“Remember your leaders” – In Echternach, Cardinal Eijk on St. Willibrord

Five years ago I wrote about the annual Echternach procession in honour of Saint Willibrord. In this year’s edition, which was held on Tuesday, Cardinal Wim Eijk gave the homily for the opening celebration. As archbishop of Utrecht and metropolitan of the Dutch Church province, he usually attends the procession, as St. Willibrord is the patron saint of the archdiocese, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (where he is buried iin Echternach abbey, which he founded in 698).

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In addition to Cardinal Eijk and Luxembourg’s Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich and his predecessor Archbishop Fernand Franck, other prelates attending included the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco; Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond and his auxiliary Bishop Everard de Jong; Bishop Felix Genn of Münster with his auxiliary Bishop Wilfred Theising; Bishop Jean-Christophe Lagleize of Metz, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier and his auxiliary Bishop Jörg Peters; Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary of Utrecht; Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Essen, as well as the abbots of Clervaux in Luxembourg and Sankt Mathias Trier, Kornelimünster and Himmerod in Germany. In total, there were 9,383 participants in the procession, which started at 9:30 in the morning and ended at 1pm.

Cardinal Eijk’s homily follows below:

DSC05172“Dear brothers and sisters,

“Remember your leaders (that is, the Christian community leaders and pastors) who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”,  we read in the Letter to the Hebrews (13:7). We do know to which community this letter was addressed. The author is similarly unknown. The background and the aim of the letter are, however, clear: the author is a pastor, who is worried as the faith in the community to whom he writes his letter is decreasing. Other ideas, which are alien to the Gospel, are being increasingly accepted: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Heb. 13:9). It is not said which teachings these are.

It is notable that the faith in this still young community is already under attack. The Letter to the Hebrews was written between the 70s and 90s of the first century, some forty to sixty years after the resurrection of Jesus, the first Pentecost and the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church. When the decline has begun, it goes fast. This instinctively reminds us of the decline of the Dutch Church province in the 1960, which subsequently also became clear in other countries. This decline also took place in only a few years. We are flooded by new concepts and ideas that deny the Christian faith. In hindsight, our situation is comparable with the community to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was written. The advice to remember our leaders who first spoke the word of God to us, also goes for us.

Let us follow this advice. Saint Willibrord, who is called the Aposte of the Netherlands and who established Echternach Abbey, is one of the most important leaders who first proclaimed the Christian faith to us. What do we know about him? What characterised him and what drove him? How can he inspire us today? Willibrord was born in 658 in Northumberland (in the north of England). In his twenties he entered Rathmelsighi monastery in Dublin (Ireland) to prepare for a mission in the Netherlands. For twelve years he received a thorough education there. He got to know the spirituality of the Hiberno-Scottish monks. In 690 he came to the Netherlands with his companions. A year later he received from Pope Sergius I the mission to proclaim the Gospel among the Frisians. Willibrord expressly wanted to perform his mission in union with Rome and be a part of the entire world Church. During his second visit to Rome in 685 the Pope ordained him as archbishop of the Frisians and he received the pallium.

When we really want to know the spirit of Saint Willibrord and his motives, we must know a few things about the aforementioned Hiberno-Scottish monks. These did not strive for a systematic evangelisation and did not in the first place think of the creation of great structures and the establishment of dioceses. Their motive, to proclaim the faith, had in the first place to do with their focus on their own sanctification. They fostered an ascetical-mystical ideal: Like Christ during His earthly life and like His Apostles, they wanted to have no place to rest their heads (Matt. 8:20), and like them possess nothing and endure the suffering that would be theirs through rejection, misunderstanding, resistance and violence. They wanted to be what is called in Latin peregrini, meaning strangers or pilgrims, like Jesus and the Apostles themselves. It was their ideal to spread the good news like Jesus and the Apostles, as strangers without a permanent residence, following His call: “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

Willibrord and his companions wanted to heed this call and left their homeland with its already well-developed and widespread Christian structures, to proclaim Christ and His Gospel as peregrini among us on the European mainland. Willibrord experienced what it is to go with Jesus without being able to rely on established structures. He and his companions had the same experiences as Jesus during His earthly life. They too encountered misunderstanding and persecution. They found what it means that no slave is above his master (Matt. 10:24).

