The religious basis of the Relief of Groningen, or why bishops should not be princes

Tomorrow he city where I live, Groningen, marks the end of the siege of 1672, when the bishop of Münster had to give up his attempts to defeat the protestant inhabitants of the city and so reconquer those parts of his diocese that he had lost in the Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs. On his side, if not in the form of pratical support, he knew France and England, as well as the bishop of Cologne, who also had territorial interests around Groningen.

bommen berendMany people are no longer aware of what it exactly is that is being celebrated, or even that the colloquial name of the day, Bommen Berend (Berend of the Bombs) (pictured), refers to the city’s enemy, Bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen. That bishop was not only the spiritual head of the Diocese of Münster, but also the worldly ruler of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster (not the same thing), which until shortly before 1672 had included the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. He wanted those parts back and saw the presence of Protestant rebels in the sole major city in that area of the Dutch republic as a threat. The siege of the city was the final act of a successful campaign across Drenthe to the south and the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. But this success would prove to be temporary as Bishop Bernhard could not take Groningen.

There is still some evidence of the siege and subsequent victory visible in the city. City commander Carl von Rabenhaupt has a modest statue on the main square, and the best-known café in the city is named after the cannon that, legend has it, was so accurate that it shot a plate of cabbage and bacon away from Bishop von Galen, as he sat down for dinner at a convent south of the city. Said convent is long gone (I was at its location a few days ago), the city has long since expanded to where the bishop’s troops had their trenches (as I am typing this, I may be sitting not too far from them), but the celebration of the victory over the foreign prince-bishop has continued.

Today, the Relief of Groningen is a cultural and secular day, but it marks an event with deeply rooted religious undertones, even if that was often overshadowed by secular concerns of power. Thje inevitable consequence of having men be both bishops and princes.

Grumblings in the east

koch berlinFollowing the appointment of Archbishop Heiner Koch (pictured at left with Berlin’s  cathedral chapter) to Berlin, the other bishops of eastern Germany have expressed concern at the trend that seems to be developing, a tendency for bishops in that part of the country to be reassigned within a few years after being made ordinaries there. And they have a point.

  • In 2010, Bishop Konrad Zdarsa left Görlitz after having been the bishop there for three years and three months.
  • In 2014, Cardinal Rainer Woelki left Berlin after having been its archbishop for three years.
  • And on Monday,  Bishop Heiner Koch left Dresden-Meißen after almost 2 and half years.

The dioceses of eastern Germany, or most of the territory of the former communist German Democratic Republic have a fairly short history in their current form. On the 27th of June, 1994, Erfurt, Magdeburg and Görlitz were promoted from Apostolic Administration to full dioceses, Berlin, which had already been a  diocese since the 1930s, became a metropolitan archdiocese, reflecting the new freedom of governance that the Church had now gained in the former communist parts of Germany. The Apostolic Administration of Schwerin, in the north, became part of the newly established Archdiocese of Hamburg in October of that same year. Dresden-Meißen was the odd one out, having existed in its current form, except for a change of name in 1979, since 1921.

The short tenures of Bishops Zdarsa and Koch and Cardinal Woelki in the dioceses mentioned above came in all cases after significantly longer tenures of their predecessors: In Dresden-Meißen, Joachim Reinelt had been bishop for 24 years; in Berlin, Cardinal Sterzinsky was ordinary for 17 years; and in Görlitz, Bishop Rudolf Müller enjoyed 12 years as bishop. The contrast is evident.

feigeIn fact, the eastern German episcopate as a whole is young. Only Magdeburg’s Gerhard Feige (pictured) has a decade as bishop behind him, and the next senior is Görlitz’s Wolfgang Ipolt, ordinary for a mere four years.

In light of all this, Bishop Feige said about the transfer of Archbishop Koch, “Given the particularly difficult situation of Catholics in the new federal states, this is likely to add to a further destabilisation of the situation of the Church […] Unfortunately the impression is being given that the eastern German dioceses are something like ‘railway shunting yards’ or ‘traineeships’ to qualify bishops for ‘higher offices'”. Bishop Ipolt said that he hoped these rapid reassignments would not become habit. “In the future we need active shepherds for the people of God, here in the Diaspora of the east of Germany”. Together with Erfurt’s Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, he does think that Archbishop Koch’s two-year experience in the east will be a boon in Berlin.

