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On 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.
The 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
Recently, I read about the appointment, in the United States, of Bishop Salvatore Matano as Bishop of Rochester. He succeeds Bishop Matthew Clark, who headed the diocese since his appointment in 1979. In other words, Bishop Clark held that see for almost exactly my entire life until now. That is quite a long time for a bishop to remain in one place, although there may be much to be said for a shepherd to lead one flock for as long as he can.
The above made me wonder what other bishops have such a long time in a single see behind them. A little bit of reasearch resulted in the top 10 I present below. I have only looked at bishops who are still in office, and I have taken their date of consecration as the starting date of the office (if they were consecrated before being appointed to their current sees, I took the date of appointment as a basis).
10. Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai
Bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho
Consecrated on 2 April 1978
At 84, Bishop Khoarai is well past retirement age, but continues in office as ordinary of Mohale’s Hoek. He became the first bishop of that diocese when it was split off from the Archdiocese of Maseru in 1977.
9. Bishop Philip Sulumeti
Bishop of Kakamega, Kenya
Appointed on 28 February 1978
Also past retirement age, at 76, Bishop Sulumeti was auxiliary bishop of his native Diocese of Kisumu (today an archdiocese) from 1972 to 1976, and bishop of the same circumscription from 1976 to 1978, before being appointment to Kakamega when that diocese was split off from Kisumu.
8. Bishop Jean-Claude Bouchard
Bishop of Pala, Chad
Consecrated on 1 May 1977
Canadian-born Bishop Bouchard is the third bishop of the Chadian Diocese of Pala. He is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary society, which explains his appointment to the central African country.
7. Bishop Howard James Hubbard
Bishop of Albany, United States
Consecrated on 27 March 1977
A few weeks into the retirement age of 75, Bishop Hubbard may not have to wait overly long before ending his 36 years as bishop of Albany. He is the longest-serving American bishop and also the longest-serving western ordinary.
6. Archbishop Hieronymus Herculanus Bumbun
Archbishop of Pontianak, Indonesia
Appointed on 26 February 1977
After two years as Pontianak’s auxiliary bishop, from 1975 to 1977, Archbishop Bumbun became the archdiocese’s first native ordinary. At 76, the Capuchin bishop is also past retirement age.
5. Bishop Gilbert Guillaume Marie-Jean Aubry
Bishop of Saint-Denis-de-la-Réunion
Consecrated on 2 May 1976
A native of the French possession of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Bishop Aubry was appointed at the fairly young age of 34.
4. Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis
Bishop of Syros (e Milos), Greece
Bishop of Santorini, Greece
Ordained on 20 October 1974
Bishops in Greece tend to stay in office for a long time, and new appointments are rarely made, which explains the presence of two Greek ordinaries in this list. Capuchin Bishop Papamanólis is the ordinary of two dioceses and also Apostolic Administrator of Crete.
3. Archbishop Nikólaos Fóscolos
Archbishop of Athenai, Greece
Consecrated on 12 August 1973
The archbishop of Greece’s capital came to the see at the age of 36 and continues still at almost 77.
2. Archbishop Hovhannes Tcholakian
Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Istanbul, Turkey
Consecrated on 5 March 1967
The Armenian Catholic Church does not know a mandatory retirement age, which is why Archbishop Tcholakian is still in office at 94. He is considered the oldest serving ordinary of the Catholic Church, but not the oldest non-retired bishop…
1. Bishop Dominik Kalata
Consecrated on 9 September 1955
That honour goes to Bishop Kalata, the Polish-born prelate who is not an ordinary, and never has been. One of the eastern European clerics consecrated bishops in secret during the Cold War, Bishop Kalata was given a titular see, Semta, in 1985, when relations between east and west were warming, but the Holy See never got around to appointing him to a regular see, unlike some other bishops who were consecrated at the same time. The Jesuit bishop now resides in Germany and does pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau.
Cardinal Eijk is the media’s bad guy again. He sanctioned a priest for ‘forgetting’ a few words at Mass. Well, as it often is when secular media try to report on Church business, reality is a bit different.
