2014, a year in review

As the year ends, it is once more time to look back at the past year in this blog. It wasn’t quite 2013, but there was still enough to write and think about. I have been a bit less active in writing, for reasons of real life, but the number of page views in 2014 still topped out at close to 100,000. An altogether satisfactory number.

In this review of the year, I will look back on various topics that kept us busy in 2014.

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands

jaimeThere have been many interesting things going in locally, some positive, some negative, but together they reflect the life of the Catholic Church in this country. From Roermond, the case of Bishop Frans Schraven, a martyr for the faith in China, was sent to Rome in light of a future beatification. The financial numbers of 2012 were published and showed a continued downward slope. The Dutch government sent a new – and royal – ambassador (pictured at left) to the Holy See. The Congregation for the Religious sent their second man to meet representatives of religious orders in the Netherlands. Monks of a declining abbey announced that they would be moving to a small island of the northern coast of the country. Personally, I experienced aprocession warfhuizen rain-soaked but satisfying pilgrimage (at right) to another religious site in the north. The Dutch bishops felt the need to stand up against a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and they also announced the upcoming publication of a new Missal translation. My own diocese saw the ordination of two new transitional deacons, while the sole hermit residing in that same diocese also announced the good news of his own upcoming ordination. Protestant clergy discovered the benefits, if not the deeper meaning, of the Roman collar. A community fighting the biography simonisclosing of their local Church appeal to the Pope. Catholic Voices, the successful communications initiative from the UK, launches a Dutch chapter. The retired archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Ad Simonis, is the subject of a major biography (cover at left). And in Nijmegen, the Diocese announces changes to the local university chaplaincy.

Cardinal Eijk

eijkThe archbishop of Utrecht remains unenviable as he continues in his work as president of the Bishops’ Conference, member of the Curia in Rome, and all too often a scapegoat. This year, he made headlines when stating that the decisions of the Council of Trent are still current, which caused resentment among ecumenical partners. He was also accused of vetoing a papal visit to the Netherlands, which turned out to be quite untrue, and the bishops ended the rumours by releasing a joint statement.

The seminaries

ariënsinstituut seminariansBy the end of summer, a debate erupted about the future of the seminaries in the Netherlands. Some parties advocated the creation of one or two major seminaries, while others were in favour of continuing with the current six. The majority of seminary directors seemed to favour the first option. Earlier in the year, the Archdiocese of Utrecht, restarted its own seminary (first class, staff and family at left).

Pope Francis

cardinals consistoryThe world remains interested in Pope Francis, and it was no different in this blog. First up, there was his first consistory, in which he created 16 new cardinals, including a fair few unexpected ones. The Holy Father was interviewed by young people from Belgium (at left), an interview that was also televised. Later, the verse vis,luc van looy, francisPope also sent a personal note to the Netherlands, to the participants and organisation of the Catholic Youth Festival. 50,000 altar servers from Germany made a pilgrimage to Rome, where Pope Francis spoke to them. The national Church of the Dutch, the Church of the Frisians, marked the anniversary of its dedication, and Pope Francis sent a note of congratulations. The Pope’s decision to terminate the appointment of the commander of the Swiss Guard led to much rumour, which proved pope francis curia christmas addressunfounded later. Pope Francis clarified this and other questions in a new interview. By the end of the year, Pope Francis announced his second consistory. Finally, his Christmas address to the Curia caused new shockwaves, but deserves a good reading by everyone.

New appointments

101020marx250There has been a fair amount of new appointments in 2014, and especially in Germany. First Fr. Herwig Gössl was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Bamberg. Cardinal Reinhard Marx (at left) was elected as the new president of the German Bishops’ Conference, in addition to his many other duties. In Essen, Bishop Franz Vorrath retired and Fr Wilhelm Zimmermann was appointed as new auxiliary bishop. Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg retired while his successor remains to be appointed. Fr. Stefan Oster was woelki32appointed as the new Bishop of Passau, and Fr. Stefan Burger was the new Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau. The Diocese of Erfurt was finally given a new bishop in the person of Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, after waiting for two years. The biggest appointment of the year was in Cologne, where Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (at right) returned from Berlin to succeed Cardinal Joachim Meisner.

