Archbishop Léonard reveals his thoughts at missing out on a red hat

In a book recently published, which, like a number of earlier publications, takes the form of a conversation with a (not necessarily) religious philosopher, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard comments on his thoughts at never being made a cardinal. In the past he has stated that it was no concern to him, not least as Pope Francis preferred to create cardinals from the peripheries of world and Church. Now that he has made Archbishop’s Léonard’s successor, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, a cardinal, the comments can be seen in a new light.

Titled Un évêque dans le siècle, the new book is a conversation with liberal philosopher Drieu Godefridi, and was written before the news that Archbishop De Kesel would be made a cardinal. On Mr. Godefridi’s question if not being made a cardinal ever hurt for Msgr. Léonard, the latter responds:

ARCHBISHOP ANDRE-JOSEPH LEONARD OF MECHELEN-BRUSSELS TESTIFIES DURING HEARING“Hurt is too big a word. But it did surprise me since it is a tradition of two centuries. In the past there have been many archbishops of Mechelen who were never cardinals, but since two centuries it has become a sort of tradition. Should that remain so? When I thought about it, I told myself it didn’t. It is clear that the current Pope wants to appoint cardinals from countries which never had cardinals, to underline their importance, to not have a College of Cardinals which is too Euro- or Americanocentric. I think that is a good thing.”

Later in the conversation, he speaks some more about his personal feelings.

“It was clear, to return to my case, and despite everything a little surprising. It is a delicate thing to say about myself, but many have said so in my place: pastorally, intellectually, I have done work which few archbishops have managed. In the intellectual field that was Dechamps in Mechelen, who was a very good philosopher, an apologist too. As far as I am concerned, I have completed my task in a rather original way. One of my auxiliary bishops, by the way, has dared to write that I was the first archbishop of Mechelen to visit the entire archdiocese. He also lauds my work in the intellectual field. In short, [not receiving a cardinals’ hat] surprised me, disappointed me a little, but I got over it easily.”

Following the appointment of future Cardinal De Kesel, it is clear that Archbishop Léonard’s assumption that Pope Francis does not want to create cardinals simply because it goes with the see they’re in is not correct. That said, it is equally clear that Pope Francis chooses cardinals who fit a certain pastoral mold, and if these happen to be in traditionally cardinalatial sees, so be it. De Kesel in Mechelen-Brussels is one example, Osoro Sierra in Madrid and Cupich in Chicago are others.

While Archbishop Léonard would never express any doubts or questions he may have at the choice of Archbishop De Kesel for the red hat, others have. In more than a few places, it has been seen as a slighting of Archbishop Léonard, who is now the first archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels since 1832 to not be made a cardinal. While a cardinal’s hat should not be seen as a reward (except in those cases where it given to a retired priest or bishop well in his 80s or 90s), the question remains why Archbishop Léonard never received one. It is not because Mechelen-Brussels no longer has the status in the Church it has (although that status has obviously changed as the heartland of the Church shifts way from Europe). It is also not because, as some have said, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Léonard’s predecessor, had not yet reached the age of 80. Danneels turned 80 in 2013, more than two years before the retirement of Archbishop Léonard.

Is it then because Archbishop Léonard did not meet the criteria of Pope Francis for the red hat? In a recent piece on Cardinal-designate John Ribat of Port Moresby, John Allen Jr. outlines the three criteria that the Pope seems to follow for making cardinals: being from the periphery, supporting a cause near to the Pope’s  heart, and being his kind of guy. Archbishop Léonard does not tick the first box, but then again, neither does Archbishop De Kesel. If a cause can be attributed to Archbishop Léonard, it is evangelisation. Hard to go wrong there, although the ways of achieving it are varied, and Archbishop Léonard’s way of evangelisation through catechesis may not be that of Pope Francis, who has a more hands-on approach. And as for being the Pope’s kind of guy, that is hard to estimate. Archbishop Léonard was certainly not afraid to be among the people. From the very start of his time in Brussels, he went out to visit the deaneries of his archdioceses in cycles that he would simply repeat once completed. The smell of the sheep was not alien to him.

Still, discussing why one man is made a cardinal and the other is not is, to a large extent, a guessing game, and there will probably always be more suitable men than there are red hats to give out. That said, it is my opinion that Archbishop Léonard would have been a fine choice for cardinal. Whether Archbishop De Kesel will be, that remains to be seen. In his short time in Brussels he has said and done both positive and negative things (his defense of a hospital’s freedom to deny euthanasia comes to mind, but so does his strange decision to disband the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles).

