First native son to lead modern Catholic Finland retires

DSC_0033x-kopioFollowing a period of ill health, Finland’s first native-born bishop of the modern era retired early today.. Marking his 72nd birthday, Bishop Teemu Sippo announced the news in a letter to the faithful. Bishop Sippo headed the Diocese of Helsinki, which covers all of Finland, since 2009. He cites his ailing health, worsened by a fall at Christmas time, as the reason for his retirement

The previous sede vacante of Helsinki lasted almost a year, so the appointment of a new bishop of one of the northernmost dioceses in the world could still be some time in the future.

The Diocese of Helsinki was established as the Apostolic Vicariate of Finland in 1920, from territory belonging to the Archdiocese of Mohilev, which then included large parts of Russia. Finland had only just gained its independence from Russia, which was in the midst of post-Revolution civil war.

In the first three years of its existence, an Apostolic Administrator would lead the new circumscription: the Dutch priest, Fr. Michiel Buckx, a priest of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, or Dehonians. Fr. Buckx would be appointed as the first vicar apostolic in 1923, and was made a bishop as well. He would be suceeded in 1933 be another Dutchman, Bishop Gulielmus Cobben, another Dehonian. When the apostolic vicariate was promoted to the Diocese of Helsinki in 1955, Bishop Cobben continued as bishop of Helsinki. In 1964 he recieved a coadjutor bishop, again a Dutch Dehonian, Bishop Paul Verschuren. He succeeded Bishop Cobben in 1967 and remained in office until 1998, during which period he served four terms as president of the Scandinavian bishops’ conference, the first from 1973 to 1978, and the other three from 1986 to 1998. Bishop Verschuren was succeeded by another Dehonian, but one from Poland this time. Bishop Józef Wróbel served from 2000 to 2008, after which he returned to Poland to become an auxiliary bishop of Lublin. In 2009, Fr. Teemu Sippo, who had served as apostolic administrator following the reassignment of Bishop Wróbel, was appointed as the first Finnish bishop of Helsinki. He was consecrated in the Lutheran cathedral of Helsinki by Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Bishop Wróbel and Copenhagen’s Bishop Czeslaw Kozon. Cardinal Lehmann had been Bishop Sippo’s thesis advisor when he studied in Freiburg in the 1970s.

Of the 5.5 million inhabitants of Finland, only some 14,00 are Catholic. These are spread over some 340,000 square kilometers and are served by some 30 priests. The Diocese of Helsinki consists of 8 parishes.

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A new “travelling Pope”

f96763944f2eb5b73f91fea96bbf01a4-690x450Pope Francis returns from his visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia today, and so concludes his 29th international journey. He has visited all continents except Oceania and Antarctica (hey, if the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow can do it…), and more than a few of his travels have been the first papal visits to the countries in question. And with those data, it is clear that the title of “Traveling Pope” should now be given to the current pontiff.

Pope John Paul II Visit to Ireland, Shannon Airport

Pope Saint John Paul II is the traditional holder of the moniker, and not without reason. In the 31 years if his papacy he made 104 international visits to 129 different countries. Pope Francis has been pope for a little more than six years, so any useful comparison must take that into account. Comparing it with the first 6 years (and two months) of St. John Paul II’s papacy, Pope Francis comes out on top, with 29 visits, five more than the late pontiff’s 24 (Pope Benedict XVI, in comparison, made 20 international visits in the same timespan).

Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis immediately struck out far abroad, with visits to Brazil, Israel and South Korea before visiting a country closer to Italy, Albania, on his fourth visit. St. John Paul II went to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas before heading to a European destination (in his case Poland), although those first three countries were visited on a single trip, whereas Francis made three separate journeys. Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, first focussed on Europe, visiting Poland, Spain and Germany (twice) before visiting Turkey and Brazil.

Both Benedict XVI and Francis inherited their first papal visit from their predecessor, and both were made in the context of the World Youth Day. Benedict XVI visited Cologne and Francis Rio de Janeiro.

Unlike his two predecessors, Pope Francis did not include his native country among his first visits. In fact, he is yet to visit Argentina. St. John Paul II visited Poland on his second visit and Benedict XVI went to Germany on his very first, although, as mentioned above, he inherited that visit from St. John Paul II. His fourth visit was again to Germany.

In comparing Popes Francis and St. John Paul II, one more thing must be noted: their age. St. John Paul II was between 58 and 64 in his first six years as pope. Francis was 76 when elected, and is now 82. That makes him being the new “travelling Pope” all the more remarkable.