It is true that the priest, a Dominican who assists at a parish northwest of Utrecht, has been forbidden to publicly offer Mass for a year. It is also true that he forgot some words. And then some more.
A Mass in which the Kyrie, Gloria, all three prescribed readings, the preface and the entire Eucharistic Prayer were either skipped or replaced is, quite frankly, not a Mass. The bread and wine do not become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the faithful do not partake of Communion with God and Church, and the priest flouted his oath and duty. A previous “misstep”, as the Archdiocese calls it, in the same parish, prompted the cardinal to re-emphasise the liturgical rules in force in the Church.
Is this reason for the sanctions as described above? That can be debated, of course, but the fact is that this is exactly why Cardinal Eijk wanted to focus more and how the liturgy is celebrated in his archdiocese. It is also fact that the liturgy of the Church is not just a collection of rules for their own sake.
In the words of the archdiocese’s own explanation of events (which is altogether more reliable than the reports of secular media):
“[Replacing or skipping the Eucharistic Prayer'] is most serious, since this invalidates the celebration of the Eucharist. It means that faithful came to the celebration, to receive the Body of Christ, in vain. The Eucharist (which refers to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ) is the most important sacrament, in which the faithful celebrate their unity with God and each other. All the more painful in this context is the fact that, on Maundy Thursday, the Catholic Church celebrates the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. Cardinal Eijk thinks that faithful should be able to rely on valid Masses being offered in the churches of the archdiocese. Not without reason the Vatican instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum states that the complete omission of the Eucharistic prayer is “objectively to be considered among grave matters [...] that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist”.
Priests have considerable freedom in the pastoral care they perform for the faithful under their care, in the way they teach and proclaim the faith. They do not, however, have the freedom to change or ignore what God, through His Church, instituted. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the single most precious treasure we have been given: it is Christ Himself. By changing what He wants to give us every single day, we place ourselves above Him. True, we are very important, also to the Lord. But we are not Him.
The priesthood is the channel through which Gods grace, in the sacraments, comes to His people. The channel can not change what it is given to safeguard and pass on.
So, yes, Cardinal Eijk is very correct in taking steps to correct this abuse. No one with a basic understanding of Catholic theology and understanding of the sacraments has any excuse not to realise that. Sadly, none of these people work at newspapers and television stations.
Photo credit: afp
A bit late, but I wanted to look back at the consecration of Bishop Ansgar Puff, last Saturday, as auxiliary bishop of Cologne and titular bishop of Gordus. Doing the consecrating honours were Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne; and Bishops Manfred Melzer and Dominik Schwaderlapp, auxiliaries of the same archdiocese. From Rome, German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, attended the consecration.
Arguably Germany’s tallest bishops, Msgr. Puff still reached to Cardinal Meisner’s shoulders when kneeling for his consecration through prayer and the imposition of the cardinal’s hands. In his homily, Cardinal Meisner said that a bishop is ”and advocate of the world to heaven and an advocate of God for the people on earth”.
Bishop Puff is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and is not afraid to go out in the streets or confront people of different opinions. In the past, as personnel chief of the archdiocese, he has spoken with priests advocating reform in the Church, and in 2009 he participated in the eleven-day “Missionale Düsseldorf”, as one of 70 priests inviting passers-by into conversations about the faith.
Bishop Puff’s area of pastoral responsibility will be the southern part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which is home to some 600,000 Catholics.
Photo credit: Boecker
Happy anniversary to Bishop Franciscus Jozef Maria Wiertz, who today marks the 20th anniversary of his consecration as bishop.
Bishop Wiertz is the bishop of Roermond. On 25 September 1993 he was consecrated by Adrianus Cardinal Simonis, at the time the archbishop of Utrecht, with Bishop Joannes ter Schure, then ordinary of ’s Hertogenbosch, and Bishop Alphons Castermans, then auxiliary bishop of Roermond as co-consecrators.
“It is God who enters into a relationship with us, who holds out his hand to us, and therefore invites us to open ourselves to Him and enter into the covenant with Him.”
