A new “travelling Pope”

f96763944f2eb5b73f91fea96bbf01a4-690x450Pope Francis returns from his visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia today, and so concludes his 29th international journey. He has visited all continents except Oceania and Antarctica (hey, if the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow can do it…), and more than a few of his travels have been the first papal visits to the countries in question. And with those data, it is clear that the title of “Traveling Pope” should now be given to the current pontiff.

Pope John Paul II Visit to Ireland, Shannon Airport

Pope Saint John Paul II is the traditional holder of the moniker, and not without reason. In the 31 years if his papacy he made 104 international visits to 129 different countries. Pope Francis has been pope for a little more than six years, so any useful comparison must take that into account. Comparing it with the first 6 years (and two months) of St. John Paul II’s papacy, Pope Francis comes out on top, with 29 visits, five more than the late pontiff’s 24 (Pope Benedict XVI, in comparison, made 20 international visits in the same timespan).

Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis immediately struck out far abroad, with visits to Brazil, Israel and South Korea before visiting a country closer to Italy, Albania, on his fourth visit. St. John Paul II went to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas before heading to a European destination (in his case Poland), although those first three countries were visited on a single trip, whereas Francis made three separate journeys. Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, first focussed on Europe, visiting Poland, Spain and Germany (twice) before visiting Turkey and Brazil.

Both Benedict XVI and Francis inherited their first papal visit from their predecessor, and both were made in the context of the World Youth Day. Benedict XVI visited Cologne and Francis Rio de Janeiro.

Unlike his two predecessors, Pope Francis did not include his native country among his first visits. In fact, he is yet to visit Argentina. St. John Paul II visited Poland on his second visit and Benedict XVI went to Germany on his very first, although, as mentioned above, he inherited that visit from St. John Paul II. His fourth visit was again to Germany.

In comparing Popes Francis and St. John Paul II, one more thing must be noted: their age. St. John Paul II was between 58 and 64 in his first six years as pope. Francis was 76 when elected, and is now 82. That makes him being the new “travelling Pope” all the more remarkable.

Photo credit: [1] AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, [2] Tim Graham/Getty Images

 

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From the tundra to the desert – Bishop Pétur retires

 It is no surprise, but for the small Church in Iceland a seismic event nonetheless as Bishop Peter (Pétur in Icelandic) Bürcher announces that he has offered his resignation to Pope Francis. At 70 he is still 5 years under the mandatory retirement age, but, as he himself puts it, the “glacial cold of the high North” badly affected his health, which was further compromised by pneumonia. He now follows the advice of doctors to exchange the barren cold of Iceland for the warmer climate of the Holy Land.

bürcher

Bishop Bürcher will remain in charge of the Diocese of Reykjavík until the Holy Father decides otherwise, but he will travel to Israel when the situation allows it. He will eventually take on duties for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in agreement with Patriarch Fouad Twal.

The Church in Iceland is a small but growing one, with promising developments for the future, including new monastic communities (something that the bishop has long worked for) and new churches.

To the faithful in his diocese, he writes:

“Already now I would like with all my heart to thank you in Iceland and everywhere. I offer you my deepest gratitude for your understanding and for your faithful cooperation in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the celebration of faith and the Sacraments as in the service of all our brothers and sisters. As one of my fellow-bishops said, I can also say: I am happy to be a bishop and I am often a happy bishop. I have been able to plant, another will water and another will be able to reap. Thanks to God for all.”

Bishop Pétur was born in Switzerland and auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg from 1994 to 2007,and in that latter year he was appointed as the fourth bishop of Reykjavík.

The Diocese of Reykjavík was established as the Apostolic Prefecture of Islanda in 1923, split off from the Apostolic Vicariate of Denmark. In 1929 it became an Apostolic Vicariate and in 1968 a full Diocese. It has had one native bishop in the person of Johánnes Gunnarsson, who was Vicar Apostolic from 1942 to 1967. Other bishops have been from Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and, lastly, from Switzerland.

“Never again” the bishops warn in the wake of rising antisemitism

Anne%20FrankFollowing recent and fairly sudden signs of increasing antisemitism in both the Netherlands and other western countries, the Dutch bishops have issued a statement condemning any hate against Jewish and other people.

“Both in and beyond our Dutch society there is – as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas – an increase in displays of hatred against Jews. The Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, categorically denouncing hatred against Jews, feel obliged to once again strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism.”

This clearly refers to that shining moment in World War II, when the Dutch bishops stood up against the Nazi treatment of the Jewish inhabitants of the Netherlands. This in turn led , among other things, to the death of Blessed Titus Brandsma (whose feast day we marked last Sunday) in Dachau concentration camp. The bishops continue:

“It cannot be that people who (for many centuries) have been an inalienable part of our society now feel unsafe and unwanted. The incomprehensible and appalling tragedy of the Holocaust in the Second World War has made it more than clear what hate against Jews can lead to.

For us Christians the fact also matters that the Jews are our older brothers and sisters in the faith in the one God, Father and Creator of all men. Our Church’s bond with the Jews and Judaism is unbreakable and can’t be given up. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew and we Christians come forth from the Jewish people. Pope Francis recently said, not without reason, “You can’t be a true Christian without acknowledging your Jewish roots” (interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia).