Photo credit: [1] AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, [2] Tim Graham/Getty Images

 

For vocations and liturgy, Rottenburg-Stuttgart adds a third auxiliary

Rottenburg. Diözese. Gerhard Schneider. 12.09.2017 / Bild: Rainer MozerA third auxiliary bishop for the German Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart was appointed today. 50-year-old Msgr. Gerhard Schneider joins Auxiliary Bishops Thomas Renz and Matthaus Karrer, and ordinary Bishop Gebhard Fürst at the head of the diocese which covers the central and eastern parts of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The diocese becomes one of six in Germany with three auxiliary bishops. In recent years, the Diocese of Münster and the Archdiocese of Hamburg actually took steps to decrease their number of auxiliaries.

The appointment comes at the request of Bishop Fürst, who expects that it will lead to a “strengthening in the ministry towards vocations and young people in spiritual professions, as well as the celebration of the liturgy with art and Church music.”

Msgr. Schneider, who worked at a bank before studying theology in Rome and Tübingen, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Fürst in 2002. From 2004 to 2009 he was attached to the theology department of the diocese at Tübingen, after which he took over the leadership of the preliminary seminary Ambrosianum. Since 2010 he has been responsible for vocations ministry in the diocese. Since 2012 he has also been a member of the diocesan chancery for liturgy, including art and music, and vocations. Msgr. Schneider will continue this work as auxiliary bishop.

Msgr. Schneider sees his new mission as a clear challenge: “As Church we are in the midst of  deep crisis and we must regain a lot of trust. That must become visible in what we do and how we do it.”

Bishop-elect Schneider will be the titular bishop of Abbir Germaniciana, a titular see located in modern Tunisia. It was most recently held by Bishop Leo Schwarz, auxiliary of Trier, who died last November. The consecration of Msgr. Schneider will take place before the summer holidays in July. Consecrating bishops will almost certainly be Bishop Fürst and the other two auxiliary bishops of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

Photo credit: P.Rainer Mozer / Katholisch.de

 

 

Mourning and rejoicing after Notre Dame burned

“We are gathered in the Mother Church of the Diocese of Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral, which rises in the heart of the city as a living sign of God’s presence in our midst.  My predecessor, Pope Alexander III, laid its first stone, and Popes Pius VII and John Paul II honoured it by their presence.  I am happy to follow in their footsteps, a quarter of a century after coming here to offer a conference on catechesis.  It is hard not to give thanks to the Creator of both matter and spirit for the beauty of this edifice.  The Christians of Lutetia had originally built a cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr; as time went on it became too small, and was gradually replaced, between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, by the great building we admire today.  The faith of the Middle Ages built the cathedrals, and here your ancestors came to praise God, to entrust to him their hopes and to express their love for him.  Great religious and civil events took place in this shrine, where architects, painters, sculptors and musicians have given the best of themselves.  We need but recall, among so many others, the architect Jean de Chelles, the painter Charles Le Brun, the sculptor Nicolas Coustou and the organists Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau.  Art, as a pathway to God, and choral prayer, the Church’s praise of the Creator, helped Paul Claudel, who attended Vespers here on Christmas Day 1886, to find the way to a personal experience of God.  It is significant that God filled his soul with light during the chanting of the Magnificat, in which the Church listens to the song of the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of this church, who reminds the world that the Almighty has lifted up the lowly (cf. Lk 1:52).  As the scene of other conversions, less celebrated but no less real, and as the pulpit from which preachers of the Gospel like Fathers Lacordaire, Monsabré and Samson transmitted the flame of their passion to the most varied congregations, Notre-Dame Cathedral rightly remains one of the most celebrated monuments of your country’s heritage.  Following a tradition dating back to the time of Saint Louis, I have just venerated the relics of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, which have now found a worthy home here, a true offering of the human spirit to the power of creative Love.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 12 September 2008, at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

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Last night, Notre Dame burned. This morning, we find that more than we could have hoped for was spared of its interior. The roof and spire may be gone, and soot may cover the walls and mangled debris may have reached the floor, but Notre Dame still stands.

And most important of all, the reason of its existence still remains: the presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, the sacraments given to us who wish to follow Him, as well as some of the symbols of the salvation He wrought for us.

Notre Dame is a historical building which has a special place in the hearts and minds of many, first of all the Parisians and the French, but also those millions, including yours truly, who had the chance to visit her, however briefly.*

But more than a monument to history and the civilisation in which we live, Notre Dame is a church. It is the home of God, a prefiguration of heaven, the place where we come to encounter Him as closely as we can. It manifests the presence of God in the heart of Paris, in the place where that great city began, and thus also in the heart of all the works and endeavours we undertake.

