The archbishop and the walrus

Tiersegnung bei Hagenbecks Tierpark

Without doubt, I believe, Archbishop Stefan Heße did what no bishop before him ever did: blessing a walrus and, by extension, all the animals at Hamburg´s Hagenbeck Zoo.

The archbishop of Hamburg did so on Wednesday as part of a day program for Catholic school children in the Hamburg area around the topic of animals in the Bible. He reminded them that animals are creatures of God, and they could teach us a thing or two. In the zoo, which has never used fences and barbed wire, children can learn how to treat animals with respect, the archbishop added.

Photo credit: Daniel Bockwoldt (dpa)

For Pallium Day 2016, a small crop

palliumToday, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis will once again be giving out he pallia to the world’s new metropolitan archbishops (or to their representatives). The actual imposition of the woolen band signifying the bond with the Rome and the world Church will take place in the archdioceses at a date of the prelates’ own choosing, per the changes introduced last year.

There are 27 new archbishops in this round, all appointed between 29 June 2015 and today. Here’s the list:

  1. Archbishop Felipe Accrocca, Benevento, Italy
  2. Archbishop-elect Basilio Athai, Taunggyi, Myanmar
  3. Archbishop Théophile Barakat, Homs (Syriac), Syria
  4. Archbishop Luiz Cabrera Herrera, Guayaquil, Ecuador
  5. Archbishop-elect Christopher Cardone, Honiara, Solomon Islands
  6. Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium
  7. Archbishop Zanoni Demettino Castro, Feira de Santana, Brazil
  8. Juan Cardinal García Rodríguez, La Habana, Cuba
  9. Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, United States
  10. Archbishop Fidel Herráez Vegas, Burgos, Spain
  11. Archbishop-elect Roger Houngbédji, Cotonou, Benin
  12. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, Rouen, France
  13. Archbishop Salvatore Ligorio, Potenza-Muro Lucano-Marsico Nuovo, Italy
  14. Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, Palermo, Italy
  15. Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón, Tijuana, Mexico
  16. Archbishop Darci Nicioli, Diamantina, Brazil
  17. Archbishop Juan Omella Omella, Barcelona, Spain
  18. Archbishop Roque Paloschi, Porto Velho, Brazil
  19. Archbishop Marcos Perez Caicedo, Cuenca, Ecuador
  20. Archbishop Lorenzo Piretto, Izmir, Turkey
  21. Archbishop Eugeniusz Popowicz, Przemysl-Warszawa (Ukrainain), Poland
  22. Archbishop Ruy Rendón Leal, Hermosillo, Mexico
  23. Archbishop Kenneth Richards, Kingston in Jamaica
  24. Archbishop Adam Szal, Przemysl, Poland
  25. Archbishop Lauro Tisi, Trento, Italy
  26. Archbishop Rodolfo Weber, Passo Fundo, Brazil
  27. Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, Bologna, Italy

Most of the archbishops will still come to Rome, even if there is no official imposition taking place. Among these is Mechelen-Brussels’ Jozef De Kesel, the only archbishop from northwestern Europe in this year’s relatively small crop.

In his homily on last year’s feast, Pope Francis entrusted the archbishops  with a call to prayer, faith and witness:

“The Church wants you to be men of prayer, masters of prayer; that you may teach the people entrusted to your care that liberation from all forms of imprisonment is uniquely God’s work and the fruit of prayer; that God sends his angel at the opportune time in order to save us from the many forms of slavery and countless chains of worldliness. For those most in need, may you also be angels and messengers of charity!

The Church desires you to be men of faith, masters of faith, who can teach the faithful to not be frightened of the many Herods who inflict on them persecution with every kind of cross. No Herod is able to banish the light of hope, of faith, or of charity in the one who believes in Christ!

The Church wants you to be men of witness. Saint Francis used to tell his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” (cf. Franciscan sources, 43). There is no witness without a coherent lifestyle! Today there is no great need for masters, but for courageous witnesses, who are convinced and convincing; witnesses who are not ashamed of the Name of Christ and of His Cross; not before the roaring lions, nor before the powers of this world. And this follows the example of Peter and Paul and so many other witnesses along the course of the Church’s history, witnesses who, yet belonging to different Christian confessions, have contributed to demonstrating and bringing growth to the one Body of Christ. I am pleased to emphasize this, and am always pleased to do so, in the presence of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by my beloved brother Bartholomew I.

This is not so straightforward: because the most effective and authentic witness is one that does not contradict, by behaviour and lifestyle, what is preached with the word and taught to others!

Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!”

 

More than just a headline – Pope Francis’ asks forgiveness

h=300Pope Francis is making headlines again, once more following an in-flight press conference on his return from a papal visit abroad, in this case to Armenia. The headlines generally follow one format: “Pope asks forgiveness from gays” or some variation thereof. While this is essentialy correct, the Holy Father’s complete answer is more nuanced and different from what more than a few readers will conclude from the headlines.

From the translation provided by the National Catholic Register comes the relevant part of the answer to a question about how the Church is said to have marginalised homosexual people in the past:

“I will repeat what I said on my first trip. I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior … Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? … But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well … this is what the catechism says, a clear catechism. Then there are traditions in some countries, in some cultures that have a different mentality on this problem. I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness — like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) — must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! — Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families …”

It is clear that Pope Francis said a whole lot more than that the Church must ask forgiveness. He starts from what the Catechisms says, and so places his comments within the larger doctrine of the Church: this is not something new that he is saying, but the Church has consistently taught that people should nto be discriminated against for their sexual orientation, that they must be respected as human beings and that the Church has an obligation to accompany them pastorally. In short, she is to treat them as she treats all human beings, starting from their innate dignity.

The Church has failed in this in the past, and sometimes still does, just like she did and does in regard to women and children who are exploited, or the victims of war and nationalism. For this, Pope Francis, says, the Church, meaning all Christians, must ask forgiveness, for it is contrary to what she is tasked with.

While the Church must always be open to accept all people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, occupation or whatever other characteristic, the story does not end there. The Church is more than just people and has a message to convey, a teaching, a relationship with a Person. And everything she does must stand in the light of the encounter with this Person, who is God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This includes how she relates to the people she welcomes.

A second interesting part of the Pope’s answer is that he says “one can condemn”. And what one can condemn is not people, but “political behaviour”, since “certain manifestations are a bit too offensive”. One can wonder what exactly is meant here, but I have seen some commenters see this as a condemnation of pride manifestations and similar. That may be so, but it could also be more general and refer to various sorts of behaviour stemming from one’s sexual orientation which could be offensive to others. The problem is then not so much about homosexuality, but consideration of the other’s thoughts and feelings. As Pope Francis says, this has little to do with the problem of marginalisation. One can disagree, even be offended, without pushing away the person one disagrees with or is offended by. Sure, it is hard, but, to mention a cliché, it is what Jesus would do. He did not shun his opponents. He entered into dialogue, challenged them to change their thoughts and behaviour, but never because he did not respect their human dignity (on the contrary even).

And then he repeats that earlier line, which caused so much debate: “The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge?” It is important to not make the same mistake as many people do with that line from the Gospel of Matthew (7:1), which is not simply a commandment not to judge, but rather a warning to remember that judgement goes two ways. Pope Francis describes a rather specific situation in which we should be careful not to judge: a person in some situation that is either objectively sinful or disordered, in this case someone who is homosexual, but who has the desire to do what is right and is seeking the Lord. The second part is important. Of course we should not refrain from judging actions committed by a similar person which are directed against his own or others’ wellbeing or his relationship with God, especially not when that person has no desire to do what is right or to find God. These latter conditions, good wil and seeking God, are frequently overlooked, and people are content with claiming that Pope Francis has said that we are not to judge homosexual people. Like he suggested before, the Church is not in the business of judging people, but actions. But, the Pope has insisted time and again, the Church, and therefore all Christians, are to accompany people who are of good will and seek God, not condemn and marginalise them. For, as Pope Francis also reminds us, we are all sinners, we all have our obstacles that sometimes make it hard to live according to the ideals the Church holds up.

In closing, Pope Francis’ answer is not revolutionary in that it contains any new teaching. It does, however, emphasise a different approach, a recognition of where we run the risk of failing to follow the example of Christ. Only then can ways be mended, and that, in the end, is what a Christian life is about.

Photo credit: Tiziana Fabi/Pool photo via AP

For Hasselt and the Blessed Virgin, a papal blessing

Pope Francis has sent a letter and apostolic blessing to Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt on the occasion of the 18th Coronation Feasts in Tongres, which are to be held from 3 to 10 July. The feasts include  Belgium’s largest processions and has been recognised as an immaterial world heritage.

