A civil war strikes close to home – On the death of Fr. Hamel


After Brussels, Paris, Nice, Würzburg and München, all the news about new terrorist attacks is getting a bit much. Yesterday the name of another town was added to the list, although as places go, it does not exactly rank among the world’s major cities. But what happened in Saint-Étienne-de-Rouvray is a horror in a too-long list of horrors.

Father Jacques Hamel, 86, brutally murdered for, we can assume, the ‘crime’ of being a Catholic priest. His murderers already served their punishment by the guns of the police. A second hostage in critical condition in the hospital. France, if it still can after recent months, in shock, and many with her.

Of course, the murder of Fr. Hamel is not unique. Christians in the countries like Iraq and Syria live in fear of their lives every day, and with good reason. The rabid dogs of ISIS and likeminded radicals do not shy away from killing all those who they consider to be enemies of a fictitious brand of pure Islam – and Christians are at the top of their lists. This is, however, the first time that such a cold-blooded murder of a priest in the process of celebrating Mass has taken place in Europe. It only serves to further add to the feelings of fear and anger that already exist.

It is so easy to give in to those feelings. To wish death and destruction on people who are as deranged as the murderers of Fr. Hamel. But, of course, we are Christians. We are called to do better than that. To not give in to base feelings, to not in the first place think of how these horrors make us feel. In this case, our first duty should be with the victims – Fr. Hamel, the sisters and altar servers who were also held hostage, and, yes, all those who will siffer the backlash that will follow. And then, let us think of our role in that backlash. Will we allow ourselves to fear and hate the innocent who happen to share a faith (even in name alone) or cultural background with today’s killers? Our will we rise above it and make a distinction, not between Christians and Muslims, but between good and evil, between the way of God and the way of the devil?

Ultimately, the solution to the crisis in the Muslim world, which several people have already called a civil war within Islam, does not lie in more hate and fear, but neither does it lie solely with us. In the end, the Muslim world itself needs to find and implement the solution. We can help, but it can’t be enforced by us.

I am reminded of a blog post by Bishop Stefan Oster, which he wrote following the attack in Nice. The bishop of Passau began his text like this:

“After this act of terrorism – and after the ones in Paris, after Brussels, after Istanbul, after Madrid, after, after, after… After the atrocities committed by ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in all the continents of the world, after, after, after… When will the collective, the great common outcry from all the world’s peaceloving Muslims, who are truly devoted to their god, finally come, that they will no longer let their faith be abused by terorrists? When will the religious and political leaders of the Muslim world finally come together and declare to the world that Islam and terrorism are not compatible?  And when will such a great demonstration of peacefullness finally take place among us – by the great number of Muslims living in our country?”

As for us, let’s start with prayer for the repose of the soul of Father Jacques Hamel, may he rest in peace and see the Lord whom he served for so many years and live in His glory.

Downsizing – Pope Francis announces his first Curia merger

Since virtually the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been expected to start reforming the Curia by eliminating and merging dicasteries. Until now he has created a few new ones (the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Secretariat for Communications, to name two), which has increased rather than decreased the size of the Curia. This week, however, comes the first announcement of a merger.

The Pontifical Councils for the Laity and the Family, as well as the Academy for Life, are to form a single dicastery for Laity and Family. What form and status this will take (a new Pontifical Council or, as I suspect, a Congregation) remains to be seen, as does the personnel assigned to them. The Academy for Life would seem to be remain as it exists now, but under the auspices of the new dicastery.

clemensThe Pontifical Council for the Laity is currently led by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, with Bishop Josef Clemens (pictured) as secretary. At 70 and 68 respectively, neither of these are about to retire, so if they do not remain in the dicastery, new appointments will have to be sought for them. Bishop Clemens is especially interesting, as the choice may be made to send him home to a diocese in Germany. At 68, he would be a transitional bishop, which would not go down well in the eastern German dioceses (of which Dresden-Meißen is vacant), where bishops have criticised the apparent use of the eastern dioceses as a “railway shunting yard for bishops”. Originally from the Archdiocese of Paderborn, Bishop Clemens has been working in Rome for the past three decades, so if he is the suitable candidate for a new assignment in his native country, where Limburg also remains vacant and Aachen will soon be, remains to be seen.

pagliaThe Pontifical Council for the Family is led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) as president and Bishop Jean Laffitte as secretary. Archbishop Paglia, although recently investigated and acquitted of financial mismanagement when he was bishop of Terni-Narni-Amelia, is also the organiser of the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which, to all appearances, was a great success. At 70, he is also still 5 years away from retirement. Bishop Laffitte, 63, was recently appointed prelate of the Order of Malta in addition to his duties in the Pontifical Council. A Rome veteran like Bishop Clemens, it remains to be seen of a return to his native France, where Saint-Etienne is vacant and four ordinaries are close to retirement, is in any way likely.

If the new dicastery is a congregation, it will need a prefect and one or more secretaries, if a pontifical council there will be a president and one or more secretaries. Pope Francis may choose to appoint someone with experience to start up the new dicastery, which means Cardinal Rylko and Archbishop Paglia are good options. As both are five years away from retirement, they would be suitable to lead a transition and start-up phase. In the end, we’ll have to wait until December to find out what the Holy Father chooses to do.

The streamlining of the Curia may, as the rumours have it, continue with a merger of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and Pastoral of Migrants and Itinerant People sometime in the future.

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.

Call to action: Lourdes

Few will have missed that Lourdes has been hit by major flooding recently. While the sanctuary will open again to receive pilgrims, there is much damage. And while we can’t all head down to southern France to help physically, there are other means to help the premier Marian sanctuary of Europe recover.

The sanctuary’s website provides the following information, which I copy and share here:

Number to contact or phone : 0033 5 62 42 82 22

Thank you for your generosity and messages of support.

To help the Sanctuary of Lourdes to deal with the damage caused by the floods, please send your gifts to:

– By cheque made out to the Association Diocésaine de Tarbes et Lourdes at the following address:

Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes
Solidarité Inondations 2013
1, avenue Monseigneur Théas
65108 LOURDES Cedex

– by making a gift online here

– by bank transfer on the account below :

IBAN: FR7630003020510003726308089
Adresse SWIFT (code BIC): SOGEFRPP

lourdes brouwet
^ Bishop Nicolas Brouwet walks across the mud in front of the grotto.

Photo credit: Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Antonetti passes away


Coming full circle, Lorenzo Cardinal Antonetti passed away today in Romagnano Sesia, the town where he was born more than 90 years ago.

A lifelong diplomat and Curial prelate, Cardinal Antonetti obtained doctorates in theology and canon law (from the Angelicum and the Gregoriana, respectively) before moving on to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains the diplomats in service to the Holy See.

Antonetti was ordained a priest for his native Diocese of Novara, in the north of Italy, by the bishop of that diocese at the time, Msgr. Leone Ossola in 1945. In 1951, he moved to Rome and started working at the Secretariat of State.

Fr. Antonetti worked at several nunciatures across the globe: in Lebanon from 1952 to 1955, and in Venezuela from 1956-1959. Following another four years at the Secretariat of State, he was also attached to the nunciature in France, from 1963 to 1967. The following year, he was deemed ready for his own assignment as a Nuncio.

In 1968, Cardinal Cicognani consecrated him as bishop, with the titular see of Roselle. Archbishop Antonetti was sent to Central America to serve as the Apostolic Nuncio to Honduras and Nicaragua. Five years later, in 1973, he was moved to Zaire, where he served another four years as Pro-Nuncio.

Recalled to Rome in 1977, Archbishop Antonetti was appointed as secretary to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees and manages all properties of the Holy See. Following another assignment as Nuncio, this time to France from 1988 to 1995, Archbishop Antonetti returned to the Administration as its Pro-President. In 1998, after his creation as cardinal, he would become President.

Cardinal Antonetti was given the deaconry of Sant’Agnese in Agone. Ten years after his creation, in 2008, he opted to be elevated to the dignity of Cardinal-Priest.

Less then a year after his creation, well after his age of retirement, Cardinal Antonetti became the Pontifical Delegate for the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a function he would perform until his retirement in 2006.

With the passing of Cardinal Antonetti, there are now 205 cardinals, of whom 113 are electors.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Honoré passes away

honoréAmid the unprecedented events of yesterday, regular things continue, including a cardinal exchanging the temporal for the eternal. Jean Cardinal Honoré passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 92.

He was ordained a priest in the middle of the Second World War for the Diocese of Rennes, France. In the first years of his priesthood, Fr. Honoré taught in both Rennes and Saint-Malo, as well as at the local seminary. From 1958 to 1964 he was secretary general of the National Commission for Religious Education and director of the National Centre of Religious Teaching. He then became rector of the Catholic University of Angers, and in 1972 he was appointed as bishop of Évreux. Nine years later, in 1981, he became Archbishop of Tours. After his retirement in 1997, Archbishop Honoré was created a cardinal in 2001. He was cardinal-priest of Santa Maria della Salute a Primavalle.

Considered a specialist on Blessed Cardinal Newman, he took his episcopal motto from him: cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks unto heart.

Cardinal Honoré was not in Rome to greet the Pope, but died in his home in Tours.

The radicality of Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine

He’s shown up on my computer screen more than once in recent weeks: a young French priest from Marseille who has gotten attention for dressing like a priest wherever he goes. In this video (in French with Dutch subtitles) he explains why.

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But I also think, you see, that the priesthood must be visible!”

Interviewer: “That is why, if I may, you wear the cassock?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “Yes, the cassock, I truly wear it for the 96% who do not come to Church. Because, these throngs who stay outside, who do not go to the churches, how do you want them to have the chance to encounter a priest? It is necessary that, in the bars I visit, on this great boulevard I walk every day, that there is the possibility for everyone to come to me, to speak to me, to entrust me with something in their lives. This cassock, it is essential!”

Interviewer: “That is how that happens?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “That is indeed how that happens! I think we should really have a major examination of conscience here, because at this time we are about 15,000 priests in France, do you realise that? 9,000 are active, I think. There are also 4,000 religious! I am certain that when everyone, by a decree from heaven, would again wear the cassock, put on the hood, well, what would happen: every day many people would meet servants of God, and the Church would once again take her place in social events.”

Interviewer: “You are not making friends by saying this.”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But that does not matter, I am saying it for the Lord, and I am saying it for the future of Christianity!

The visibility of the priest through outward appearances has nothing to do with vanity or a sense of importance. Rather, the cassock and, more frequently, the Roman collar, serve two purposes: wearing it, the priest is continuously reminded of his very nature as one ordained to serve God in a very particular way. And his visibility as such makes him available for the people he is tasked to serve. If they don’t recognise him for what he is, they do not know to come to him with their needs.

Father Michel-Marie’s enthusiasm is a reflection of the importance of priestly attire. No vanity, but availability and service.

HT to Fr. Andy Penne.