Mgr%20Bert%20van%20Megen2-loreWhile there were no new bishops in the Netherlands, a Dutch priest was appointed to represent the Holy See in Sudan and Eritrea. Father Bert van Megen (at left) was consecrated by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

In Rome, there were also some notable appointments: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera left the Congregation or Divine Worship to become Archbishop of his native Valencia. He was later succeeded by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Lastly, Pope Francis appointed a new camerlengo and vice-camerlengo.

The Synod

eijk synodThe big topic in the second half of the year was the Synod of Bishops’ Extraordinary Assembly on the family. In the eyes of the rest of the world, Germany remains a focal point of liberal trends that are at odds with Catholic teaching. That is not always true, but some bishops did strengthen that opinion. Bishop Ackermann of Trier was the first to be criticised for his comments on marriage and sexuality. From Brazil, Austrian-born Bishop Kräutler made comments on celibacy, the ordination of women and the Eucharist, and is said to have the Pope’s blessing to develop these ideas further in johan-bonnyBrazil. In Belgium, Bishop Johan Bonny (at left)was the loudest voice to advocate changes in the teachings on marriage, both before and after the Synod. At the Synod, Belgian Cardinal Danneels spoke in favour of mercy, but did not go as far as Bishop Bonny. In the Netherlands, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts explained that the Synod was not about changing doctrine, and Bishop Gerard de Korte stressed the importance of mercy and finding new words to reach people. How doctrine can change remains an important question.

Limburg

tebartzSpilling over from last year, the final acts of the case of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (at right) and the Diocese of Limburg played out as it became clear that the Vatican did not want the bishop to stay. He was to retire and Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of neighbouring Paderborn was appointed as Apostolic Administrator. The last statement of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst spoke of forgiveness and a new beginning. Bishop Grothe presented an overview of the situation since then in his letter for Advent.

Sexual abuse

gijsenThe sexual abuse crisis, while quieter than in the past, still continues, with a few shocking revelations and continuing developments in helping the victims. In 2014, three claims of abuse against the late Bishop Gijsen (at left) were deemed plausible, and the late Bishop Niënhaus, auxiliary of Utrecht, was revealed to have been guilty of sexual abuse. Shortly after the news about Bishop Gijsen, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond offered a Mass of penance and reconciliation and said that there is no excuse for sexual abuse by people of the Church. Later, a court decision forced the bishops to continue accepting new claims of abuse by deceased perpetrators, or cases which happened too long ago to be pursued by a court, until well into 2015.

International events

frans van der lugtThis blog has a clear focus on the local Church in Northwestern Europe, and also on Rome of course, but sometimes events in other parts of the world deserve a place here. In fact, the most-read blog post of the year, with more than 3,900 views, is in this category. It is the sad news of the death of Fr. Frans van der Lugt (at right) in Syria. Another death, this time because of a car crash, was vital wilderinkthat of Dutch-born Bishop Vital Wilderink (at left) in Brazil. Also in South America, the retirement of the Bishop of Paramaribo, also a Dutchman, mad me wonder of his successor would be a native son of Suriname. And then there was the shocking crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine, shot down by rebels, killing 298 people.

From Rome

marriageAnd lastly, Rome also had its say in various developments and decisions which came down to us. The Congregation or Divine Worship urged for restraint in the sign of peace during Mass, Pope Francis married 20 Roman couples and changes in the Curia gave some indications of the future.

Obituaries

In 2014 the following cardinals returned to the Father:

  • José da Cruz Cardinal Policarpo, Cardinal-priest of San Antonio in Campo Marzio, Patriarch emeritus of Lisbon
  • Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, Cardinal-Patriarch, Patriarch emeritus of Babylon of the Chaldeans
  • Marco Cardinal Cé, Cardinal-Priest of San Marco, Patriarch emeritus of Venice
  • Duraisamy Simon Cardinal Lourdusamy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie alle Fornaci fuori Porta Cavalleggeri, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Archbishop emeritus of Bangalore
  • Bernard Cardinal Agré, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Crisostomo a Monte Sacro Alto, Archbishop emeritus of Abidjan
  • Francesco Cardinal Marchisano, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Lucia del Gonfalone, President emeritus of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See
  • Edward Bede Cardinal Clancy, Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Vallicella, Archbishop emeritus of Sydney
  • Edmund Casimir Cardinal Szoka, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Andrea e Gregorio  al Monte Celio, Archbishop emeritus of Detroit, President emeritus of the Governorate of the Vatican City State, President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission or the Vatican City State
  • Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini, Cardinal-Priest of Santo Spirito  in Sassia, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
  • Jorge María Cardinal Mejía, Cardinal-Priest of San Girolamo della Carità, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist emeritus of the Vatican Secret Archives

