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Ever been in an internet discussion that went nowhere? (Or, as QI taught us yesterday, when Godwin’s Law comes into effect?)

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“Joining forces against secularisation and materialism”

Some words from Bishop Arborelius of Stockholm in the Week for Christian Unity, from Tertio. Sweden is overwhelmingly Protestant which makes the Catholic experience of this Week rather different than in, say, Italy. Thoughts on ecumenism inside and outside the Church.

By Emmanuel Van Lierde

Half of the 163 priests in Sweden are members of a religious order, including the bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius (1949). He entered the Carmelite order in 1971 and received his philosophical and theological education in Bruges. That is why he speaks Dutch and often likes to visit Belgium. Next Wednesday he will speak at a conference on ecumenism with his order in Ghent.

“Living a contemplative life as a bishop is a continuous challenge. But I see it as a great help and treasure in performing my duties. Through prayer we learn to trust in God, diminishing our earthly cares. And many Christians from other denominations are open to the Carmelite spirituality, which means that my being a Carmelite is a boon to ecumenism. It is striking that we have a large number of contemplative convents in this Lutheran country. The appeal of those convents is one of the strongest trump cards of our church,” the bishops says.

The dialogue with other Christian churches is evident to him. “When you are a Catholic in a  Lutheran country, you automatically enter into a relationship with Lutherans. Of course there are dogmatic differences and recently some ethical disputes were added to that. We have different opinions on homosexual relations and abortion, but that does not stop us from praying together, to enter into dialogue or share our lives.” In the past decades Arborelius saw how the Catholic Church was integrated better into Swedish society. “Unity is not just as assignment between the various Christian church communities. It is equally a task within churches. Most Catholics i Sweden come from abroad and so our first job lies in uniting all those nationalities. We can improve their integration, as a church, and they can in turn contribute to evangelising society.”

The greatest challenge for all religious groups is the increasing secularisation which especially hits the Lutheran church. “As Christians, we’d better join our forces, because Europe is rapidly falling for secularisation and materialism. We can’t allow the values of solidarity, frugality and adoration to be lost, although I am convinced that the person of Jesus Christ will always fascinate people. Faith will not disappear.”

Haiti relief as necessary as ever

The Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, responsible for disaster relief, charity and the cooperation between Catholic charities, published this press release today:

“In light of the request of the Pontifical Council ‘Cor Unum’ that Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian agency of the Bishops of the United States, co-ordinate the Church’s relief efforts in Haiti at this stage, CRS has been holding on-site meetings with the Haitian Episcopal Conference, the apostolic nuncio and several foreign Catholic charitable agencies, now operating in Port-au-Prince, to asses and respond to the disaster.

“The group initiated immediately the provision of food, water, clothing, shelter and medical aid for the displaced survivors in informal camps. Twelve sites have now been jointly determined as distribution points for further provision with security and operational assessments already undertaken. Personnel and supplies from neighbouring Santo Domingo and other nations continue to arrive through a variety of Catholic aid organisations.

“As with previous disasters, the concrete generosity of Churches, institutions and individuals worldwide is again being manifested. The needs and challenges remain significant, particularly on the level of movement of goods and people and security, and are likely to grow as the effects of the earthquake in and beyond Port-au-Prince become increasingly evident”.

Despite all the problems that face the relief workers in Haiti, it seems that progress, however slow is being made. And there are signs of hope too: a 69-year old woman was rescued yesterday from the rubble of the National Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, six days after it collapsed. A Mexican aid worker was clearing rubble when the woman grabbed his hand. The woman said that she relied on God and was singing when she was pulled out of the rubble. “When I felt that she had grabbed my hand and squeezed it, it felt like God was squeezing my hand,” the man who found her said later.

The cathedral in Port-au-Prince - still relatively intact compared to other parts of the city.

The devastation and the human drama in Haiti continues to be heartbreaking. The international relief effort is already dubbed the largest in history, but many bottlenecks and bad infrastructure mean that much of it does not reach the victims. Even basic needs such as water and food still await transport into affected areas.