A bishop is the visible head of a local Church in matters of doctrine, worship and governance. The priests of a diocese assist him in these tasks. Stability is a great good in these matters, so it should be avoided to move bishops too often. In that sense I can understand the concerns of the bishops outlined above. On the other hand, as Archbishop Koch himself has also said, in the end a bishop goes where he is called, just like the Apostles, whose successors they are, went where they were sent.

The Archdiocese of Berlin has a bishop again, but Dresden-Meißen is vacant again. Should the bishops of the east be worried that another one of their ranks will be asked to move there? Anything is possible of course, but I don’t think that this is likely, especially since the concerns have now been voiced. But if the residing ordinaries are not be moved anymore, there are two auxiliary bishops in the area who could conceivably be tasked with governing a diocese of their own. Erfurt’s Bishop Reinhard Hauke has already done so during the two-year vacancy of the see there, before Bishop Neymeyr arrived last year. Berlin’s Bishop Matthias Heinrich is 60 and has been an auxiliary for six years.

In defense of the Middle Ages – not all violence, all the time…

In an article on the website of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts writes a piece about the barbaric acts perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, and he rightly condemns them. But we should not be too hasty in calling them medieval, although media and entertainment tend to do so (the bishop quotes actor Ving Rhames’ character from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, who warned he would get medieval on someone, to illustrate the use of the term medieval in movies!).

“I would IS returned to medieval values. A thousand years ago the Muslim world was a civilised one in which Islamic society was ahead of Christian Europe in medicine, science and astronomy, while Europe in turn was very civilised compared to the extremism and barbarism now going on in Syria. Certainly, there were fanatical splinter groups, but these never lasted long or were simply removed in the New World.”

Behaviour that we consider barbaric or uncivilised has more to do with the time of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Bishop Mutsaerts lists Inquisition, Puritanism, the Watergeuzen who tortured and killed the Holy Martyrs of Gorcum, Henry VIII who had his enemies decapitated, and witch trials. And it is exactly this period which laid much of the foundations of our own modern society. When seen like this, maybe the acts of ISIS aren’t too alien to us…

middle ages violence^The Middle Ages: not always like this…

And although modern science and education in Europe originated in the medieval Church, this Church was not immune to the new barbarism of later centuries, as Bishop Mutsaerts writes, “Copernicus was not persecuted in the 16th century, but Galileo in the 17th was…”

“We shouldn’t romanticise the Middle Ages or imagine them as a time of pastoral simplicity, courtliness and banquets (something that my hero Chesterton is somewhat inclined to). But to call modern despicable acts as “medieval” is misguided. It is more like a historical hangover from the Renaissance and the era of the Enlightenment. And it is fairly arrogant, considering the world in which we live now and the horrible events of the last century. What we consider uncivilised or barbaric should better be called “Baroque”, or perhaps even better “twentieth century”.

The Middle Ages, both in Europa and the Middle East, are a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. It is far richer, and also so very much different, than many imagine.

The priest and the Pope – a link with the past

I came across this photo tonight, of a priest in a crowd of people, looking up at the figure of Pope Pius XII. The faces of the people and the priest express concern, shock and sorrow, and with good reason. The scene of the photo is the district of San Lorenzo in July 1943, in the aftermath of the only Allied bombing of Rome.

angelini

The priest is Fr. Fiorenzo Angelini, ordained in 1940, and many years he would recall this moment:

“Among the living and the dead, in the midst of the rubble, that is how I found him for the first time. There he was. The Holy Father approached and I admired immediately the greatness of his character, the greatness of his spirit, of a pastor not only endeared, but tied to the souls of the entire world, but in that moment present to his Roman faithful.”

Pope Pius XII had come out to the stricken city to comfort the citizens, even before the sirens had gone quiet, and from that moment on, the priest formed a bond with the pontiff which would last well past the death of the Pope in 1958. In 1956 Father Angelini was made a bishop for his work promoting health care in the Italian capital and in 1977 he was made an auxiliary bishop of Rome. It was only a matter of time before his work was expanded to include the entire Church, and in 1985 he headed the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers until his retirement in 1996. In 1991 he was made a cardinal.