Whereas 2013 saw the death of more than a few bishops in Northwestern Europa, in 2014 we lost only two:

  • Bishop Hubert Luthe, Bishop emeritus of Essen
  • Bishop Wolfgang Kirchgässner, Titular Bishop of Druas, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus of Freiburg im Breisgau

The impossibilities of Bishop Bonny

Johan-BonnyIt’s no secret that Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp is a voice of the more ‘progressive’ side of the Church, if such categories can be applied to the Catholic Church (which I think they can’t to any satisfactory extent). He is a bishop able to relate easily to the faithful, addressing them effectively about the practicalities of the faith (as we have seen in, for example, his recent letter for Advent). At the same time, he is less concerned or interested in adhering to the legalities, the rules, the doctrine of the Church, although these are one of the two legs the Church stands on: mercy and the law, which support and feed each other. The one must not exist without the other.

The fact that Bishop Bonny emphasises mercy is not a problem in itself. Pope Francis does so as well. But the Holy Father does not distort or deny the teachings of the Church. Bishop Bonny, sadly, does.

In an interview with Belgian newspaper De Morgen, published on Saturday, Bishop Bonny made several statements regarding the recognition of same-sex relationships by the Church. He said that there should be a “range of forms of recognition”.

“In the Church we should look for a formal recognition of the ‘relationality’ which is also present in same-sex couples. Just like a diversity of legal frameworks for couples which exist in society, a range of forms of recognition should also be introduced in the Church.”

It is hard to understand what Bishop Bonny means here. Recognising the existence of a relation between two persons is something factual. We can all see a relation, in whichever form, between two people, whoever they are. The Church will also acknowledge this, as she is not in the business of denying reality. But we may well assume that recognition goes a bit further in this case.

“The substantive values are more important to me than the institutional question. Christian ethics assume durable relationships in which exclusivity, loyalty and care for the other are at the centre.”

Bishop Bonny makes a sharp distinction here between the substance and the institution, which is, in essence, a division between the two legs of pastoral care I mentioned above, mercy and law. Of course the content or substance of a relationship is extremely important, be the relationship a heterosexual or homosexual one, or even a friendship of family bond. But the fact, the institutional question does not go away and can not be ignored. These continue to exist, and must be recognised and understood, in addition to the substance of the relationship.

“Additionally, there is the openness to new life, or at least the responsibility assumed by partners to be generous in what is being passed on to children.”

This is pure watering-down of what the Church teaches about the nature of marriage. The sacrament of marriage is open to life, which means that the spouses are open to welcoming new life flowing forth from their sacramental bond, both mentally, spiritually and physically. Simple sharing a responsibility is quite simply not the same thing, even though it is, in itself, laudable.

In the last quote featured in the article linked to above, Bishop Bonny finally hits the mark.

“In their lives, everyone is confronted with relationships, friendships, family and the education of children. We must not deny that there are wounds and traumas in the Church about this. Too many people have felt excluded for too long.”

This is true, and not only for homosexual people, and this is a serious problem that must be addressed. The care offered by the Church must be effective, ever-present and open. There is much to win in this field, since many people are indeed excluded because the Church gives the impression that they are. But the big question is how to remedy that.

There are two options, as I see it:

  • We open our doors and listen to everyone who comes to us, share the truth with them and help them in their need, or
  • We tell these people lies and promise them impossibilities to make the pain stop.

What is the right option? It should not be hard to see.

I am not saying that the right option is the easy one. It isn’t in the least, because here too we find the two legs of pastoral care in the form of emotion on the one hand, and facts on the other.

As I have hinted at above, care and concern for homosexual people, including those in relationships, is a good thing, and it must be expressed. The pain and lack of understanding they feel is real. As Catholics we are people of mercy and this means we can not be deaf to these feelings. But that is not the complete picture of our duty as Catholics. We also represent a truth beyond ourselves, after all, the truth of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, He offers the best guidance in such situations through this passage from the Gospel of John: after He has been confronted by the scribes and Pharisees with the adulterous woman, and tells them that he is who is without sin cast the first stone, and after they have silently left, He addresses the woman: “Has no one condemned you?” She replies that no one has. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go away, and from this moment sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

There are several lessons to draw from this: first, Jesus does not condemn the woman who has objectively sinned, but He does tell her to stop sinning. That is our example. Not to condemn or exclude anyone and to be honest to the truth, the truth of Christ.

