Another inside impression – Bishop Aerts on ‘baby bishops’ school’.

As a follow-up on my blog post of 15 September, Bishop Lode Aerts, appointed to the Diocese of Bruges in October of last year, looks back with enthusiasm on his participation in the “baby bishops’ school”.

A colourful company

They were eight busy days in Rome for the 120 new bishops. And what colourful company! Imagine: the new bishop of Gibraltar [Carmelo Zammit] works for 25,000 Catholics, the new auxiliary bishop of Toronto [Robert Kasun]  for 2 million. In Peru, the new bishop of Caravelí [Reinhold Nann] works with 15 generally young priests. In German Munich his new colleague [auxiliary Rupert Graf zu Stolberg] has more than 400 in active service. Some bishops have been sent to very rural dioceses. The expansive French Diocese of Limoges [Pierre-Antoine Bozo], for example, has not a single urban centre. Elsewhere, the bishops reside in great cities such a New York or the Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, [auxiliaries Heriberto Pérez and Oscar Tamez Villareal] with 4 million inhabitants. There are also worlds of difference in the area of caritas. The Polish [Arch]diocese of Czestochowa [auxiliary Andrzej Przybylski] receives throngs of pilgrims, but has no immigrants at all. The Latin bishop of Beirut [Cesar Essayan], with his small community of Catholics, tries to do something for the two million Syrian refugees and the one million Palestinians in the camps, while the population of Lebanon numbers barely 4 million!

Regardless of how different the situations are, the challenges seems to be the same everywhere: how to become Christians in our modern culture?\

Among the many conferences, this was best expressed by the witness of Cardinal Cardozo from Venezuela [the archbishop of Mérida]. He quoted abundantly from the homilies and writings of his former colleague and friend, the then-Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. How to be a Christian? How to be a good bishop? Long before he became Pope Francis, the answer often resounded in his homilies; “This is how you become a Christian or bishop: through the joy of the Gospel.” Or: “By descending into the needs of yourself and of the other. By being touched by the other.” And… “through the authenticity of your way of life.”

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Cordial and relaxed

That idea about way of living was not limited to words. It was tangible during the course. The atmosphere was especially cordial and relaxed, even though the program was often very full. We started at 7:30 in the morning and did not stop until 10:30 in the evening. The participation of Secretary of State Parolin and many other cardinals did not detract from the simplicity and fraternity. On the contrary, there was always a great sense of solidarity in the conference hall and in the refectory, in the chapel and in the garden, in the transfers by bus and the discussions in language groups. Some called it a Francis effect. All the same, the cordial reception by the pope on the final day was in that line.

Completely himself and with a joke, Pope Francis bade us farewell:

“God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone.”

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25 years in, Bishop Hofmann leaves the seat of Würzburg

ba5a6005As announced by the Nuncio yesterday, the retirement of Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann will begin today. The bishop of Würzburg, who celebrated his 75th birthday in May, has been at the helm of the diocese for 13 years.

The announcement of the upcoming retirement was made on Sunday when the bishop and diocese celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop. Before coming to Würzburg in 2004, Bishop Hofmann served as an auxiliary bishop of Cologne for 12 years.

The silver jubilee of his ordination as bishop was thus also an opportunity to thank Msgr. Hofmann for his service. Numerous bishops from Germany and abroad had come to concelebrate, among them Cardinals Reinhard Marx and Friedrich Wetter, from Munich both, Archbishop Piero Marini, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, the previous nuncio to Germany, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich from Luxembourg, Bishop John Ndimbo from Mbinga in Tanzania and Bishop Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann from Óbidos in Brazil, both partner dioceses of Würzburg.

In contrast with the expressions of appreciation and gratitude for his work, from brother bishops as well as the local Lutheran bishop and the president of the Bavarian parliament, Bishop Hofmann rather more critical in his homily. Looking back on the past 25 years, he noted how the problems in society had not improved. “On the contrary, the problems became more acute and new challenges have arisen”. Examples mentioned by the bishop were the cries in the world leading to increasing streams of refugees, the increase in religiously motivated extremism, and the ethical challenges of genetic research. How can this be compatible with God’s love for us? Referring to his motto, “Ave crux, spes unica“, Bishop Hofmann said, “What may seem to us as the ultimate humiliation, is for Jesus the rising and entrance into the glory of the Father. This belief shakes us up and presupposes knowledge of the fullness of our salvation.”