For round three, Pope Francis goes even further out

collegeofcardinalsIt’s another Franciscan selection for the next consistory: Pope Francis has picked 17 new cardinals, 6 of whom come from countries which have never had a cardinal before. Unlike previous consistories, the majority of the new cardinals are metropolitan archbishops. There are still three bishops, one priest, one head of a curia dicastery and – for the first time since 1998- a serving Nuncio among the new batch. Only five of the new cardinals serve in Europa in North America. The rest are spread out over Africa, Asia, South America, Oceania and the Middle East. Although he apparently still felt obliged to fill some cardinalatial sees (Madrid, Chicago, Mechelen-Brussels), this is Francis making sure the College of Cardinals increasingly reflects the worldwide Church.

After the consistory on 19 November, the number of electiors who can participate in a conclave will be 121. There are 111 cardinal electors now, but Cardinals Ortega y Alamino, López Rodríguez and Antonelli will turn 80 before the 19th. Following the 80th birthday of Cardinal Sarr on 28 November the number of cardinal electors will be at the ‘official’ maximum of 120 again.

A brief overview of the new cardinals:

  • Archbishop Mario Zenari, Titular Archbishop of Zuglio and Apostolic Nuncio to Syria.
  • Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangui, Central African Republic.
  • Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, Metropolitan Archbishop of Madrid, Spain.
  • Archbishop Sérgio Da Rocha, Metropolitan Archbishop of Brasília, Brazil.
  • Archbishop Blase Joseph Cupich, Metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago, United States of America
  • Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, Metropolitan Archbishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Metropolitan Archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela
  • Archbishop Josef De Kesel, Metropolitan Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium.
  • Bishop Maurice Piat, Bishop of Port-Louis, Mauritius.
  • Bishop Kevin Joseph Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.
  • Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, Metropolitan Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico.
  • Archbishop John Ribat, Metropolitan Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
  • Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, Metropolitan Archbishop of Indianapolis, Unites States of America.
  • Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez, Metropolitan Archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • Bishop Renato Corti, Bishop emeritus of Novara, Italy.
  • Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai, Bishop emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho.
  • Father Ernest Simoni, priest of the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult, Albania.

Some of these choices have come about through personal encounters the Holy Father has had or the circumstances in which the cardinals-to-be have to work, circumstances which are close to Pope Francis’ heart. Archbishop Zenari remains in Syria despite the horrors of war, Archbishop Nzapalainga hosted Pope Francis during his visit to the war-torn Central African Republic, and Father Simoni moved the Pope to tears with his lifestory of imprisonment, torture and hard labour under Albania’s communist regime.

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^Seen here visiting an Internally Displaced Persons camp, Cardinal-elect Dieudonné Nzalapainga is an example of “a shepherd who smells like his sheep”.

The preference for the peripheries that Pope Francis has displayed time and again should also be clear from the list of new cardinals: The Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Lesotho are not exactly major players in the Catholic world, but the selection of cardinals from these countries should perhaps not be seen as reflecting the role of the specific countries, but the parts of the world they are in, combined with the individual merits of the chosen prelates. Here we see a shift in the balance from Europe and North America to Africa, South America, southeast Asia and Oceania, parts of the world where the Church is growing or significantly stronger than in the secularised west. Parts of the world where the Church can have a hands-on role to play in the various social situations and circumstances people find themselves in: from war and terrorism to environmental challenges and increasing development and industralisation. Major change seems to be a deciding factor in the appointment of new cardinals.

95f101f4-8e11-11e6-bb78-3886984d35fe_web_scale_0_0795455_0_0795455__In the west, then, the chosen cardinals are seen in a far more political light. What are their positions on various topics within and outside the Church? And what does that say about the positions of Pope Francis on these same issues? Some of the new cardinals, such as Archbishop Cupich, De Kesel (at right) and Tobin are considered liberal on certain inter-ecclesiastic topics, and at the same time politically inclined in the same direction as the Holy Father, especially when it comes to the question of refugees in both Europe and North America, as well as gun control in the US. In general, their appointments are befitting of this Holy Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis has proven to not be too bothered with giving red hats to traditionally cardinalatial sees. In Europe, they get them in due time (with some exceptions, especially in Italy: Turin and Venice remain decidedly without cardinals at the helm), but the story is different across the pond. Despite their large Catholic populations, sees like Los Angeles and Philadelphia remain with a cardinal, despite having had them in the past.

