The faith in Africa grows because its people are backwards, German editor insists

In the margins of Pope Francis’ current apostolic journey to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, an opinion piece on by editor Björn Odendahl has caused a stir, and not without reason. It betrays a simplistic, even derogatory attitude towards African faithful, and has caused some to accuse Odendahl of outright racism.

Odendahl discusses Pope Francis’ well-known focus on the margins of society, be it nearby (the homeless, sick and elderly of western society) or further afield (the booming Church communities in Africa, for example), and he contrasts these with the centre, struck as it is with complacency, wealth, defeatism even. But, Odendahl says, the Pope is not always right in these comparisons, and displays a romantic view of poverty.

His view on Africa, Odendahl explains, is an example of that romantic view. The paragraph in question:

“Of course the Church is growing there. She grows because the people are socially behind and often have nothing but their faith. She grows because the level of education is generally low and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith). Answers like those from Guinean Cardinal Sarah. And the increasing number of priests is not due solely to missionary power, but it is also one of the sole means of social security on the black continent.”

The tone of the passage is insulting enough, and the big question is if any of this is accurate. Pope Francis is currently in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and will soon depart for Kampala in neighbouring Uganda. Neither city fits the image that Odendahl paints in his article: they are major cities, the economic hearts of their respective countries, with major companies, facilities and educational institutions. Granted, like their western counterparts, Nairobi and Kampala have their share of poverty and marginalised people. But in Odendahl’s mind, it seems, many of their inhabitants should be backwards, socially helpless and simple-minded, because they are enthusiastically and faithfully Catholic. Which is, quite frankly, an insult.


^A group of backwards, simplistic people await the arrival of Pope Francis in Kenya. Note: this may not be a realistic and truthful description.

In addition to this opinion on African Catholics, there is another strange tendency in Odendahl’s piece: he seems to equate the growth of the Church and the adherence to faith with social backwardness and lack of education and development. In modern societies, like Germany, faith is unavoidably disappearing because people are intelligent and socially progressive, we are apparently asked to conclude.

In short, Odendahl’s piece is simplistic, backwards (exactly what he accuses the African faithful of) and insulting to an extreme.

The opinion piece, in which an author must, by definition, have a certain measure of freedom, was published on This is the Internet portal of the Church in Germany which cooperates with the German dioceses, religious orders and other institutions, although it is not the official mouthpiece of these. It employs editors and reporters and makes use of the freedom of press to inform, report in depth and give opinions. It is not run by the bishops (who have the website of the bishops’ conference,, for that), but they do work closely with them, making one  of the major exclusively Catholic voices in Germany.

Can the bishops be held responsible for this piece? No. Would it be wise for them to denounce it? Yes, very much so.

After Paris – why pray?

In the wake of the horrible attacks in Paris last night, social media was flooded today with calls to pray for Paris. Together with that came the accusation that prayer was useless and that we had better actually ‘do something’ to help the people who were wounded or who lost loved ones. Apparently praying is not actually ‘doing something’, and there are other things which are ‘doing something’. But why do so many people ask for prayer, if they do not believe it will do some good?


There is a misunderstanding of what prayer is in the minds of those who suggest it is useless. They believe that prayer is a one-way street, from us to God, urging God to do something that He would not do otherwise. Well, if He is not inclined to comfort people, heal them, or even prevent terrible things from happening without us reminding Him that He should, what is the use of Him, people rightly ask.

But this is not what prayer is. Prayer is a two-way street, leading from us to God and from God to us. It is a conversation, if not always one with words. The effects of prayer are therefore present at both ends of the conversation. It is as useful for God as it us for us, not to mention for those we pray for.

In praying for Paris, we recognise and root ourselves in our relationship with God and we find comfort for ourselves. We articulate our care and concern for people that we likely don’t even know, and, once articulated, this care and concern can take root and grow in us and radiate outwards to those around us. God is love. When we show love, which care and concern are, we show and share God. God comes down to live among us in our love for our neighbours. He doesn’t force Himself upon us, but will answer every time we reach out to Him. No man is an island, and it is our care for each other that helps us reach our fullest potential, even after this life. We don’t know who the people were who died last night, we don’t know who they left behind, and we certainly don’t pretend to know what they are going through. But we support them, show our love and share God through that love, making Him present in this world and so reflecting our own relationship with Him in the relationship between Him and others.

Another question is if God couldn’t and shouldn’t have prevented the terrible events of last night from happening. Of course, He could. But He didn’t. This is very difficult for many, both in and outside the Church, but the essence of it is this: God created man with a free will that He will always respect. Unlike the gods from mythology, but also from modern religions such as Islam, God will never force Himself on anyone, making him or her do things he or she does not choose to do. It does not matter if that person is an innocent victim or a murderous terrorist. God respects human freedom, and is there to help guide them if they so choose, or help them live with the consequence of their choices.

In Paris last night, the victims made no choices, of course. They are the victims of a mindless evil that has denounced God. God does not, however, denounce the innocent, and is there for them and those they leave behind, leading them to His eternal light and their fullest being as His creatures. Always. And we can help them find Him through our prayer.