So, in the end, while Bishop Bonny is most certainly right in emphasising the need for proper pastoral care for people in homosexual relationships (as well as anyone else, really), his chosen solution ultimately does more harm than good as it dilutes the truth and present impossibilities as attainable and desirable.

The Nuncio speaks – Archbishop Eterović on the state of the Church in Germany and abroad

eterovicArchbishop Nikola Eterović has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany since November of 2013. Katholisch.de interviewed him about a variety of subjects. I share some of his comments.

About his impressions of the German Church, which has been viewed critically across the world, he says:

“I consider the Catholic Church in this country to be very dynamic and involved. That is not easy, as Germany is very secularised, especially in major cities like Berlin. But the Church is well organised and wants to live according to the Gospel. That is seen, for example, in her role in society, by which she gives witness of Christ. In addition, the Church in Germany and also across the world, provides real aid, for example through Caritas and the relief agencies like Adveniat, Renovabis, Misereor, Missio, Church in Need, Bonifatiuswerk and others.”

Of course, as a diplomat the Nuncio needs to speak carefully. But that does not mean that the efforts of the Church in Germany are negligible. But there is always more than just the laudable work she does in the fields of charity, peace and justice, which becomes clear when Pope Francis’ recent comments that Europe is old and tired appear. Archbishop  Eterović says,

“In Germany the Church shows a decline in active faithful. And recently events have led to people leaving the Church because they no longer want to pay the Kirchensteuer [“Church tax” – ed]. I think that is quite problematic, and we need a new dynamic in catechesis, pastoral engagement, a new evangelisation. On the other hand I also see a certain passivity in individual faithful across Europe. In the end, more than 70 percent of the citizens of the European Union belong to a Christian confession. We must make use of that to better participate in society, for example to influence legislation when proposals do not meet with Christian ethics. In that way the “fatigue”, that the Holy Father spoke about, can be overcome.”

The Church tax, I have come increasingly to believe, is more than just problematic. Although the financial revenue may be used for good, it is a burden in the Church’s pastoral activities, as well as the faithful’s  access to the sacraments. The new dynamic mentioned by the Nuncio is the same “new evangelisation” that has been promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, and which now seems to have snowed under a bit. But we can’t allow it to be: we must take it up and make it happen.

The Nuncio also plays in important role in the selection and appointment of new bishops. In Germany, three dioceses – Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg – are awaiting a new bishop. Archbishop Eterović remains – rightly so – close-lipped about the state of these appointments:

“We follow the canonical rules and the respective concordats. The processes are ongoing, and I hope that the dioceses of Hamburg and Berlin will get new bishops in the coming year. The situation in Limburg is somewhat different. There is an Apostolic Administrator there, who is doing good work.”

Worldwide the Church is involved with politics, especially when it comes to peace, justice and development, as we have seen recently in the easing of relations between Cuba and the United States. But what about the influence of the Church on the regular faithful?

“We must in any case work on our pastoral care. Especially young people want to know what the Christian faith really means. With his charisma Pope Francis continuously manages to clarify the actuality of the Gospel and the message of Jesus. And I believe that the people out there are only waiting to rediscover this message: fraternal love and the love, justice and solidarity of God”.

Archbishop Nikola Eterović was born in Croatia in 1951 and ordained a priest of the Diocese of Hvar in 1977. In 1999 he was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Sisak, and appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. From 2004 to 2013 he was Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and in 2013 he returned to the diplomatic service as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. In 2009, he was given a new titular see, Vinkovci, as Sisak was re-established as a proper diocese in Croatia.

Merry Christmas!

“Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.”

[Luke 2:10-14]

nativity^The tiny nativity scene that graces our home

I wish all the readers of my blog, my followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook a very merry and blessed Christmas. May the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not only be a coming in our world, but also in our hearts. He is our shepherd, our friend, our guide and teacher. He is the way, the truth and the life.

“Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: our Father always forgives us. He is our peace.”

Pope Francis, Christmas homily 2013

Good intentions – Pope to the Curia, or to us all

Pope Francis gave the Roman Curia an earful, they say. Rather than limiting himself to general niceties and well-wishes in the traditional Christmas address, he told the cardinals, bishops and other members of the Curia what’s wrong with them and what they must improve to function properly again. They say.