bp__patrickPope Francis also tends to choose more religious to become cardinals. Of the seventeen new cardinals, six belong to a religous order or congregation: Archbishop Nzalapainga and Bishop Piat are Spiritans, Archbishop D’Rozario (at left) is a Holy Cross Father, Archbishop Ribat is a Sacred Heart Missionary, Archbishop Tobin is a Redemptorist and Bishop Khoarai is an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Pope St. John Paul II sometimes appointed more religious as cardinals, but that was in his mega-consistories of  2001 and 2003  of 42 and 30 cardinals respectively.

Of the seventeen new cardinals, fourteen will be Cardinal-Priests due to their being bishops outside of Rome, and the remaining three will be  Cardinal-Deacons (as they do not lead a diocese somewhere). All Cardinal-Priests receive a title church, and the Cardinal-Deacons a deaconry; a church in Rome of which they are the theoretical shepherd, thus making them a part of the clergy of Rome working with the bishop of that city. In practice, they have no influence in the running of their title church or deaconry, although their coat of arms is displayed there, and they take official possession of it some time after creation as cardinal.

While no Pope is obliged to use any of the available vacant titles and deaconries, and he is free to create new ones as he sees fit, some of these churches do stay in the family, so to speak. There are currently fourteen title churches vacant, so there is no pressing need to create new ones. Pope Francis has in the past shown to sometimes favour continuity in the granting of these titles (for example, he gave the title church he had as a cardinal, San Roberto Bellarmino, to Cardinal Mario Poli, who had succeeded him as archbishop of Buenos Aires). By that logic, we could guess that the church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola could be given to Archbishop Cupich, since it was the title church of his predecessor in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George. The other American cardinals could receive Santa Croce in Via Flaminia or Santi Giovanni e Paolo, as they were previously held by Amerian cardinals (Baum and Egan) as well.

For the three Cardinal-Deacons there is a choice of 10 vacant deaconries, so any guess is as good as the next, really.

Photo credit: [2] Catholic Herald, [3] BELGA, [4] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh

In De Kesel vs the Fraternity, a few small specks of light

de keselIn the two weeks since the blunt announcement that the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels would be discontinuing all its relations with the Fraternity of the Holy Apostle, there has been much silence from said archdiocese. This despite the debate that erupted about the topic, in which commenters were almost unanimously opposed to the decision.

But despite a lack of official and public comments, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel has met with a delegation of laity, and from this some developments have emerged, Katholiek Nieuwsblad and La Libre Belgique report. Sadly, the decision of cutting all ties with the Fraternity remains, but the archbishop has had to accept a setback: dozens of people have appealed the decision, forcing at least a month’s respite. Originally, the archdiocese had announced to sever all ties by the end of June, in other words: today.

There was more positive news in the meeting: the priests attached to the church of St. Catherine can remain there while Archbishop De Kesel is in office (and, one would hope, after that). On the other hand, the archbishop is also open to another diocese, in Belgium or abroad, taking on canonical responsibility for the Fraternity. How likely that is, considering that his decision was apparently made in full agreement with the other Belgian bishops and Rome, remains anyone’s guess.

The 200-strong parish of Saint Catherine’s has extended an invitation to Archbishop De Kesel to come and visit, an invitation he has promised to accept once the storm has died down.

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.

Seriousness and joy, two bedfellows in the Year of Mercy – Archbishop De Kesel’s installation homily

Last Saturday, Msgr. Jozef De Kesel was installed as the 24th Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, at the Cathedral of St. Rumbold. Attending were, among others, the Belgian king and queen, all other Belgian bishops (including Archbishop De Kesel’s two predecessors, Archbishop Léonard and Cardinal Danneels), as well as Cardinal Wim Eijk from the Netherlands and Bishop Gérard Coliche from France. In his homily, the new archbishop looked at the readings of the third Sunday of Advent, and kept close to the theme of the Holy Year of Mercy. In the spirit of Pope Francis, he called for a Church that goes out into the world, to confront “our greatest danger today: the globalisation of indifference.”

Read my translation of the homily, which was given in both French and Dutch, below.

