“Never again” the bishops warn in the wake of rising antisemitism

Anne%20FrankFollowing recent and fairly sudden signs of increasing antisemitism in both the Netherlands and other western countries, the Dutch bishops have issued a statement condemning any hate against Jewish and other people.

“Both in and beyond our Dutch society there is – as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas – an increase in displays of hatred against Jews. The Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, categorically denouncing hatred against Jews, feel obliged to once again strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism.”

This clearly refers to that shining moment in World War II, when the Dutch bishops stood up against the Nazi treatment of the Jewish inhabitants of the Netherlands. This in turn led , among other things, to the death of Blessed Titus Brandsma (whose feast day we marked last Sunday) in Dachau concentration camp. The bishops continue:

“It cannot be that people who (for many centuries) have been an inalienable part of our society now feel unsafe and unwanted. The incomprehensible and appalling tragedy of the Holocaust in the Second World War has made it more than clear what hate against Jews can lead to.

For us Christians the fact also matters that the Jews are our older brothers and sisters in the faith in the one God, Father and Creator of all men. Our Church’s bond with the Jews and Judaism is unbreakable and can’t be given up. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew and we Christians come forth from the Jewish people. Pope Francis recently said, not without reason, “You can’t be a true Christian without acknowledging your Jewish roots” (interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia).

We acknowledge the rights of both Jewish and Palestinians to live in their own state, safely and in peace. The current war between Hamas and Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict are very complex matters. We consider it necessary for a lasting peace that those Jews and Palestinians who fight each other or see each other as enemies, end combat and start working together to build up countries which can live in peace with one another, as a blessing for coming generations and the entire world. We pray for peace for the Holy Land, the Middle East and our entire world. We also pray that every person will know he is safe and wanted in both our country and all other countries. After all, we are all – Jews, Christians, Muslims and all people – God’s creatures, called to life by Him out of love, to live together as His children.

On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands:

+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk,
President of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference

+ Hermanus W. Woorts,
Chair of the Bishops’ Conference department for Church and Judaism”

Although this is an issue which, in part, specifically concerns Dutch society, equal condemnation should be given to the even stronger displays of hatred against people for their religion in all parts of the world, not least the Christians in IS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, the warring parties in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Muslims and Christians and the Central African republic… I could go on. Where politicians drop the ball, the bishops and all members of Church and society should be ready to pick it up.

 

For the dead and living, no limits to the love of God

“For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Rom. 8:38-39

 Today the Dutch victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash are finally coming home, and victims from other countries have started on their return home as well. Dutch and Australian military planes are flying their remains to the Netherlands, where they will be identified and returned to their families and loved ones.

In  live television broadcast the Dutch Catholic Church and other church communities will remember them with an hour-long memorial service in St. George’s church in Amersfoort (incidentally the same church which, only last week, hosted a memorial service for two Dutch girls killed in Panama).

The above text from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans will be at the heart of the service. An expression of the solid hope that the love of God is not bound by anything in heaven or on earth, not even death and political grandstanding.

In the light of MH17: “…”

Of course the world is full of violence and death these days, from Gaza to the Central African Republic, and from Syria to the Ukraine, but sometimes it all hits particularly close to home. 285 innocent people were killed yesterday, and at least 189 of them were Dutch. The reason for their death? They flew over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, at an altitude of 10 kilometers. Someone somewhere launched a surface-to-air missile at the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, apparently mistaking it for a military transport plane.

NETHERLANDS-MALAYSIA-AVIATION-ACCIDENT-UKRAINE-RUSSIA

^No photos of wreckage here, but a shot of the Boeing as it left Schiphol Airport yesterday.

In my social media circles, there are at least two people who have lost friends or acquaintances. The outpouring of support and prayer on Facebook and Twitter struck me yesterday and today, even though the sheer scale of the death and destruction is mind numbing.

Pope Francis had a statement released via the Holy See press office today, which reads:

“The Holy Father, Pope Francis has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions. He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

The Dutch bishops also shared their grief and called for prayer:

“We ask all faithful to do everything possible to support the families and friends of victims. And we encourage all the faithful to commend the victims to the mercy of God during the services of this Sunday, and to pray for strength and courage for those left behind.”

Individual bishops als commented. Cardinal Eijk said in an official statement:

“The world heard with shock of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 near the border between Ukraine and Russia. All of the nearly 300 passengers and crew, including at least 154 Dutch, were killed. Sentiments of sorrow and frustration  dominate all aircraft disasters. According to the first reports this civilian airplane was shot down with a missile – which would make this disaster even more unbearable.

We pray for the eternal rest of the people who died in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayer are also with the family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues of the victims. For them a time of great uncertainty and mourning has begun. I ask all parishes in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to pray for the victims and their survivors in next Sunday’s services.”

The bishops of Haarlem-Amsterdam and ‘s Hertogenbosch have also called for prayers and support for the victims and their families.

But, in the end, words are words. In these cases whatever we do never feels like it is enough. We can only pray, hope and love.

Photo credit: Fred Neeleman/AFP/Getty Images

Scalfari again

My stats counter tells me that a fair number of people come here to read about the interview that Eugenio Scalfari, editor of La Repubblica, had with Pope Francis. The most recent one, mind you, not the one that made headlines a year ago.

I’m not going to write much about it, though, because I think it is a highly problematic thing. Dutch Catholic blogger Anton de Wit says it best, in my opinion, when he writes about the percentage of pedophiles among the priesthood, allegedly given by the Pope as 2%: “A statistic conjured out of thin air, pure fiction, hearsay from a journalist who says he had heard it from the Pope, who had heard it from some unspecified personnel, who in turn, no doubt, had heard it from someone else again.”

Scalfari, as is generally known now, took no notes and made no recordings during the interview. The complete content of the article is taken down from memory. He nonetheless provides what appear to be direct quotes Pope Francis, but the way in which the data was collected makes the entire article inherently unreliable.

I wonder about the wisdom of granting such interviews. They sow confusion as words are put in the Pope’s mouth which we just have to assume are correct until the Holy See’s press office issues a statement, as they did, that none of the quotes can be assumed as attributable to the Pope. The first interview was already problematic, but Pope Francis grants a second one without, it seems, much concern. We are told that the Pope knows 2% of all priests are pedophiles, that there are cardinals among that number, and that he intends to find a solution for the problem of celibacy. And the memory of a 90-year-old atheist editor is the only source for this. The press office can do all it wants to deny it, but the damage is done as soon as the interview is published.

You can’t grant interviews to journalist who are known to be unreliable in collecting and sharing their information, and then hope to correct any errors that pop up.

A long wait for Erfurt

Cologne may have been given a new archbishop only four months after the retirement of its previous archbishop, this latest appointment does not do anything to decrease the number of vacant sees in Germany. Cologne is off the list, but Berlin is back on it, only three years after it last appeared.

vacant sees in Germany

Indicated in the above map, joining Berlin are Hamburg in the north, and Limburg and Erfurt in central Germany. While the former two have been vacant for only four months, Erfurt stands out. It has been 19 months since Bishop Joachim Wanke retired for health reasons, and to all appearances, Erfurt has been passed over several times. Of course, reality is different, as the needs of one diocese are not necessarily the same as another, and a bishop who may be a good fit for one diocese, need not be so for another.

HaukeReinhard130In his congratulatory message for Cardinal Woelki’s new appointment, Bishop Reinhard Hauke (pictured), auxiliary bishop and Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt, notes: “And I pray and hope that the remaining vacant dioceses in Germany may also soon be able to rejoice about the appointment of a new bishop. Certainly we in the Diocese of Erfurt have been waiting for a long time.” In western Europe, only the Diocese of Leeds has been vacant for longer.

The expectation is that Hamburg won’t get a new archbishop before the year is over, and Limburg is a special case in itself. The selection of its new bishop will be a careful one. Berlin is only getting started with the entire process, but Erfurt has been waiting long enough, it would seem. The next new bishop in Germany should be going to Erfurt.

For Cologne, it’s 1988 all over again – Woelki comes home

Far earlier than anyone expected, and even before Erfurt, which has been vacant for 18 months, Cologne is given a new archbishop. Succeeding Cardinal Meisner, who retired in February, is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, until today the archbishop of Berlin.

woelkiA native son of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki was a priest and auxiliary bishop of that ancient see until he was appointed to Berlin almost exactly three years ago. This German-language video profile of the cardinal gives a hint of why Pope Francis chose him to head Cologne. Responsible for the caritas of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Woelki explains that the care for the poor is one of the three pillars of our faith, next to proclaimation and worship.

“A church without caritas, without diaconal ministry, is not the Church of Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

His parents having been refugees from eastern Prussia after the war, Cardinal Woelki is especially sensitive to the plight of refugees. Himself a resident in the subburb of Wedding, where his neighbours are mainly immigrants and labourers, Cardinal Woelki made an effort to meet with representatives of the Roma and other immigrant communities very soon after arriving in the German capital.