Of course, Willibrord also tried to rely on structures: he saught the protection of the Frankish royal house and established monasteries to support the mission. But in the beginning there were no structures at all. And what structures he established were frequently destroyed again, for example during a rebellion of the Frisians under their King Radbod. This also provides one of the explanations for the way in which the spring procession was held until 1947: with three steps forward and two back. This reflects the evangelisation, which in general was very fruitful, but not without times of serious setbacks.

As Willibrord and his companions could, at the start of their mission, not rely on permanent Christian structures, and as the structures they built were frequently destroyed again, their Hiberno-Scottish spirituality was not just their motivation, but also the most important means of their evangelisation. The direct imitation of Christ in their way of living gave them a strong personal charisma as disciples of Jesus. This was well-received: soon they were joined by missionaries from the areas they had evangelised, aglow with the same fire – like Saint Liudger, founder of the Diocese of Münster, born in Zuilen, a village near Utrecht and today a subburb of that city.

Can we not see a comparison here with what later happened multiple times in the Church? During the French Revolution and the the time after it, for example, the Church in western Europe lost many of her structures and took several steps backwards. But over the course of the nineteenth century the Church took many steps forward again.

Sadly we have to conclude that the Church has once again taken quite a few step back in the past fifty years. In the 1950s the communication of faith happened almost automatically, carried by our strong parishes, Catholic schools and other structures which played an important role in the past. Now even more than in the past, the advice is true: remember your leaders, who first spoke the word of God to you. Willibrord and his companions are an example for us because of their determination, based on the spirituality of the Hiberno-Scottish monks, to be on the road with Jesus, even without great structures, even in the face of opposition. That enabled them to withstand misunderstanding, criticism, opposition and setbacks and gave them the charisma of the disciples of Jesus during his earthly life. This was precisely what made their evangelisation – despite the frequently necessary steps back – very fruitful.

We have now taken steps backwards and can rely on ever fewer structures. We can’t literally follow Saint Willibrord, but we can be inspired by his spirituality. It not only shows us the way towards our own sanctification, but at the same time teaches us how we can proclaim the faith without structures of any kind. His spirituality, directed towards the development of a convincing personal charisma as disciples of Jesus, is, perhaps more than we realise, groundbreaking for the new evangelisation of western Europa. I am not a prophet, but we can anticipate that our current secular culture is not for ever and will at some point in the future be replaced by another culture. And who knows, perhaps then, in regard to our Christian structures, we can take a few steps forwards again. Amen.”

Photo gallery available here.

The third archbishop of the Benelux

Head of an archdiocese that resides immediately under the Holy See, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich became the tenth chief shepherd of Luxembourg. In the presence of Grand Duke Henri and many other representatives of the state, as well as representatives from Archbishop Hollerich’s former work area in Japan, the ordination was performed by retiring Archbishop Fernand Franck, with Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, and  Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo as co-consecrators.

Emeritus Archbishop Franck gave the homily, partly in French, partly in Luxembourgish, in which he expounds on the duties of a bishop and his important stewardship of the faith, mostly taken from Lumen Gentium:

“In the Gospel of Mark, we have just heard the final instructions of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Without setting any boundaries, they open wide the scope of the world. There is no limitation to the word of God: “Go out to the whole world!”(Mark 16:15). There is no discriminating between listeners: “proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (idem). Without any prejudice regarding the freedom of all, the good news will be announced to all, regardless of their idea of God and the tradition in which they live.

motto, hollerichWith his motto, “Annuntiate” , the new archbishop sees his mission in the context of the mission of the Apostles of Christ: “Go out to the whole world, and proclaim the Gospel to all creation!” These are among the final words in the Gospel of Mark, which we have proclaimed on the feast of the great missionary of Japan, Saint Francis Xavier, and on the feast of Saint Willibrord, the Apostle of our country.

Proclaiming the Gospel, the good news, is the mission of each bishop. On the day of their ordination, they accept their main commitment of preaching the Gospel.