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“Dear friends,

The Scripture readings we have just heard are the reading for the third Sunday of Advent. They are words that are being read today and tomorrow everywhere in the world, wherever Christians come together on the Sunday. They prepare us for Christmas. But they do give us mixed feelings. On the one hand we have John’s call for conversion. That we do not miss He who is coming. For He is coming, he says, “to clear his threshing floor”. Not exactly a comforting message. Words that point out the seriousness of the situation and our responsibility.

But at the same time there is also the call to joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” he says. Of old this Sunday has also been called this: Sunday Gaudete! And Saint Paul adds, “Have no anxiety …  the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. The Prophet Zephaniah shares the same call for joy. They seem unlikely bedfellows: the seriousness and responsibility that John emphasises and the call to joy and happiness. But it is these two which brings us together today: great responsibility, but also great joy.

Yes, the words of John are binding. He calls to conversion. Yet when those who have just been baptised ask him, “What should we do?”, his response is surprising. He asks for nothing extraordinary or sensational. Share what you have. They should not give everything, but what they have. If you have more clothing than you need, then give to those who do not have enough. The same applies to food: share what you have more of than you need. And to the tax collectors he does not say to cease their work. He simply says, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed”. Beware of corruption. And the soldiers who come to him, he does not ask to desert. He simply asks them: do what you do properly, without abusing your position and without the use of arbitrary violence. Never forget that you are human like everyone else. What John asks requires string commitment. That is true. But he does not ask anything extravagant. A baptised person does not keep a distance from others. We are to return to the responsibility and solidarity that we share with all men, regardless of their religion of belief.

But why be baptised? Why be Christian? The liturgy of this Sunday gives us the answer, and it too is astonishing. It is the joy that makes me a believer. It is not out of necessity or because I feel obligated. I am a Christian in freedom and love. We are known and loved by God. This is the heart of our faith. This joy and all love is therefore a call to fidelity and conversion.

This is the heart of Christianity. Not in the first place a doctrine or morality. But the certainty that we, frail and temporary people, are known and loved by God. It can hardly be imagined. But how, if this is true, can we not rejoice? Of course this does not answer all questions or solve every problem. But we know from experience how much this makes us happy, gives meaning and direction to our existence: that we are known, appreciated and loved by other people. That we are not nobody. Exactly that is the joy of the Gospel: to know that we are not only by those who are near to use, but by God Himself, the Creator and source of all that exists. Known and loved and radically accepted. Not without reason did Pope Francis call his first Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”. And not without reason did he, last Tuesday in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, at the start of the great jubilee, open the door, the door of God’s mercy. Like we will do tomorrow here, and in Brussels and in Nivelles and in all cathedrals and jubilee churches in the entire world.

No, God is not an indifferent God. No arbitrary power, only concerned with Himself. We people are worth everything to Him. That is why He ask that one thing: that we are also not indifferent to each other. Especially not to those who stand at the side and do not matter, the poor and vulnerable, and the countless who are fleeing from war and violence. That we respect all life, no matter how small and vulnerable. Respect for the religious and philosophical convictions of every man. Respect and care for the planet we inhabit. We are also responsible for future generations. This world can be a hard place. This is what the Gospel asks from us: that we do not became hard and indifferent, insensitive and merciless. Because that is our greatest danger today: the globalisation of indifference.

This is the Gospel that the Church proclaims. The Gospel of God’s tenderness. And this is not just rhetoric. He is committed to the very end. And His Son, Jesus Christ, became one of us, vulnerable and defenseless as a child of men. A miracle of humanity. A love to which there is only one answer: to love in our turn. We appreciate and respect each other. Proclaiming the mercy of God and calling for respect and love, that is the mission of the Church. This is the place it searches out in our pluralistic and modern society. Nothing more, and nothing less. In a secularised culture, she can and must make her voice heard. And so much more than a religious fundamentalism that at this time constitutes a very real threat.

Not a Church that looks inward, but a Church that shares in the joys and sufferings of the world. Sympathetic to the plight of humans, of any kind. This was the message of the Second Vatican Council. Last Tuesday, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, it was exactly fifty years since the closing of the Ecumenical Council. The Constitution on the Church in the world begins with these impressive and moving words: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

This is the vocation that the Church has received from God. To that we want to dedicate our best forces at the task entrusted to me today. I with you, and you with me. As we heard from John: no extravagant or spectacular projects. But a search for a consistent experience of the Gospel. And with that one certainty: that we are known and loved by God. That is our joy and faith today.