The new appointment, despite the generational differences, can be seen in continuity with Cardinal Meisner. Cardinal Woelki worked with Meisner as a priest and auxiliary bishop and is considered to be a confidant of the retired cardinal, whose personal secretary he was before being made a bishop. But Woelki also seems to be on a line with Pope Francis, as he emphasis the need for renewed pastoral approaches to homosexuals and remarried persons.

Like Meisner, Woelki is rumoured not to have been the choice of the cathedral chapter of Cologne, who had, it is said, put the names of diocesan administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier and Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen (the latter, like Woelki, also a former auxiliary bishop of Cologne) on the list they sent to Rome. But, as happened in Freiburg in April, the Pope used his freedom to choose another.

Cardinal Woelki is generally quite popular with faithful and media for his clarity and pastoral aptitude in the headline topics of sexuality and the position of women in the Church. Regarding the former he has said he doesn’t want to police the bedroom, and concerning the latter he has entrusted several offices and duties in the Archdiocese of Berlin to women. The Church can not be an exclusively male club, he has said, and at the same time he supports the impossibility of ordination of women. But, as always, there are also topics for which he has been criticised, and these mainly have to do with decisions made regarding the efficiency of managing the Archdiocese of Berlin. Parishes are being merged and united into larger bodies, as they are in more than a few Northwestern European dioceses, and this has led to criticism regarding democracy, influence from the ground up and the distance between curia and faithful. Whether this will be an issue in Cologne, which has some 2 million faithful compared to Berlin’s 400,000, remains to be seen.

Cardinal Meisner headed the archdiocese for 25 years, and since Cardinal Woelki is only 57, we may be looking at another lengthy and influential period in Cologne’s history.

Photo credit: dapd

Honest Thomas – some thoughts about today’s saint

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, best known as Doubting Thomas. The passage from John 20, in which Jesus appears after His death on the cross, but Thomas happens to be absent is well known. Thomas refuses to believe what he didn’t see for himself, only to be corrected by the Lord when He appears again and shows His wounds to Thomas, even inviting him to place his hand in the wound in His side.

“You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).

thomasRich as this passage from the Gospels is, and it teaches us much about the nature of faith, there is more to St. Thomas than this. In the Bible, he appears in all four Gospels, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew (10:3), Mark (3:18) and Luke (6:15) first list him among the Apostles called by Jesus, while John first mentions him in the story of the death of Lazarus, where Thomas seems a bit defeatist. Upon hearing Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany, in the land of the Jews who had earlier tried to kill Jesus, he says, “Let us also go to die with him”  (John 11:16). Still, it indicates a willingness on Thomas’ part to follow Jesus whatever the consequences, even if death is one. Not exactly the sign of a doubting follower.

Later in the Gospel of John, we see another side to Thomas: the questioning follower, the man trying to understand. As Jesus announces His return to the Father, telling the apostles that they know where He is going and how to get there, Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). This prompts Jesus to teach him – and us – that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thomas comes across as honest and straightforward, not afraid to ask about what he doesn’t understand. The next time we come across him is in the aforementioned passage of the Lord’s appearance in his absence. Thomas doubts, is still as honest and straightforward as ever, but not stubborn: he accepts what the Lord teaches him and professes his faith in his Lord and God.

Thomas appears once more among the disciples to whom Jesus appears at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21;2), but the Evangelist does not tell us any details about what Thomas may have said or done. But he did witness Jesus giving Peter the task to look after His sheep. After the Lord’s Ascension, Thomas remains with the other disciples, as Acts 1:13 tells us, part of the young and rapidly growing Church.

That’s all the Bible tells us about St. Thomas, but it’s enough to slightly correct the image we have of him as a doubter. It would be more accurate to see him as a very honest man, to himself and to others. He is not afraid to ask questions, or even to ask others to be more clear, but also does not hesitate to recognise his own errors and correct them.

Several post-Biblical sources tell of Thomas travelling to India to preach the Gospel there. Indeed, south India is home to the St. Thomas Christians, who can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century. The trip from the Holy Land to India would at least have been possible in the first century, as trade relations existed between the subcontinent and the Roman Empire. It is hard to tell what is true and what is apocryphal in this, but the fact remains that Thomas is strongly connected to Southern Asia, and Christian communities appeared very early in India. A strong-willed follower of Jesus may well have taken it upon himself to undertake such a perilous and uncertain mission to remote parts, all to spread the Gospel and enkindle the faith, serving the Lord as he did from the moment he was first called.