Translations update

I have updated the translations pages (English and Dutch) by moving some from the ‘Latest translations added’ list in the left sidebar, and adding a few new ones.

Among the latter are English translations of Archbishop Burger’s piece about the refugee crisis, Bishop Hurkmans’ letter regarding his retirement and, since yesterday, a Dutch translation of Pope Francis’ Message for World Youth Day 2016.

Facebook knows better, even when it’s your name

fb-unlikeIs Facebook going too far by demanding you stick to their rules regarding your name? Over the past months I have seen more than a few people being forced to change the name they use on the social media network, because they are Catholic priests or religious who include their title (Father, Deacon, Brother or Monsignor) in their name on Facebook. The most recent example is noted blogging priest Msgr. Charles Pope, who was locked out of his account and asked to submit multiple pieces of evidence that he is really called that. Or, as Facebook’s rules have it, that that is the name people know him by. It need not be one’s official name, then.

Deacon Greg Kandra, himself a victim of the Facebook name policy, has more details.

Msgr. Pope refuses to accept Facebook’s demands, but others have changed their name, removing the Father, Deacon or Brother from their name, despite the fact that people know them as Father X, Deacon Y or Brother Z.

Facebook, as an independent company, has of course every right to make its own rules. But that does not make them right. The basic rule that people should use their own name(s) is logical, but also very limited. As Deacon Greg points out, Native American users run into the same problems as Catholic priests and religious, and also see their names judged to be not their real ones. The case of a man named Oglala Lakota Brown Eyes who Facebook decided should be called Lance Brown is particularly striking… The entire process of deciding which names are real and which are not seems quite arbitrary and limited.

But, even despite this, the titles of priests and religious are not exactly that. Unlike, say, a doctor, a priest’s title of Father indicates not a profession, but a state of being. This state of being began with his ordination and is forever. Sure, some priests may choose not to use their title, but many do, and rightly say that that is how people know them and relate to them, as Father X (or Deacon Y or Brother Z, as the case may be).

Facebook has a concern for their users’ conduct which may be justified, but goes about it in a heavy-handed, even insulting way for those involved (as, for example, the burden of proof lies with them, not with whoever decides that a name may be inaccurate or even false).

Adopt a Bishop

We’ve seen it before, in the runup to the conclave for example, when faithful could “adopt” a prelate to specifically pray for, so that those prayers may help him in doing his duty for the needs of the Church and according to the will of God. The German website of Church in Need has now done something similar for the participating bishops of the Synod.

They write:

“On 25 March Pope Francis asked the faithful to pray for the Synod and suggested a prayer for that purpose, which you find below.

We also invite you to accompany the meeting in Rome with prayer, namely by praying specifically for a single bishop who participates or who is substitutes when the participant from his country can not.

To ensure that all participants and substitues of the Synod are strongly prayed for and none is “left out” we offer a random selector below, with which you can find a bishop and “adopt” him in prayer.”

joseph werthSo, go here, click on the “Jetzt Siehen” button and see who you can pray for.

I got Bishop Joseph Werth, Bishop of Transfiguration at Novosibirsk in Russia, who will participate in the Synod only if the Russian delegate, Bishop Paolo Pezzi of Mother of God at Moscow, would be unable to.

Who did you get?

Oh, and that prayer that Pope Francis suggested? That’s this one, to the Holy Family:

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendour of true love, to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: May all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen.”

Dr. Peters on WordPress and the art of ‘In Your Face’

An excellent comment from Dr. Peters on the sudden appearance of a rainbow on the WordPress posting page. Dr. Peters is a canon lawyer, but for the purpose of this post he is a fellow blogger on WordPress confronted with “all the lately-found bravery of one who jumps on a bandwagon after someone else has won a fight”.

He writes:

“Mind, WordPress has never, in my three or so years of using it, marked its tool pages with any political logos or symbols of any kind. But today there is an in-your-face gloat over the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell.”


“Yes, a lot of people are happy about Obergefell. I get it. But assuming everyone wants to celebrate it?”

Read the rest over there. Yes, WordPress, you too.

A leaked encyclical

So someone posted an early draft of Laudato Si, the encyclical that is set for release on Thursday. The encyclical is under embargo until noon that day, as the Holy See has been announcing in the daily press bulletins for at least the past week.

In my opinion, leaking such an important document against the clear wishes of the publishers is a very shameful thing to do, even if it is an early draft. That, and the simple fact that the Holy See has again asked everyone to respect the embargo, is the reason why I will not be sharing the text or write about it at this time. Besides, I don’t even know how much this draft differs from the final version, so drawing conclusions now may do nothing but make me look like a fool.

The situation is a difficult one for honest reporters, who have been preparing for next Thursday and want to respect the embargo. There will be many others who will be writing about the leaked text, and many who will be forming opinions before the official text is out. The leak is not only disrespectful to the author and publisher, but also to fellow reporters and writers, professional and amateur.

Shame on all those involved in the leak.