to the faithful, which he devotes to the topic of peace. It should come as no surprise, as the topic, which the bishop explains also includes our manner of behaviour towards one another, is one dear to his heart. A key passage in that regard is the following: “We often speak or write harsh words about one another. How often is the good name of a fellow human being trampled in the dirt? Yes, their is a lot of violence and discontent in our hearts.”

The letter, which can be read in English here, draws in such elements as religious movies and the sexual abuse crisis, and claims the time of Advent, the time leading up to the birth of Christ, as a time leading up to peace. And from that claim comes the invitation  the challenge, that the bishop extends: “On the feast of Christmas we meet Christ as the King of Peace. He wants to free us from the violence and discontent. We must allow this King of Peace into our own existence. Christ is born in Bethlehem, more than 2,000 years ago. The great question of this time of Advent is: can He also be born in our own lives?”

Papal soundbytes: Benin

The past weekend’s three-day papal visit to Benin has not made many headlines in most media, but that doesn’t mean important things weren’t said and done. They were, for Benin and Africa as well as Catholics and countries all over the world. Here is my selection of passages from the addresses and homilies that Pope Benedict XVI gave during his visit. You can find the full texts here.

The pope, with Cardinal Bertone and Fr, Lombardi at his side, answers questions during the flight to Benin

On giving new vitality to the faith

“[W]e must not imitate these [Evangelical or Pentecostal] communities, but we must ask what we can do to give fresh vitality to the Catholic faith. And I would say that an initial point is certainly a simple, profound, easily grasped message; it is important that Christianity should not come across as a difficult European system that others cannot understand and put into practice, but as a universal message that there is a God, a God who matters [to us], a God who knows us and loves us, and that concrete religion stimulates cooperation and fraternity. So, a simple concrete message is very important.

[…]

“I would also say that a participative but not emotional liturgy is needed: it must not be based merely on the expression of emotions, but should be characterized by the presence of the mystery into which we enter, by which we are formed.” (Interview during the flight to Benin, 18 November)

Good intentions

“Man, in consequence of original sin, wants to possess himself, to possess life, and not to give his life. Whatever I have, I want to keep. But if this is my attitude, if I want not to give but to possess, then of course good intentions lead nowhere. Indeed it is only through love and knowledge of a God who loves us and gives to us that we can arrive at the point where we dare to lose our lives and give ourselves, knowing that this is how we stand to gain.” (Idem)

Pope Benedict arrives in Benin

Modernity’s pitfalls

“Modernity need not provoke fear, but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past. It needs to be accompanied by prudence for the good of all in order to avoid the pitfalls which exist on the African continent and elsewhere, such as unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance, nationalism or exaggerated and sterile tribalism which can become destructive, a politicization of interreligious tensions to the detriment of the common good, or finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values.”  (Welcome ceremony in Cotonou, 18 November)

On the mercy of God

“In the Son, the “Father of mercies” (2 Cor 1:3) is made visible; ever faithful to his fatherhood, he “leans down to each prodigal child, to each human misery, and above all to their moral misery, to their sins” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 6). Divine mercy consists not only in the remission of our sins; it also consists in the fact that God, our Father, redirects us, sometimes not without pain, affliction or fear on our part, to the path of truth and light, for he does not wish us to be lost (cf. Mt 18:14; Jn 3:16). This double expression of divine mercy shows how faithful God is to the covenant sealed with each Christian in his or her baptism.”  (Visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy, 18 November)

Speaking with President Thomas Yayi Boni before giving a speech for government and religious dignitaries

Human beings and the ills of society

“Human beings aspire to liberty; then to live in dignity; they want good schools and food for their children, dignified hospitals to take care of the sick; they want to be respected; they demand transparent governance which does not confuse private and public interests; and above all they desire peace and justice. At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death. These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world.”

[…]

“I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom.” (Meeting with government, diplomats and other religions, 19 November)

The Church and the state

“The Church accompanies the State and its mission; she wishes to be like the soul of our body untiringly pointing to what is essential: God and man. She wishes to accomplish, openly and without fear, the immense task of one who educates and cares, but above all who prays without ceasing (cf. Lk 18:1), who points to God (cf. Mt 6:21) and to where the authentic man is to be found (cf. Mt 20:26, Jn 19:5). Despair is individualistic. Hope is communion. Is not this a wonderful path that is placed before us? I ask all political and economic leaders, as well those of the university and cultural realms to join it. May you also be sowers of hope!” (idem)

Violence in the name of God

“True interreligious dialogue rejects humanly self-centred truth, because the one and only truth is in God. God is Truth. Hence, no religion, and no culture may justify appeal or recourse to intolerance and violence. Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts. To use the revealed word, the Sacred Scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault.” (idem)

