“We have learnt that God is with you” – New bishop of Passau looks ahead

As Germany’s youngest ordinary came into his own, he outlined the goals and direction of the Church in the Diocese of Passau. Bishop Stefan Oster was consecrated on Saturday by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, metropolitan of the province of which Passau is a part, and Bishop Wilhelm Schraml, the retired bishop of Passau, and Archbishop Alois Kothgasser, retired ordinary of Salzburg in Austria, who Bishop Oster succeeded as professor of dogmatics at Benediktbeuern Abbey. The passage below comes from the new bishop’s closing remarks, at the end of the Mass at Passau’s cathedral of St. Stephen.

Bischof-Stefan-Oster-2481mk

“In these biographical notes, something is visible of what in my opinion is central to the direction of our Church in the future. In the first and foremost place it is about relationship. In the very first place a living, deep and supporting relationship with Christ. Be confident that that really exists, that it is not just a matter of thoughts and words, but that the encounter with the Lord really and concrete fulfills, supports,  transforms and in the deepest sense of the word can save and sanctify a life.

This is the miracle: the encounter of Jesus with us already exists in all of us, most especially in all who are baptised. The Lord is already there in each and everyone one of us. And that is why we, as Church, are already a community of encounter and witness, even before we do something. But the Holy Spirit likes us to work with Him. That is why all of us, who already belong to Christ, are also called to put this encounter into practice, to deepen it and also to help one another to enter more deeply into this encounter and to open up to one another again – and so to bring our Church in Passau and everywhere else to love in His power. We are called to be witnesses to each other of the presence of Jesus in our lives: in word and action. Another assignment for the future is also that we really open one another up to make new spaces for encounter and communication of faith, in which we can honestly and openly ask, seek, worship God and also give witness. We need this space, because in it the sacraments can once again be new nourishment and a new wellspring for us. We need them because, for example, they allow us not to leave the central mystery of the Eucharist as a 45-minute visit to the Church behind us, but actually the source and summit of our Christian life, as the last Council tells us.

I am also convinced that we do not have to let ourselves be divided into camps, standing against one another in the end. Of course there are more conservative and more liberal Christians, but we must be careful not to become a cliché and a caricature for the other. So I want to invite us: let’s maintain the dialogue and share the way. Let’s not demonise each other, because the other is seemingly part of the other camp. Let’s trust each other, and acknowledge that the other is also honestly seeking God – and for exactly that reason considers certain things especially important.

In the liturgy booklet you have seen that my motto is: “The victory of truth is love”. We sometimes find in our Church that some insist perhaps too much on the truth, and then sometimes succumb to the temptation of thinking that honest compassion for the neighbour is secondary, only an option when everything is formally correct. And we also see the opposite, a great multiplicity of affection for the neighbour or even the demand for this gift, but with little concern for the truth, given the great variety of situations in life. Dear sisters and brothers, both lead to marginalisation: truth without love remains abstract and ultimately betrays the one who, as Truth, is at the same time Love personified. And the other way around: Love without truth often does not even deserve the name Love, because it ultimately leads to arbitrariness. The united middle road, truth lived as love and vice versa: Love which testifies of the truth, this middle road leads to victory and has a Christian name: holiness.

Of course, holiness is a very big word, but don’t you think that holiness has, in the first place, to do with your or mine ability? It’s not a sort of competition sport in prayer or spiritual exercises. Holiness grows in the hearts of all people who always open themselves anew to the love of God, who allow themselves to be really touched and transformed by it. Holiness grows in who honestly seek Jesus, love Him and let themselves be loved by Him. Holiness is then God’s will for all of us, not just for bishop or all so-called ‘professional’ Christians. It is rather that the bishop, the priest, the deacon and all men and women who are called to the service of the Church, also have this vocation, as they help others to discover ever deeper that they are also called to holiness, to the deepest belonging to Christ.

