“The bishop bearing witness to the Cross” – Cardinal Woelki’s homily at the consecration of Bishop Bätzing

On Sunday, Bishop Georg Bätzing was ordained and installed as the 13th bishop of Limburg. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, gave the homily, which I share in my English translation below. The cardinal also served as consecrator of the new bishop, together with Bishop Manfred Grothe, who lead the diocese as Apostolic Administrator during the two and a half years between bishops, and Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the new bishop’s native Diocese of Trier.

bischofsweihe_neu_int_23“Dear sisters, dear brothers,

An ordination – be it to deacon, to priest or, as today, to bishop – is always a public act; an effective action which changes both the person being ordained – although he is an remains the same person – and his environment. This is true even when an ordination must be performed in secret for political reasons. And so public interest, especially at an episcopal ordination, is a most natural thing. Today too, many eyes are focussed on Limburg; perhaps even more eyes than usual at an episcopal ordination. In recent years, the focus of the media on Limburg and its bishop has been too strong, if the question of how things would proceed now was not one well beyond the Catholic press.

The man who will be ordained as the thirteenth Bishop of Limburg today, is being sent to “bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted” (cf. Is. 61:1). He knows the wounds that need healing; he knows that the faithful in this diocese must be brought together and united again, and he knows the challenges which face not just the Church in Limburg, but everywhere, when she wants to proclaim, credibly,  Christ as the salvation of all people, also in the future. His motto, then, advances what has already been important to him in his various pastoral duties in Trier: he was and is concerned with unity in diversity – Congrega in unum. It is no coincidence that today’s ordination concludes the traditional week dedicated to the Holy Cross in the Diocese of Limburg.

The feast of the Cross and the Week of the Cross have a long tradition here, which is applicable in this situation. At the introduction of the feast in 1959 by Bishop Wilhelm Kempf its goal was to establish an identity in a young diocese. He chose the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross as diocesan feast, with an eye on the relic of the Holy Cross kept in the reliquary of the cathedral treasury of Limburg. But not from this artistic and outstanding treasure of Byzantine art, before which one can linger in amazement and admiration like before an exhibit in a museum, does the Church in Limburg derive her identity. No, it is from that which is hidden within: the precious Cross of the Lord, by which we are saved. Only that grants the Church of Limburg, yes, the entire Church, her identity. The Apostle Paul knew this, and following him, everyone who is appointed to the episcopal ministry therefore knows this.

Our new bishop also knows. Because this is the heart of his calling and mission as bishop: to proclaim Christ, as the Crucified One in fact. He is not to proclaim Him with clever and eloquent words, so that the Cross “might not be emptied of his meaning” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17).

On the Cross hangs the unity of the Church, because from the crucified Body of Jesus the Church emerged. In her all the baptised are woven together. All the diversity of the Spirit, which animates and moves the Church, has its origin there. Understanding the mystery of Christ depends on the Cross. No salvation without the Cross! Without the Cross no Gospel, no Christianity! Only in the Cross do we recognise who God and who man is, what God and what man is capable of. We say that God is love. These horribly absurd, often abused and yet so eagerly awaited words gain their sober and exhilerating depth and truth against all kitsch and all shallow romanticism only in the light of the Crucified One.

Saint John the Evangelist reminds us that God so loved the world, that He gave His only son (cf. John 3:16). This was not an “either-or” devotion. It was not a game of God with Himself without us humans, no large-scale deception, no comedy. Christ died and so He become equal to us all, we who received everything that we have from God and who always violently want to “be like God”, on our own strength, as we can read in the first pages of the Bible, in the history of the fall. And then he, the Son of God, did not want to cling to His divinity with violence, like a robber, but He emptied Himself, became man, creature, became the second Adam, who did not want to be like God on his own strength, but wanted to be obedient until the death on the Cross. Only in this humiliation, in this selfless devotion to God’s love for us, He is raised: the Crucified One lives! The humiliated one reigns!

