From the tundra to the desert – Bishop Pétur retires

 It is no surprise, but for the small Church in Iceland a seismic event nonetheless as Bishop Peter (Pétur in Icelandic) Bürcher announces that he has offered his resignation to Pope Francis. At 70 he is still 5 years under the mandatory retirement age, but, as he himself puts it, the “glacial cold of the high North” badly affected his health, which was further compromised by pneumonia. He now follows the advice of doctors to exchange the barren cold of Iceland for the warmer climate of the Holy Land.

bürcher

Bishop Bürcher will remain in charge of the Diocese of Reykjavík until the Holy Father decides otherwise, but he will travel to Israel when the situation allows it. He will eventually take on duties for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in agreement with Patriarch Fouad Twal.

The Church in Iceland is a small but growing one, with promising developments for the future, including new monastic communities (something that the bishop has long worked for) and new churches.

To the faithful in his diocese, he writes:

“Already now I would like with all my heart to thank you in Iceland and everywhere. I offer you my deepest gratitude for your understanding and for your faithful cooperation in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the celebration of faith and the Sacraments as in the service of all our brothers and sisters. As one of my fellow-bishops said, I can also say: I am happy to be a bishop and I am often a happy bishop. I have been able to plant, another will water and another will be able to reap. Thanks to God for all.”

Bishop Pétur was born in Switzerland and auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg from 1994 to 2007,and in that latter year he was appointed as the fourth bishop of Reykjavík.

The Diocese of Reykjavík was established as the Apostolic Prefecture of Islanda in 1923, split off from the Apostolic Vicariate of Denmark. In 1929 it became an Apostolic Vicariate and in 1968 a full Diocese. It has had one native bishop in the person of Johánnes Gunnarsson, who was Vicar Apostolic from 1942 to 1967. Other bishops have been from Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and, lastly, from Switzerland.

Charlie Hebdo – Bishops react

Like almost every public authority figure, the Dutch bishops have also released an official response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in paris, two days ago. It is a perfunctory statement, short and quite standard:

Logo Bisschoppenconferentie“The Dutch Bishops’ Conference is shocked and stunned by the reports about the violent attack on the offices of a magazine in Paris, in which twelve people were killed.

The bishops strongly reject the use of any form of violence to impose opinions or religious convictions. They also reject any form of violence aimed at denying people their right to express their own opinions.

The bishops’ sympathies go to the relatives of the deceased victims and also to the injured and their families. “We pray for consolation for them, but also for wisdom for the French authorities in approaching violence because of religious and philosophical opinions.

Furthermore, the bishops’ conference fully endorses Pope Francis’ reaction to the attack.”

More interesting are the reactions of individual bishops.

Bishop Jos Punt, of Haarlem-Amsterdam, sent an open letter to the editors of the major Dutch newspapers and, in extension, to all who work in the free press. In it, he writes:

kn_705396_punt“My thoughts are with your colleagues who have died and with their families, relatives and friends. But my thoughts are also with you and all your coworkers, who are used to be able to bring world news in freedom and rightly consider this a great good in the democratic principles we all cherish. That freedom is now again challenged and that makes you feel unsafe.

As bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam I know that religions and their spiritual leaders, but also ministers, politicians and many others in public office or functions are sometimes targets for satire. That can go very far and cause protests.

But in the context of freedom of speech it must be possible to do so respectfully and must never lead to brutal murder, like yesterday in Paris.”

Bishop Punt also underlines the importance of dialogue between religions with mutual respect and good will, to foster peace and harmony in the world, and reminded that the forces of good are always stronger than the forces of evil. He closes his letter as follows:

“I wish you and your coworkers much wisdom and courage in the decisions you have to make now, perhaps forced by circumstances, in bringing news. But now you are supported by many who have shown their horror at this attack and sympathise strongly with you.”

mgr_hendriks2014_200Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, shares the letter as well, and adds:

“The terrorist action which happened in Paris must be strongly condemned by every sane person. I hope that this will not lead to further violence, but to more attention for the importance of an honest and open dialogue to achieve peace and reconciliation.”

Bishop Gerard de Korte, of Groningen-Leeuwarden, gives advice on how to respond to the attack and its aftermath.

korte“The time for naivety is over. A small number of fanatics can seriously disrupt our society. Our governments have the task of eliminiating terrorists as much as possible before they can strike. But guaranteeing one hundred percent security is of course an illusion.

I think it is sensible to keep our heads cool. It is completely counterproductive to outcry ourselves in anger and fear. Now we especially need a strong and controlled reaction by society. Hysterics and blind hatred towards Muslims must now be avoided. Even in hectic times it is important to keep finding nuances. Citizens in our pluralistic society must seek out that which connects. As creatures of God we people belong fundamentally together, after all.

Bishop de Korte also warns that as Christians we must avoid taking the moral high ground in this matter:

“As Christians we should be humble.  For centuries Christians despised, hated and killed others. After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, Christians have often wanted to violently enforce their vision of the truth. As far as I can see, we have left that unholy way only fairly recently. For our Church the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) also led to a breakthrough on this point. It’s no longer the right of the truth that is in the centre, but the dignity of every human. Christ is the truth in person and every man has the duty to find this truth. But that is only possible in full freedom and without any coercion or violence. We can not make holy God an instrument for our violent actions.”