Last night’s fire and its timing, as Holy Week begins, can be understood symbolically, regardless of the cause of the fire. The scenes of people praying and singing as the cathedral burned give us hope and remind us that God hears us at the difficult times in our lives, but He remains present when things are going well and we tend to forget or ignore Him. Like Notre Dame, He is always there.

Today, we may mourn the damage done, but we may also rejoice in what remains. Notre Dame still stands. God is still with us.

*Last October, my wife and I had the chance to visit Notre Dame. By chance we participated in a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Aupetit and Bishop Freddy Fuenmayor Suárez of Los Teques, Venezuela, who gifted an icon of the Blessed Virgin to Notre Dame. The cathedral was filled to capacity and the mood was celebratory. The joy of the Hispanic community was palpable and infectuous. A fond memory, which made yesterday’s developments all the more painful.

Pilgrim bishop – Michael Gerber installed in Fulda

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Tecum in foedere, united with you, has been Bishop Gerber’s motto since his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau

A joyful day in Fulda yesterday, as Michael Gerber was installed in a 2-hour ceremony as the new bishop of that diocese. The former auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau succeeded Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, who retired in June of last year after having reached the age of 75

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Archbishop Becker gives the centuries-old staff of the abbots and bishops of Fulda to Bishop Gerber

Until the official appointment bull was read out, thus signifying the exact moment that Bishop Gerber became the ordinary of Fulda, the proceedings were lead by Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker, the archbishop of Paderborn and the metropolitan of the Church province to which Fulda belongs. Archbishop Becker handed the 12th-century bishop’s staff of Fulda to Bishop Gerber and then led him to the cathedra. His taking possession of the bishop’s seat was met with a lengthy applause, indicative of the joy with which Bishop Gerber has been received in his new diocese.

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Some 2,000 people attended the installation Mass in and around the cathedral. Among them som 30 bishops, some in choir, others concelebrating

Virtually every media source has noted that 49-year-old Bishop Gerber is Germany’s youngest ordinary, but that was put in perspective by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Once the youngest ordinary himself, the cardinal noted, “It will pass.” Cardinal Marx was one of several speakers at the end of the installation Mass. Among the bishops present was a selection of German prelates, as well as bishops from Cameroon, Burundi, Romania and the Netherlands: due to the close ties between Fulda and Groningen-Leeuwarden in the person of Saint Boniface, the latter diocese’s Bishop Ron van den Hout was present with his vicar general and the parish priest of Dokkum, the place where, the story has it, St. Boniface was martyred. Fulda is where his remains are buried.

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On pilgrimage to Fulda

Similar to when he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Freiburg im Breisgau in 2013, Bishop Gerber undertook a two-day pilgrimage to his new diocese, arriving the day before his installation. He was accompanied by 1,000 faithful, among them a group of youth carrying the World Youth Day cross.  Bishop Gerber and his predecessor Bishop Algermissen also took part in carrying the cross.

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Bishop Gerber gives the homily

Bishop Gerber gave the homily himself, speaking about the story of the prodigal son, the Gospel reading of yesterday. In it, he said that today’s challenges are not unlike those in the time of St. Boniface: “What matters is that through this encounter with Christ, people can face the challenges of their lives, that they won’t let them bring them down, but that they can be cause for growth”.

Photo credit: [1,2,3, 5] Bistum Fulda – Ralph Leupolt, Dr. Arnulf Müller, [4] B. Vogt

 

 

Archeology, incense, holograms and mergers – an interesting news day

It’s been an interesting news day, especially for our eastern neighbours, but not only there… a bullet list of noteworthy developments:

  • The Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau reports the news that an archeological investigation of the cathedral has revealed the presence of a traditional Freiburger Bächle running down the aisle of the building. Bächle are present throughout the city of Freiburg: they are small water-filled canals fed by the Dreisam river. The website announces further studies of this hitherto unknown part of the church’s history.
  • Katholisch.de reports that the German Bishops’ Conference has ordered the obligatory use of a new incense, named after Pope Francis, during Mass. The chairman of the liturgy commission, Bishop Stephan Ackermann, claims that the new incense is healthier and prevents nausea and fainting fits. Any remaining incense of other kinds in churches is to be burnt as soon as possible.
  • hologrammThe Archdiocese of Bamberg has a solution for the shortage of priests in this digital age: holograms. A priest is filmed by various cameras and the resulting image is to be beamed to several churches simultaneously. Archbishop Ludwig Schick has already taken part in tests of the new system, as shown at right.
  • News site Katholiek.nl reports the upcoming merger of the Franciscan and Norbertine orders in the Netherlands, to combat the drop in members. The rules of both orders will also be merged into one. The website’s editor, Joost Janse oPraem, sees some problems, stating, “It’s all presented as very easy from above, as if it’ll all be done by tomorrow. On the other hand: we must do something…” An unnamed “relatively young” Franciscan is also doubtful: “I wonder how they imagine combining the Franciscan spirituality and that of the Norbertines into one Rule… I think it’ll be some strange mix of a little bit of everything and nothing at all. I’d rather switch and become a Norbertine. If that mix is also reflected in the habit…”

And for those who took all of the above seriously… Check the date. This has been a collection of April Fool’s jokes I found in Catholic media today.