Words from Archbishop Robert Zollitsch’s homily on the occasion of the ‘last Sunday’s consecration of Bishop Michael Gerber, the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. The image of God extending His hand to His people is also illustrated in Bishop Gerber’s staff, as shown below:
The archbishop further expounded on the covenant of God, which is in essence a partnership.
“Dear sisters and brothers, both partners are needed in a covenant. We are not just the ones who receive God’s kindness and love. We are also in a position to respond to it and pass this love of God further and shine it out in our surroundings and environment! In the Gospel we have heard this promise from the mouth of Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth! [...] You are the light of the world!” (Matt. 5:13,14). Yes, we may confidently say that we have something to give to the world! We may share our faith boldly and aggressively with the world! Because we know ourselves to be sustained in God’s covenant, we ourselves can support others who need our support! If we get involved in this covenant and make ourselves part of it, we can give the Church a human face and show the effect of God’s love!”
Bishop Michael Gerber, himself not adverse to physical exercise, drew a picture of two mountaineers, one going ahead , the other following. “Our Church needs both types of mountaineers and at times – as in true climb – the roles may also be reversed. Those who climb ahead and those who stand securely on solid ground.”
Bishop Gerber, who had pilgrimaged on foot from his hometown of Oberkirch to Freiburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady, a distance of some 75 kilometers, was consecrated by Archbishop Zollitsch and Freiburg’s other two auxiliaries, Bishop Rainer Klug and Bernd Joachim Uhl.
Photo credit: Roger Köppe/Erzbistum Freiburg
On Thursday, the “upper church” of the Belgian Marian shrine at Beauraing was elevated to the dignity of basilica minor. The building, built in addition to the original chapel built on the site after the Blessed Virgin appeared there to five children in 1932 and 1933, will henceforth carry the name of Basilica of Our Lady with the Golden Heart.
The importance of Beauraing as one of Belgium’s most important pilgrimage sites was reflected by the fact that seven bishops concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Rémy Vancottem, the ordinary of the Diocese of Namur, in which Beauraing is located. They were Cardinal Godfried Danneels (em. archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Bishops Pierre Warin (aux. Namur), Aloys Jousten (em. Liège), Guy Harpigny (Tournai), Antoon Hurkmans (‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands), Gérard Coliche (aux. Lille, France) and Pierre Raffin (Metz, France).
The new basilica is unique in several aspects. It is very young for a basilica, as it was consecrated only in 1960, and it stands out in its concrete barrenness. There are no decorations and statues (ony very subdued Stations of the Cross). The architect of the building wanted all attention to be on the altar.
Evidently, the vitality of the devotion and the faith displayed here is strong enough to overrule the other unofficial requirements for a minor basilica: that it be of a certain age (usually understood to be in the range of centuries) and of an outstanding beauty.
Our Lady with the Golden Heart is the 28th minor basilica in Belgium, and the fourth in the Diocese of Namur.
Bishop Vancottem’s homily follows in my English translation below:
It is with joy that we are gathered in this in this upper church of the shrine of Beauraing, which was elevated to the status of basilica today.
When Mary appears to the children of Beauraing, it sometimes happens that she says nothing; but it is her attitude and her gestures that speak. Her smile. The arms that are opened. And how can we not be touched when she shows us her heart, as a heart of gold? A mother’s heart which is an expression of the tenderness and the love of the heart of God. A golden heart which reflects all the love of Jesus – Jesus, who, as the mouthpiece of God’s love for all people, goes to the extreme by dying on a cross -, and so one couldn’t give this basilica a better name than that of Our Lady with the Golden Heart. With this, the basilica does not replace the chapel that Mary requested from the children. In a sense, it is an extension of it, and an invitation to answer increasingly better to that other wish of Mary’s to come a pilgrimage here.