The motto of our new bishop shows that he has decided to fully assume that commitment. Among the various tasks of the bishop, that of preaching of Gospel is predominant. Bishops are the heralds of the faith, they lead new disciples to Christ and are authentic teachers, who proclaim to the people entrusted to them the faith in which they should believe and which should guide their and his conduct. Through the ministry of the Word as well, they communicate the power of God for salvation to those who believe in the sacraments, they sanctify the faithful: they celebrate the sacrament of baptism, they are the ministers who give confirmation. They are the stewards of the sacred orders and moderators of penitential discipline. Marked by the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the bishops are “the servants of the grace of the priesthood,” especially in the Eucharist, which they offer or cause to be offered. In addition, any legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, because every community of the altar, under the sacred ministry of the bishop, is presented as a symbol of love and unity of the Mystical Body.

No bishop accomplishes this mission alone. God Himself strengthens the bishop at his consecration by sending him the Holy Spirit. He can not accomplish his mission, except in close cooperation with the priests, consecrated persons and all lay Christians committed to serving the Church in the various fields of pastoral care, at the parish level, and in the social and educational domains, with their large number of volunteers.

Brother priests, brothers and sisters in Christ, receive your new pastor as a visible sign of God’s promise to always be with you, like a father to his beloved son as a good shepherd for his flock. Greet him with all your heart in faith and offer your collaboration. He will be your guide, and in turn you are called to be with him the servants of each, according to the example set by Jesus during his life of service, especially to the poor.

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A mere hour before the prayer of ordination, the Gospel will be opened and will be held open to the future bishop during prayer. He will be ordained in the Gospel, showing thereby that it must be a reference point, his light, his strength, the reason for his ministry. Yes, ordained in the Gospel, he will be the servant of this gospel. He will, in his life and ministry, be his task to give a face to Christ, as shepherd of his people, as pastor concerned about each and every one. It was said earlier: “Take care of all the Lord’s flock, which the Holy Spirit gave you as a bishop to govern the Church of God”. It is the Lord himself who, through word of prayer and the gesture of laying on of hands, binds this man completely to his service, draws in his own priesthood. It was he who consecrates the bishops. It is he who consecrates the chosen. He is the only High Priest, who offers the one sacrifice for all of us, who gives him a share in his priesthood,  and who, in his word and his work, is present at all times.”

The rest of the homily, which can be read in full here, is in Luxembourgish, a language that I am as yet unable to fully translate. But hopefully the above will give an indication of what Archbishop Franck tried to bring across. In most ways, the new archbishop is not an archbishop for himself: he has been called by God to enter into His service for the good of the faithful.

May Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich be a good shepherd according to the example given by the shepherd of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Photo credit: Archdiocese of Luxembourg

Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg

For a while now, I’ve seen people arrive on my blog via search terms like ‘new archbishop Luxembourg’. Perhaps they knew things I didn’t (not a very radical notion), because just today, the Vatican announced just that, a new archbishop for Luxembourg.

The archbishop emeritus, Msgr. Fernand Franck, was , at 77, already well past the retirement age, but for reasons we can only guess at, it took this long for a successor to be named. And that successor is Jesuit Fr. Jean-Claude Hollerich, pictured to the left with Msgr. Franck. Archbishop elect Hollerich is 52, and a priest since 1990. His biography mentions his education in Rome, Belgium, Germany and Japan, and indicates that Msgr. Hollerich is something of a language scholar, having extensively studied both Japanese and German. His list of publications, varying from writings about the origins of school grammars to European grammar in Asia, and with side excursions to the rise of national awareness of Luxembourg and the history of French Jesuits in Siam. Much of his experience, it would seem, he gained while working in the Archdiocese of Tokyo and as vice rector of the Sophia University there.

The archdiocese that Msgr. Hollerich will soon call his responsibility tends to be too easily forgotten. It wasn’t until 1840, one year after Luxembourg’s independence as a grand duchy was reaffirmed by the First Treaty of London, that it was split off from the Diocese of Namur as a separate apostolic vicariate. In 1870 it was promoted to a diocese, and only in 1988 was it elevated to the status of archdiocese. As the only diocese in Luxembourg, it’s archbishop is not a member of a bishops’ conference, although it does share a papal nuncio with Belgium.

