The consistory of the marginalised – a look back

Cardinals of St. LouisAnd so the Church gains twenty new cardinals. Much has already been said about the unique nature of the group, their places of origin and pastoral and other qualities which would spell out much regarding Pope Francis’ game plan for the future of the Church, both universally and locally in the dioceses and countries of the new cardinals.

Perhaps it can be best summarised as follows: The new cardinals bring the peripheries of the world Church to Rome and Rome to the peripheries. There is much variation in Catholic life across the world, and the needs and questions of one place are not necessarily the same as the needs of another. By creating cardinals from places as different as Communist Vietnam, violent Morelia, diaspora Myanmar, refugee-struck Agrigento and distant Tonga, Pope Francis acknowledges this and wants to make good use of the variety. The creation of these cardinals also expresses the closeness of Rome to these different locations, and lends extra weight to the Church’s presence and influence there.

pimiento rodriguezThe actual ceremony of the creation of the new cardinals was nothing out of the ordinary as these things go. One cardinal, José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez (at right), stayed at home, but he may be excused for that, being 96 years old, and thus the third-oldest member of the College. Cardinals Rauber and De Magistris, respectively 80 and 88 and both physically incapable of kneeling before the Holy Father to receive ring and biretta, both received the signs of their title from a standing Pope Francis who came to them instead of the other way around. Of course, we saw something similar in last year’s consistory for wheelchair-bound Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa.

This consistory was unique in another regard: the appointment of title churches and deaconries. While there were a fair number of vacant titles, Pope Francis chose to fill only seven of these, and created thirteen new ones. Of course, every single cardinal has a title church or deaconry in Rome, which makes 227 of them. Creating thirteen new ones would seem somewhat unnecessary as there are now still one vacant title church and nine vacant deaconries available. But who knows, maybe they will soon be filled if the rumours of Pope Francis wanting to increase the number of cardinals who vote in a conclave from 120 to 140 turn out to be true…

Manuel Macário do Nascimento ClementeOf the pre-existing titles and deaconries there were some examples of continuity. The Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Macário do Nascimento Clemente (at left), was given Sant’Antonio in Campo Marzio, previously held by his immediate predecessor in Lisbon. Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata remained with a retired and experienced worker in the Curia: previously held by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, it is now the deaconry of Cardinal Luigi De Magistris. Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia kept its Belgian connection: first held by Belgian Cardinal Julien Ries it is now in the possession of the former Nuncio to Belgium, Cardinal Karl-Josef Rauber.

Age-wise, this consistory not only created one of the oldest cardinals, the aforementioned de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, but also the two youngest: Cardinal Daniel Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, 55, and Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, 53.

hendriks mambertiThere was a Dutch delegation at the consistory, in addition to Cardinal Wim Eijk who, as a member of the College of Cardinals, attended all meetings. Bishop Frans Wiertz was in Rome with a group of pilgrims from his Diocese of Roermond, and Bishop Jan Hendriks attended because of his acquaintance with Cardinal Dominique Mamberti (pictured above). He blogged about it on his personal website, and writes about the presence of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI:

“Pope Benedict XVI […] [was] stormed by the cardinals and bishops present in order to briefly greet him.

Various members of the diplomatic corps followed. Other faithful were also able to find their way, but needed some more time to get to him.

In the photo [I took] one can discern a small white zucchetto: that is Pope emeritus Benedict!

[…]

The Pope emeritus underwent all these gestures, smiling friendly and almost shyly.”

hendriks wiertz

^Bishops Jan Hendriks and Frans Wiertz in St. Peter’s Square

Finally, in closing, the text of Pope Francis’ homily during the Mass with the new cardinals on Sunday. Some have called it a roadmap of his pontificate:

“Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean”… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have “compassion”.

“Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4).

Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.

Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: “unclean!” (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

True, the purpose of this rule was “to safeguard the healthy”, “to protect the righteous”, and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate “the peril” by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas exclaimed: “It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50).

Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s “logic”. The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the “outskirts” of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: “Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32).

In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the “older brother” (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

In a word: charity cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Finding the right words… Contact is the language of genuine communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language of contact! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that “he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word” (cf. Mk 1:45).

Dear new Cardinals, this is the “logic”, the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. “Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!

Consider carefully that, in these days when you have become Cardinals, we have asked Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23), to intercede for us so that we can be God’s faithful servants. May she – our Mother – teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; not to be afraid of tenderness. How often we fear tenderness! May Mary teach us not to be afraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps.

Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians – edified by our witness – will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!

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

Pope up north

tawadrosIt’s still an odd concept: the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who also happens to be the successor of Saint Mark, travelling from the Egyptian capital to a midsized northern Dutch town – which is, in itself, not the most thrilling of locations to be – to be with the young faithful under his spiritual guidance.

Pope Tawadros II is doing exactly that this weekend. And the faithful attending the European Youth Conference love him for it. Miriam Yakob, one of the 750 attending, said, “He may even be more important to us [than the Catholic Pope]. He is our shepherd, our teacher. He is our father.” The Pope gave two talks at the conference.

On behalf of the local Catholic community, Father Maurits Damsté was among those welcoming Pope Tawadros to the conference centre in Stadskanaal, located about 30 kilometers to the south east of the city of Groningen, where the event is taking place.