This is then the case: The God who we imagined as unapproachable, as fearsome, is dead, definitively dead! It was not us who killed him, as Nietzsche claimed, but this Jesus of Nazareth, He has killed him. But the true God lives, the God who came down to us, unimaginably close in Jesus Christ. This God lives, who we recognised on the cross as God-with-us, and whom we continue to recognise only through the cross of Christ, recognise in that complete sense in which recognition means acknowledging, loving, being there for others.

And so, after all, understanding this world and our lives also depends on the cross. Its image assures us that we are ultimately embraced by the mercy of God. That, dear sisters and brothers, is our identity as Christians and therefore also our identity as Church. That is what a bishop is to proclaim, even more, to live. Before everything, he is to be a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the decivise salvific act of God. From this everything else flows: our commitment to and engagement  with Church and society, our commitment to peace and social justice, to human dignity and rights, to the poor and homeless, to the suffering, the sick, the dying, to life, also of the unborn. Everything flows from the mystery of the cross, and so the bishop promises just before his ordination to care for all, to be responsible and seek out the lost to the very end. “Tend to my sheep,” (John 21:16) does not mean, “Tend to my sheep where it is easy, where no dangers lurk.” It means to protect every human being as God Himself does – also there where it becomes abysmal and dark; where people lose themselves, where they put trust in false truths or confuse having with being. God knows how vulnerable we people are, and how much care and mercy each of us needs to live in such a way that it pleases God: not loving ourselves, but God and our neighbour. The cross is the reality of this love which desires to exclude no one, but which also recognises the “no” of those which it addresses. The openness of the most recent Council to a universal understanding of divine salvation allows us to see those who believe differently, only half or not at all as potential sisters and brothers. Such an understanding of and relationship with all people also permeates our Holy Father, when he wants to cure the sickness in ecclesial and social coexistence with the medicine of mercy (cf. Jan Heiner Tück).

As universal sacrament of salvation the Church only has one single Lord: Jesus Christ. God Himself anointed Him (Is. 61:1). That is why we always must ask ourselves what He wants from us and where He wants to lead His Church. The future of the Church is critically dependant on how the different charisms that God has given us can be developed. At the time that Bishop Kempf established the feast of the Cross it was, in addition to establishing an identity, about bringing together unity and diversity, centre and periphery in the young diocese.

This program can not be better summarised than in the new bishop’s motto: “Congrega in unum“. Also today, it is the mission of a bishop to discover charisms, recognise talents, guide developments, allow unity in diversity: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Rom. 12:4-5). Where he succeeds in this service, oaks of justice can grow (Is. 61:3) and plantings can develop through which the Lord can show His justice (61:3) – in the heart of history, in the here and now, in the heart of this diocese. Where this service is successful people are encouraged and empowered to imitate and let God guide their lives – also when He may lead them, for a short while, “where they do not want to go” (John 21:18). We humans may be sure – in all hazards to which we are exposed or expose in faith – that we are protected by God; He has entrusted the bishop with the most valuable task that He has to give: “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:17).  Nothing more – but that absolutely.


Photo credit: Bistum Limburg

Bishop Liesen’s installation homily – On the nature of authority in the Church

Many thanks to the Diocese of Breda, who put the homily online that Bishop Jan Liesen gave at his installation last week. It’s an excellent text, a great start for the latest ordinary of the Dutch Church province. Bishop Liesen speaks about leadership, responsibility and the form it takes in the Church: the form of service.

My English translation is here.

Photo credit: R. Mangold

With his three predecessors looking on, Bishop Liesen takes Breda

Media coverage has been light, even in the Catholic press, but Bishop Jan Liesen nonetheless was installed as the eleventh Bishop of Breda yesterday.

Pre-installation, local media, interviewed faithful of the Diocese of Breda, asking what the expected from their new bishop. The general desire was for the new bishop to be ‘liberal’, in other words, not too push the more difficult bits of the Catholic faith too hard. I somehow doubt they’ll get their wish with scholar and theologian Jan Liesen.

