Cardinal Kasper’s ecumenical catechism

At the opening of  a three-day symposium on the future of ecumenism, Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, suggested the idea of creating an ‘ecumenical catechism’ as one of the products of 40 years of dialogue with Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and members of Reformed churches. The cardinal stressed the need to keep the fruits of the decades of dialogue alive and wishes to promote “an ecumenism of basics that identifies, reinforces and deepens the common foundation.” He fears that modern ecumenism “is perhaps in danger of becoming a matter for specialists and thus of moving away from the grassroots.”

It is as yet not really clear what the structure of this ecumenical catechism should be, but it does sound as if it is a good means to put the mutually shared tenets and beliefs in stone, so to speak. Once set, it could be a good foundation for further development.

Perhaps this ecumenical catechism can be coupled with a renewed effort to bring the cause of ecumenism back to the people. But if that happens, it will have to replace an existing idea of ecumenism as simply being together and sharing regardless of differences. Because that is the ecumenism as it is alive among many faithful now. There is a lack of knowledge of their identity, on both sides of the division.

Cardinal Kasper recognises the importance of not hiding the differences, when he says that we must not ignore the Catholic understanding of what the Church: “[T]he Catholic Church is the church of Christ and […] the Catholic Church is the true church.” And the Catholic Church does believe that “there are deficits in the other churches. […] Yet on another level there are deficits, or rather wounds stemming from division and wounds deriving from sin, also in the Catholic Church.”

The acknowledgement of differences and our own identity, as I have written before, is the only starting point for fruitful debate and ecumenism.

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Catholic involvement in the Reformation?

The title is a bit deceptive, I know, but it has some relevance. Nederlands Dagblad reports that the Catholic Church in the Netherlands will officially take part in the commemmoration of 500 years of Reformation. The program titled Refo500 builds up towards 2017, when it is 500 years since Martin Luther  published his Ninety-five Theses. Since then, of course, the various (and increasingly numerous) Protestant church communities have gone their own way.

Much can be said about the Reformation from a Catholic point of view and the question may be asked of how useful it is to partake in an event that seemingly celebrates the fact that a significant number of Christians are no longer part of the one Church. What possible merit could their be in a Catholic acknowledgement of the Reformation as a good thing (because that is the point of celebrating, of course)?

Speaking for the Catholic Society for Ecumenism, Mr. Geert van Dartel says, “We think it is important that this commemoration is not one-sided, from a reformed standpoint. […] The Reformation was a process of action and reaction.”

He has a point. The Reformation directly led to the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, which was a major impulse for the Church, and its influence is still visible. However, the Counter-Reformation, as the name implies, was very much anti-Reformation.

Karla Apperloo of Refo500: “We did not describe the term ‘Reformation’ when it comes to content. That allows space for a Catholic partner to also shine a light on the Catholic Reformation.”

Let’s hope that this space will be used for more than a mere focus on how much we have in common. That is important, of course, and the commonalities between the Church and church communities must be the basis for future ecumenism, but the differences can’t be ignored. The simple fact is that the gap between the Catholic Church and the Protestant church communities is bigger than that among any two Protestant communities. A focus on the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Catholic identity, at least from the Catholic parties, will do more for ecumenism then a celebration of mutual friendship.

The Society for Ecumenism als states that: “The divisive meaning of the great theological questions from the 16th century […] have been superseded by faith.”

And that is a bit worrying, because it seems to indicate that faith alone is left, and that all the problems and divisions are gone. But they are not. The understanding of what makes a Church is radically different between Catholics and Protestants.

I noticed that myself during the conference of Christian student groups in Groningen, a few weeks ago. The various Protestant groups seemed to consider their brands of Christianity to be mere ‘tastes’  or ‘preferences’: it doesn’t really matter what sort of Christian you are , as long as it suits you. That approach makes the individual believer, and not God, the arbitrator of what faith  and church are: they establish the church and decide what it should be. The Catholic sense of what the Church is is the total opposite: The Church has been instituted by Christ, and so He has the final power of decision. We are workers in His vineyard, but we can’t decide what His Church must be or do. The Holy Spirit does so through His people, but the initiative always lies with Him. The foundations of the Church have been given, not made by us. The Church is therefore much more than a taste of preference. It asks us to join Christ on His terms. It requires a certain level of faith and trust that through God we will find true freedom and life.

The differences are there, even in as summarised a version of the problem as mine above. We may share the same faith in Christ, but that does not mean we are all the same. In order to be the same, we must first now what ‘the same’ means.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a detour from the Refo500 events. Let’s hope and pray that a Catholic presence will make a difference. 500 years of Reformation is long enough. Time for the experiment to be over.

The problem of Medjugorje

The alleged pilgrimage site Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently been in the news again. The site, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared virtually daily since 1981, was visited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, despite the fact that Rome does not acknowledge the apparitions as authentic. Local Bishop Ratko Peric had to explain that fact once more.

Medjugorje is a popular place for thousands of pilgrims, and the prayer, conversion and sacraments received there are often considered evidence for the authenticity of the site. So what is the problem?

Mariologist and theologian Fr. Manfred Hauke (pictured) was asked about that by German Catholic news paper Die Tagespost. It’s an interesting read, sometimes a bit heavy on theology (not that that’s a bad thing), and it emphasises some of the dubious claims made by the seers and priests associated with Medjugorje, and also presses for clarity and openness about it from the side of the Church.

