The travelling pope

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroad

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroadPope John Paul II was of course the greatest travelling pontiff of all time, making 104 trips to 129 countries in his 26-year pontificate. That is more visits abroad than all the other popes combined. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, being rather older at the start of his pontificate and of a more private nature, doesn’t come near to that, and very likely has no intention of doing so. But that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically turn down invites to come and visit a place or country. This year he has no less than five trips abroad planned.

The first trip will be a short two-day visit on 17 and 18 April to Malta, where he’ll obviously meet with local dignitaries of state and Church, and he’ll also pray at the cave where St. Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome, as mentioned in chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles.

In May, the Holy Father will be in Portugal from 11 to 14 May. He’ll visit Fatima there, the site where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children in 1917.

The Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, the Sagrada Família, still under construction

In June he’ll go to Cyprus, in part to hand the Middle Eastern bishops the working documents of the Synod on the Middle East to be held in October.

The September trip to the United Kingdom is highly anticipated, partly because rumour has it that the pope will personally beatify the Venerable John Henry Newman, and also because of the recent document Anglicanorum Coetibus on the relations with the Anglicans. There are visits planned to sites in both England and Scotland.

The fifth trip was only recently announced: in November, the pope will travel to Spain to visit Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. He’ll be in Santiago because of the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the basilica there, and in Barcelona he will consecrate the Sagrada Família, Antoní Gaudi’s massive church that has been under construction since 1882. That consecration Mass should be something to behold.

Over the course of each trip the pope will speak publically at various locations and I expect that a fair few of these addresses will stir up the media. I look forward to offering at least a sampling of those texts and issues here, both in English and in Dutch.

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Homily at the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops

The text of Archbishop Eijk’s homily at the consecration of auxiliary bishops Hoogenboom and Woorts was published today on the website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. Here is my translation.    

Archbishop Eijk flanked by his new auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom and Msgr. Herman Woorts

In today’s Gospel reading we witnessed the meeting of Jesus, the Risen Lord, with some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. At that occasion Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” When Jesus asks the same question for the third time, it becomes painfully clear to Peter that he betrayed Jesus in the night of Gethsemane three times, before the cock’s crowing. That saddens him.    

The meeting with Jesus confronts Peter with his own weakness, insignificance and failure. That is always painful. But from Peter one thing must be mentioned: his love for Jesus is true and he is remorseful, as his sadness shows. And that is why Jesus fulfills the promise He made to Peter, when he changed His name from Simon to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16,18). Now Jesus truly appoints Peter as leader of the apostles and first pope, by saying: “Look after My sheep”.    

 And that is what Peter would do, until they bring him to the place where he does not want to be, as Jesus had predicted to him: the cross upon he too will die a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero in 64.    

Elsewhere in the New Testament, “look after my sheep” is also said to bishops and priests (1 Pet. 5, 2-4; Acts 20, 28), Looking after, shepherding means here that the pope, bishops and priests bring the people entrusted to their pastoral care to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that they will feed them with God’s Word and the sacraments.    

Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts: you too have been called by the Risen Lord to look after His sheep. When meeting candidates for confirmation, the bishop is always  asked, “How did you become a bishop, did you really want it?”    

There are no adverts on the Internet or in the newspapers for bishops. Not because advertising is expensive, but simply because you are not expected to apply for it. You are asked. Officially someone is bishop “through the mercy of God and the favour of the Holy See.” In the request from the Holy Father, the steward of Christ on Earth, to become auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, lies the voice of Christ for both of you. We are grateful to you both that you said ‘yes’ to the vocation of the priesthood and that you today say ‘yes’ to the vocation of the episcopate.    

What may you expect from the episcopate? I can assure you one thing, from my own experience: being a bishop is never boring! That may sound quite positive, but – to be honest – a bishop’s could sometimes be a bit more boring, as far as I am concerned. There have been very intense moments, not just for the apostle Peter and the other apostles, but for all their successors, the bishops all over the world.    

I am not telling you anything new. After all, you are both already part of the diocesan curia. You, Msgr. Hoogenboom, have been my vicar general since my appointment as Archbishop of Utrecht, now more than two years ago. And you, Msgr. Woorts, have been diocesan vicar of Utrecht and vicar for the policy sector liturgy since last February. You both have been working with merit in pastoral and official business in our diocese, and that in a period in which we have to make difficult decisions to make the archdiocese healthy again. You can only do that if you are not striving for the popularity prize. And neither of you is. That is why you both expressly chose the following text from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as today’s first reading: “It is not ourselves that we are proclaiming, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” You do not work to improve your own image or popularity and falsify God’s Word, but you proclaim it openly.    

Like Peter, bishops can get into situation and be face with decisions that they had preferred to avoid. In that regard, you did not avoid your responsibility as vicar general and diocesan vicar in difficult circumstances. But what is necessary for God’s Church, for the shepherding of the flock, we should also do out of love for the Lord. Looking after the sheep, the pastoral care for the people entrusted to their care, also requires that the bishops make sure that there is enough wholesome and healthy grass in the field for the grazing; more so, they must make sure there even is a field for the grazing.    

Can a man take on such a difficult task? Like Peter all bishops are men with talents and weaknesses. It is often thought that the priesthood and the episcopate ask too much, especially considering celibacy and the limited access to modern society for Christ and His Gospel? As we saw, Peter gains next to forgiveness also a new spirit and a new life because of his encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. It is a St. Paul says: “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own.”    

For that power we pray during the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration: the consecrating bishops pray that God may pour the Spirit of authority that He gave to His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles, also over you. We pray for the intercession of Saint Willibrord, the founder and patron saint of our archdiocese, that the Holy Spirit may abundantly bless and make fruitful your pastoral duties as auxiliary bishops. Amen.