In a recent interview for the Tagespost, Bishop Hofmann looked ahead to his retirement, saying:

“I am aware that I am taking a step back. I will not interfere in how my successor executes his office. I have decided that for myself. My predecessor, Bishop Scheele, did the same thing. But I am willing to help out when I am asked, for examples with confirmations. I will continue living in Würzburg.”

Said interview also contains a number of comments from Bishop Hofmann on a number of topics, comments which show that, in many respects, this is a bishop with his head screwed on right.

On same-sex marriage, promoted in Germany by the “Ehe für alle” (marriage for all) initiative, he says:

“The so-called “Ehe für alle” is, in my opinion, a catastrophe for society. Marriage is a God-willed union of man and woman, which is open to the generation of new life. An “Ehe für alle” is therefore impossible according to Catholic understanding.  Pointing this out is not remotely the same as attacking or discriminating homosexual people”.\

About the presence of Muslim immigrants (and often second- and third-generation Muslims) in German society, which in the basis remains a Christian society:

“It should be clear: when Muslims come to us and want to live here, they must accept our social rules. But for me as a Christian, the Islam is not a challenge. It is rather the failing of Christianity that we should fear. We must speak with Muslims on equal footing. We must make it clear to them that basic civilian advances such as the Charter of the United Nations of the Basic Law of Germany are based on Christian ethics. We must inform them that their freedom and wellbeing also depend on the continued existence of that Christian foundation.”

The shortage of priests is also felt in Würzburg. The number of young men knocking on seminary doors is small. Bishop Hofmann points out several reasons for this.

“These days, young men often no longer come from a Christian family. When God is not mentioned at home, when there is no prayer, it is difficult to arrive at the thought to go this path. Secondly, young people have a fear of commitment. This can also be seen with marriage. People no longer want to commit themselves to one person for their entire lives. That obviously makes celibacy a major hurdle, which many cannot overcome, although they may certainly be suitable for the priesthood. And then there is the great pressure of expectation on the priest from the community. Many priests experience this. Young people then wonder if they want to do that to themselves.”

Another hot-button topic is the question of ordaining women to the priesthood. Bishop Hofmann has something to say about that, and about celibacy and the ordination of married men, too.

“The ordination of women is not possible. The priest, after all, represents Christ and must therefore be a man. The Church has no leeway there. This is a different question than that of celibacy. I consider celibacy to be a very important concept. In it, the Church makes clear that she is not a great worldly concern, but is built on a different foundation. But there have always been married priests as well in our Church, for example in the Uniate churches or converts. It is therefore possible to discuss the question of the viri probati. But this discussion should not be held in such a way that one speaks ill of celibacy and considers it superfluous. It can only be about ordaining proven men, for example deacons, who have shown themselves capable of ecclesiastical service as married men. Such a step can only be made in unity with the word Church. The pope is certainly open to thinking in this direction, but at the same time he is not one who wants to rip the Church from her foundations.”

The Church in Germany is among the richest in the world. In the past, Pope Benedict XVI, himself a German, has been very critical about the wealth of the Church. Bishop Hofmann says:

“Pope Benedict was completely right. In Germany, we are a rich Church. But in the face of the needs of the world I often wonder myself if all the reserves that we are building are justified, or if we shouldn’t give that money to the poor and hungry.”

Finally, Bishop Hofmann greatly respects the retired pope, and the way that he is sometimes discussed is a discgrace.

“Pope Benedict is one of the greatest theologians to have occupied the seat of Peter. He has given the world so much that is positive and important, in word and deed. It is a tragedy that we haven’t always positively accepted this in Germany. But I am convinced that in 20, 30 years Pope Benedict will find new listeners as a Doctor of the Church of the modern age.”

