Archbishop in Africa – Dutch priest appointed as Nuncio

Mgr%20Bert%20van%20Megen2-loreOn Saturday Pope Francis appointed Dutch Msgr. Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan. A high-profile appointment, certainly for  a Dutch priest. Msgr. Bert van Megen is a priest of the Diocese of Roermond, and that diocese’s Bishop Frans Wiertz considers the appointment “a great honour.” As Nuncio, he will be similar to a country’s ambassador in another country, maintaining contact with the government and also with the local Church.

Archbishop-elect van Megen was born in 1961 in the town of Eygelshoven and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, after studying at the diocesan seminary Rolduc, which produced more than one other bishop. After his ordination, Father van Megen was stationed in parishes in Nieuweinde and Schaesberg, both in the Diocese of Roermond. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service and subsequently worked at Nunciatures in Sudan, Brazil, Slovakia, Israel, the United Nations and most recently in Malawi, where he was chargé d’affaires.

Archbishop-elect van Megen joins a very select club, as he is only the fourth Dutch prelate to represent the Holy See at the highest level in a given country. The other members of this club are Archbishop Bernhard Gijlswijk (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1922 to 1944), Archbishop Adriaan Smets (Apostolic Delegate to Persia from 1922 to 1930) and Archbishop Martin Lucas (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1945-1952, Apostolic Internuncio to India from 1952 to 1959 and Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia from 1959-1961). There are currently two other Dutch-born bishops active abroad: Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, and Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane. In addition, six more are retired.

sudan flagThe Apostolic Nunciature to Sudan was established in 1972 and seven archbishops have preceded Msgr. van Megen there. The most recent was Archbishop Leo Boccardi, who was transferred to Iran in July of last year. Previous Nuncios to Sudan also represented the Holy See in other parts of Africa at the same time, specifically Eritrea and Somalia. While Somalia currently has a Nuncio assigned, Eritrea has not, so Msgr. van Megen may eventually also be assigned to that country.

The Catholic Church in Sudan is covered by two circumscriptions; the Archdiocese of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The archbishop of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako is 73, so Msgr. van Megen will very likely be involved in the appointment of his successor.

About 5% of the population of Sudan is Catholic, mainly in the south and in Khartoum. Officially there is freedom of religion, but socially there is a strong pressure against conversion from Islam to Christianity. The violence and civil war that has affected the country in recent years makes for an interesting first posting for a new Nuncio.

Msgr. van Megen will probably be consecrated soon after Easter, but the location is not yet known, although Rome seems likely. If so, Pope Francis or Cardinal Parolin may well perform the consecration. But Mgr. van Megen has also said that he hopes that the ceremony will take place in the Netherlands. In that case I can imagine that Bishop Wiertz will consecrate him. As archbishop, Msgr. van Megen will hold the titular see of Novaliciana, located in modern Algeria. Previous holders of this see were, for example, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain from 2004 to 2010, and Cardinal Achille Silvestrini when he was Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1979 to 1988

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Stafford turns 80

Hello, 120! For the first time since the last consistory, the number of cardinal electors is back at the maximum allowed number of 120, as American-born Cardinal James Stafford celebrates his 80th birthday today.

Born in the cradle of the Catholic Church in America, Baltimore, James Francis Stafford was the only child of a furniture store owner of Irish descent. After his high school days he intended to study medicine at the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore, but a close friend’s death in a car crash caused him to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

After two years of study, the archbishop of Baltimore, Msgr. Francis Keough, sent him to Rome’s Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1958, James Stafford earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the later institution.

The rector of the North American College, Bishop  Martin O’Connor, ordained James Stafford to the priesthood in 1957, alongside one Edward Egan who would later become a fellow cardinal. Upon his return to the US, Father Stafford became an assistant priest in his native Baltimore until 1962. He then went to study at the Catholic University of America, earning a Master of Social Work in 1964. For the next two years, Fr. Stafford served as assistant director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities and as an assistant priest, once again in Baltimore. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan appointed him as director of Catholic Charities in 1966, a position Fr. Stafford would hold until 1976. He earned he title of Monsignor in 1970 when Pope Paul VI made him a Chaplain of His Holiness. As president of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Presbyteral Senate since 1971, he helped reorganise the central services of the archdiocese.

In 1976, Msgr. Stafford was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. He was granted the titular diocese of Respecta, which today belongs to Dutch-born Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane, Australia. Archbishop William Borders consecrated Bishop Stafford on 29 February. Upon his appointed, he became the vicar general of Baltimore. From 1978 to 1984, he led the commission on  Marriage and Family Life of the American bishops’ conference, and in 1980 he attended the Fifth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the Christian Family, in Rome.

In 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Stafford as Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, where he was installed the following January. There, he focussed on restructuring, improving and evangelisation, especially among African Americans. During his time in Memphis, Bishop Stafford also chaired the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB from 1984 to 1991.

Bishop Stafford moved even further west in 1986, as he was appointed archbishop of Denver. High point of his time in that see was the 1993 World Youth Day. which saw half a million young Catholics gather in the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome, to lead the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In this role, he was responsible for the organisation of the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, the 2000 WYD in Rome and the 2002 WYD in Toronto. In the consistory of 1998 he was created a cardinal and became the cardinal-dean of Gesù Buon Pastore alla Montagnola. In 2003, Cardinal Stafford became the Major Penitentiary, one of the highest positions in the Curia.

In 2007, Cardinal Stafford turned 75 and submitted his resignation , which Pope Benedict XVI accepted in 2009. On 1 March 2008, Cardinal Stafford made use of the option to be promoted to cardinal-priest, and was granted the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio.

In 2008, Cardinal Stafford spoke prophetic words as he compared the election of President Barack Obama to the Agony in the Garden. The president’s consistent steps to curtail religious liberty and freedom of conscience seem to prove the cardinal’s opinion.

Cardinal Stafford was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Special Council for Oceania of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.