Pope Tawadros’ visit follows one by his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who visited the Netherlands in 2010. Shenouda passed away in 2012, and Tawadros was elected in November of that year. In May of 2013, he visited Rome and met with Pope Francis.

The Coptic Orthodox is sadly not in union with Rome, and hasn’t been since the Council of Chalcedon of 451. The differences lie in Coptic understanding of the nature of Christ, but this is a highly technical issue. The Coptic Orthodox and the Catholic Church have established close ties since 1973, and have together confessed unity in the faith in Christ.

Worldwide, there are between 14 and 16 million Coptic Orthodox Christians, with the vast majority, some 12 million, residing in Egypt. In the Netherlands, there are Coptic Orthodox churches in seven cities. There is a single diocese for the roughly 6,000 faithful, headed by Bishop Arseny.

 Photo credit: Rtvnoord.nl

Unexpected guests in Hildesheim’s cathedral

Workers at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in the German Diocese of Hildesheim need to keep their eyes peeled for unique guests wandering the grounds of the church, which is undergoing restoration works. Now at an age that they are starting to want to use their wings, three young Eurasian eagle-owls have begun taking the 30 meter leap from their nest box, landing at the foot of the tower, where they wander about, wondering what to do next.

eagle-owl hildesheim

A worker found the above owlet on the ground today, a week after another had probably accidentally fallen out of the nest. While the first owlet got hurt in its fall, this second one is displaying natural behaviour, leaving the nest to stretch his or her wings and learn to hunt.

Hildesheim is on the western edge of the Eurasian eagle-owls natural range, which stretches east to Korea and south to Spain, Iran and southern China. In past years, the nest box in the cathedral was used by kestrels, which are far more common. The expectation was that, when it became clear that the box was in use again, that the kestrels had returned. A webcam, which had not been aimed at the nest because of restoration work, was switched on two weeks ago, when the real occupants were discovered: a pair of eagle-owls with three young.

Photo credit: bph

The Vatican website re”design”

So the vatican redesigned its website. Reshuffled it, more likely.

vatican website

Still, at least they got rid of the unnecessary “choose your language” page which would then lead you to the homepage in your language of choice.

But, contrary to appearance, I am not bothered by how the website looks. It has a certain charm, and while intuition is not enough to find what you are looking for, it is there (and if it isn’t, there are countless websites which do – among them the Vatican’s own News.va, the website of Vatican Radio, Zenit, and so on).

My only wish would be proper websites for the Curial departments, with easy access to what they publish.

Easter message – Bishop Johan Bonny

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp considers the Christian faith’s authenticity and the physicality of the Resurrection.

johan-bonny“Good friends,

How do you know if someone is sincere? How do you feel if someone is genuine? There is a simple measure: when the body confirms, or even transcends, the language of words. What use do I have for someone who says a lot about solidarity, but never shakes my hand? What use do I have for someone who has good views about the family, but is never home? What use do I have for someone who speaks about human rights, but always eats at the most expensive tables? The proof of the pudding is not in thoughts or words, but in the body. Where you go, from whom you make an effort, with whom your body wears or ages: that is the measure of authenticity. Ordinary people know this all too well.

Christians believe that God’s Word became “man” in Jesus. In the Greek and Latin it actually says that God Word became “flesh”, or took on bodily form, in Jesus. God did not limit Himself to words and promises. He did not get stuck in conversations with His people. Undoubtedly some wished He did: the continuation of a fiery discussion with God, with arguments for and against. God did not walk into that trap. He became man in Jesus, a man of flesh and blood, who embodied what He said. People looked at Jesus and saw that He was sincere: towards them and towards God.

Jesus paid a great price for that. When people could no longer stand His words, He had to go. It wasn’t so much His message that had to be fought or denied. It was God’s “becoming man” in flesh and blood that had to be blocked, if need be with brutal violence. That which made Jesus bodily present, that had to end. Silence fell around Jesus on Good Friday. Nothing had to be said any longer. His dead body on the cross surpassed the words He could have said. By the way, there was no one who wanted to hear them anymore. His body was laid in the tomb.

At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In the Creed we will solemnly sing that we believe in “the Resurrection of the body”. That is indeed what Easter is about: about our faith in the resurrection of the body. Jesus is risen completely and forever. Everything in Him has been brought to completion and glory by the Father. Nothing was left behind, least of all the body with which He had confirmed His words and completed His sacrifice. After Easter Jesus carried in His hands and sides the scars from the Cross. Thomas could put his fingers in them. That completed the wonder and joy of the disciples. In Jesus, the Father most certainly made a man of flesh and blood rise from death!

The power of the Resurrection does not hover like  cloud above the earth. It enters this world and our loves, into the core of our humanity. And especially: it enters the language of the body. Places where the Resurrection breaks through have everything to do with the proof of the pudding, which has to come from the body. Where strangers shake hands, where a volunteer pushes a wheelchair, where a child is born, where an ill person struggles with pain, where partners remain loyal, where the gun is put down, where a kiss is genuine, where food aid is being distributed, where gossip falls silent, where solidarity can come from gut feeling: that is where the power of the Resurrection breaks through. Where the body can put the signature of God, that is where the world has a future.

I wholeheartedly wish you a happy Easter!”

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