Berlin’s big day as Archbishop Koch arrives

Pressegespräch mit Erzbischof Dr. Heiner KochBig day in Berlin today, as Archbishop Heiner Koch is installed as its third archbishop and tenth bishop overall. The installation, starting at 11 o’clock local time, will be streamed live via www.katholisch.de and www.domradio.de.

Opening the ceremony is Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt, bishop of Görlitz, as he is the senior bishop of the province composed of Berlin and its two suffragan dioceses, Görlitz and Dresden-Meißen. With that latter see vacant, he is also the only bishop available to do that job. Bishop Görlitz will lead the archbishop to his cathedra, after which the latter officially take possession of it.

Archbishop Koch will also be receiving his pallium from the Apostolic Nuncio during the installation Mass. It had already been granted and collected by him on 29 June, but as the woollen band denoting his office of metropolitan archbishop is now officially bestowed in the home dioceses, each of these is free to determine when and where it takes place. For example, Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, who was granted the pallium on the same date as Archbishop Koch, will officially be bestowed with it in November.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki, Archbishop Koch’s predecessor in Berlin, will give him the bishop’s staff that belonged to Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, bishop of Berlin from 1961 to 1979. The staff symbolises the office of shepherd.

No less than 29 bishops will be attending the installation, among them Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht, and bishops from Poland and the Czech Republic, in addition to many German bishops. The ecumenical delegation consists of representatives from the Lutheran church in Germany, the Romanian-Orthodox Church, the Greek-Orthodox Church and the Coptic-Orthodox Church. Many local politicians will also attend, with the president of the Bundestag as the highest-ranking official.

In a recent interview, Archbishop Koch spoke about his years in Berlin, to which he is looking forward. But there is already some work cut out for him, as Cardinal Woelki began a number of reforms before being recalled to Cologne. What will be the new archbishop’s focus in those matters?

“In Berlin it is not just about changing certain structures. In the first place there has to be a new substantial positioning. The central questions must be: How can we be christian and Church in a major city or in the country, and how can we fullfill our mission when there are ever more people who say it doesn’t matter to them if there is or is no God.”

How does he see himself as archbishop of Berlin? Will he be mainly for the city or also for the surrounding area?

“In the first place I will be archbishop for the people in the archdiocese. Catholics from Brandenburg and Vorpommern have written to me that I should take care that it’s not only about Berlin. But of course I will also accept invitations, from the federal president to the ARD television studios in the capital, to represent Catholic positions.”

Cardinal Woelki lived in Wedding, a subburb of Berlin with low income and immigrant families. Where will Archbishop Koch live?

“In the first months in an apartment of the Military Ordinariate, and  then in a  former parish house in Lichterfelde [a more residential area in the southwest of Berlin], after it has been renovated. I want to have a very open and hospitable home, where I can eat, sit and speak with visitors. I know how much can informally be discussed over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Much more than in many meetings.”

 Photo credit: Walter Wetzler

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Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Vlk turns 80

With today’s 80th birthday of Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, by chance on Ascension Day, the number of cardinal electors drops to 122, returning it almost back to the legal maximum.

With the fighting spirit of his namesake (‘Vlk’ means ‘wolf’ in Czech), Cardinal Vlk has left his mark as the Church and nation of the Czechs found their place in Europe after the yoke of Communism.

Only ordained a priest at 36, Miloslav Vlk is not so much a product of academia, although he is no slouch there, but worked his way through life in Communist Czechoslovakia – even as a priest he had to work as a window cleaner for eight years in order to stay out of the government’s sights. A worker-cardinal turns 80.

Born in 1932, Miloslav Vlk grew up under the threat and occupation of Nazi Germany. During the height of the war – as entire villages were massacred in retaliation for resistance activities – 11-year-old Miloslav first started thinking about the priesthood. However, considering this a dream unattainable for a farm boy, he instead wanted to become an aircraft pilot. As the war ended, and a new Communist Czechoslovakia was created, Miloslav worked in an automobile factory and did his military service in the first half of the 1950s. He was then able to study archival science in Prague and worked in various archives until the mid-1960s. In 1964, he could finally follow his desire of studying theology in Litomerice. In the summer of 1968, during the Prague Spring of political liberalisation (which would soon be crushed by the Soviet Union), Miloslav Vlk was ordained to the priesthood, 36 years old.

He started his ministry working as secretary to Bishop Joseph Hlouch of Ceské Budejovice. This was apparently reason for state authorities to consider him suspicious, and in 1971, Father Vlk was forced to relocate to various parishes throughout southern Bohemia, and in 1978, he lost his state authorisation to exercise his priestly ministry. From 1978 until the end of 1988, Fr. Vlk lived in hiding, earning an income, first as a window cleaner and, from 1986, as an archivist in the archives of Prague’s State Bank.

In 1989 the tides turned. As the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia loomed, Fr. Vlk was again authorised to exercise his priestly ministry for a ‘trial year’. He worked as a curate near the Bavarian border. And then, in 1990, the country ceased to be Communist…

On 14 February 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II pulled Father Vlk out of obscurity and appointed him as bishop of his native Ceské Budejovice. He would not be holding that position for very long, because a mere year later, he was called to Prague, to succeed 91-year-old Cardinal Tomášek as archbishop of Prague. As archbishop, and since 1994 as cardinal, Msgr. Vlk concerned himself not only with the local Church, but also with the Church in Europe, mirroring the new Czech Republic’s international outlook. From 1993 to 2001 he was President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, He was also the special secretary of the first Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops in 1991 and also took part in the ninth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1994) and the second Special Assembly for Europe (1999).

Cardinal Vlk resigned as archbishop of Prague in February of 2010 and was succeeded by Dominik Duka. He is cardinal-priest of the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. He was, until his 80th birthday, a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Special Council for Europe of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

With apologies for being late, Pope Benedict announces 22 new cardinals

After a busy morning in which he consecrated Archbishops Charles Brown and Marek Solczyński during today’s Epiphany Mass, the Holy Father appeared a bit later than usual for his noon Angelus address. He quickly moved to the big event that was already causing a considerable buzz among Catholics – journalists and otherwise – on Twitter: the announcement of a consistory on 18 February in which no less than 22 new cardinals – among them 18 electors – will be created.

Soon swapping the purple for red, Archbishop Eijk will be in need of a new official portrait

There are a few big names in the list, but standing out for us here in the Netherlands is that of Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk. Three years after his arrival in Utrecht, he will become the metropolitan see’s fifth cardinal in a row. Turning 59 in June, Cardinal-designate Eijk will be able to participate in at least two conclaves, I would think (unless the sucessor of Pope Benedict will pull a JPII and remain on the seat of St. Peter for 20 years or more).

The selection of Archbishop Eijk was not unexpected. His name was already mentioned in the run-up to the November 2010 consistory, but the 80th birthday of Cardinal Simonis, the only Dutch elector, cleared the way for Eijk to succeed him in the College of Cardinals. With the title of cardinal comes, of course, a title church in Rome and a whole bag of expectations. And certainly the local media, which has been seeing the Church and the archbishop in the light of the abuse crisis, will be asking a whole heap of questions about Eijk’s suitability for the red hat. But these are questions being asked too late. A candidate’s suitability as cardinal flows from his suitability as bishop or priest. Added to that is the issue of the College of Cardinals reflecting the world Church and the importance of a see or curial position reflected in a cardinal title. The Archdiocese of Utrecht under the guidance of Archbishop Eijk is, in the mind of the pope and most likely also in light of the future, deserving of a cardinal at the helm.