Dear sisters and brothers, everywhere where this mystery of holiness shines out anew in one or more people, there the Church begins to grow anew, there people are being touched by a presence,which works more than a mere assembly of people could. There people are attracted and meaningful, encouraging, yes, life-changing encounter with the Lord take place. And then a prophecy is fulfilled, which the Prophet Zechariah spoke in the Old Testament, before the Messianic era (Zech. 8:23): “In those days,” we read there, “In those days, ten men from nations of every language will take a Jew by the sleeve and say: We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you.” We, the Church of Passau and of course also beyond, we are these Jews. For we live in the time in which the Messiah, the lion of Judah, has already been seen, is already known. We are people who are related to Him, who carry His name. Let us then learn anew to know and love one another, so that the people also come to us and say, “We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you.””

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From journalist to juggler, and now bishop – Stefan Oster comes to Passau

Msgr. Klaus Metzl called it the most beautiful day of the year so far, and well he might. The Diocese of Passau, located where Germany meets Austria and the Czech Republic, had been without a bishop for 18 months, so the appointment of a new shepherd on Friday was indeed what both he and the faithful had “waited, hoped and prayed for”.

In october of 2012, Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired after almost eleven years at the helm of the almost 1300-year-old diocese, but stayed on for one more year as Apostolic Administrator, after which Msgr. Metzl took over.

der-neue-bischof-von-passau-stefan-oster

And now the choice has fallen on Bishop-elect Stefan Oster to be the 85th bishop of Passau. The new bishop is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (an order which boasts an additional 124 bishops and cardinals among its members) and will be the youngest ordinary of Germany upon his consecration on 24 May. There are five German bishops younger than him, but they are all auxiliaries.

The appointment of Bishop-elect Oster has been welcomed almost everywhere, which seems to be generally due to his unassuming yet communicative personality. A former journalist, the 48-year-old future bishop never held positions of power, either within or outside the Salesians. The fact that he was chosen must therefore be due to his person qualities, or, as the case may be, those which he exhibited in his life before joining the Salesians, when he was a journalist, student of philosophy, history and religion in Germany and the UK, and ultimately theology before ordained in 2001.  After an award-winning dissertation at the University of Augsburg, he joined the future bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, in Trier. In recent years he has been mainly active as a teacher. And he also juggles.

A trained dogmatist, Bishop-elect Oster has the ingredients for a long and fruitful occupation of the see that was first established by Saint Boniface: communication, an unassuming and fraternal personality and theological acumen.

The number of vacant dioceses in Germany is now back to five – Erfurt, Freiburg im Breisgau, Cologne, Limburg and Hamburg.

Photo credit: DPA

“Dilectionis et sobrietatis” – on the passing of Bishop Eder

Bischof_Franz-X-Eder_3784gAfter a string of new appointments, news from Passau reports the passing of Bishop Franz Xaver Eder, bishop emeritus of that diocese, on Thursday. Bishop Eder was 87, and died from a heart failure. He spent his final weeks in a Passau hospital. The diocesan website reports that he passed away “well-prepared after having received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick”.

Bishop Eder was bishop of Passau from 1984 to 2001, after having served as its auxiliary and coadjutor since 1977. He has been lying in state since yesterday in the chapel of St. Lambert of Passau’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. His funeral Mass is planned for Tuesday and will be led by the retired archbishop of München und Freising, Friedrich Cardinal Wetter.

“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control,” from the Second Letter to Timothy (1:7) was Bishop Eder’s motto, and “that is how he knew himself to be sent to the people,” Bishop Wilhem Schraml, apostolic administrator of Passau, said in a first reaction.

It was Bishop Eder’s wish that little be spent of wreaths and the like, but that donations be made to a fund he established to aid children and families in need.

The Diocese of Passau itself awaits the appointment of a new ordinary, as Bishop Wilhelm Schraml retired in October.

Photo credit: Dionys Asenkerschbaumer

Looking back at the year: 2012 in review

It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.

The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.

For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.