Hope through interreligious dialogue

“To finish, I would like to use the image of a hand. There are five fingers on it and each one is quite different. Each one is also essential and their unity makes a hand. A good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other which is not condescending, and the respect of the rights of each one are a vital duty. This must be taught to all the faithful of the various religions. Hatred is a failure, indifference is an impasse, and dialogue is an openness! Is this not good ground in which seeds of hope may be sown? To offer someone your hand means to hope, later, to love, and what could be more beautiful than a proffered hand? It was willed by God to offer and to receive. God did not want it to kill (cf. Gen 4:1ff) or to inflict suffering, but to care and to help live. Together with our heart and our intelligence, our hand too can become an instrument of dialogue. It can make hope flourish, above all when our intelligence stammers and our heart stumbles.” (idem)

The pope prays at the tomb of his friend Cardinal Gantin

The special responsibility of the priest

“Dear priests, the responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation falls in a special way to you. Owing to your reception of Holy Orders and your celebration of the Sacraments, you are called in effect to be men of communion. As crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received. I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life, by being in full communion with your Bishop, by a genuine goodwill towards your brother priests, by a profound solicitude for each of the baptized and by great attention to each person.” (Meeting with priests, seminarians and religious at St. Gall Seminary, Ouidah, 19 November)

The obedience of the religious

“Poverty and chastity make you truly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere. May poverty, obedience and chastity increase your thirst for God and your hunger for his Word, who, by increasing, transforms hunger and thirst into service of those who are deprived of justice, peace and reconciliation.” (idem)

The quality of the priestly life

“Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function. The quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation. Faced with the challenges of human existence, the priest of today and tomorrow – if he wants to be a credible witness to the service of peace, justice and reconciliation – must be a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous. After 60 years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation.” (idem)

Pope Benedict signs the Post-Synodal Exhortation Africae Munus

Families in the Church

“By having love and forgiveness reign in your families, you will contribute to the upbuilding of a Church which is beautiful and strong, and to the advent of greater justice and peace in the whole of society. In this way, I encourage you, dear parents, to have a profound respect for life and to bear witness to human and spiritual values before your children.” (idem)

Sharing the treasure of Jesus

“Do not hesitate, dear children, to speak of Jesus to others. He is a treasure whom you should share generously. Throughout the history of the Church, the love of Jesus has filled countless Christians, and even young people like yourselves, with courage and strength.” (meeting with children at St. Rita’s parish church, Cotonou, 19 November)

Apostolic zeal

“Apostolic zeal, which should animate all the faithful, is a direct result of their baptism, and they cannot shirk their responsibility to profess their faith in Christ and his Gospel wherever they find themselves, and in their daily lives. Bishops and priests, for their part, are called to revive this awareness within families, in parishes, in communities and in the different ecclesial movements.” (Meeting with the bishops of Benin, 19 November)

On the fraternity of bishops and priests

“As leaders and pastors of your people, you are called to have a lively consciousness of the sacramental fraternity which unites you, and of the unique mission which has been entrusted to you, so that you may be effective signs and promoters of unity within your dioceses. With your priests, an attitude of listening, and of personal and paternal concern must prevail so that, conscious of your affection for them, they may live their priestly vocation with peace and sincerity, spread its joy around them and faithfully exercise their priestly duties.” (idem)

On the formation of seminarians

“Dear Brother Bishops, the formation of the future priests of your dioceses is a reality to which you must pay particular attention. I strongly encourage you to make it one of your pastoral priorities. It is absolutely necessary that a solid human, intellectual and spiritual formation allow young people to attain a personal, psychological and affective maturity, which prepares them to assume to duties of the priesthood, especially in the area of interpersonal relations. […] Since the choice of formators is an important responsibility incumbent upon you Bishops, I invite you to exercise this duty with prudence and discernment. Formators, each of whom must possess the necessary human and intellectual qualities, must be concerned with their own advancement along the path to holiness, as well that that of the young to whom they have the mission of helping in the search for the will of God in their lives.” (idem)

The kingship of Christ

“Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve!” (Holy Mass at Cotonou, 20 November)

Jesus identifies with the sick

“I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage! Jesus wanted to identify himself with the poor, with the sick; he wanted to share your suffering and to see you as his brothers and sisters, to free you from every affliction, from all suffering. Every sick person, every poor person deserves our respect and our love because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven.” (idem)

Encouragement to proclaim the faith

“The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the word of God! Many are those whose faith is weak, whose way of thinking, habits and lifestyle do not know the reality of the Gospel, and who think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life. With enthusiasm, be ardent witnesses of the faith which you have received! Make the loving face of the Saviour shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!” (idem)

Africa, the land of hope

“I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope. I have already said this many times. Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God’s help and the determination of Africans themselves.” (Departure ceremony, Cotonou, 20 November)

Photo credits:

[1] Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

[2], [6] AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, HO

[3], [4] Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

[5] AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, poolber

[7], [10] AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

[8] Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

[9] Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)