Today, at the age of 98, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini passed away, the second-oldest cardinal of the Church, and a 74-year bond with the wartime pontiff ended, at least in this world.

For Erfurt, the wait is over – Ulrich Neymeyr appointed as new bishop

neymeyrIt’s taken two years but at long lost the Diocese of Erfurt has a bishop again. From Mainz comes 57-year-old Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr as the successor of Bishop Joachim Wanke, who retired on the first of October of 2012 for health reasons. Bishop Neymeyr, until today the sole auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Mainz, becomes the second bishop of Erfurt, which was established in 1994. Before that, since 1973, it had been the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen.

Over the past two years, Erfurt has been led by auxiliary Bishop Reinhard Hauke, who has served as diocesan administrator and has made no secret of the vacancy being exceptionally long. Other bishops, like Bishop Gerhard Feige of neighbouring Magdeburg, have likewise done so, especially when other dioceses, such as Cologne, seemingly were given precedence when needing new bishops. And although the daily affairs of Erfurt are ensured by the presence of a diocesan administrator, general governmental procedures and documents could not be adapted or retracted while there was no proper diocesan bishop. Those limitations are now gone with the appointment of Bishop Neymeyr.

neymeyr

Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr was born in Herrnsheim, a part of the city of Worms on the River Rhine, south of Frankfurt. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Mainz in 1982 by Cardinal Hermann Volk. His successor and the current bishop of Mainz, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, consecrated him a bishop after St. John Paul II appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Mainz and titular bishop of Maraguia in 2003. After 11 years fulfilling that position, Bishop Neymeyr now moves to Erfurt.

For Mainz the move means the beginning of a complete change in bishops. Bishop Neymeyr was Mainz’s only auxiliary bishop, which leaves the ordinary, 78-year old Karl Cardinal Lehmann. His retirement should be accepted between now and May of 2016, when the cardinal turns 80. The diocese is home to some 800,000 Catholics and includes such cities as Mainz, Worms and Darmstadt.

As a priest, Bishop Neymeyr was the conrector of the seminary of Mainz and later parish priest in Rüsselsheim, east of Mainz, and Worms, in the south of the diocese. As bishop he was episcopal vicar with special responsibility for youth, a task field he is also active in in the German bishops’ conference. Additionally, he also sits on the conference’s media commission.

wanke benedict xviThe Diocese of Erfurt encompasses the major part of the German state of Thuringia and was initially created in 1973 from parts of the dioceses of Würzburg and Fulda, which now border it to the west and southwest. At the time it wasn’t a full diocese because of the unique circumstances of being within the Communist state of East Germany. As the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, it was first led by Bishop Hugo Aufderbeck, who died in 1981 and was succeed by Bishop Joachim Wanke. In 1994, following the German reunification, Erfurt-Meiningen was made a full diocese under the name Erfurt and Bishop Wanke was made its first bishop. He stayed on until 2012 when he retired for health reasons. During that time he hosted Pope Benedict XVI when he visited in 2011 (see image at right). There has in fact been an earlier Diocese of Erfurt, established by Saint Boniface in 742, but that was suppressed again in 755, seemingly without ever having had its own bishop. The cathedral of Erfurt is rooted in that time however. The current St. Mary’s dates from 1154, but was built on the site of the first church built around 742. Erfurt is home to some 150,000 Catholics in 63 parishes.

Photo credit: [1] © Bistum Mainz, [2] © Bistum Mainz / Matschak, [3] Kay Nietfeld dpa/lth (cropped version)

“Building bridges with Christ”- Pontifex writes about the true Pontifex

katholikentag logo

In a message to the organisation and participants of the German Katholikentag, it’s 99th edition starting in Regensburg today, Pope Francis takes on the events motto to write about what it means to imitate Christ in His building of bridges between people and between God and people. Classic Francis:

“My honourable brother Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg!

In heartfelt unity I greet you and all our brothers in the episcopate, the priests, the deacons and laity who have come from all parts of Germany, and also from the Czech Republic, Austria and other countries to the time-honoured “City of Bridges” Regensburg on the occasion of the 99th Catholic Day, taking place from 28 May to 1 June. Under the motto “Building bridges with Christ” you wish to celebrate together in these days, to learn from each other and pray from one another, bearing witness of our faith, through the means of the Catholic Day, as builders of bridges in Church and society.

We Christians have the standing commandment to build bridges of relationships, of maintaining a dialogue about the questions of life with other and not to lose sight of the care for the margins – be they those of society, of religion or human relationships. Christ is the foundation upon we start building; for it is he who has broken down the dividing wall between people and between God and people (cf. Eph. 2:14). Through His death on the Cross and His resurrection he builds for us the bridge of life. In his Ascension into Heaven he became the bridge builder between God and people, as a bridge between time and eternity. He calls us through Baptism and Confirmation to follow Him in building bridges.

History teaches us that dialogue is not an easy task. Just one hundred years ago it was negatively shown how people tear down bridges and refused dialogue. The terrible First World War broke out. Many more terrible wars and conflicts followed – altogether a bloody century. In the hearts of people the walls of distrust, of anger and hate for the other grew. In such a way man isolates himself in his resentment. Walls are raised, first in the heart and then between houses. How difficult does reconciliation then become. In your country, you have bitterly experienced this – with the Berlin Wall. How much pain, how much division did this wall cause. But then people came together in Churches, to pray for peace. And in the power of prayer they went out into their city, week after week. Increasing numbers of people joined them. And finally the wall was torn down – this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this event. There we see the mission of Christians: to pray and the go out and bring to others the Good News, for which people yearn most deeply.

Building bridges with Christ means, in particular, to pray. Prayer is not a one-way road. It is a real dialogue. Christ answers and helps us. We must pay attention, because Jesus often speaks very quietly. He speaks to us through the Gospels and through our encounters with our fellow human beings. It is important to be watchful and to often read the Gospel. Entrust yourself to the Lord and His good guidance! At the Catholic Day you give a sign for true dialogue: dialogue with Christ and with each other. In this way you become true witnesses and capable bridge coworkers with Christ in “building bridges” for peace and eternal salvation. With this in mind I gladly give all participants of the Catholic Day the Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 23 May 2014

Pope Francis”

Monks coming north

Luchtfoto_Sion_WebThe Trappist monks of Sion Abbey in Diepenveen, north of Deventer in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, are abandoning their abbey. Built in 1883 for a community of more than 100 monks, has become too big, housing only 12 Cistercian monks of the Strict Observance, Trappists for short. Maintenance costs for the buildings have become too high for the small community and, as Abbot Alberic Bruschke says, sharing it with other users is not possible, since it wouldn’t be a monastery any longer.

But where are the twelve monks going? They’re not dispersing over other monasteries in the Netherlands and abroad, I’m happy to read. Even happier is their decision to come about as far north as is possible while remaining on Dutch soil: to the island of Schiermonnikoog, off the coast of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Abbot Alberic says: “A small, new beginning, in all simplicity, of a new life as monks. New and at the same time a restart in timeless continuity with our Cistercian tradition.”

De_Schiere_Monnik_Martin_van_WaningThe exact location and shape of the new foundation on the island is not yet known, but the choice of Schiermonnikoog is not random. In the local old dialect, the name of the island means ‘Island of the grey monks’, referring to the Cistercian monks who had come from the Claercamp monastery in Frisia. In the Middle Ages they established a grange on the island and were responsible for much of the early reclamation of land from the ever-shifting sand flats and sea to the south, between island and mainland. In 1580 that ended, as the Reformation took all possessions from the monastery, including Schiermonnikoog. But the monastic history of the island has always been recognised, and in 1961 a statue of a monk  (pictured at right) was placed in the island’s only village.

Once the monks have moved to Schiermonnikoog, they will form only the second religious foundation in the diocese, after the hermitage of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, which was established in 2001.

schiermonnikoog^Schiermonnikoog from the air, seen from the south west. Apart from the village, the entire island is a national park. It is some 18 kilometers in length and forever moves slowly eastward.