232px-Karte_Bistum_WürzburgWürzburg is the second diocese, after Hildesheim, to fall vacant after a brief spell in which every German diocese had a bishop at its head. When the retirement of Bishop Hofmann begins, at noon today, auxiliary bishop Ulrich Boom will be in charge until the cathedral chapter has chosen an administrator to oversee current affairs until a new bishop has been appointed. Würzburg is the northernmost diocese in Bavaria and a part of the Church province of Bamberg.

Photo credit: Markus Hauck (POW)

Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

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From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

In Hildesheim, Bishop Trelle retires

As expected, Pope Francis ended that three-week period in which no German dioceses were without a bishop, by accepting the retirement of Bishop Norbert Trelle of Hildesheim. Bishop Trelle turned 5 on the 5th of this month and his retirement was announced by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, apostolic nuncio to Germany, during the celebrations for the bishop’s birthday.

csm_170909-Bistum_Geburtstag_Bischof_17_5545932ffd^Bishop Trelle, centre, is pictured here with Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, who preached during the birthday Mass, and Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the nuncio.

Now heading the diocese of the senior auxiliary bishop, Nikolaus Schwerdtfeger, who is to call a meeting of the cathedral chapter to elect a diocesan administrator, who will manage affairs until a new bishop has been appointed, within eight days. That election is usually a speedy process, as the retirement of Bishop Trelle has long been foreseen. A likely candidate to be chosen as administrator is the vicar general, Hildesheim’s other auxilary, Bishop Heinz-Günter Bongartz.

Karte_Bistum_HildesheimBishop Trelle has stood at the head of the Diocese of Hildesheim for almost 12 years. Appointed in 2005, he was previously an auxiliary bishop of Cologne for more than 13 years. Like other bishops in and around Germany, he was confronted with dwindling numbers of faithful, which led him to reducing the number of parishes from 313 to 119, and closing some 50 churches. Priests in Hildesheim are now rarely attached to a single parish or location, but are responsible for clusters of parishes and communities, working in pastoral teams.

In January of this year, Bishop Trelle consecrated a new church, in Hannover, the first such consecration in more than 20 years.

Among the high points of Bishop Trelle’s time was the renovation of Hildesheim’s cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, completed in 2014, and the celebration of the 1200th aiversary of the foundation of the diocese.

In 2015, Bishop Trelle was the first bishop of Hildesheim to officialy apologise for historical errors and misdeeds, including the diocese’s role in wars of religion, persecutions, failures in the Nazi era, as well as sexual abuse by clergy.

Hildesheim is the third-largest diocese in Germany, extending from the North Sea coast between Bremen and Hamburg southward to the heart of the country near Göttingen. It was established in the 9th century, expanded over time until the 1960s, and then losing bits of territory to Erfurt, Magdeburg and Hamburg in the 1990s, following the German reunification.

Photo credit: bph/Gossmann

New bishops in summer

Everything, including the Church, slows down over summer. As a result, there are few appointments and consecrations of bishops in August. Nonetheless, Germany gained two of them: Msgr. Peter Kohlgraf was consecrated as bishop of Mainz on 27 August and Msgr. Franz Josef Gebert became the third auxiliary bishop of Trier last Sunday.

These two consecrations fill out the roster of German bishops: there are no vacant sees or auxiliary bishop positions among the 28 (arch)dioceses in the country. This, however, is not a situation that will continue for long: Würzburg’s Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann is already 75, while Hildesheim’s Bishop Norbert Trelle reached that age today. Both dioceses can therefore expect a new bishop relatively soon (barring any exceptional circumstances, such as in the Austrian diocese of Innsbruck, which has been awaiting a new bishop since November of 2015).

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^Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, flanked by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Stephan Burger and Cardinal Rainer Woelki, greets people gathered after his consecration.

Bishop Kohlgraf is the successor of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who headed the Diocese of Mainz for 33 years until his retirement in May of 2016. It is a public secret that the cardinal had wanted his auxiliary Bishop Udo Markus Bentz to succeed him, but the latter’s appointment as Bishop Kohlgraf’s vicar general can be seen as a form of continuity with the Lehmann era. The previous vicar general, and diocesan administrator during the year-long sede vacante, Msgr. Dietmar Giebelmann, has been appointed as episcopal vicar for, among others, migration and integration, thus indicating some of the initial points of focus of the new bishop.