But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:

TscherrigJanuary:
Pope Benedict announces a consistory. The list of 22 new cardinals includes the archbishop of Utrecht.
CDF releases a note with recommendations for the Year of Faith.
Archbishop Tscherrig (pictured) leaves Scandinavia for Argentina.
Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun turns 80.
– In the abuse crisis, soon-to-be Cardinal Eijk speaks before a parliamentary commission.
Bishop Jan Liesen is installed as bishop of Breda (Installation homily here).

german cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (R)February:
Dutch-born South-African Bishop Everardus Baaij passes away.
Cardinal Levada opens a major symposium on sexual abuse in Rome.
– At the same symposium, Msgr. Charles Scicluna tells it like it is.
The bishops of Belgium reply to a modernist movement among priests and laity.
Cardinal-designate Eijk is interviewed by Zenit.
Cardinal-designate Dolan delivers a landmark address about the new evangelisation.
22 new cardinals are created in the consistory of 18 February (new Cardinal Eijk pictured).
Responsibilities within the Dutch bishops’ conference are reshuffled.
In Germany, Bishop Reinelt retires.
Dominik Schwaderlapp is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Cologne.
In Mainz, Bishop Guballa passes away after a long sickbed.
Cardinal Eijk returns home with a pastoral letter on the Eucharist.

Pope Shenouda IIIMarch:
Cardinal Eijk announces that he will be keeping a closer eye on the celebration of the liturgy.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño turns 80.
Cardinal Sánchez passes away.
Cardinal Simonis speaks to Zenit about the Second Vatican Council.
Copenhagen’s Bishop emeritus Martensen passes away.
The Dutch bishops respond to a new horrible chapter in the abuse crisis.
Coptic Pope Shenouda II (pictured) passes away.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam makes public all the cases concerning sexual abuse by clergy.
A new presidency for the COMECE.
The Dutch bishops issue a letter concerning the celebration of the Easter Triduum, and the need to return its focus to the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict visits Mexico and Cuba.
Bishop Schwaderlapp is consecrated.

aponte martínezApril:
Cardinal Egan turns 80.
In the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the vicar general announces he will enter a monastery.
– In a letter to parliament, The Dutch bishops outline four developments in the fight against sexual abuse.
Pope Benedict directly addresses groups of disobedient priests and laity.
Cardinal Daoud passes away.
Cardinal Eijk reveals a monument for victims of sexual abuse in the Church.
Cardinal Aponte Martínez (pictured) passes away.
A parliamentary committee hears the ‘contact group’ for victims of sexual abuse.
The Dutch chapter of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem invests new members in the cathedral of Groningen-Leeuwarden.
Pope Benedict writes a letter to the German bishops and enters the debate about the new German translation of the Roman Missal.

bishop de korte, new altar st. joseph's cathedralMay:
After 66 years, the Belorussian Diocese of Pinsk finally gets a new bishop.
A new page on the blog, about my conversion story.
The annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed takes place.
Cardinal Vlk turns 80.
Cardinal Eijk takes possession if his title church.
The Deetman Commission undertakes a new abuse investigation, this time into the abuse suffered by women.
Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki is misunderstood about homosexuality.
The cathedral of St. Joseph receives a new altar (Bishop de Korte anointing it pictured) and marks the 125th anniversary of its consecration.

logo year of faithJune:
Pope Benedict XVI visits Milan.
New priests.
Cardinal Quezada Toruño passes away.
Florian Wörner is appointed as auxiliary bishop of Augsburg.
The bishops of Roermond publish a brochure about Communion.
– The Dutch bishops follow suit with a letter about the same topic.
Cardinal Schwery turns 80.
The Instrumentum laboris of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation is published.
The logo for the Year of Faith is revealed (pictured).
A round of personnel changes in the Curia.
Dutch Father Louis Tijssen is declared venerable.
Archbishop Nowacki is appointed as the new nuncio to Scandinavia.
The Heel abuse affair breaks.
President-Delegates are appointed for the Synod.