In the Gospel of the Annunciation we have just heard Mary pronouncing her “yes” to God. The Gospel ends with these words: “And the angel left her”, which indicates that Mary, according to the Gospel, received no further special revelations. She continued “her pilgrimage of faith” through the dark moments and hardships of life. “[T]he Blessed Virgin,” the Council states, “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross” (Lumen Gentium, 58).
For us, who are still on or pilgrimage in a world where our faith is often tested, the faith of Mary is an example. What was announced by the angel is impossible, humanly speaking. And yet the answer of Mary is a simple and clear: “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said”. Mary trusts the Word of God and devotes her entire life to the service of the “Son of God”. This is typical of the “Gospel image” of the Virgin Mary: Her initial “yes” will develop into lifelong loyalty.
At the moment of her Son’s birth, faith was needed to recognise the promised Saviour in this child of Bethlehem.
- Of the many years of Jesus of Nazareth’s hidden life, the Evangelists only remembered the moment when Jesus was found in the temple. That was a moment of darkness in Mary’s faith. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, Jesus tells His parents. But, the Gospel adds, “they did not understand what he meant. … His mother stored up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2: 48-51).
- Mary suffers the most radical test at the foot of the cross. She stands there, and it is there that she becomes the Mother of all the faithful. It is there that she receives her mother’s heart. It is there that we understand that we can entrust ourselves to her motherly protection.
How important it is to discover the mother of God. Our mother began her journey in faith, like us her children, through dark moments and the tests of life. Her “pilgrimage” is also ours. The “yes” of the Annunciation led Mary to the foot of the cross. But the cross has become a Glorious Cross, an elevated cross. The cross leads to the shining light of the resurrection.
Coming to Beauraing on pilgrimage, we meet Mary, but only to let her lead us to her Son. “Do you love my Son?” she asks. “Do you love me?”"Pray, pray often, pray always.”
In this Year of Faith, in the heart of this Eucharist, she achieves for us, through her prayer, that we advance in faith in Jesus, her Son, died and risen, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Oh Mary, teach us to weather the tribulations of life, to utter a yes to God without equivocating, as you did at the Annunciation by the angel. Be our guide on the way that leads to God, through our yes that we repeat every day.”
The coming pastoral year will be especially dedicated to catechesis. The Catechesis Commission of the Bishops’ Conference will issue a document in early September about the pastoral course concerning the sacraments of Christian initiation. We will have the opportunity to discuss that further later.
I wish you all a good start of the pastoral year!
Photo credit:  Notre-Dame de Beauraing,  Tommy Scholtes
On Friday, Simon Ignatius Cardinal Pimenta passed away. The Indian prelate was 93 and lived at the Clergy Home for retired priest in Mumbai.
Born in 1920, Simon Pimenta attended St. Pius X seminary and also studied pedagogy and mathematics at Bombay State University. In 1949 he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Bombay. As a priest he assisted in parishes and also worked at the local Curia.
In 1954, Father Pimenta graduated in Canon Law from the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. Back in Bombay, he continued assisting in parishes, in addition to working as secretary to the archbishop, Valerian Cardinal Gracias. He was also vice-chancellor and defender of the bond. From 1959 to 1960, Fr. Pimenta was also adminstrator of the Cathedral of the Holy Name. In following years, he was episcopal vicar for the formation of young priests and for the liturgy, a topic he also taught at the seminary. He would eventually become seminary rector.
In 1971, Fr. Pimenta was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Bombay, with the titular see of Bocconia. Cardinal Gracias consecrated him, with Bishop Longinus Pereira, auxiliary of Bombay, and Bishop William Gomes, ordinary of Poona, serving as co-consecrators. In 1977, he was appointed to succeed Cardinal Gracias, and became Coadjutor Archbishop of Bombay. He took over as Metropolitan Archbishop in 1978.
Archbishop Pimenta would remain as Bombay’s shepherd for 18 years, until his retirement in 1996. In 1988, he was created a cardinal and given the title church of Santa Maria “Regina Mundi” a Torre Spaccata. He was president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India from 1982 to 1988 and from 1994 to 1996.
202 cardinals remain in the College of Cardinals, with 112 of them being electors.