Bishop Franz Gebert was appointed to fill the position left by Bishop Helmut Dieser, who was appointed as Bishop of Aachen in September of last year. Like other German dioceses, Trier has a standard number of auxiliary bishops, in this case three, as episcopal vicars for individual pastoral areas are made bishops as a rule. Bishop Gebert headed the diocesan charity office before his appointment as auxiliary bishop, and will continue in that role as episcopal vicar for the caritas. Additionally, he will be responsible for pastoral visitation in the Trier area on behalf of Bishop Stephan Ackermann.

csm_bischofsweihe_gebert_3_sep_-131_fbd3adae86

Bishop Franz Gebert (front row, second from right) poses with the other bishops hailing from the Diocese of Trier: front row: Leo Schwarz (auziliary bishop emeritus), Robert Brahm (auxiliary bishop), Stephan Ackermann (ordinary), Franz Gebert, Jörg Peters (uxiliary bishop), Alfred Kleinermeilert (auxiliary bishop emeritus). Back row: Helmut Dieser (bishop of Aachen), Felix Genn (bishop of Münster), Georg Bätzing (bishop of Limburg).

Photo credit: [1] Stefan Sämsmer, [2] Bistum Trier

Bishop Voderholzer’s remedy to dropping numbers

In a homily at the pilgrimage site of St. Anna Schäffer in Mindelstetten, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg addressed the recently released statistics regarding church attendance and such in the Catholic Church in Germany. He compares them to the equally disastrous numbers in the Lutheran church and explains that the standard liberal remedies of constantly wanting to change church and faith, and getting rid of perceived oppressive dogmas, is not the solution to the crisis.

According to Bishop Voderholzer, the numbers point out something else: an evaporation of faith. He also puts this into perspective, saying that the Lord never promised his followers to be a majority anywhere. Rather, he foresaw difficulties and opposition. So, depressing numbers should, in themselves, really not be a cause for us to give up.

1085557_m1w590q75v2214_PortrtbildBischof_2“Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Last Friday, the 21st of July, the statistics for the Catholic Churc and the Lutheran Church in Germany for the year 2016 were published. You will probably have heard a few things about it via radio and television or in the newspaper.

The outcome was not very surprising. Like before, the number of people leaving the Church are disconcertingly high, even when they have dropped by some 11 percent in the Catholic Church as compared to 2015. The number of baptisms has increased slightly, the number of marriages decreased soewhat. In Hamburg and Berlin the number of Catholics has grown, due to the influx of Catholic foreigners; but in general the number of Catholics is growing smaller.

Dear sisters and brothers, I do not want to bore you with numbers and statictics today, on the Anna Schäffer Day of Remembrance. But the public reactions to these numbers are noteworthy and lead us to look further.

As a remedy to turn these trends around and to preserve our social relevance we are continuously advised to – literally – “open up and rid ourselves of rigid conservative dogmas.”

In this case, these are:

Abolishing the celibacy of priests;

Removing the different tasks and appointments of men and women in the Church and admitting women into apostolic ministry;

Consenting to the demand of full legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage;

Admitting everyone to Communion, and so on.

You know the list of demands as well as I do.

Dear sisters and brothers! The problematic nature of this advice becomes clear with a quick glance at the statistics of the Lutheran church. If the application of the aforementioned pieces of advice would really be a way of improving the situation of the Church, flourishing life must be visible in the Lutheran church.

But what do the numbers say? More people leave the Lutheran church – and have done so, with the exception of 2014, for years – than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that in the Lutheran church these demands have all basically been fulfilled and all these alleged impediments to being church are no longer present. But this is generally ignored in public, even though the numbers were presented on the same day. Isn’t the reason that this is being ignored perhaps that it would reveal the blatant weakness, yes, the inconsistency and absurdity of this “good” advice to the Catholic Church?! Can one, in all seriousness, present the path of the Lutheran church as a remedy, when it is so often led to an even greater distance to the faith and the church? I say this without malice! I know Lutheran fellow Christians who completely agree with my assessment and who warn us Catholics not to make the same mistakes.

We must look much further in the whole debate. The statictics reveal a secularisation which has been progressing for years, a loss of church affiliation and lastly a decline in the substance of faith, an evaporation of the awareness of God. That is why we do not really have a shortage of priests, but a much more fundamental shortage of faith. The priest shortage is a symptom, like a fever. But the fever is not itself the disease, but it indicates the presence of an inflammation. I am certain: the fever of the priest shortage indicates the disease of lack of faith. As an aside, the Lutheran church has also long known the phantom of lack of priests, as there are too few young people who study theology and are willing to also put themselves professionally at the service of the Gospel; all this without celibacy and with the possibility for women to also assume the office of the priesthood! This should give us a sense of the true reasons for the lack of church adherence.

Dear sisters and brothers, come together at the grave of Saint Anna Schäffer! We all have the image and the fate of the Church at heart. But not in the sense that we belong to her as to a club whose public image and strength are the ultimate goal; but for the sake of the message and the sake of the people, for whose sake God became man in Jesus Christ. In the Church He takes us into service for His Gospel. The Lord did not promise us that we would always be the majority; rather, He predicted headwind and resistance.

For that reason we should not concern ourselves too much with numbers and statistics. What should concern us is that the Gospel can lighten up our environment, through our lives in faith. Everywhere where we overshadow the Gospel because of inattentiveness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness, we are called to convert and once more give the Lord space.

Instead of constantly changing the structures, also and especially the sacramental structures of the Church, instead of diluting the message of the Gospel and instead of proclaiming a light version of Jesus, evangelisation is called for, a saturation of society with the Spirit of Jesus. And the first and all-important step on that way is a daily striving towards holiness, the daily listening to God’s word and the willingness to begin the reform of the Church with myself. That is reformation: the renewal of faith, the restoration of the image of Christ which was engraved in us in Baptism and Confirmation. Where this is granted to us in God’s mercy, where we succeed in this, we will make the people of our time once again curious about the faith which supports us. And then we can also explain the hope that lives within us.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord! In the endeavours of evangelisation in our time Saint Anna Schäffer is in every aspect an example and also an advocate.

She wanted to devote her life to the mission abroad. But the Lord had destined her for the mission in her own country. Before becoming a comforter and source of joy in faith for many, she had to allow herself to be evangelised again, and radically so. Accepting her suffering as a partaking in the cross of Christ was anything but easy. Bedridden and with her gaze upon the cross she faced this process of inner healing and transformation. She so became a bright sign of God’s work, a messenger of faith to countless people and ultimately a saint of the Catholic Church.

And so we pray today for her intercession, that the Lord will grant each and everyone of us the grace to begin the reform of the Church in ourselves; that we muster the courage to lt ourselves be evangelised anew every day and in this way be prepared to serve the mission of the Church – for the salvation of humanity and the glory of the triune God, whose is the glory, today, every day and forever. Amen.”

75 years after his death, is the canonisation of Titus Brandsma any closer?

Blessed Titus BrandsmaOn this day in 1942, 75 years ago exactly, Dutch Carmelite priests Titus Brandsma died in the Dachau concentration camp. 22 years ago, in 1985, he was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II, and now, as his life and death are commemorated in his native Fryslân, as well as in Oss and Nijmegen, where he lived and worked, we may ask when he will be canonised.

The main thrust in that process, it turns out, comes from America, where, in 2004, a Carmelite priest was diagnosed with an advanced form of skin cancer. Members of his order in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as parishioners of St. Jude’s in that city, prayed for the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma for Father Michael Driscoll. After ten years of intermittent treatment and observation, Fr. Driscoll was dismissed by his doctors. He was clear of cancer cells.

In July of 2016 Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach opened the diocesan inquiry into the presumed miracle. Following this inquiry, in which all evidence, such as medical records, eyewitness accounts and testimonies will be collected and investigated, the case will advance to Rome, where the Congregation of Causes of Saints will once more look at the evidence and advise the Pope on whether a miracle has really occured and Blessed Titus Brandsma should be declared a saint.

Titus Brandsma was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis as one of several measures against the resistance of the Dutch Catholic Church, who protested the persecution of Jews and others in Germany and the countries they had occupied. His canonisation would underline the importance of free speech and the fight against hate, injustice and basic human dignity.