Reflecting Bishop Liesen’s lack of liberal leanings, perhaps, is his using the staff, as pictured below, of one of his predecessors, Bishop Gerardus de Vet, who was Bishop of Breda from 1962 to 1967, and therefore the last pre-conciliar bishop of that diocese.

Speaking of predecessors, the Diocese of Breda is unique in that no less than three of its previous bishops are still alive. Bishop Hans van den Hende, of course, is now bishop of Rotterdam, but Breda has two emeriti as well: Bishop Tiny Muskens (bishop from 1994 to 2007) and Bishop Huub Ernst (1967-1992), at 94 the oldest Dutch bishop alive.

There is a small photo report of the installation available here.

Photo credit: R. Mangold/Diocese of Breda

Bishop Liesen’s installation tomorrow: “sowing to take root and bear fruit”

“You don’t control the results, but that does not change the obligation to do the best we can. There is an essential element of freedom in there. You belong to the Roman Catholic Church because you want to, as conviction you gladly have. Many “enrolled” as children, but it must be confirmed at some point. If it isn’t, it remains something superficial and will not bear fruit. For the intended effect of sowing is for it to take root and bear fruit.”

Words from Bishop Jan Liesen, spoken in an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad, prior to his installation as bishop of Breda tomorrow. The installation Mass, which will be concelebrated by Bishop Liesen, his predecessor, Bishop Hans van den Hende, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch (where Msgr. Liesen has been auxiliary bishop), other bishops present, and members of the cathedral chapter. The new Nuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop André Dupuy, will not yet be present. Instead, the Holy See will be represented by Msgr. Habib Thomas Halim, secretary of the nunciature in The Hague.

With some 500 people invited, the Mass is closed to visitors, simply because of the relatively small size of the Cathedral of St. Anthony. Priority has been given to representatives of the parishes of the diocese, as well as various dignitaries. In addition to the bishops mentioned above, Bishop Wiertz, De Korte, Punt, Mutsaerts, Hoogenboom and Hendriks will also be present, as well as Bishops Bonny and De Kesel from the two Belgian dioceses that border Breda, and the emeriti Cardinal Simonis, and Bishops Ernst, Muskens and Van Burgsteden.

On a plaque in the cathedral, Bishop Liesen's name has been added to the lists of bishops of Breda

The Queen’s Commissioners in the provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant, the mayor of Breda and the governor of the Royal Military Academy, which is located in Breda, will also attend the Mass or the following reception.

A new home back home – Bishop Liesen comes to Breda

As a leak in the official embargo of the news virtually established as fact yesterday, the Diocese of Breda announced the name of its new bishop at noon today. He is Msgr. Jan Liesen, currently one of the two auxiliary bishops of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In a first reaction to the news, published minutes ago on Youtube, Bishop Liesen comes across as overwhelmed at the news, yet also humble, well-spoken and amiable.

Bishop Liesen was appointed to Breda fairly shortly after his consecration to bishop, which happened on 18 September of last year. A reassignment this soon after the previous one began is not unheard of, but pretty rare.

The appointment of Bishop Liesen to succeed Bishop Hans van den Hende, who was appointed to the Diocese of Rotterdam in May of this year and installed in July, provides for continuity. Both bishops know each other from their studies in Rome and seem to be equally all-round and firmly rooted in the Church. Bishop Liesen is an established teacher and theologian (as member of the International Theological Commission, he is off to Rome tomorrow for that body’s annual plenary meeting), with ample experience, as both bishops attest to in the video above.

Bishop Liesen will be installed as the 11th bishop of Breda on 28 January.

Photo credit: Bisdom Den Bosch

Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg

For a while now, I’ve seen people arrive on my blog via search terms like ‘new archbishop Luxembourg’. Perhaps they knew things I didn’t (not a very radical notion), because just today, the Vatican announced just that, a new archbishop for Luxembourg.

