Looking ahead at a new year

Midway through the last month of the year, it is a good time to look ahead to the new year. 2018 will undoubtedly feature its share of Catholic news, developments and, not least, opinions in social media. Every year since the launch of this blog has had had more than a few surprises, so a look at the future can’t be anything but incomplete, but there are a few things which we know will happen.

Algermissen2The retirement and appointment of bishops is pretty easy to predict, as bishops are legally bound to offer their resignation when they reach the age of 75. Locally, there are currently three dioceses without a bishop: Roermond in the Netherlands, and Hildesheim and Würzburg in Germany. In 2018, two more will likely join these: in Fulda, Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen (at right) will celebrate his 75th on 15 February, and in Namur, Bishop Remy Vancottem will do likewise on 25 July. A third likely diocese to fall vacant in Ghent. Bishop Luc van Looy will turn 77 on 28 September. Upon his 75th birthday, the diocese made it known that Pope Francis had requested the bishop stay on for two more years, and that extension is up this year.

Other predictable events include the 80th birthdays of cardinals, the age at which they cease their duties in the Roman Curia and are no longer able to participate in a conclave. In 2018, six cardinals will mark this milestone:

  • Antonio Maria Cardinal Vegliò on 3 February
  • Paolo Cardinal Romeo on 20 February
  • Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio on 6 March
  • Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro on 29 March
  • Pierre Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn on 1 April
  • Angelo Cardinal Amato on 8 June

Visita_de_Cardenal_Angelo_Amato_-_17792469768_(cropped)While all hold memberships in various dicasteries in the curia, two of these sit at the head of them: Cardinal Coccopalmerio is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and Cardinal Amato (at left) is the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Nhơn remains active as archbishop of Hanoi. All will undoubtedly retire upon their 80th birthday, opening up some interesting positions in the curia. Barring any deaths, the number of cardinal electors will stand at 114 by mid-2018. Possibly not low enough for a new consistory by itself, but considering the fact that a further 10 ill age out in 2019, Pope Francis may decide to be proactive and call a consistory in autumn for the creation of anywhere between 6 and 16 new cardinals.

World-Meeting-of-Families-2018Speaking about the pope, he will, despite the fact that he has no love for travelling, visit several countries in 2018. In January, he will once again return to South America, visiting Peru and Chile. Ireland is on the schedule in August, when the Holy Father will attend the World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin (logo at right). Visits not yet confirmed are to the Baltic countries in September and to Romania in December. A visit to India also remains an option, but as Pope Francis has just wrapped a visit to India’s neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh, it may not be at the top of the list.

synod of bishopsIn the latter part of the year, all eyes will be on the Synod of Bishops again, this while the reverberations of the last two assemblies of that body are still being felt. The October 2018 Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops while focus on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment”. To this assembly, each bishops’ conference will elect one or more (depending on their size) delegates, while the Pope will also make a personal selection of delegates. One of these personal choices has already been made: Sérgio Cardinal Da Rocha, the archbishop of Brasília, was appointed as Relator General of next year’s assembly. He will outline the theme at the start of the assembly and summarise the delegates’ speeches so they can be condensed into concrete proposals.

Photo credit: [1] Bistum Fulda, [2] Fotos Presidencia El Salvador/Wikipedia

Advertisements

Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

21740590_979533605512127_6593107632050468441_n

From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

Bishop Voderholzer’s remedy to dropping numbers

In a homily at the pilgrimage site of St. Anna Schäffer in Mindelstetten, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg addressed the recently released statistics regarding church attendance and such in the Catholic Church in Germany. He compares them to the equally disastrous numbers in the Lutheran church and explains that the standard liberal remedies of constantly wanting to change church and faith, and getting rid of perceived oppressive dogmas, is not the solution to the crisis.

According to Bishop Voderholzer, the numbers point out something else: an evaporation of faith. He also puts this into perspective, saying that the Lord never promised his followers to be a majority anywhere. Rather, he foresaw difficulties and opposition. So, depressing numbers should, in themselves, really not be a cause for us to give up.

1085557_m1w590q75v2214_PortrtbildBischof_2“Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Last Friday, the 21st of July, the statistics for the Catholic Churc and the Lutheran Church in Germany for the year 2016 were published. You will probably have heard a few things about it via radio and television or in the newspaper.

The outcome was not very surprising. Like before, the number of people leaving the Church are disconcertingly high, even when they have dropped by some 11 percent in the Catholic Church as compared to 2015. The number of baptisms has increased slightly, the number of marriages decreased soewhat. In Hamburg and Berlin the number of Catholics has grown, due to the influx of Catholic foreigners; but in general the number of Catholics is growing smaller.

Dear sisters and brothers, I do not want to bore you with numbers and statictics today, on the Anna Schäffer Day of Remembrance. But the public reactions to these numbers are noteworthy and lead us to look further.