+Jozef De Kesel
Mechelen, 12 December 2015″

Archbishop Léonard’s farewell, part one

On Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard bade his first of four farewells to the archdiocese he led for six years. He did so as Mechelen’s cathedral of St. Rumbold, for the vicariate of Mechelen and Flemish Brabant, in the presence of priests, faithful, auxiliary Bishop Léon Lemmens and his predecessor, Cardinal Godfried Danneels. In his homily, the translation of which follows below, the archbishop looked back on the past years and his own efforts in shepherding the faithful of Mechelen-Brussels “towards the heart of our faith, the person of Jesus Christ Himself”.

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“Dear brother priests,

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am very happy to be able to say goodbye to you on this first Sunday of Advent. For, as you may perhaps know, I took my episcopal motto from the prayer at the heart of this liturgical time: “Yes, come Lord Jesus!”. Of course, the second coming of Jesus in glory will be preceded by terrible tests; a bit like everyone’s arrival into eternal life will be preceded by the narrow passage of our death. That is why we do not give in to fear, but recover and rise again, for our salvation is at hand.

In the six years that I was bishop among you, I tried to lead you to the heart of our faith, namely the person of Jesus Himself, true man and true God, crucified to bear all our pain and resurrected so that we down here could already have a taste of a life which continues past death. I have tried to raise you up “on high”, to the Lord, true my teaching and especially through the celebration of the liturgy in a way worthy of the Lord and which could teach our hearts most deeply. That is why I wanted to meet you all in the field, in the 15 deaneries of our vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen. I was touched by the warm welcome that I received everywhere and by the wealth of what is happening in numerous parishes. For that I thank you from my heart.

At this time you are working hard on the restructuring of the parishes. That operation is necessary, but sometimes also a but painful or disconcerting, as, by the way, is the case with every ‘operation’. But this restructuring is only a means. As my successor has said at the press conference for his appointment: the essence lies elsewhere, the essence is the blazing flame of love, the spiritual, yes, even prophetic elan which must inspire the structures. This inspiration can only be received as a grace, through prayer and adoration, because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When I met you during my pastoral visits, I was full of admiration for the engagement of so many lay people, so many consecrated persons, and a great number of very well-formed deacons. But you will understand that I will express my special gratitude, first and foremost to my auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Lemmens, and his coworkers, on whom I could count, and finally to all my brother priests. I was very pleased with you engagement, you availability for all people. I when I met brothers who experienced difficulties or about whom I had heard bad words, I tried as best as I could to give them a new chance, by given them my trust, every time anew.

The best gift I could give you, dear brothers, at the end of my episcopacy, seemed to me to be the assurance of succession: young brothers who are able to continue your pastoral task, even along new ways. This year our archdiocese has 55 seminarians: 20 in the familiar diocesan program, 20 in the Redemptoris Mater seminary and 15 in the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. Among these future priests there are – I admit – only eight fully Flemish. That is progress compared to the past. But among our seminarians of foreign descent there are several who are trying their best to be properly bilingual, so that can also work in Flanders. I entrust these future priests to your good care and your prayer. For they are bearers of hope, of that hope about which the prophet Jeremiah says, “Look, the days are coming when I shall fulfil the promise I made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah.” But what interests us here today is especially everything that can contribute to the happiness of our diocese, and especially of our beloved vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen. Thanks to all of you that you are willing to contribute to that happiness, in a great community of the heart with my successor!”

André-Joseph Léonard”

The three other occasions to bid farewell to Archbishop Léonard will be at the cathedral of St. Michael and Gudula in Brussels on 5 December, the national basilica in Koekelberg on the morning of 6 December and the Collégiale Sainte-Gertrude in Nivelles in the afternoon of that same day.

Photo credit: Phk/KerkNet

Just before the announcement, an interview with Archbishop De Kesel

Minutes before today’s announcement and presentation of the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Kerknet had the chance to sit down and ask a few questions to Archbishop-elect Jozef De Kesel. The interview about memories of the past and hopes for the future gives some idea of who Msgr. De Kesel is.

In my translation:

aartsbisschop-jozef-de-keselAt your ordination as priest you were surrounded by priests of the family, and especially also your uncle, Leo De Kesel [auxiliary bishop of Ghent from 1960 to 1991, who ordained his nephew]. Was it a matter of course for you to follow in their footsteps?