Photo credit: Pressestelle Erzbistum Bamberg

German bishops speak out in favour of celibacy

Despite assurances to the contrary, the German episcopate as a body continues to be seen by many as plotting a course independent of Rome when it comes to questions about the sacraments, the priesthood and synodality. That said, several bishops have recently spoken out in defence of one topic which, certain circles claim, should be abolished if the Church is to change for the better: mandatory celibacy for priests.

HOP_9503.jpg_1287107163The main contribution, certainly in word count, comes from Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp, auxiliary bishop of Cologne, who wrote an article about the topic for the Tagespost (subsequently also published on Domradio), with a focus on the issue in the context of the abuse crisis. Identifying the call to abolish celibacy as conservative because it is, by now, a somewhat old-fashioned position, the bishop asks, “Why is my celibate way of life always criticised so strongly by people who don’t have to live it at all? Didnt I make that choice, not you?” He adds that no one forced him to choose to live celibate. Bishop Schwaderlapp explains the value of celibacy for a priest:

“It is not just a fitting oneself into the order of the Church. Celibacy is not limited to a – sometimes painful – denunciation of an exclusive two-way relationship of one’s own in order to have time and space for the many. And as such it is more than “just” the adoption of Jesus’ lifestyle – it is after all Him whom the priest is to make tangible in his life. Celibacy means a self-giving to Christ. with body and soul. And with and through Christ it means a self-giving to the people. It is about making the open heart of Jesus tangible through the celibate way of living. Being a priest is a matter of the heart, otherwise it becomes a caricature.”

The bishop likens this act of self-giving, which includes the priest sexuality, to what a husband and wife do in marriage. Rather than giving themselves to each other, with body, soul and sexuality, a priest gives himself to God.

Not blind to the challenges facing the Church and society, Bishop Schwarderlapp nonetheless concludes that allowing priests to marry is not an answer.

“This charism makes the purpose and mission of the priest “physical”: to make Jesus Christ visible, audible and tangible in this world. Incidentally, celibacy is always outdated because it refers, across time, to the one who was, who is and who will come. It is fatal if this charism is put up for discussion, and when we bishops take part in it. There are no new factual arguments against celibacy. [Abolition]  would not serve as a remedy to abuse, nor as an impetus to the – much needed – inner renewal of the Church. There has never been renewal by less, but always only through more devotion.”

helmut_dieser_40840234Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen expresses himself in similar words. He too emphasises that celibacy is not something negative, nor something that is forced upon a priest. It is, he states, “a Biblical way of life in imitation of Jesus, a charism”. However, he also says, should a situation exist when there are no men choosing celibacy, the Church should keep “suitable married men” in mind. This openness to the practical situation, which at this time does not exist in Germany, is echoed by Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau. His position in an interview, which he shared on his website, caused some confusion as it appeared as if he was in favour of loosening the celibacy rules. “I am not, even when I consider it possible,” he tersely explains. Bishop Oster also explains that there is room to discuss the question of celibacy: “The question is not dogmatic. Unlike with sexual morality there is more leeway, and the pope has already encouraged the search for new ways in this regard.”

About celibacy itself, the bishop says:

oster1130“Celibacy is the way of life of Jesus and as such a great spiritual treasure, which is worth fighting for. But I do not rule out the possibility (of a loosening of the celibacy rules). When the majority of priests say that it is no longer possible to live celibately in this time and society, then it becomes difficult. On the other hand I do not want the priest who is already struggling with his way of life, but who has made an oath, now reading, “the bishop also says that it is difficult, so I’ll also give it up.” I do not want to demotivate, I want to say: the struggle is worth it.”

The new bishop of Fulda, Michael Gerber, who will be installed today, has also said that he is opposed to abolishing mandatory celibacy, and prefers to focus instead of assuring that priests remain part of a ‘network’, thus preventing any of them from falling prey to loneliness.

Other bishops, such as Peter Kolhgraf of Mainz and Georg Bätzing of Limburg, have expressed their support for voluntary celibacy, showing that, if anything, the German episcopate is no monolith.

Photo credits: [1] Erzbistum Köln, [2] Elisabeth Schomaker/KNA, [3] Bischöfliche Pressestelle Passau