As a remedy to turn these trends around and to preserve our social relevance we are continuously advised to – literally – “open up and rid ourselves of rigid conservative dogmas.”

In this case, these are:

Abolishing the celibacy of priests;

Removing the different tasks and appointments of men and women in the Church and admitting women into apostolic ministry;

Consenting to the demand of full legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage;

Admitting everyone to Communion, and so on.

You know the list of demands as well as I do.

Dear sisters and brothers! The problematic nature of this advice becomes clear with a quick glance at the statistics of the Lutheran church. If the application of the aforementioned pieces of advice would really be a way of improving the situation of the Church, flourishing life must be visible in the Lutheran church.

But what do the numbers say? More people leave the Lutheran church – and have done so, with the exception of 2014, for years – than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that in the Lutheran church these demands have all basically been fulfilled and all these alleged impediments to being church are no longer present. But this is generally ignored in public, even though the numbers were presented on the same day. Isn’t the reason that this is being ignored perhaps that it would reveal the blatant weakness, yes, the inconsistency and absurdity of this “good” advice to the Catholic Church?! Can one, in all seriousness, present the path of the Lutheran church as a remedy, when it is so often led to an even greater distance to the faith and the church? I say this without malice! I know Lutheran fellow Christians who completely agree with my assessment and who warn us Catholics not to make the same mistakes.

We must look much further in the whole debate. The statictics reveal a secularisation which has been progressing for years, a loss of church affiliation and lastly a decline in the substance of faith, an evaporation of the awareness of God. That is why we do not really have a shortage of priests, but a much more fundamental shortage of faith. The priest shortage is a symptom, like a fever. But the fever is not itself the disease, but it indicates the presence of an inflammation. I am certain: the fever of the priest shortage indicates the disease of lack of faith. As an aside, the Lutheran church has also long known the phantom of lack of priests, as there are too few young people who study theology and are willing to also put themselves professionally at the service of the Gospel; all this without celibacy and with the possibility for women to also assume the office of the priesthood! This should give us a sense of the true reasons for the lack of church adherence.

Dear sisters and brothers, come together at the grave of Saint Anna Schäffer! We all have the image and the fate of the Church at heart. But not in the sense that we belong to her as to a club whose public image and strength are the ultimate goal; but for the sake of the message and the sake of the people, for whose sake God became man in Jesus Christ. In the Church He takes us into service for His Gospel. The Lord did not promise us that we would always be the majority; rather, He predicted headwind and resistance.

For that reason we should not concern ourselves too much with numbers and statistics. What should concern us is that the Gospel can lighten up our environment, through our lives in faith. Everywhere where we overshadow the Gospel because of inattentiveness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness, we are called to convert and once more give the Lord space.

Instead of constantly changing the structures, also and especially the sacramental structures of the Church, instead of diluting the message of the Gospel and instead of proclaiming a light version of Jesus, evangelisation is called for, a saturation of society with the Spirit of Jesus. And the first and all-important step on that way is a daily striving towards holiness, the daily listening to God’s word and the willingness to begin the reform of the Church with myself. That is reformation: the renewal of faith, the restoration of the image of Christ which was engraved in us in Baptism and Confirmation. Where this is granted to us in God’s mercy, where we succeed in this, we will make the people of our time once again curious about the faith which supports us. And then we can also explain the hope that lives within us.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord! In the endeavours of evangelisation in our time Saint Anna Schäffer is in every aspect an example and also an advocate.

She wanted to devote her life to the mission abroad. But the Lord had destined her for the mission in her own country. Before becoming a comforter and source of joy in faith for many, she had to allow herself to be evangelised again, and radically so. Accepting her suffering as a partaking in the cross of Christ was anything but easy. Bedridden and with her gaze upon the cross she faced this process of inner healing and transformation. She so became a bright sign of God’s work, a messenger of faith to countless people and ultimately a saint of the Catholic Church.

And so we pray today for her intercession, that the Lord will grant each and everyone of us the grace to begin the reform of the Church in ourselves; that we muster the courage to lt ourselves be evangelised anew every day and in this way be prepared to serve the mission of the Church – for the salvation of humanity and the glory of the triune God, whose is the glory, today, every day and forever. Amen.”

In new directive, Church ignores plight of coeliacs. Except it doesn’t.

eucharistIn a letter released yesterday by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Church once again emphasises what can and cannot be consecrated during Mass. In essence, the bread must be made of wheat and the wine must be real wine, with at least some fermentation having taking place. The bread, the Congregation explains, must also contain gluten, even if just a small amount “to obtain the confection of bread”.

Two things struck me in the reactions to this letter in (social) media. One, many assume these are new rules, and two, people with coeliac disease can’t receive Communion. Both assumptions are untrue.

