Coptic ‘Papa Abba’ Shenouda III passes away

Pope Shenouda III, pictured here with Bishop Jos Punt during the former's visit to the Netherlands in 2010

Pope Shenouda III, Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Throne of Saint Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle that is, in Egypt, Pentapolis, Libya, Nubia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and all Africa

1923-2012

“On learning of the sad departure to God, our common Father, of His Holiness Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria on the See of Saint Mark the Evangelist, I wish to express to the members of the Holy Synod, to the priests and all the faithful of all the Patriarchate, my most sincere brotherly compassion. I recall with gratitude his commitment to Christian Unity, his memorable visit to my predecessor Pope Paul VI, and their signing of the Joint Declaration of Faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God together in Rome, on May 10, 1973, as well as his Cairo meeting with Pope John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, on February 24, 2000. I can say how the Catholic Church as a whole shares the grief that afflicts the Orthodox Copts, and how she stands in fervent prayer asking that He, who is who is the Resurrection and the Life, might welcome his faithful servant. May the God of all mercy receive Pope Shenouda in His joy, His peace and light.”

Message of Condolence from Pope Benedict XVI to the Coptic Christians, upon the death of Pope Shenouda III

Another horrible page

Disconcerting reports appeared in the media today about the boys’ boarding school Harreveld. Here, in the 50s of the last century, a student, possibly even more, is said to have been castrated.

Should these reports, as they now appear in the media, indeed be truthful this concerns a serious situation which is strongly condemned and regretted by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. The willingness to cooperate with finding out the truth is hereby expressed.

A short, almost clinical, message from the Dutch bishops regarding the shocking report that came out yesterday. To combat alleged ‘homosexual tendencies’  a pupil at the Harreveld boarding school was castrated, so the story goes. The exact details are hard to come by, but what has become clear by now is that the events were not widely known, and that the Deetman committee, who did come across the allegations last year, found little basis for a continued investigation. Whether that means that the date was sparse, or that it didn’t further the scientific investigation conducted by said committee remains to be seen.

And that’s always the crux, right? Who knew what, and why did they decide to keep things hidden from public knowledge? Contrary to public opinion, things are obviously not always kept secret with malignant intent. There may be good reasons for it. But I don’t know if that was the case here.

In the media and in politics people are elbowing each other out of the way to attack the Church over this, to call for parliament enquiries into the matter, even to invalidate and redo the entire Deetman investigation. While certainly understandable considering the horror that took place, it must also be said that such calls are often done in the heat of the moment.

While I don’t want to offer an excuse for the castration of boys or young men, for whatever reason (except probably criminal pedophilia), it must be said that it is no secret that such medical procedures, as they undoubtedly are to be considered as, took place in the past to combat all kinds of sexual ‘conditions’, be it ‘hypersexuality’, pedophilia or, indeed, homosexuality. It’s a brutal measure that may be compared to to performing lobotomies on people with mental or psychological disorders. We know now that it does far more harm than good, and certainly doesn’t ‘cure’ the patient.

And what now? We, the Church and all faithful, will be attacked over this, and I think it’s something we must bear for now, painful and frustrating as it is. While I don’t think I, or any other Catholic, can be held responsible for the behaviour of another, the fact that it was allowed to took place under Catholic auspices means that the Church will be scrutinised and held accountable. And we are the Church…

Regarding other abuses, sexual or otherwise, the Catholic Church was, and is, not the only place where it happens. That’s true today and in the past. That is fact that must be remembered, but it does not wipe our slate clean. “The dirt in someone else’s street doesn’t make ours any cleaner,” to quote my bishop. Perhaps the process that we are going through now as Catholics may some day be an example to all of society. The issue of how we treat our sexuality today needs a different answer., and I am convinced that the faith that the Church safeguards and teaches has that answer.

The understandable emotional reactions that will be directed our way will sometime be hard to bear. In today’s extremely secular society, anything regarding the Church is considered with mild suspicion at least, with outright and unjust anger and violence at the worst. Let us, faithful and priests, unite under the Cross and ask God to forgive those who committed the abuse, those who hid the facts and those who now do the wrong things in handling the consequences. Let’s pray for the strength and will to do the utmost for the victims, that justice and compensation, as far as it is possible, be done. Lastly, let’s pray that we can help those in and outside the Church who are now further alienated through the past deeds of a few. And then, once we have asked God for His divine help, let’s get out there an do those things we prayed for!

Morning reflection: Holiness

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus; we instructed you how to live in the way that pleases God, and you are so living; but make more progress still. God called us to be holy, not to be immoral.

1 Thessalonians 4:1,7

“God calls us to be holy.” Okay, but what does that mean? In our modern society holiness is something looked down upon as being overly sentimental, soft and sugar sweet. Not something that we should automatically strife for. But is holiness like that? Obviously, I would say not.

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for ‘holiness’ offers a detailed explanation, and distinguishes two elements to holiness: It “involves a very real though hidden separation from this world, as it also demands a great strength of character or stability in the service of God”. Separation from the world on the one hand, and strength or stability on the other.

There are of course degrees to this separation from the world, but at the heart lies the recognition that the Lord who sanctifies us, and thus allows us to be holy, is not of this world. To follow Him, we must not remain attached to the things of this world. We still live in it and take part in it, but we must not look to the world for our holiness.

To be able to do that, we need strength of character, which is developed through the service of God. It’s not something you just do. Like we need to physically train our bodies to excel in some sport, we need to spiritually train ourselves to excel in holiness, to be able to say, with Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Holiness is not something weak-kneed and sugar sweet. It requires a moral and spiritual effort, but a joyful one. The goal we work towards, the holiness given by the Lord God through our sanctification at Baptism, is a goal of love. Holiness is a manifestation of His love.