We acknowledge the rights of both Jewish and Palestinians to live in their own state, safely and in peace. The current war between Hamas and Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict are very complex matters. We consider it necessary for a lasting peace that those Jews and Palestinians who fight each other or see each other as enemies, end combat and start working together to build up countries which can live in peace with one another, as a blessing for coming generations and the entire world. We pray for peace for the Holy Land, the Middle East and our entire world. We also pray that every person will know he is safe and wanted in both our country and all other countries. After all, we are all – Jews, Christians, Muslims and all people – God’s creatures, called to life by Him out of love, to live together as His children.

On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands:

+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk,
President of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference

+ Hermanus W. Woorts,
Chair of the Bishops’ Conference department for Church and Judaism”

Although this is an issue which, in part, specifically concerns Dutch society, equal condemnation should be given to the even stronger displays of hatred against people for their religion in all parts of the world, not least the Christians in IS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, the warring parties in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Muslims and Christians and the Central African republic… I could go on. Where politicians drop the ball, the bishops and all members of Church and society should be ready to pick it up.

 

The cardinal’s “no” to a papal visit

I added the official correction from the bishops’ conference to how Trouw represented the facts below:

eijkAccording to Trouw, preparations for a hypothetical papal visit to the Netherlands was already well-advanced when Cardinal Wim Eijk, as president of the Bishops’ Conference, vetoed the visit, doing so, he explained, after discussing the plans with the Pope on 10 January.

It seems amazing that the preparation was already so well underway: security was planned, money was available and there was even a script for the visit. While the idea was floated by Bishop Jos Punt several months ago, rumours did not become serious until the ad limina visit two months ago, and plans weren’t even officially discussed until the January meeting of the conference. For there to be a script ready this soon seems incredible. The article in Trouw states that Bishop Punt presented a full schedule for a one-day papal visit to Amsterdam during the plenary meeting in autumn. By the looks of it, this seems more like the trademark enthusiasm of Bishop Punt. A papal visit to his diocese would have been unlikely without the involvement of the rest of the conference. It would have been a national event anyway.

francisAs president of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Eijk is fully within his right to veto such plans, of course. And while the Trouw article suggests that “inside sources” confimr that no papal visit was discussed during Cardinal Eijk’s meeting with Pope Francis, the bishops’ spokeswoman rightly states that such meetings are confidential: we never get to hear what the Pope discusses with those he meets, especially not when they’re cardinals. Pope and cardinals can decide for themselves what they want to share of their conversation, and Cardinal Eijk has decided to keep it at this.

In general, the sources who say that a visit would have been possible or even desired by the Pope, are unnamed sources in the Vatican. I don’t think there’s much credibility we can attach to those…

Is it a shame that Pope Francis isn’t visiting? Of course. It would have been wonderful. It would also have been expensive, and I can understand that that would have kept the Pope at home, even though the Netherlands is, in some sense, a peripheral area in the Catholic world. And I don’t think that the bishops are ready to manage this… Pope Francis’ visit to the Netherlands, even if it were for just one day, would be making headlines for weeks. Considering the media’s opinion and track record of reporting on Catholic affairs, there would have been an enormous amount of misrepresentation of the Church and the faith, which would have to be corrected by the bishops and the faithful (who need to do this much more often, anyway). In that sense, I am glad that the Pope is not coming over.

And then there is the financial side. The bishops’ conference is cutting costs on all sides, and a papal visit is not going to be financed completely by the Holy See. While housing Pope Francis, with his sober tastes, would not be a problem, using the Amsterdam Arena football stadium for a prayer service, the logistics, the security, and all sorts of additional costs would be irresponsibly high at this moment.

Would the visit attract enough people? I think so. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1985 was disastrous, but times have changed. The media haven’t turned on Pope Francis yet (which they will when they find out he is not going to change Church teaching on sexuality, marriage, family and such). So in that sense a visit would be desirable now, more so than in the future. But in what sense it would be for the perceived persona of the Pope instead of a pastoral visit to strengthen the faithful can be debated…

Logistics, finances and communication skills would prohibit this visit, in my opinion. While Pope Francis would be enthusiastically received by all layers of society (imagine the circus when politicians all want to be involved…), I fear the effects of the visit would not last very long.

It’s a sad decision, but a good one, I think. Enthusiasm for a visit is simply not enough to make it happen.

EDIT: While my general comments above stand, it seems that the facts of the decision are somewhat different than represented by Trouw. The decision to not have a papal visit was not the cardinal’s, but the Pope’s. Read below my translation of the official statement from the bishops’ conference:

 On 10 January last, Cardinal Eijk met with Pope Francis in a private audience. The newspaper Trouw today misrepresents what both discussed during the meeting. Trouw states that the Pope and Cardinal Eijk decided jointly that a visit to the Netherlands would not take place. Cardinal Eijk is said to have also stated that in the plenary meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. That is completely besides the truth.