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Bishop Hoogmartens personally asked the Holy Father for his blessing:

“Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy, is after all the patron saint of the Diocese of Hasselt, which celebrated its 50th anniversary next year. The runup to this anniversary starts with the Coronation Feasts and ends in the summer of 2017, after the Virga Jesse feasts in Hasselt. In my meeting with the Pope I told him this and asked for his blessing. I then repeated my request in writing to the nunciature. I am very happy that, through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, he has granted his papal blessing to all of the 3,000 participants, the parishes of Tongres and, in extension, the faithful of the Diocese of Hasselt. But also to the people who will come to watch the Coronation Feasts, and who will participate in the celebrations surrounding Mary, Cause of Our Joy.”

The tradition of the Coronation Feasts goes back to 1890 when the statue of the Blessed Virgin in Tongres was crowned. Georges Willemaers, chairman of the organising committee, explains, “The entire Gospel is made manifest through the life of Mary. This takes place in four processions through the centre of the city, and a similar number of evening plays before the tower of the basilica.”

In his letter, Pope Francis asks the Blessed Virgin “to guide all towards the mildness of her face, so that everyone may redisover the joy of God’s tenderness.” The letter will be read out in all parishes of the diocese in this weekend.

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^A Passion play depicting the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi, during an earlier edition of the Coronation Feasts. More photos may be viewed here.

Tongres, located roughly halfway between Liège and Hasselt, is one of western Europe’s oldest Catholic centres. It became the seat of a bishop in 344, although it soon had to share this honour with Maastricht, which then became the sole residence of the bishop in the 6th century. Today, Tongres’ history is reflected in it being a titular diocese, which has been held by Bishop Pierre Warin, auxiliary bishop of Namur, since 2004. The Diocese of Hasselt, of which Tongres is a part, was established in 1967 out of the Dutch-speaking part of the Diocese of Líège. It corresponds with the Belgian province of Limburg. Bishop Hoogmartens, in office since 2004, is its third bishop.

Deacons to Priests, four cardinals move up the ranks

(Note: This post has been edited after publication to correct some information about the office of Cardinal Protodeacon).

Just like he did almost exactly two years ago, Pope Francis promoted four Cardinal Deacons to the rank of Cardinal Priests. This is a right that cardinal have ten years after their creation, and while it does not mean any change in their rights and duties, it is a change in their position among their brother cardinals. Whereas the cardinal deacons rank below the cardinal priests, the newly promoted cardinals now take their place among those cardinals priests created in the same consistory as they were, according to the order in which they were announced.

This time around, four of the five cardinal deacons created in Pope Benedict XVI´s first consistory are elevated. The fifth, Agostino Vallini, was already promoted in 2009, following his appointment as vicar general for Rome a few months before.

The new cardinal deacons all keep their titular deaconries, the churches in Rome which they ceremonially head to reflect their basis in the clergy of Rome, which now become cardinal titles for the duration of the cardinals’ lives. The promoted cardinals, retired all, are William Cardinal Levada, Archbishop emeritus of San Francisco and Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Franc Cardinal Rode, Archbishop emeritus of Ljubljana and Prefect emeritus of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Andrea Cardinal Cordero Lanza Di Montezemolo, Archpriest emeritus of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls; and Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, Secretary emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

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There are no practical changes that come out of these promotions. It is interesting to see that, although cardinal deacons are habitually promoted ten years after their creation (the most senior “class” now being that of November 2007), one cardinal deacon remains behind. He is Cardinal Renato Martino, created in Saint John Paul II’s last conclave of  October 2003. He is the most senior cardinal deacon and is thus the cardinal protodeacon. His most visible duty is the Habemus Papam following the election of a new Pope. In the past I had suggested that this is a duty only open to cardinal electors, but I was recently corrected about this.  Cardinal Martino would be free to pass on this duty to the next senior cardinal deacon if he is, for whatever reason, not up to it (he is 83, after all). The next cardinal deacon in line in 72-year-old Leonardi Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Dutch Prime Minister meets Pope Francis

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had a private audience with Pope Francis today. The 20-minute meeting took place not in the Apostolic Palace, as such meetings normally do, but in a small backroom of the Paul VI Hall. Things always have to be different with the Dutch, I suppose.

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While the timing of the meeting, relatively soon after a personal meeting of the Dutch royal family with the Holy Father in late April, had led to some speculation about a papal visit to the Netherlands, it was fairly standard. The two men discussed youth unemployment in Europe, the wars in the Middle East and the refugee crisis. The prime minister said he was impressed by Pope Francis’ simplicity, and called him “a man with authority”.

The Pope gave the prime minister a tablet with peace symbols and copies of three papal documents (one would imagine including Amoris laetitia and Laudato si’).

Mr. Rutte also met with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin and the Secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Gallagher.