Gerhard Ludwig MüllerJuly:
Archbishop Müller (pictured) is appointed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
About half of the world’s bishops’ conferences have formulated guidelines against sexual abuse.
Cardinal de Araújo Sales passes away.
Bishop Borys Gudziak is appointed as Apostolic Exarch of France.
Cardinal Stafford turns 80.

carlo martiniAugust:
Bishop Wörner is consecrated, while Bishops Wehrle and Siebler retire.
The Diocese of Rotterdam publishes a Prayer for Faith.
Cardinal Rosales turns 80.
Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passes away.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turns 80.
A Dutch priest’s apparent refusal to baptise the child of a lesbian couple fails to escalate much.
Cardinal Martini (pictured) passes away.

pope benedict  lebanonSeptember:
Cardinal Martini’s last interview causes some debate.
Bishop de Korte marks the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Rumours surface that priests in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden are unhappy with their new appointments.
Elections in the Netherlands result in a loss for the Christian parties.
Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz turns 80.
Pope Benedict (pictured) visits Lebanon.
Misunderstandings about ecumenism in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Pope Benedict XVI appoints 36 Synod Fathers.
Cardinal Baldelli passes away.
Questions arise about the German ‘Church tax’.
The first progress report on how the Church deals with abuse claims is released.

synod of bishopsOctober:
German Bishops Wanke and Schraml retire.
Dutch missionary Bishop Joseph Willigers passes away.
Morocco does not take kindly to the arrival of a Dutch ‘abortion boat’.
Vatican Promotor of Justice Charles Scicluna is recalled to Malta to become auxiliary bishop.
The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation begins (pictured).
Cardinal Erdö outlines eleven points for the new evangelisation of Europe.
Belgian Curial Bishop Frans Daneels is made an archbishop.
The Year of Faith begins.
Pope Benedict announces a small consistory for November.
The Synod of Bishops closes.
An attempt at stopping liturgical abusive carnival Masses in Eindhoven.
Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas church is to be made a basilica.

brother hugo vowsNovember:
Cardinal Arinze turns 80.
Bishop Demming passes away.
New sexual abuse accusations surface in Iceland against Bishop Gijsen.
Liège’s Bishop Jousten retires.
At Rolduc, Dutch seminarians attend a conference on new evangelisation.
Bishop Michael Hrynchyshyn passes away.
Hermit Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows (pictured).
The student chaplaincy in Tilburg is brought back into the Catholic fold.
European intolerance towards religion on display in Slovakia.
Cardinal Martino turns 80.
Pope Benedict XVI creates six new cardinals.
Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe speaks about the ‘official Church’.

pope twitterDecember:
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer is appointed as bishop of Regensburg.
Dutch missionary Bishop Wilhelmus Demarteau passes away.
Dutch government announces pulling the plug on small religious broadcasters.
Georg Gänswein is appointed as Prefect of the Papal Household and will be made an archbishop.
Cardinal Scheid turns 80.
Pope Benedict enters the Twitterverse (pictured).
Pope Benedict publishes the Apostolic Letter on charity, Intima Ecclesiae natura.
Dutch media totally misrepresent the pope on the family and gender.

That was 2012. Now let’s get 2013 started. Happy new year!

Double retirements leave four German dioceses vacant

Pope Benedict XVI today accepted the retirement of Bishop Joachim Wanke of Erfurt and Wilhelm Schraml of Passau. Bishop Wanke, 71, requested retirement in 2010 for reasons of health, but it wasn’t accepted until today.

Bishop Schraml is 77 and therefore two years over the mandatory retirement age.

With these retirements the number of vacant dioceses in Germany stands at four. In addition of Erfurt and Passau they are Regensburg, whose archbishop, Gerhard Müller, was called to Rome to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Dresden-Meiβen, whose bishop, Joachim Reinelt, retired in February.

Today’s double retirements may be an indication that we will soon see four quick episcopal appointments in a row: the long wait that Bishop Wanke and Schraml had before their retirement was accepted could indicate that something was going on behind the scenes, such as the smelling out of good candidates for the four sees.

Bishop Joachim Wanke, pictured above with the Holy Father as the latter visited Erfurt in 2011, started his episcopal career in 1980, when he became Coadjutor Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt-Meiningen, then not yet a full diocese in Communist East Germany. Three months after his appointment he automatically succeeded Bishop Hugo Aufderbeck upon the latter’s death. In 1994, as Germany was now unified, Erfurt-Meiningen became the Diocese of Erfurt and Bishop Wanke became its first bishop.

Bishop Wilhelm Schraml, left, started as auxiliary bishop of his native Archdiocese of Regensburg, and in 2001 he came to Passau as that diocese’s ordinary.

Both bishops hosted Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s visit to Germany in 2011.

Photo credit: [1] Kay Nietfeld dpa/lth (cropped version), [2] dpa

Good priest? Tell Rome about it!

Father Ray Blake has a good suggestion on what to do when we are faced with a vacant diocese. Apart from praying or a good and holy new bishop, he says, we should write “in praise of good and faithful priests”. The powers that be in Rome rely also on the opinions and thoughts of the faithful when faced with the choice of a new bishop, and I somehow think that they don’t hear a whole lot from the Dutch faithful.

In the Netherlands, we are of course still awaiting a new bishop in the Diocese of Breda, but after that appointment there will not be much change in the current lineup of ordinaries and auxiliaries. The oldest of the currently active bishops, Msgr. Frans Wiertz (right) of Roermond, won’t turn 75 until 2017, closely followed by Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 2019 and Bishop Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam in 2021. Only an appointment abroad, illness or, God forbid, an untimely death would change the playing field until then.

That’s at least 6 years in which we can notice and share the actions and words of good priests, and write to the appropriate authorities, who need and want to hear from the faithful here (and something else than complaints alone, please).

In the Netherlands, you can write to:

Z.E. Monseigneur François Bacqué
Apostolische Nuntiatuur
Carnegielaan 5
2517 KH ‘S-Gravenhage

Or directly to the Congregation for Bishops:

Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII
10-00193 Roma

In Germany, things are a bit different, since there four bishops are already over 75 and still in function. They are Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz, Cardinal Meisner of Cologne, Bishop Reinelt of Dresden-Meiβen and Bishop Schraml of Passau. In addition, two auxiliaries are approaching the age of 75: Bishop  Siebler in München und Freising, and Bishop Vorath in Essen.

But of course, the above reasoning works for German readers as well, except that they should direct their writings to another Nuncio, pictured below:

S.E. Jean-Claude Périsset
Apostolische Nuntiatur
Lilienhalstrasse 3A
10965 Berlin
Postfach 610218
10923 Berlin

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Roermond, [2] Kirchensite.de

From Cologne with love – Woelki to Berlin

In 1988, Berlin lost its bishop – Joachim Meisner, now a cardinal – to Cologne. Now, it seems, the gesture is returned. Only four days after the death of the previous metropolitan of the German capital, Bishop Rainer Maria Woelki crosses the country from Cologne. And so none of the German dioceses remain vacant any longer.

Archbishop elect Woelki was born in Cologne in 1956 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. In 2003 he was ordained to be one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Cologne (he leaves three of them with Cardinal Meisner). In his time in Cologne he served as private secretary to the cardinal, and director of the Collegium Albertinum for seminarians studying in Bonn, among other duties. As auxiliary bishop he held the titular see of Scampa in modern Albania, and within the German bishops’ conference his responsibilities were in the fields of vocations, Church ministries and science & culture. At 54, he is among the youngest German bishops, and certainly the youngest archbishop.

As mentioned before, this appointment fills all German sees, but in the near future we may expect three new vacancies, one of which is Woelki’s native Cologne. Cardinal Meisner is 77 and thus overdue for retirement, and the same goes for Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau (76) and Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz (75).