During the ad limina visit Cardinal Eijk replied to reporters’ questions that Pope Francis is welcome in the Netherlands. On 10 January he probed Pope Francis about the possibility of a papal visit to our country. The Pope himself indicated that he did not see a chance to do so in the foreseeable future. He is already planning to visit the Holy Land and several other countries. There is therefore no opportunity to visit the Netherlands soon.

Added to that are the Pope’s plans to reorganise the Roman Curia. As is known he has established a commission of eight cardinals from all continents who regularly meet in Rome to advise him in that matter. In the coming years this reorganisation will require much time and attention from the Pope. Therefore he has little opportunity to conduct travels abroad.

Trouw claims that the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference has said that Cardinal Eijk informed the Bishops’ Conference that the Holy Father and he had decided that the visit would not take place. In her e-mail to Trouw reporter Emiel Hakkenes, of Friday 31 January last, the spokesperson of the Bishops’ Conference made it known that the Pope decided himself not to visit the Netherlands (for now).

Pope to Amsterdam? High hopes and realistic expectations

papal visitTo be honest, I’d be trying to get front row seats if it would happen, but I don’t expect that Pope Francis will really make a papal visit to the Netherlands anytime soon, let alone next year, as Trouw suggests. Then again, even the bishops have been toying with the idea, as we learn from the letter about the ad limina visit that Bishop Punt sent his faithful. There we find the following passage:

“At an earlier occasion I spoke with the Pope about a possible visit to the Netherlands. He seemed very interested. With the other bishops we have agreed to consider the possibilities.”

Both Trouw and Catholic broadcaster RKK are now reporting that a spokesman for Bishop Punt has said that they hope for a visit to Amsterdam sometime next year. I don’t read that in the bishop’s letter, and I have doubts if next year is realistic. Pope Francis does not yet seem to be as keen a traveller as both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, having only visited Brazil (and that visit was scheduled for Benedict), and the Dutch bishops, who have not yet issued a formal invitation (as Cardinal Eijk said during the ad limina), are not the first in line. We may be certain that Pope Francis intends to visit the Holy Land next year, as he himself has said in the most recent interview. The bishops will be discussing possibilities regarding the visit during their January meeting, it is said.

A papal visit will be something to look forward to. It will be an enormous boost in confidence for Dutch Catholics, but we can’t forget the disastrous previous visit of a Pope, in 1985. Pope John Paul II, who was also a much beloved and popular pontiff, suffered much criticism then for the Church teachings on controversial topics like women’s ordination and contraception. Hey, it’s the Netherlands, anything can happen.

While a papal visit may be in the books for an unspecified time in the future, I don’t see it happening next year, nor do I believe that the bishops themselves think so.

EDIT: Anna Kruse, the spokeswoman for the bishops, confirmed on Twitter that a possible papal visit was not discussed during the ad limina visit, and that there has been no formal invitation from the bishops to the Pope. The bishops would welcome a visit, of course, and via Bishop Punt we learn that Pope Francis isn’t opposed either, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Martino turns 80

One day before the admission of six new members to the group of cardinal electors, the number of that group drops with one to 114. Renato Raffaele Martino reached the age of 80 today and has thus became ineligible to vote in a future conclave.

Hailing from the southern Italian town of Salerno, Renato Martino entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1962, five years after his ordination to the priesthood. He earned a doctorate in canon law in that time. Fr. Martino served in various countries, among them Nicaragua, the Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

In 1980, he was consecrated to bishop and made titular archbishop of Segermes in modern Tunisia. Archbishop Martino was sent to head the diplomatic missions in Thailand, and Laos. In 1981, he also became such in Singapore in addition to his other positions. Brunei and Malaysia followed in 1983.

In 1986, he was reassigned to the high-profile position of Permanent Observer to the United Nations. In his time at the UN in New York, Archbishop Martino was an outspoken critic of the American invasion of Iraq in 1991. Another important call, related to his future functions in Rome, was his call for a safe heaven to be created for Tutsi refugees in Rwanda, to prevent the death of 30,000 people.

Archbishop Martino would continue in this position until 2002, when he was recalled to Rome to become president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. With that position came the red hat, and Cardinal Martino was created in 2003, in Blessed John Paul II’s last consistory. He became cardinal deacon of San Francesco di Paolo ai Monti. As head of Justice and Peace, Cardinal Martino intervened, to no avail, on behalf of Terri Schiavo, in the widely-covered case of her euthanasia. He also spoke out against the death sentence against Saddam Hussein and called for a international peace conference for the Middle East. He was once again openly against American interventions in Iraq. Later, he was involved in peace conferences between Israel and Palestinians, and likened Gaza to a “huge concentration camp”. In another example of his strongly pro-life position, Cardinal Martino  urged Catholics to stop donating to Amnesty International when that organisation decided to advocate abortion in 2007.

From 2006 until his retirement in 2009, Cardinal Martino was also the president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Following his retirement, Cardinal Martino remained a member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People, the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State. His pro-life attitude was rewarded in 2009 with the awarding of the title of Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in Rome. In 2011, in his last major diplomatic endeavours, Cardinal Martino visited Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, where he met with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko