Luxembourg archbishop succeeds Cardinal Marx at the helm of COMECE

The COMECE, short-hand for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, has elected their successor to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who presided over the 29-member organisation, which “monitors the political process of the European Union in all areas of interest to the Church”, since 2012.

The seventh president since COMECE’s establishment in 1980 is Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Jesuit archbishop of Luxembourg. Archbishop Hollerich’s mandate runs from 2018 to 2023. He has represented the Luxembourg Church in COMECE since 2011. His view on the role of COMECE in Europe is summarised in a statement he made during last month’s high-level meeting with the European Commission:  “Christians are not an interest group speaking in favor of religions, but European citizens committed to the construction of Europe, our common house”.

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^New COMECE preisdent Archbishop Hollerich with outgoing president, Cardinal Marx, in the background.

Together with the election of a new president, the rest of the highest leadership of COMECE was also renewed. Four new vice-presidents, one less than in the previous iteration, were elected: Bishop Noël Treanor (Down and Connor, Northern Ireland), Bishop Mariano Crociata (Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno, Italy), Bishop Jan Vokál (Hradec Králové, Czech Republic) and Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen, Germany). -imageThe Dutch delegate to COMECE, Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom (at right), auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, was elected as president of the Commission on Legal Affairs. The new presidium was officialy launched at the Mass for Europe, celebrated in Brussels’ church of Notre Dame du Sablon.

Cardinal Marx hereby loses one of his multitude of offices. He still remains archbishop of München und Freising, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, member of the C9 group that assists Pope Francis in reforming the Curia, and the coordinator of the Council for the Economy, a part of the Curia in Rome.

COMECE strives to maintain close contacts with the institutions of the European Union, to monitor the political processes and developments and to communicate and inform both Church and politicians about their concerns and views, with a firm basis in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Photo credit: COMECE

A different perspective – the numbers behind the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis dominates headlines at the moment, and so do the opinions, as these are wont to do. There are positive opinions, that we must offer aid, shelter refugees and find solutions for the immediate need and despair we see, and these have a bigger share than I would have expected. But there are also negative ones, rooted in fear that we are welcoming terrorists, that strange cultures, religions and ideologies will come to dominate and irrevocably change our own culture and religions (or lack thereof).

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In countries around us, especially in Germany and Austria, the Church has been on the frontline in welcoming refugees and speaking out for their basic human needs. The bishops of these countries have been vocal on this topic, and one bishop, Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau, recently outlined the basics behind the refugee crisis and the numbers that we must keep in mind before making sweeping statements on either side of the argument:

erzbischof_stephan_burger_q“The great number of refugees which come to us in Germany, and the numerous crisis hotspots of this world are showing us very clearly now: We are standing before a critical point on world history. The different parts of the world are increasingly intertwined with one another and ecological fragile. For the future this includes both great dangers and significant opportunities. We must acknowledge that, despite and perhaps because of the great diversity of cultures and ways of life, we are a global community. And so we also carry responsibility for this community.

Today there are nearly 60 million people are fleeing. Behind this flight lies distress, despair, lack of perspective, tragedies.

However, the frequently heard idea, that the majority of refugees are en route to Europe, does not agree with reality. We must be careful not to look at the world from a European perspective. The 28 countries of the European Union at present house less than four per cent of the total number of refugees and displaced persons in the world. regarding this it is often forgotten that about three quarters of these people, as internally displaced persons, do not even make it across their own borders – let alone to Europe. We should not lose sight of their special need. For the Kurds of northern Iraq, for example, this means that out of every four inhabitant, one is displaced. In every village, in every city in this region there now live refugees. The civil war in Syria has by now caused more than four million people to flee. Additionally there are 7.6 million interior displaced persons in the country itself.

The moving images of refugee boats in the Mediterranean urge us to ask how we can rescue people in peril on the sea and guarantee them a life in security and dignity. The question about the complex reasons why thousands of people leave their homes, is not being asked enough.

Many of the desperate refugees are fleeing from the horror of a bloody war or the terror of despots. Others are called “economic refugees”: they want to escape a life of poverty and misery, which is partly caused by the political decisions of Industrial countries and emerging markets. For example, the traditional land rights of indigenous farmers are being overridden by the rights of investors. Unfair trade agreements disrupt the livelihood of local manufacturers. International corporations are plundering the resources of Africa – without any notable benefits for the local population.

We are convinced that there is a need for more legal and secure routes to Europe. We are aware that, also in Germany, the capacity to take care of refugees is not limitless. Therefore, there is a need for a European and global effort to comprehensively address the causes of poverty and flight. The topic must remain at the top of the agenda of world politics.  The reason for the increase in refugee movements in the European Union does not come from Africa, by the way, but is in the first place an expression of political and economical problems in the Balkans and also in continuing violence in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. Africans formed, in the first six months of this year, just 19 per cent of asylum seekers in the European Union – and it was similar a year earlier.