“The well-known Uncle Fons, a Norbertine from Averbode Abbey, was also there. But no, in 1965 it was already not a matter of course anymore. My vocation comes in part from the family context, but also from my involvement in the Catholic Social Action and in the parish, where a group of us studied the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council.”

Who were your mentors?

“In that time we read, for example, Romano Guardini. I also followed the movement around Charles de Foucauld. Later, when I studied theology, I read with interest the Jesus book and other literature of Msgr. Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner and Willem Barnard.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a great source of inspiration for me. I mostly discovered him when I was responsible for the Higher Institute of Religion in Ghent. I was so fascinated by Letters and Papers from Prison that I subsequently read all his works.”

What connects these inspirations?

“The theologians teach me that the Christian faith is a great treasure with a rich content and tradition. Bonhoeffer teaches me to understand that this tradition can be experienced in different contexts.

We no longer live in the  homogenous Christian society of the past. But the comfortable situation of that time is not the only context in which to experience your faith.”

As bishop you chose the motto “with you I am a Christian” in 2002. What did you mean by that?

“The first part of the quote by St. Augustine is, “For you I am a bishop”. By choosing only the second part I clearly state that my first calling as a bishop is to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Everything else follows from that. For me it is important to jointly take responsibility. That responsibility binds us as a society. The quote is also a clear choice for collegiality in exercising authority. I am very happy with the three auxiliary bishops that I can count on in the archdiocese.”

What are the great challenges for the Church today?

“The question is not so much how many priests we need and how to organise ourselves. But: what do we have to say to society? Formation and the introduction into the faith are very important for that. It is not a question of having to take an exam in order to be a part of it. There can be many degrees of belonging. But we can assume that there is a certain question or desire when people come to Church.

Don’t misunderstand me. A smaller Church must also be an open Church and relevant for society.”

What sort of Church do you dream of?

“A Church that accepts that she is getting smaller. The Church is in a great process of change and that sometimes hurts. But that does not mean that there is decay. There have been times in which the Church was in decay while triumphing.

I dream of a Church that radiates a conviction, that radiates the person of Jesus Christ. Of an open Church which is not only occupied with religious questions, but also with social problems such as the refugee crisis.

Politics have to be neutral, but society is not. Christians are a part of that and should express themselves.”

You did not take part in the Synod on the family, but will probably get to work with its proposals. What will stay with you from this Synod?

“The Synod may not have brought the concrete results that were hoped for, such as allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. But it is unbelievable how much it was a sign of a Church that has changed. The mentality is really not the same anymore.

I may be a careful person, but I do not think we should be marking time. Mercy is an important word for me, but in one way or another it is still  somewhat condescending. I like to take words like respect and esteem for man as my starting point. And that may be a value that we, as Christians, share with prevailing culture.”

May we assume that you will take up the thread of Cardinal Danneels?

“It is of course not my duty to imitate him, but I have certainly learned much from him. Also from Msgr. Luysterman [Bishop of Ghent from 1991 to 2003], by the way, with whom I have long worked in Ghent.”

Your predecessor liked to court controversy in the media. Pope Francis stands out for his human style. What is the style we may expect from you?

“In the papers I have already been profiled as not mediagenic. We will see. For my part, I will at least approach the media openly and confident.”

Will you be living in Brussels, like Msgr. Léonard, or will you choose the archbishop’s palace in Mechelen?

“Msgr. Léonard will be staying in Brussels for a while, so my first home will be Mechelen. I think it would be interesting to alternate and also have a place in Brussels.”

You like Brussels, don’t you? And Brussels likes you.

“The love is mutual, yes. I am certainly no stranger to the French speaking community in our country.”

The Church in Brussels announced this week that Confirmation and First Communion will now be celebrated at the same time, at the age of ten. A renewal you can agree with?

“I wrote the brochure about the renewal of the sacraments of initiation myself, and I conclude that Brussels interprets my text to the full. I am very happy about that. Brussels immediately shows itself as the laboratory of renewal that I so appreciate about it.”

The five years in Bruges were not easy. How have they changed you as a man or what did you learn from them?

“In Bruges I had final responsibility in an environment I did not know well. As auxiliary bishop I was happy to often discuss things with the archbishop, and now I was more on my own. As archbishop I am very happy to be able to rely on three good auxiliary bishops with whom I will be pleased to discuss matters. Like my time as episcopal vicar in Ghent and as auxiliary bishop in Brussels, I consider the past five years as an important learning experience.”