The archbishop emeritus, Msgr. Fernand Franck, was , at 77, already well past the retirement age, but for reasons we can only guess at, it took this long for a successor to be named. And that successor is Jesuit Fr. Jean-Claude Hollerich, pictured to the left with Msgr. Franck. Archbishop elect Hollerich is 52, and a priest since 1990. His biography mentions his education in Rome, Belgium, Germany and Japan, and indicates that Msgr. Hollerich is something of a language scholar, having extensively studied both Japanese and German. His list of publications, varying from writings about the origins of school grammars to European grammar in Asia, and with side excursions to the rise of national awareness of Luxembourg and the history of French Jesuits in Siam. Much of his experience, it would seem, he gained while working in the Archdiocese of Tokyo and as vice rector of the Sophia University there.

The archdiocese that Msgr. Hollerich will soon call his responsibility tends to be too easily forgotten. It wasn’t until 1840, one year after Luxembourg’s independence as a grand duchy was reaffirmed by the First Treaty of London, that it was split off from the Diocese of Namur as a separate apostolic vicariate. In 1870 it was promoted to a diocese, and only in 1988 was it elevated to the status of archdiocese. As the only diocese in Luxembourg, it’s archbishop is not a member of a bishops’ conference, although it does share a papal nuncio with Belgium.

There are an estimated 390,000 Catholics out of a total population of 511,000, served by some 250 priests and 550 religious.

Archbishop elect Hollerich will be consecrated to bishop and installed as Luxembourg’s third archbishop on 16 October. at the cathedral of Our Lady in the city of Luxembourg.

On the invisible throne – Van den Hende installed as Rotterdam’s fifth bishop

In the presence of bishops, the nuncio, chapter members and priests from the three dioceses associated with him, Bishop Hans van den Hende was installed as the fifth bishop of Rotterdam, yesterday.

In his homily, he put the term ‘installation’ in perspective.”You are being placed, as the pope also says of himself, in his letter of appointment, that he too has been placed.” Words that not only reflect the innate humility and matter-of-factness of the Groningen-born bishop, but also his strong sense of being in communion with world Church and the pope.

Taking his place, or being placed, on the transparent cathedra in the cathedral of Sts. Lawrence and Elisabeth, Bishop van den Hende continues trends started by his predecessor, Bishop Ad van Luynm standing on the right in the photo above. Among these is the northern heritage he brings with him: both bishops were born in Groningen. Another element is the bishops’ well-developed sense of responsibility for the youth. Bishop van Luyn, even before his appointment to Rotterdam, kept searching for ways to connect to young people and communicate the Gospel to them. In the past year this has become visible in, for example, the great Passion event in Gouda, but also in Taizé on the Maas, held around Christmas last year. Bishop van den Hende has that same sense, if less pronounced. It is more something that naturally expresses itself in his actions and words. He easily communicates with young people, as he does with virtually anyone he meets, and young people notice that here is a man who not only listens, but also understands them. And that is a man that they can listen to and understand. The Catholic youth of Rotterdam are in good hands, it would seem.

Young people in their WYD 2011 clothes congratulate the bishop

After the Mass of installation – which the coming and going ordinaries concelebrated with, among others, Archbishop François Bacqué, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Wim Eijk, Msgr. Dick Verbakel, the vicar general, Msgr Schoenmakers, the general delegate of the Diocese of Breda, and priests from Rotterdam, Breda and Groningen-Leeuwarden – Bishop van den Hende consecrated his new diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This was a seemingly unplanned gesture, but fitting on today’s feast of the same Immaculate Heart. “No one opened their heart so for God as Mary did,” the bishop said. He called those present to wonder “what we can do for God, what His plan for us is.”

Nuncio Archbishop Bacqué, with secretary Msgr. Habib Thomas Halim at his side, shows the papal letter of appointment
Succeeding bishops, Van den Hende and Van Luyn

For more photos, courtesy of Peter van Mulken, go here.