And the papal visit? “That’s up to the bishops,” Mr. Rutte commented.

Photo credit: ANP

Good work, but not in Belgium – Mechelen-Brussels sends the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles packing

The Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels came with a rather puzzling press statement today, announcing an end to the diocese’s cooperation with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. This fraternity of priests was invited to Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, but apparently his successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, wastes no time in shutting them down. Even as the news broke, the priests of the fraternity were still meeting with the staff of the archdiocese.

There are rumours that there is more to the decision than the press release states, but as that is the official position of the archdiocese, it must be taken seriously, strange as it is.

This is the full text of the statement, translated by me:

Wapen-bisdom%20kleur100%25“The Fraternity of the Holy Apostles was established in 2013 as a “public clerical society of faithul” of diocesan right. It falls under the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels.

The Fraternity has 27 members, 6 priests and 21 seminarians of whom one is a deacon. Of the 27 members, 21 reside in Belgium and 6 in France, especially in the Diocese of Bayonne. The majority of the current members comes from France.

It is the Fraternity’s main purpose to make young people sensitive to the beauty of the vocation to the diocesan priesthood. Answering that vocation does not necessarily mean that one stands alone: the priest can rely on the support and solidarity of the brothers with whom he forms a fraternity. This option is indeed very valuable in the life of the priest today.

This initiative, however, presents a problem when one realises that at the moment the majority of the Fraternity’s seminarians comes from France, where so many areas suffer from a distressing shortage of priests. Of course, it is possible that the number of Belgian seminarians, both French- and Dutch-speaking, can increase over the years. But then, too, they will come from other Belgian dioceses to become priests for the archdiocese.

In the current situation it is better not to encourage such a process. It would indicate a great lack of solidarity among the bishops, both with the bishops in our country as with the French bishops. That is why the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels decided to no longer work with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles in his diocese from the end of June 2016 onwards.

Those members of the Fraternity who have already been ordained as priests or deacons serving the archdiocese remain priests or deacons of the archdiocese, as prescribed by canon law. Regarding their appointment the arcbishop will take into account what was dear to them when they entered the Fraternity. In this context, and contrary to what some rumours would have us believe, it is the arcbishop’s wish that the experiences of the church of St. Kathelijne [the Brussels church entrusted to the pastoral care of the Fraternity – MV] may by further developed.

The seminarians can, if they so wish and if they meet the demands for the formation of priests of the archdiocese, continue their education at the diocesan seminary.

This decision of the archbishop is the result of long deliberations with his auxiliary bishops and the diocesan council. A special commission has met with all the member of the Fraternity residing in Belgium. The Belgian bishops were also consulted and support the decision, as do the responsible departments of the Holy See.”

So, in short, the Fraternity has too many priests from abroad, and while the archdiocese continues to make use of the priests already ordained (if only because canon law demands it), the other members can basically do whatever they please. Sure, the seminarians are welcome at the diocesan seminary, if they are good enough and if they really must, but there’s no pressure.

I can accept that there are parts of France where priests are few, but the Belgian bishops are fooling themselves if they think the same is not true, or will be in the foreseeable future, for their own dioceses. The Fraternity is drawing young men who want to work as priests in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. The archbishop should be overjoyed by this. Instead, there is misplaced talk of solidarity with the other bishops. Instead of closing a successful institution because it might draw future priests away from other dioceses in Belgium or France, the bishops would do better by looking at what it is that makes the Fraternity work and adopt that in their own seminaries. There is a good chance that it is this what caused the Fraternity’s seminarians to choose the Fraternity over a diocesan seminary.

By this decision’s logic, I might add, the seminaries of the Neocatechumenal Way should also be closed. These also train seminarians from other countries to work in Belgium or whatever country they are sent to. They, too, should return to the seminaries of their home dioceses, out of solidarity with the bishops there…

Like I said, this is a puzzling decision. It could well be that the true reasons remain secret, and that there is much more going on. The Fraternity has in the past struggled with accepting and submitting themselves to episcopal authority, and that is indeed problematic. But if such problems lie at the root of this decision, let it then be said. If today’s press statement is true, it is evidence of serious short-sightedness on the part of the archbishop and the other bishops; if there is instead more going on, the statement is deceitful.

Lastly, it is hard not to see this as a slap in the face of the archbishop emeritus, André-Joseph Léonard, who lived with the Fraternity for a short while between his retirement and his departure for France. He brought them to Brussels, seeing them as an asset in the new evangelisation of the Belgian capital.