That there has now been a dramatic global increase to the aforementioned 60 million refugees, can in the first place be explained by the significant rise in forced internal migration as a result of war and violence. The truly grave humanitarian problems regarding refugees are to be found primarily in fragile states. Seen globally, cross-border flight occurred for 86 per cent in equally poor areas adjacent to crisis areas – such as in Lebanon, Kurdistan, Jordan and Kenya, in Chad and in northern Cameroon.

Both latter states especially show the results of violence, which has been ongoing for many months now, of the terrorist network “Boko Haram”. Most reports from this region that we hear in Germany are mostly about terror attacks and abductions. That the situation has also caused a wave of refugees is little known. Some 190,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger following terrorist actions. Additionally, there are some 100,000 internally displaced refugees in Cameroon, who had to flee from “Boko Haram” attacks.

Partner organisations of MISEREOR report that family members of refugees were killed by terrorists before their eyes. They speak about how combatants of “Boko Haram” came to their villages, plundered and then burnt their houses. Many families were separated; especially women and children desperately need protection.

In Germany, it is also a challenge to humanely house and care for refugees – especially with an eye on the coming winter. Certainly, more effort is needed. But we must not forget the people in those countries in the world who are not nearly as wealthy and have to offer protection and nourishment to far more refugees.”

The Nuncio speaks – Archbishop Eterović on the state of the Church in Germany and abroad

eterovicArchbishop Nikola Eterović has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany since November of 2013. Katholisch.de interviewed him about a variety of subjects. I share some of his comments.

About his impressions of the German Church, which has been viewed critically across the world, he says:

“I consider the Catholic Church in this country to be very dynamic and involved. That is not easy, as Germany is very secularised, especially in major cities like Berlin. But the Church is well organised and wants to live according to the Gospel. That is seen, for example, in her role in society, by which she gives witness of Christ. In addition, the Church in Germany and also across the world, provides real aid, for example through Caritas and the relief agencies like Adveniat, Renovabis, Misereor, Missio, Church in Need, Bonifatiuswerk and others.”

Of course, as a diplomat the Nuncio needs to speak carefully. But that does not mean that the efforts of the Church in Germany are negligible. But there is always more than just the laudable work she does in the fields of charity, peace and justice, which becomes clear when Pope Francis’ recent comments that Europe is old and tired appear. Archbishop  Eterović says,

“In Germany the Church shows a decline in active faithful. And recently events have led to people leaving the Church because they no longer want to pay the Kirchensteuer [“Church tax” – ed]. I think that is quite problematic, and we need a new dynamic in catechesis, pastoral engagement, a new evangelisation. On the other hand I also see a certain passivity in individual faithful across Europe. In the end, more than 70 percent of the citizens of the European Union belong to a Christian confession. We must make use of that to better participate in society, for example to influence legislation when proposals do not meet with Christian ethics. In that way the “fatigue”, that the Holy Father spoke about, can be overcome.”

The Church tax, I have come increasingly to believe, is more than just problematic. Although the financial revenue may be used for good, it is a burden in the Church’s pastoral activities, as well as the faithful’s  access to the sacraments. The new dynamic mentioned by the Nuncio is the same “new evangelisation” that has been promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, and which now seems to have snowed under a bit. But we can’t allow it to be: we must take it up and make it happen.

The Nuncio also plays in important role in the selection and appointment of new bishops. In Germany, three dioceses – Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg – are awaiting a new bishop. Archbishop Eterović remains – rightly so – close-lipped about the state of these appointments:

“We follow the canonical rules and the respective concordats. The processes are ongoing, and I hope that the dioceses of Hamburg and Berlin will get new bishops in the coming year. The situation in Limburg is somewhat different. There is an Apostolic Administrator there, who is doing good work.”

Worldwide the Church is involved with politics, especially when it comes to peace, justice and development, as we have seen recently in the easing of relations between Cuba and the United States. But what about the influence of the Church on the regular faithful?

“We must in any case work on our pastoral care. Especially young people want to know what the Christian faith really means. With his charisma Pope Francis continuously manages to clarify the actuality of the Gospel and the message of Jesus. And I believe that the people out there are only waiting to rediscover this message: fraternal love and the love, justice and solidarity of God”.