In the Netherlands, the bishops endorse donating to Giro 555, the national relief effort, radiostations and tv station are teaming up to collect funds, and private collections at Mass are dedicated to the Haiti relief. One charity effort is that by Jong Katholiek, the youth organisation of the Dutch Church. They have chosen to focus their efforts on supporting Father Rick Frechette, who is in charge of the St. Damien children’s hospital, one of the few working hospitals in the area. There is a need for everything, though, from bandages and morphine to body bags and even simple pens to make up files. On 23 January, Jong Katholiek will host a fundraising event in Den Bosch.

Seeking some warmth

While the snow is now rapidly melting, I notice that birds are still picking and choosing the warmest places to hang out. In the early morning, when it’s still quiet, blackbirds gather on the stretches of sidewalk without snow, and in the canals I’ve noticed groups of tufted ducks (above), who usually never venture into the city, at least not in large numbers. I’ve seen larger groups of cormorants as well, but not lately. I think it’s warm enough again for them to head out to the countryside and its ponds, lakes and canals.

Oratory of St. Philip Neri established in Tilburg

The London Oratory, one of the best-known oratories


 A very positive development in the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch for vocations and the priesthood in general. In Tilburg, newly installed priest and dean, Fr Jeroen Miltenburg, and his chaplain, Fr. Karel Loodts. are working to establish a so-called Oratory of St. Philip Neri.    

Established in the 16th century, by St. Philip Neri, a priest in Rome, an oratory is a house where priests live, work and pray together. In St. Philip’s time it was a great boost to vocations and the education of priests, who not only lived together, but also organised regular discussion meetings about all manner of topics, but always with the goal of furthering theological and pastoral awareness.    

Fr. Miltenburg: “Of course there are practical advantages when it comes to dividing tasks, but the fundamental idea is praying, offering Mass and doing pastoral work together.”    

And about St. Philip Neri he says: “Typical for Neri was his passionate and loving discussion of Jesus Christ. Through his attention on prayer, conversation, song, music and pilgrimage the first oratory developed against the spirit of the Reformation.”    

On 17 June of last year, Bishop Hurkmans  allowed the establishment of an ‘Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Development’ in Tilburg. Since an oratory needs a core of three priests it is open for growth.    


A surprise to no one

Today at noon, Cardinal Danneels officially announced that Msgr. André-Mutien Léonard will succeed him as archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels. Clearly that was widely expected or feared, depending on who you talk to.

Whatever the position you take on Msgr. Léonard, a program broadcast last night on Belgian TV, which followed him in his daily affairs, engendered much sympathy for the man. It was proof that he is a pastoral caring priest, as well as a philosophical and intelligent bishop.

During the announcement Cardinal danneels referred to the fact that he won’t be succeeded by a carbon copy. “We don’t have the same temperament, but we share the same faith. The menu is served by a different waiter, but the menu stays the same.”

In the five years he has in his new archdiocese, Msgr. Léonard will focus on the liturgy, vocations and the social program implemented by his predecessor. He’ll be visiting the three vicariates that make up the archdiocese and may also request a third auxiliary bishop. Two of vicariates are led by auxiliaries, but Flemish Brabant and Mechlin is not, since its auxiliary, Msgr. Jan De Bie, retired a year ago.

All in all terrific news for Belgium, although the new archbishop will undoubtedly face some determined opposition in the coming years.

Looking back at the papal visit to the Rome synagogue

As expected, the name of Pope Pius XII fell during the pope’s visit to the synagogue in Rome.  The pope mentioned the Holocaust in his address and referred to the “hidden and discreet” ways in which the Holy See aided the Jewish community of Rome and elsewhere. The complete text of the speech is available here, and a Dutch translation is available under the ‘Translations’ tab above or directly here.

As for the polemic around Pope Pius XII, I won’t go into details here. Father Z is one blogger who shines an interesting light on media coverage now and during Pius XII’s papacy.

[Photo credit: RKK/Lidy Peters]