Because of Medjugorje’s enormous popularity, especially among European pilgrims, I thought it important to also have the interview available in Dutch. Many Dutch parishes and other Catholic organisations still perform pilgrimages to Medjugorje. These are even advertised in national Catholic newspapers. Like Fr. Hauke says:  “If a new investigative commission reaches a recognition that certain characteristics indissolubly connected with the phenomenon of the apparitions speak against their authenticity, then the love of truth demands that this be made known with all clarity and that Catholic Christians be warned expressly against “pilgrimages”.

An English version of the interview has been duly translated by Catholic Light.

Cardinals according to John Allen

In the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen shines his light on future cardinals. He writes and creates the following list:

• Archbishop Paolo Romeo, Palermo, Italy
• Archbishop Giuseppe Bettori, Florence, Italy
• Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Brussels, Belgium
• Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Westminster, Great Britain
• Archbishop Timothy Dolan, New York
• Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Washington, D.C.
• Archbishop Orani João Tempesta, Rio de Janiero, Brazil
• Archbishop Braulio Rodríguez Plaza, Toledo, Spain
• Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, Valencia, Spain
• Archbishop Juan José Asenjo Pelegrina, Seville, Spain
• Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, Bangkok, Thailand
• Archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, Ha Noi, Vietnam
• Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
• Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz, Warsaw, Poland
Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk, Utrecht, The Netherlands
• Archbishop Reinhard Marx, Munich and Freising, Germany

There’s also a slew of Vatican officials in a holding pattern to join the College of Cardinals, including:

• Archbishop Angelo Amato, Congregation for the Causes of Saints
• Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
• Archbishop Raymond Burke, Apostolic Signatura
• Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, Apostolic Penitentiary
• Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, Pontifical Council for Culture
• Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples
• Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
• Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls

There is not much overlap with the list I created here, although that can be said to be due to the fact that I took the next two years in consideration, while Allen focusses solely on this year. Still, Archbishop Eijk is among them, as is the new archbishop of Brussels, Msgr. Léonard, and he mentions the possibility of new cardinals in African sees, like I did when I pondered the possibility of a new cardinal from Cameroon.

Allen’s list is a very western affair, with many cardinals from Europe or North America. Traditionally, Europe is the place where important members of the curia come from, of course, so perhaps the lack of African and Asian prelates is due to the fact that the current cardinals from there are still so relatively new (elevated by Pope John Paul II) that they’re not too close to retirement yet.

I have some reservations about Allen’s list, though. Both archbishops Eijk and Léonard are new enough that they could be kept waiting a while (Léonard is not even installed as archbishop yet), and the same may be said for Archbishops Nichols, Dolan, Marx and Burke. However, we will undoubtedly see in due time, quite possibly somewhere before the end of the year.

Pub quiz in a church (but it’s okay, it was Protestant)

Some impressions of an attempt to emerge victorious from a pub quiz tournament last night. Well, ‘pub quiz’ isn’t right: it took place in the medieval Martini church here in Groningen, but the principle is the same. Out of the 63 teams, we ended 39th. Hardly impressive, but in a strange way I relish the fact that we didn’t manage to answer a single question in the tv theme tunes round. When the answers of that round were revealed, I knew just about one of the ten shows mentioned.

The organ of the church, an example of decoration 9and then some) in an otherwise rather barren church.

On the vaulted ceiling there are some remains of early decorations. Others were in what was once the sanctuary. At one point it was apparently decided to keep them visible after they were painted over during the Reformation.

And there was much pondering of questions…

A ‘stupid hat’ converted from a plastic cup, and which eventually became a ‘very stupid hat’ and, when reversed, a ‘smart hat’.

The Priest and the Liturgy of the Word at Mass

Father Mauro Gagliardi, professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum “Regina Apostolorum” in Rome and consultor to the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations at the Vatican, writes in the latter function about the liturgy of the Word, the first major part of the Mass. The text is especially relevant since the liturgy of the Word usually also involves lay people, who serve as lectors, or readers, of the first and second reading, and sometimes also the responsorial psalm and alleluiah.

Fr. Gagliardi discusses briefly the Liturgy of the Word in the ordinary and extraordinary form of the Roman rite and then lists a few pros and cons of the reform after the Second Vatican Council. His text is aimed mostly at priests, but since the Liturgy of the Word in the ordinary form usually involves lay people as well, I think it is important to be aware of the rituals. Rituals can, after all, be aids to our own experience of the liturgy. Sadly, space limits prevent Fr. Gagliardi from going into the detail he wants, but perhaps this text can be a starting point for some. That is the reason I translated it into Dutch: go here to read it.

The English text can be found here.

Petition for the pope

If you’re in the UK*, please consider adding your name to this petition that supports Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK. At the time of writing there are 759 signatures. The National Secular Society has already collected more than 15,000 signatures in their poll that protests the state paying part of the costs of the papal visit (although that is normal for any state visit: the inviting party, in this case the British government, supplies part of the funds).

The Catholic Church having to pay the full cost of the visit would be like you or I being invited to a party and having to pay for the decorations, the band and the food ourselves.

Credit to Fr. John Boyle for writing about this in his blog.

*Or not. The petition doesn’t seem too bothered by the nationalities of the people who sign.