Archbishop Nikola Eterović was born in Croatia in 1951 and ordained a priest of the Diocese of Hvar in 1977. In 1999 he was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Sisak, and appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. From 2004 to 2013 he was Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and in 2013 he returned to the diplomatic service as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. In 2009, he was given a new titular see, Vinkovci, as Sisak was re-established as a proper diocese in Croatia.

Achievement unlocked – “One of Us” breaks the 1 million mark

one_of_us_logoThe European Citizen’s Initiative “One of Us“, which aims to collect 1 million signatures to block the financing of activities which require the destruction of human embryos, just reached its goal today.

With 1 million signatories from at least seven member states of the European Union, the Initiative organisers will now be heard by the European Commission and the European Parliament, before the Commission will formulate a response. The achieved goal is therefore not a guarantee that the EU will be taking steps to protect human life at all stages, but a chance for “One of Us” to be heard.

As part of the regulations for a European Citizen’s Initiative, a set number of signatures must be collected in every member state. This goal must be reached in seven states for the Initiative to be valid. “One of Us” reached that goal in Austria (almost 31,000 signatures), Germany (over 74,000), Spain (almost 62,000), France (almost 84,000), Hungary (almost 50,000), Italy (almost 360,000), Lithuania (over 9,000), the Netherlands (over 23,000), Poland (almost 160,000), Romania (almost 66,000) and Slovakia (almost 22,000). That’s 11 countries, while Portugal will most likely reach its goal in the next weeks.

 “One of Us” has until 1 November to collect signatures and has stated the desire to collect 1,500,000 in total.

Haven’t  signed yet? Do so here.

Pro-life success in the Netherlands?

one_of_us_logoVatican Insider today triumphantly reported that an EU-wide pro-life initiative is unexpectedly successful in “the seriously secularised Netherlands”. While the news is certainly a surprise, it is also perhaps a bit too triumphalistic in tone. In a country with almost 17 million inhabitants, 20,00o signatures do not represent an overwhelming ground swell of support for the protection of unborn life. The fact remains that abortion is largely accepted as a medical procedure in the Netherlands.

‘One of Us’ is, all the same, a worthwhile initiative to support, as it aims to protect human life from its earliest beginnings:

“Based on the definition of the human embryo as the beginning of the development of the human being, which was given in a recent ECJ judgment (Brüstle vs. Greenpeace), “One of Us” asks the EU to end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health.”

If you’re a citizen of the European Union, you too can add your signature to the initiative, which needs to collect 1 million of them, from at least 7 member states, before November 1st in order to propose legislation to the European Commission. Last week, the 500,000th signature was registered.

Go to One of Us and sign! As Christians, we have an obligation to protect life, for we believe in God, who is the very opposite of death.

(And seriously, Vatican Insider, that photo to accompany the article?)

“Unreserved faith” – Archbishop Léonard on St. Joseph and Pope Francis

It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.

The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.

The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.

léonard“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…

This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.

Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.

The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.

But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”

And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child – wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”.  But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.

Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.

Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.

Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”

Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet

Intolerable tolerance

In order to mark the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Method in Great Moravia (encompassing the modern Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and parts of Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine), Slovakia has decided to mint a special memorial 2 Euro coin depicting the two ‘Apostles to the Slavs’ in 2013. A lofty memorial of an event which lay at the basis of Slavic culture in central Europe and beyond.

Saints Cyril and Method came to bring the Christian faith to people who had not yet heard it. Their faith dictated who they were and what they did and said. To ignore that part of the persons is negligent and a falsification of history.

But that is precisely what the European Commission and several member states of the European Union (of which Slovakia is a member) now wants. The crosses on the saints’ clothing and the aureolas indicating their sainthood have been identified as possibly insulting or disturbing some citizens of the Union. By the grace of policy makers, only the double Byzantine cross, which also serves as Slovakia’s national symbol, was allowed to remain.

The Slovakian bishops’ conference has rightly stated that this is a lack of respect for Europe’s Christian traditions. A spokesperson wondered if Europe is a state of rights or a totalitarian system dictating which attributes are tolerated.

This is only one example in a series of Europe curtailing the display of identity and the free exercise of religion. The reasons given, that some unknown person may take offense at the symbols shown, are unreasonable in the extreme. I may say that a lack of Christian symbols offends me. Will the EU take that into account? Will they remove other symbols, statements, images, actions or whatever if they perhaps offend me? The banner of tolerance is used as a tool of intolerance.

This unreasonable fear of any display of religion, even in imagery that has a solid basis in history, is nothing but the complete denial of Europe’s own identity and history. Sts. Method and Cyril were Christians and we remember them for bringing the Christian faith to parts of Europe , so why on earth should we not remember them for who they were? Christian missionaries, not empty vessels to be filled with the identity that modern Europe dictates.