Reality is a bit different, as it often is.

pope francis curia christmas address

To start, the fact of a Pope giving a meaty address is nothing new, and certainly not when that Pope is Francis. He challenges his audience, and on this occasion he chose to do so in light of the preparation for Christmas, of which the sacrament of Confession is an important part. He lists no less than fifteen pitfalls that the Curia must look out for. But only the Curia? Not in the least. At the end of his list he says:

“Brothers, these sicknesses and these temptations are, naturally, a danger for every Christian and for every Curia, community, Congregation, parish, Ecclesial Movement, etc. and they can strike at the individual as much as at the communal level.”

We should all listen well to the Pope’s  words in this, because the risks for the Curia are no different than the risk we ourselves run. Rather than seeing the fifteen points in the speech as stern warnings, we can turn them around and use them as good intentions for Christmas and the new year.

  1. Consider yourself as important as everyone else.
  2. Enjoy the gift of rest and relaxation, and the fruits of companionship and time for others and for God.
  3. Stay in touch with people and their feelings, wishes and hopes (as well as your own).
  4. Have confidence in the Holy Spirit in your work and life.
  5. Know your capabilities and those of others around you, and coordinate.
  6. Always remain in an encounter with the Lord.
  7. Stay true to yourself and consider the interests of others as much as those of yourself.
  8. Always remain a shepherd for others, through example and care.
  9. Speak directly, openly and without complaining.
  10. Think of duties, not just rights, and honour God rather than persons.
  11. Think of others, share with them and take joy in what they say and do.
  12. Be happy, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
  13. Travel lightly through life, don’t be weighed down by possessions.
  14. Remain open to others, also as a group.
  15. Don’t show off or take pride in your abilities or achievements.

Good advice, if not always easy. I suspect that if we apply these good intentions, the change will be astounding. And it’s not our change, achieved by us, but by the Holy Spirit working in us. As Pope Francis says:

“We must clarify that it is only the Holy Spirit – the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed affirms: “I believe … in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life” – who heals every infirmity. It is the Holy Spirit who supports every sincere effort of purification and every good will of conversion. He it is who makes us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the Body and in its weakening. He is the promoter of harmony: “ipse harmonia est,” says Saint Basil. Saint Augustine says to us: “While a part adheres to the body, its healing is not despaired of; instead, what was cut off cannot be taken care of or healed.”

For when the Pope is gone… Two new chamberlains

 

belarusYesterday Pope Francis made two appointments which are largely dormant at the moment, but which are nonetheless interesting and a reflection of the Pope’s confidence in the men concerned. The Chamberlain and the Vice-Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church have great responsibility when a Pope dies or retires, as they make sure the daily affairs of the Holy See, as well as the preparations for the conclave, the papal funeral (if there is one) and the protection of the personal and professional assets of the deceased or retired pontiff, occur as needed.

The Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, published in 1998 by Pope St. John Paul II, describes the duties of the chamberlain as follows:

“When the Apostolic See falls vacant, it is the right and the duty of the cardinal camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, personally or through his delegate, to request reports from all the administrations dependent on the Holy See on their patrimonial and economic status as well as information on any extraordinary business that may at that time be under way, and, from the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See he shall request a financial statement on income and expenditures of the previous year and the budgetary estimates for the following year. He is obliged to submit these reports and estimates to the College of Cardinals (Art. 171, § 2).”

Until yesterday these positions were held by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the retired secretary of state, and Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, retired secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Both performed their duties between the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis.

The choice of the chamberlains involves not only the suitability of the persons involved, but also the personal confidence the Pope has in time. After all, they take over from him once he dies or retires, and are therefore tasked with protecting their heritage as heads of state and spiritual leaders until a new Pope takes over.

giampietro%20gloder%20Pope Francis chose Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (who, as Protodeacon, also announced the name of the new Pope following the conclave) as chamberlain, and Archbishop Giampiero Gloder as Vice-Chamberlain.

Cardinal Tauran (above, at right) remains the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and is also a member of two commissions overseeing the Vatican Bank. Aged 71, he may be expected to continue as such until his 75th, while the office of chamberlain will possibly be his until his 80th birthday.

Archbishop Gloder (above, at left) was appointed as President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the diplomacy school of the Holy See, in September of 2013, when he was also made a bishop. Before that he worked in the Secretary of State as Head of office for special affairs.