There are an estimated 390,000 Catholics out of a total population of 511,000, served by some 250 priests and 550 religious.

Archbishop elect Hollerich will be consecrated to bishop and installed as Luxembourg’s third archbishop on 16 October. at the cathedral of Our Lady in the city of Luxembourg.

In the footsteps of St. Willibrord at Echternach

Katholieknederland.nl has some nice photos of the annual dancing procession in Echternach, Luxembourg. Wherever St. Willibrord, the Anglo-Saxon who brought the faith to northwestern Europe, went, processions still exist. The one in Utrecht, the see of St. Willibrord as the first archbishop of the Frisians, was recently resuscitated, but the Echternach procession has a long history. But most of all, it is an expression of joy, as the blue sisters below show.

As a dancing procession, participants proceed in a dancing motion with slow kicks to the left and right. Begin and end of the route is the 7th century abbey church where the remains of St. Willibrord are kept.

St. Willibrord is the patron saint of the Dutch Church province and his historic mission territory includes much of what is now the Benelux, Germany and Denmark. Hence the presence today of many prelates from these countries. Among them, of course, Luxembourg’s Archbishop Fernand Franck, but also Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg (Germany) and, from the Netherlands, Cardinal Simonis, Archbishop Eijk, Bishops Wiertz, De Jong, Hoogenboom and Woorts. Also present was the Old-Catholic archbishop of Utrecht, Joris Vercammen.

Check those photos out, and get an impression of the simple, pure joy of faith.

Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come?

With today’s acceptance of the resignation of Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky, a major European capital’s Catholic flock is left without an archbishop. For the time being of course, but the cardinal archbishop, who turned 75 some two weeks ago, leaves an interesting act to follow. When he was appointed in 1989 there was no Archdiocese of Berlin. Sterzinsky, until then a priest of Erfurt-Meiningen (now simply Erfurt), became the bishop of a divided diocese in an East Germany that started to show the cracks that would lead to the German reunification in 1990. Because of the important role of Berlin in the new Germany, and its position in history among other German cities, Bishop Sterzinsky was elevated to Cardinal in 1991, aged only 55. The reorganisation of the dioceses that followed the Wende saw Berlin elevated to an archdiocese and Sterzinsky as its first archbishop.

Berlin, which includes the city of the same name, north and central Brandenburg and eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (including the Baltic island Rügen), is now temporarily led by its auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Matthias Heinrich, who is obliged to convene the cathedral chapter to elect a diocesan administrator, who will run the archdiocese until the pope appoints a new archbishop.

In north and western Europe, where bishops and Catholics are a bit thinner on the ground than in the south, there are a number of bishops approaching the required retirement age of 75, and also some who are already past that age. In Germany, for example, they are Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (75) and Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner of Köln (77). Archbishop Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Joachim Reinelt of Dresden-Meissen will reach that age later this year. Related to that, the Diocese of Görlitz has been vacant since last year.

Outside Germany, the situation is comparable, although most surrounding countries have far fewer bishops. In Norway, the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim has been vacant since 2009, with the bishop of Oslo running things temporarily. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam is vacant, although no other Dutch bishops will turn 75 for the next seven years. In Belgium, too, the next bishop up for resignation is Bishop Jousten of Liège in November of 2012. The archbishop of Luxembourg, Fernand Franck, on the other hand, will turn 77 in May, and is still in office. In the United Kingdom then, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Bishops Peter Moran of Aberdeen and Edwin Regan of Wrexham are all 75 or over and still in office. Meanwhile, the bishops of Brentwood, Hallam and Portsmouth will all reach 75 this year, while the Archdiocese of Cardiff remains vacant. Ireland, then, with its spate of bishops’ resignations in the wake of the abuse crisis, is a story in itself.

The current vacancy of Berlin may be a herald of some interesting changes in the Church in and around the Netherlands, but how long those changes will take is anyone’s guess.

All that being said, Cardinal Sterzinsky’s illness leaves him bedridden in the hospital, so his resignation is nothing but understandable, although it is said that he would have liked to be able to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in function when the latter will visit Berlin in September.

Photo credit: Deutscher Depeschendienst