Luxembourg in an international sea of red hats

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A joyful photograph reflecting the historical changes at the top of the Archdiocese of Luxembourg. Last week, Bishop Leo Wagener (left), became the archdiocese’s first auxiliary bishop, and yesterday Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich (right) was created the first cardinal in the country’s history.

Cardinal Hollerich, who also leads the Commision of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), consecrated Bishop Wagener on 29th September. The latter’s appointment is undoubtedly related to Cardinal Hollerich’s European duties, while the red hat is at least in part a sign of support for the Catholic community in the small grand duchy. The developments of the last week were certainly momentous.

As of yesterday, each country in the Benelux has its own resident cardinal: Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels and now Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg. The latter two were created by Pope Francis, while Cardinal Eijk’s red hat was given to him by Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Hollerich was one of 13 cardinals created yesterday. The College of Cardinals now has 225 members, of which 128 are under the age of 80 and will thus have duties in Rome and can take part in a conclave for the election of a new pope. The newest cardinals, with their title churches, are:

  1. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, Cardinal-Deacon of San Girolamo dela Carità
  2. José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Domenico e Sisto
  3. Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Cardinal-Priest of Spirito Santo alla Ferratella
  4. Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, Cardinal-Priest of Santi Aquila e Priscilla
  5. Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Cardinal-Priest of San Gabriele Arcangelo all’Acqua Traversa
  6. Jean-Claude Hollerich, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Crisostomo a Monte Sacro Alto
  7. Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Evangelista a Spinaceto
  8. Matteo Maria Zuppi, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Egidio
  9. Cristóbal López Romero, Cardinal-Priest of San Leone I
  10. Michael Czerny, Cardinal-Deacon of San Michele Arcangelo
  11. Michael Louis Fitzgerald, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria In Portico
  12. Sigitas Tamkevicius, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Angela Merici
  13. Eugenio Dal Corso, Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Anastasia

In the past there has been no hesitation to create new cardinal titles despite the availability of existing ones, but this time around only one new title church has been added: Sant’Egidio for Cardinal Zuppi. A sensible choice as the cardinal is a member of the movement with the same name. Other notable titles given are Sant’Anastasia for Cardinal Dal Corso – until this year the title of Cardinal Godfried Danneels – and Santi Aquila e Priscilla – Cardinal García Rodríguez is the archbishop of Havana, and the previous holder of the title church was his predecessor in the Cuban capital. Cardinal Hollerich’s title church was most recently held by Cardinal José Pimiento de Rodriguez, for a while the oldest cardinal in the world.

Considering Pope Francis’ habit of choosing cardinals from the peripheries, from countries with small Catholic communities or on the fringes of global affairs, the list of nationalities of cardinals has become a lenghty one. Most cardinals are the only ones from their country, while others have a fair number of countrymen in the College of Cardinals. Starting with the countries with the largest number of cardinals, the list is as follows:

  • Italy: 42 cardinals
  • Spain, United States: 14
  • Brazil: 10
  • Germany: 8
  • France, Mexico, Poland: 6
  • Portugal: 5
  • Argentina, Canada, India: 4
  • Chile, Nigeria, Philippines: 3
  • Angola, Australia, Colombia, Congo-Kinshasa, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Vietnam: 2
  • Albania, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Tonga, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay: 1

So the Italian influence in the College of Cardinals is still great as is that of Europe in general, but this is balanced in the first place by the cardinals from North and South America, but also by the increasing number of far-flung countries from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Pope Francis aims to make the College of Cardinals, which not only elects his successor, but also works with him in the Roman Curia for the global church, to be a reflection of that world. With today’s consistory, he has taken another step in that direction.

Photo credit: Église catholique à Luxembourg – Kathoulesch Kierch zu Lëtzebuerg

A decade’s wait over – Trondheim to get a new bishop

After a vacancy that lasted just over a decade, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim will finally have a bishop-prelate again. Since 2009, when Bishop Georg Müller was forced to retire (more about that here), the pastoral responsibility for the central Norwegian circumscription was in the hands of the bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, who served as apostolic administrator.

89cc0ebd-d2a4-488a-87b7-6e5911d937dbThe new bishop of Trondheim is a Norwegian, but coming home by way of England, where he has been the abbot of the Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Leicestershire. Bishop-elect Erik Varden is, despite his role as abbot, young for a bishop. At 45, he is the fifteenth-youngest bishop in the world, and certainly the youngest in Scandinavia and Europe (if we exclude Ukraine, a country which can boast seven bishops aged 43 and younger). Additionaly, Fr. Varden has also not been a priest or a religious for very long. He entered the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 2002, made his first profession in 2004, his solemn vows in 2007 and was ordained a priest in 2011. He has been the abbot of Mount St. Bernard since April of 2015.

Fr. Varden was informed of his appointment by Archbishop Edward Adams, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain. The fact that it was that nuncio, and not Archbishop James Green, the papal representative to Norway, who made this call, does beg the question if the appointment was made with or without the latter’s involvement. In a letter to the faithful of Trondheim, who number some 14.000 in 5 parishes, Bishop-elect Varden reflects on the significance of the date on which he received the news, writing:

“On the feast of St Theodore of Tarsus, 19 September, I was told that the Pope had named me bishop of Trondheim. The Nuncio in London communicated the news. He could not have been kinder. He reminded me that Theodore, like me, had been a monk; that he, too, in the name of obedience had been asked to leave a life and brethren he loved dearly. A compatriot of St Paul, he was appointed to Canterbury in 669. And there, said the Nuncio, he became a blessing — a sign of the Church’s unity, which transcends national and cultural boundaries. Theodore ‘set the Church on a firm foundation’, says the Collect for the day, which continues: ‘[may we too] remain steadfast on the rock which is Christ and be obedient to the calling we have received’.”

In the same letter, the new bishop also outlines something of a mission statement. Sharing a conversation he had in Ireland with an elderly monk on his death bed, who said that it grieved him to see Christ disappearing from Ireland. Fr. Varden says this has been an inspiration for him ever since, and writes:

“The situation my brother referred to is the same in much of Europe. In a world, a time, ever more marked by indifference and cynicism, hopelessness and division, it is our task to stand for something else: to point toward the Light that no darkness can overcome, to nurture good will, to let ourselves be reconciled, to enable a communion founded on trust, in peace, to bear witness that death has lost its sting, that life is meaningful and beautiful, of inviolable dignity. This is a great responsibility, but also a privilege — a source of transformative joy.”

abbederik_janerikkofoed8.jpeg^Bishop-elect Erik Varden, left, with Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo, during the former’s previous visit to Trondheim in 2018, when he gave the annual Olsok lecture.

The modern Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, a designation which places it just beneath a full diocese, can trace its history back to 1931, when it was established as the Mission sui iuris of Central Norway. In 1935 it was elevated to an Apostolic Prefecture and in 1953 to an Apostolic Vicariate. It took its current form in 1979, taking the name of Trondheim instead of Central Norway. The territory has had bishops since 1953, and Bishop Varden will be the fourth in that line. The long vacancy of the seat of Trondheim is not unique, by the way. Between Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer (1979-1983) and Georg Müller (1997-2009), the vacancy lasted no less than fourteen years.

The time and place of Bishop Varden’s consecration and installation, as well as the prelates involved, are yet to be announced.

Bishop Punt announces wish for early retirement in 2020

IMG_9029_rawOn the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Bishop Jan Hendriks’ ordination to the priesthood, celebrated last Friday at the diocesan shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo, Bishop Jos Punt announced his intention to ask the pope for an early retirement next year.

The bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam will mark the 25th anniversary of his consecration as bishop in the summer of 2020, six months before his 75th birthday. This, he said, would be “a good time to pass the staff to Msgr. Hendriks.” Bishop Hendriks has been coadjutor bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam since December of last year, so a possibly months-long search for a new bishop is already averted.

Bishop Punt has been struggling with health issues for the past years, regularly needing periods of rest. The appointment of Bishop Hendriks as coadjutor will have been the first step in a smooth transition in diocesan leadership. Considering that most coadjutor bishops in recent years have only held that position for a calendar year or less, this fairly rapid turnover is also not unexpected.

Bishop Punt has been the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam (simply Haarlem before 2008), which was established in 1559, suppressed in 1592 and established again in 1833. He was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem in 1995, and became apostolic administrator of the diocese three days after the early death of Bishop Henny Bomers in 1998. He held that temporary position for an uncommonly long three years before being officialy appointed as bishop of Haarlem. From 2000 to 2011 he was assisted by Bishop Jan van Burgsteden as auxiliary bishop, and, after the latter’s semi-retirement (semi because he retained duties in the bishops’ conference as well as in the inner city parish in Amsterdam), by Bishop Hendriks. Since 1995, Bishop Punt has also been the apostolic administrator of the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, which has not had its own bishop since the retirement of Bishop Ronald Bär, who held the position in addition to being bishop of Rotterdam.

The retirement of Bishop Punt and Bishop Hendriks’ succession will be the last episcopal appointment in the Netherlands for some time, barring any unforeseen circumstances. The next-oldest bishop in the Netherlands is 66-year-old Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, who is therefore still nine years away from retirement.  There will, however, be a few earlier changes, although they do no involve native bishops. Towards the end of 2021 the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, will reach retirement age. Additionaly, the Ukrainain Diocese of St.-Vladimir-le-Grand de Paris, which ministers to Ukrainian Catholics in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg), is currently awaiting a new bishop, who will have his seat in Paris.

Photo credit: Wim Koopman

Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

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Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

Bishops on social media – still an uphill battle

Among the German-language bishops, the highest social media presence belongs to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who reaches some 110,000 followers via his various social media accounts, as reported by the Archdiocese of Vienna. Obviously, the cardinal promptly went on Twitter to thank his followers for their “valuable and critical reactions” to what he shares.

Other active social media bishops are Stefan Oster of Passau (16,594 followers), Wilhelm Krautwaschl of Graz-Seckau (6,882 followers) and Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen (4,479 followers).

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.This made me wonder: how do the bishops of the Dutch language area compare? Not that favourably, actually. Of the 18 bishops in the Netherlands and Flanders (I haven’t counted the emeriti), only five have any social media presence. Those five all use Facebook, one also uses Twitter and a third one adds Instagram. Their reach is also much smaller than that of their German speaking brethren, but that is easily explained by the size of the Dutch language area.

IMG-p06Mgr.DeJong-2402_cropped-60-281-231-3-0Topping the list is Bishop Everard de Jong (pictured), the auxiliary bishop of Roermond. He has 5,000 friends on his personal Facebook page, and a further 782 followers on his Instagram account.

Number 2 is the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Cardinal Jozef De Kesel is followed by 2059 on Facebook. Including him among the Dutch-speaking bishops is a bit of a cheat, as he posts in both Dutch and French.

Bishop Jan Hendriks, the coadjutor bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, who is also the single Dutch bishop with a blog, has a combined 1,726 followers on Twitter and his two Facebook accounts.

Bruges’ Bishop Lode Aerts boasts 1,636 followers on Facebook.

Number five, then, is Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent, who has 1,607 people on his Facebook page. He also has a personal account there, which does not reveal the number of friends he has there.

Despite the efforts of the five prelates above, the bishops in the Netherlands remain very hesitating in their use of social media. Traditional media is used, especially in writing, and a number of bishops actively contribute to the websites of their respective dioceses. But like visual media, social media is generally seen is something “not for them”. This may be a generational thing, of course, but dioceses also have communication teams who can post on their behalf. This is fairly common in other parts of the world. And at least one bishop seems open to it, despite his personal trepidation. Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden said in a 2017 interview:

“The diocese certainly participates in social media, but it’s not for me.” He takes an old Nokia from his pocket. “As long as the battery still works, this is fine for me. The next model will probably be an iPhone so that I can also use WhatsApp. I lag a bit behind. We are looking for a new communications advisor. If he or she thinks it a good idea for me to start tweeting, I will seriously consider it.”

Well, let’s hope that the communications advisors of the various dioceses have an eye for social media trends abroad. Using modern forms of media makes one more visible, certainly among younger generations (and not even the youngest anymore), who are increasingly leaving the traditional media behind. Increased visibility in a time where the role of the Church, faith and religion is diminishing will help in making the Good News known.

Photo credit: [2] Nederlands Dagblad

On the death of the world’s oldest cardinal, two days in a row

Over the past two days, the Church lost it’s oldest cardinal. Twice.

web3-carcianl-pimiento-rodriguez-colombia-cec.org_.co_Tuesday saw the passing of Cardinal José de Jesús Pimiento Rodríguez. The 100-year-old Colombian prelate was the emeritus archbishop of Manizales and was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015. In a telegram to the current archbishop of Manizales, Pope Francis recalled Cardinal Pimiento’s work for peace and the common good.

etchegarrayUpon Cardinal Pimiento’s death, the title of oldest cardinal fell to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, only for him to pass on that title the next day. The 96-year-old French cardinal-bishop served as archbishop of Marseille before taking on duties in Rome, heading the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and “Cor Unum”. Even after retiring he was an active advocate for peace in the world, as recalled by Pope Francis in a second telegram. Cardinal Etchegaray was created a cardinal in 1979 and appointed to the highest rank of cardinal-bishop in 1998, with the title of Porto-Santa Rufina.

The oldest living cardinal is now Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, also 96, but the late Cardinal Etchegaray’s junior by almost a year. Cardinal Vanhoye, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, was the rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Although there are no centenarians in the College of Cardinals, no less than 23 cardinals are in their 90s. Clearly a job in which one has a fair chance of growing old.

Photo credit: [1] Cec.org.co, [2] Diocese de Bayonne

Strengthened in concern – Cardinal Woelki’s visit to the USA

Returning once again to Cardinal Woelki’s summer holiday visit to the United States, the Kirchenzeitung of the Archdiocese of Cologne shares an interview with the cardinal looking back on said trip. Next to relating about friendly visits with American prelates and religious communities and finding inspiration for Church life back home, the cardinal also speaks about how the Church in Germany is seen abroad. This especially in light of the independent approach to perceived liberties allowed under the current papacy.

Cardinal Woelki says:

Kardinal_Woelki_-_Weg_zum_und_Mittagsgebet_im_Kölner_Dom-3210“I was surprised by how closely my conversation partners are following the situation of the Church in Europe and especially in Germany. Everywhere I was struck with the concern about current developments in Germany. A noticeable concern in many encounters was that the “synodal path” is taking us on a specifically German path, that, at worst, we are putting the communion with the universal Church at risk and are so becoming a German national church. That is not something that anyone should want, and we should take that warning very seriously. Many of my conversation partners expressed their disbelief that in Germany we appear to be willing to change the deposit of faith entrusted to us, just because this is loudly demanded of us. The fear that this could lead to a split in the universal Church, or even a split in the German Church, was openly expressed. Of course the dioceses in America are also not immune to the questions which concern us. But I am under the impression that there they are providing answers based on the faith of the universal Church, and not in the form of independent national action or some form of theological overconfidence.”

Cardinal Woelki has, of course, been one of the German bishops most critical of the synodal path promoted by his brethren. His visit to the USA strenghtened him in that.

“I feel supported in my position. I believe that the path which is currently being sought in Germany contains grave dangers – especially the risk of a split in the German church. In his letter the Pope has clearly urged us to maintain the “Sensus Ecclesiae“, the “sense of faith of the Church” and remain in communion with the universal Church and the faith of the Church. I return home encouraged and have sensed on this journey, in a very concrete way, what it means to belong to the Catholic world Church. This unity acriss all national boundaries is very valuable, especially for us Germans. We should hold fast to that.”