The peace of Christ – Bishop Van Looy’s letter for Christmas

Ghent’s Bishop Luc Van Looy devotes his Christmas letter to the peace of this period. Peace in ourselves, but also the peace we are obliged to share with those who need it most, especially the homeless, the displaced and the refugees.

van looyTo all people of good will
Christmas letter from Msgr. Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent

Christmas truce

The commemorations of the start of the First World War remind us of what our ancestors did to achieve peace. In the past year we could learn much from the media about this dark page in our history. At the same time we are continuously confronted with the horrible situations in which many people live today, because of the violence of war. The UN speaks of 28 million people without a home and 10 million refugees in the world at this moment. Among these people there are a great many children, especially since those countries in which war now rages have a culture of families with many children. In 2013, 15,840 people asked for asylum in Belgium, people mostly from eastern European and African countries.

We can’t take comfort in the thought that these things happen in distant countries. We can’t remain blind to the situation of so many displaced persons in our towns and cities: homeless, squatters, people without a house, who are completely dependent on social services for their food and clothes. Perhaps we et to easily rid of our duty by giving some small alms or donating to some project for children in Africa or Latin America. A child in London asked, “Why would I go to my mother’s when there is no electricity of water there?” These people need our love, just like our material support.

Pope Francis sees in these “new forms of poverty and vulnerability … the suffering Christ”. “The homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others” all call to mind the suffering Christ. The image of breaking the bread and pouring the wine as His body and blood are irrevocable signs of the total givenness of Christ. Pope Francis calls for generous empathy out of that union with Christ. Referring to himself, he says, “Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 210).

Christmas is an ideal period for special focus on these social problems. Mary and Joseph also failed to find shelter for the birth of Jesus. In addition, they were forced to flee with Him to Egypt. Herod did not recognise the Messiah in this child; he was not interested in the person, but to his own position as steward. It is our duty to focus on the person and not to judge or generalise based on race or culture, religion or ancestry, poverty or wealth, orientation or age. The incarnation of Christ shows us that every human being deserves attention. Jesus comes among the people. He joins in their conversations and speaks with authority, but at the same time He listens to their concerns. He has special attention for the deprived, the sick, the poor, the children. His attention is for the sinners; He lets the adulterous woman go, to ultimately praise her to the expense of the host. He is a man among men. He did not take pride in His descent. On the contrary, He became the servant of all.

In the social unrest that we have witnessed recently, we need to distinguish what is important. Here too, man needs to be in the centre instead of mere power play. Here the Pope also speaks: “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Evangelii Gaudium 226).

Christmas teaches us to bring peace. “He is the peace between us” (Eph. 2:14), and He paid the price for it with His blood on the cross. People and cultures are diverse and you can try to achieve peace through negotiations, but nothing is as strong as the unity of Spirit. Unity is fundamental and transcends all conflict. Looking for a synthesis, one must depart from the desire for unity among all people. It is a matter of appreciating the other, esteeming him – more than yourself – and recognising and accepting the dignity of all. This attitude can defeat all partisanship and conflict. No one is more man because he or she was born in some privileged culture or in a certain context. Equality flows from the gift of life itself, which everyone has received from the same Father.

Dear friends, states of war, conflict, migration and poverty can not leave us unmoved. There are many initiatives in this time of Christmas to ease the fate of others, to share the warmth of the community. In this time everyone may experience that Christ has come to bring peace and unity. But it is important that this attention is not limited to the period of Christmas, but spreads throughout the year. The service to people and the world – we call this te diaconate – is an essential aspect of our Christianity.

I wish for the year 2015 to be a year of solidarity and service for all of you, of friendship which resolves conflicts, of peace in families. May the peace of Christ for every man be even stronger than just a “Christmas truce”, so that it may be a new start wherever necessary. For it was God’s intention to give everyone peace, when He sent His Son into the world.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

The balance of the liturgy – Bishop Hofmann’s thoughts on our worship of God

In an interview for katholisch.de, Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann sheds some light on his thoughts on liturgy in the Church today. Bishop Hofmann, ordinary of the Diocese of Würzburg, is chairman of the Liturgy Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference.

hofmann

Regarding the celebration of the liturgy, he sees the need for a balance between what the liturgy itself needs and what the faithful need:

“It is very important to me to carefully prepare for the liturgy and also celebrate it as such. The conscious awareness of signs, the meaningful involvement of space and music, the careful selection of texts and the quality of preaching contribute greatly to that. On the other hand, we should not tire of reintroducing people to the liturgy and also explaining it. In my opinion, this still happens far too little.”

