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.

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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.”

Topping up – new cardinals announced for October

Pope Francis yesterday surprisingly announced that he will create 13 new cardinals on 5 October. Surprisingly, because the numbers do not really suggest the ned for a consistory at this time. There are currently 118 electors, cardinals who are active in the Roman Curia and who can vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope, with only 8 aging out between now and the end of 2020. It is clear, however, that Pope Francis prefers having too many rather than too few cardinals, and so habitually ignores the rule that there can only be a maximum of 120 electors (he’s not the only Pope to have done so, however: Pope St. John Paul II once expanded their number to a massive 135).

And, as ever, he also aims for a representative College of Cardinals. In this round, he selects prelates from Luxembourg and Morocco, countries which have never had a cardinal before, but also more traditional cardinalatial sees such as Bologna, Havana and Kinshasa.

And again we see the fallout of recent papal visits abroad. Hence cardinals from Lithuania (visited in September of 2018) and Morocco (March 2019).

After 5 October, there will be 215 cardinals, with 128 electors. Two days later, the latter number will drop again, as Cardinal-designate Ambongo Besungu’s predecessor in Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, reaches the age of 80.

Below a list of the new cardinals:

  • Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot (67, Spain)
    • President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Prefect of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.
  • José Tolentino Medonça (53, Portugal)
    • Librarian of the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives.
  • Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo (69, Indonesia)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Jakarta, Military Ordinary of Indonesia and President of the Episcopal Conference of Indonesia
  • Juan de la Caridad  Garciá Rodríguez (71, Cuba)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of La Habana
  • Fridolin Ambongo Besungu (59, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Kinshasa and Vice-President of the National Episcopal Conference of CongoHollerich-Comece-klein-kna-800x450
  • Jean-Claude Hollerich (60, Luxembourg) (pictured above)
    • Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community
  • Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri (72, Guatemala)
    • Bishop of Huehuetenango
  • Matteo Zuppi (63, Italy) zuppi(pictured at left giving a homily at the Church of the Frisians in Rome in 2015)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop of Bologna
  • Cristóbal López Romero (67, Morocco)
    • Archbishop of Rabat
  • Michael Czerny (73, Canada)
    • Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
  • Michael Louis Fitzgerald (82, United Kingdom)
    • Apostolic Nuncio emeritus to Egypt and Delegate emeritus to the League of Arab States
  • Sigitas Tamkevicius (80, Lithuania)
    • Metropolitan Archbishop emeritus of Kaunas
  • Eugenio Dal Corso (80, Angola)
    • Bishop emeritus of Benguela

Of these, cardinals-designate Fitzgerald, Tamkevicius and Dal Corso, being 80 or older, are ineligible to participate in a conclave. Their selection must therefore be seen as a recognition for their work for the Church and the people in their pastoral care.

Cardinal-designate Czerny is also the first elector who is not yet a bishop upon his selection. Priests who are not (yet) bishops can be made cardinals, but this usually only happens for non-electors. As a Jesuit, Msgr. Czerny will probably request dispensation to not be ordained as a bishop before his creation as cardinal. This is par of the course for Jesuits who are not yet made bishops for other reasons (such as Pope Francis, who was ordained a bishop in 1992 to serve as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires).

European bishops reflect on the United States

Two European bishops have spent their summer holidays visiting the United States, and both have shared some of their thoughts and experiences on social media. And both have perhaps unavoidably, noticed the differences between their countries and the behemoth across the Atlantic Ocean.

Mgr. dr. G.J.N. de KorteBishop Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch travelled New England, including New York and Washington DC, with his sister, and wrote an article for Nederlands Dagblad. Noting the immense economic, military and cultural influence of the United States on the rest of the world, as well as the kind and informal attitude of its inhabitants, Bishop de Korte devotes most of his article to the political stalemate of two parties, virtually equal in size, who are increasingly unwilling to cooperate, and the media’s eagerness to contribute to this increasing polarisation, which the bishops calls “extreme”.

A similar gap exists in society, the bishop writes. Whereas most European countries have established extensive social welfare systems to help those people who can’t make ends meet, in the United States this falls mostly to private organisations and citizens, including the churches. While this expression of Christianity is far more developed than it is in Europe, it is no structural solution to solve the injustices underlying the enormous differences between rich and poor.

Bishop de Korte concludes his article with the hope that the churches can build bridges and add unity and nuance to the political and social debates. “What American society needs now are reasonable and moderate leaders in church and society”.

Another European prelate visiting the United States is the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. He shared his experiences via his Twitter account, in both German and English. Sharing encounters with religious communites (the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Sisters of Life and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal), parish  visits and meetings with brother bishops Cardinal Dolan of New York, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Wilton of Washington, as well as a harbour tour in Boston and visits to the 9/11 monument in New York and the White House, and a hamburger meal with Catholic youth in Washington, Cardinal Woelki’s account is mostly positive and hopeful. About his meeting with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, he writes:

“So many Catholic changes in America: the Franciscans of the Renewal care for the homeless in the Bronx and live from what is given to them. Their communties are small, but growing! I wonder what we can learn from them.”

And there was time to throw some hoops…

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Looking in from the outside, it is often easy to find fault with a person or, in this case, a country. And while it is clear there are problems and worrisome developments under the current American presidency, the positive things should not be forgotten. While we may be conviced that America can learn from Europe, the reverse is also true.

The Catholic involvement in American society is both inspired and down-to-earth. I see this also in those American priests and bishops I follow on social media; to be effective and make an impact in society, however great or small, it is necessary to get dirty hands, to be involved in a way that people can relate to. Sadly, this is something I don’t see often enough in the Netherlands (although it does happen). Sure, a priest and bishop has important duties and is a rolemodel and example. But he is also a person and must relate to other people. Share those personal passions and interests, show that you’re into sports, movies, music, cooking, gardening, whatever, joke around a bit… Be a man of God among men (and women). A cardinal playing basketball (or wondering why there is no thirteenth floor in his hotel, as Cardinal Woelki also did, leading to the question why faith evaporates while superstition persist): I’m all for it.

Photo credit: [1] RKKerk.nl, [2]  Cardinal Woelki’s social media team on Twitter.

For the first time in Luxembourg, an auxiliary bishop

For the first time in its 180-year-history, the Archdiocese of Luxembourg earlier this week received an auxiliary bishop. This is related to the duties of Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich as president of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, which sees him travelling abroad regularly. The archbishop welcomed the appointment from Lourdes, where he participated in a diocesan pilgrimage, in a brief message.

rxx07158_web2-f822f57-year-old vicar general Msgr. Léon Wagener will take on this new duty for Luxembourg. He is a native of Ettelbruck, near Diekirch in northern Luxembourg, and was ordained a priest in 1988, just months before Luxembourg became an archdiocese. Msgr. Wagener has been almoner for (rural) youth and delegate and episcopal vicar for pastoral care, as well as parsh priest in Diekirch, Pontpierre and Luxembourg. In 20122 he was appointed as titular canon of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Luxembourgand he has been vicar-general since 2015. He is also an honorary chaplain of the Marian shrine of Lourdes. Bishop-elect Wagener will be the titular bishop of Aquæ Novæ in Numidia, in modern Algeria. That see was most recently held by Colombian Bishop Francisco Múnera Correa.

The Archdiocese of Luxembourg covers the entirety of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and has been a separate circumscription since 1840. It became a diocese in 1870 and an archdiocese in 1988. Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich has led the archdiocese since 2011. It is home to some 425.000 Catholics in 275 parishes. Some 180 priests and 400 lay religious assure the pastoral care in the archdiocese.

Photo credit: cathol.lu