Here is the full list of future cardinals:

  • Fernando Filoni, 65, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People
  • João Bráz de Aviz, 64, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Manuel Monteiro de Castro, 73, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary (only appointed as such yesterday!)
  • Giuseppe Bertello, 69, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State
  • Domenico Calcagno, 69, President of the Administration of the Patrimony of theApostolic See
  • Giuseppe Versaldi, 68, President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
  • Santos Abril y Castelló, 76, Vice-Chamberlain of the Apostolic Chamber and Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major
  • Edwin Frederick O’Brien, 72, Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
  • Antonio Maria Vegliò, 74, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
  • Francesco Coccopalmerio, 73, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
  • Giuseppe Betori, 65, Archbishop of Firenze
  • George Alencherry, 66, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
  • Thomas Christopher Collins, 65, Archbishop of Toronto
  • Willem Jacobus Eijk, 58, Archbishop of Utrecht
  • John Tong Hon, 72, Bishop of Hong Kong
  • Rainer Maria Woelki, 55, Archbishop of Berlin (the youngest member of the College of Cardinals)
  • Timothy Michael Dolan, 62, Archbishop of New York
  • Dominik Jaroslav Duka, 68, Archbishop of Prague
  • Prosper Grech, 86, Priest of the Order of St. Augustine
  • Karl Josef Becker, 83, Priest of the Society of Jesus
  • Lucian Muresan, 80, Major Archbishop of Fagaras si Alba Iulia (Romanian)
  • Julien Ries, 91, Priest of Namur, Belgium

This consistory is a fairly Italian affair. With 7 new cardinals, Italy easily overtakes the United States and Germany, which each gain two cardinals (Dolan and O’Brien; Woelki and Becker), Brazil (Bráz de Aviz), Portugal (Monteiro de Castro), Spain (Abril y Castelló), India (Alencherry), Canada (Collins), the Netherlands (Eijk), China (Tong Hon), the Czech Republic (Duka), Malta (Grech), Romania (Muresan) and Belgium (Ries) each have one new cardinal.

Four of the cardinal-designates: Filoni, Ries, Woelki and Duka

A new bishop in the east

Görlitz amid the other German dioceses

The east of this blog’s area of interest, that is.

Tucked away in the triangle formed by Germany’s borders with Poland and the Czech Republic is an interesting remnant of a once powerful ecclesiastical jurisdiction – or one of the remnants, one should say. The Diocese of Görlitz was created in 1972 as an apostolic administration to conform with the post-war borders in east and central Europe. Before 1972, this was part of the great Archdiocese of Breslau, stretching across parts of modern Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, and split in separate parts following the Allies’ divisions of the Third Reich.

Now one of the smallest German dioceses with a mere 30,000 Catholic faithful, Görlitz runs the risk of being something of a lost child in the Church of the west. But good things have a tendency to be noticed, as became clear in July 2010, when Görlitz’s bishop, Msgr. Konrad Zdarsa, was sent to Augsburg, where his predecessor, Bishop Mixa, had just left amid much rumours and confusion. Bishop Zdarsa had been occupying the see of Görlitz for only three years when he was reassigned, so evidently  he must have made good in the small diocese. But his departure did leave the good people of eastern Saxony and southern Brandenburg without a bishop.

Bishop-elect Wolfgang Ipolt

Now, almost exactly a year later, a clergyman from Erfurt is sent east  become a shepherd. Msgr. Wolfgang Ipolt is 57 and becomes the fourth bishop of Görlitz, with its 60-some priests, and 80-some religious. Bishop-elect Ipolt was until now the rector of the interdiocesan seminary in Erfurt, which also serves Berlin, Dresden-Meiβen, Magdeburg and Görlitz, as well as students from Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic. As rector of such a seminary, Msgr. Ipolt may be expected to have a similarly international outlook, especially eastward towards the great Catholic nations of Poland and Lithuania, but also to the fledgling Church communities in the former German Democratic Republic – communist East Germany. The new bishop, then, reflects the identity of the diocese: situated between past and present – the strong Catholic history of past Breslau and the future of the new dioceses in eastern Germany.

With this appointment, only Berlin remains vacant in Germany.