Bishop Hofmann also identifies a problem with explaining the liturgy, namely the fact that it relates in its essence to the mystery of God.

“The mystery of the liturgy is the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus and His presence in the service. This is about a mystery of faith and not the rituals! Intelligibility is necessary in the proclamation. In prayer and in meditation. In the variety of signs not everything can or needs to be immediately understandable, but can develop little by little.”

Interesting too, are his comments about the so-called “event liturgies” which, at least in part, rely on spectacle and draw large crowds to bring the message across.

“I need the unhurried and regular liturgy, which carries, supports and converts me, for my daily faith. In addition to that, special services with an “event character”, can be quite helpful and give once again a special incentive. Some people find access to the regular forms of services through the events, and for some the event is also enough. In order to reach people in their search for God, we need them both and the must also exist in relation to one another.”

This may be true perhaps, but the liturgy itself must also be considered, as it revolves not around the preferences of people, but the worship of God. Events can too easily become only about people, a solely horizontal affair, so to speak. God may be found in silence, not in loud music and spectacle, although these may, by providing a contrast, perhaps help in pointing the way to Him.

“[The liturgy] must at the same be of good quality, traditional and in various ways new. The liturgy requires many forms and diverse places. We also need our Church to be a place of identity and of faith. We also need the liturgy in daily life and in the places we live.”

Bishop Hofmann seems to be proposing the liturgy as a sort of balancing act between old and new, between tradition and innovation, but always done well. While this leaves open the question of exactly what should be new and what traditional, the need for quality is certainly a good one. The worship of God is not something we do on the side. In return for His gifts to us we give Him the best we have: our time, our focus, our hearts and minds. In the liturgy of the Mass God comes closest to us, and we should be ready and open to His closeness.

Photo credit: picture alliance / dpa

True progress – back in line with the Church at Nijmegen’s student chaplaincy

In 2012 the diocese did it at one university and now it is preparing to do it at a second. A return to the Catholic fold seems imminent for the student chaplaincy at Nijmegen’s Radboud University.

bodarFr. Antoine Bodar, media personality but also appointed to manage the contacts with schools and universities in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, is looking ahead to the upcoming retirement of Fr. Theo Koster, the current student chaplain in Nijmegen. And things will be a bit different after he retires in 18 months. A new priest who, in his teaching, will be more in line with the Catholic faith, for one.

The situation seems very similar to the one I described earlier regarding the Maranatha church in Tilburg (see the link above): a liberal approach to the faith of the Church, and actions that are not in line with that faith (the media picks out the blessing of homosexual unions, but also the distribution of Communion to non-Catholics). Of course a change was going to come at some time.

Some call this is a return to conservatism, but Fr. Bodar claims this is in fact a progressive step, calling the situation is it exists now a throwback to the 1960s and 70s. The Church should be clear about her faith, even if there are sometimes tensions between that faith and our personal conscience. A priest should not share his personal opinions in the Mass and other celebrations, but the word of God and the teaching of the Church. He is not there for himself, but with a mission from the Church: the share the Gospel, to welcome and teach in the name of Christ, instead of his own name. Does that mean that some people are suddenly not welcome in the student chaplaincy? Of course not, but everyone deserves to be treated as adult and intelligent individuals who don’t need to be talked down to. Present our faith in its entirety, and not according to an interpretation fueled by personal preference, just to make things easy. Life is not easy, a university education is not easy. Neither should our faith always be. A challenge is an opportunity for growth, questions allows for better understanding.

EDIT 18-12: In commentaries today both Fr. Bodar and the chaplaincy council have underlined that there is no intention of firing Fr. Koster or actively changing the praxis at the chaplaincy, but that the normal process of retirement of a priest, as provided for in canon law, would result in said changes. Fr. Koster will offer his resignation to the bishop when he reaches the age of 75 and the diocese will launch the appointment procedure for a new priest. The confusion regarding blessings of homosexual relations, which exist now, will then be removed.Fr. Bodar stresses the importance of clear communication of the faith of the Church. This includes avoiding confusion. Those in the know will realise that a blessing is not the same as performing same-sex marriages, but for outsiders it is a different matter.

Both parties offered these commentaries after Fr. Bodar said that certain media incorrectly quoted his words from an interview about this subject.