As the authors of the letter emphasise, “the norms about the Eucharistic matter are given in can. 924 of the CIC and in numbers 319 – 323 of the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani and have already been explained in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by this Congregation (25 March 2004)”.  The regulation they now present anew are not new, but have been standardised in the Code of Canon Law and various instructions. This new letter is simply a reminder to bishops that bread must be bread and wine must be wine (and not cake and lemonade, for example) – after all, that is what Jesus used at the Last Supper, and He specifically follow His example.

People who suffer from coeliac disease, and who are therefore unable to digest gluten, are in no way barred from receiving Communion. In many cases, they can receive bread with a small amount of gluten, and for those who can’t, it is perfectly possible to receive only the Blood of Christ. He is, after all, completely present in both bread and wine.

It is a shame, if not unexpected, that media outlets take this letter and present it as something it is not, ie. as something new instead of a reminder of established regulations.

Ordinations, or the lack thereof – an update

Following the discussions triggered by this post about ordinations of new priests and deacons in northwestern Europe, I have gone over the announcements from the various dioceses and created a list of all the ordinations in 2017 in the dioceses of the Netherlands, Flanders, Germany and the Nordic countries. There are more than I listed in my original post (which, it has to be emphasised, never aimed to give a complete picture).

The list, which can be found at the bottom of the sidebar on the right, is a work in progress, as ordinations, in many cases, are announced mere weeks before they take place. It is my intention to give some idea about the numbers of new priests and deacons that the Church in these parts is blessed to receive.

In exile? – A motto for the new bishop

Now that a new bishop for Groningen-Leeuwarden has finally been appointed, a period of  months begins until his consecration. Set for 3 June at St. Joseph’s cathedral, Msgr. Ron van den Hout will be the first bishop consecrated there since 1999, and only the second one ever. The new bishops’ predecessor, Msgr. de Korte, was already a bishop when appointed to the northern diocese in 2008, so he was only installed as ordinary. It is not yet known who the consecrating bishops will be, but I would not be surprised if Bishop Gerard de Korte would serve as chief consecrator. Bishop-elect van den Hout not only succeeds him as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, but also served as his vicar general in ‘s-Hertogenbosch for a year. The bishop who initially appointed Msgr. van den Hout as his vicar general, Msgr. Antoon Hurkmans, could also be invited to travel north from Rome to be one of the two co-consecrators.

f035fdc6-a42b-4ea3-ac5c-e1382f1d2d97Following his presentation at the diocesan offices yesterday, Msgr. van den Hout revealed the motto he has chosen to grace his coat of arms (still to be designed): In exilio spes (Hope in exile). At first glance perhaps a reflection of his being sent far away from home, to a diocese with significantly fewer Catholics (noting the contrast with his home diocese, the bishop-elect said, “I know that there are few religious, there is no Catholic university, there are no guilds”), the true reason is different. Msgr. van den Hout explains:

“One of the Eucharistic prayers says, “Confirm your Church in exile. Make her one in love and faith” [literal translation from the Dutch text – MV]. In my lectures the topic of exile was frequently addressed. In exegesis, the time of the Persian and the exile has been given more attention.

Difficult times are Always a phase in salvation history. Israel survived the exile because it was willing to seek out God once again.”

His soon-to-be brother bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, sheds some more light on the motto:

“With it, he, as an exegete, links to a topic which is close to his heart, as well as to the words of Pope Francis during the last Ad limina visit. The Pope compared the situation of the Church in our country with that of the exile of the Jewish people: there can be a tendency to look back to a glorious past, but the mission – which the prophets then pointed out to the Jewish people – is to look ahead, to seek out God and work towards the future with confidence and perseverence.”

Upon the news of Bishop-elect Van den Hout’s appointment, which was, perhaps unavoidably leaked several hours in advance, the Bishops’ Conference welcomed him into their ranks. Via conference president Bishop Hans van den Hende, they assured him of their prayers, especially in the weeks towards his consecration and installation.

In a letter to the priests and pastoral workers of his diocese, Bishop Gerard de Korte reacted with sadness and joy to the new mission of his vicar general, writing:

naamloos“Pope Francis’ choice means a great sacrifice for our Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In the past year I have gotten to know Ron as a jovial priest of Brabant.

Through the appointment of Dr. Van den Hout as new bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden I lose a reliable and hard-working coworker. But I get him back as a colleague in the bishops’ conference.

I congratulate the faithful of my old diocese with the new bishop, and hope and expect that they will greet him warmly.”

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Groningen-Leeuwarden, [2] Ramon Mangold

The Good News – Pope Francis’ Message for World Communications Day 2017

Always an interesting publication for those in the Catholic blogging business, Pope Francis published his Message for World Communications Day today. He calls for a break away from focussing solely on bad news in all forms of communication and root the way we share news and thoughts in good news, the Good News even. The papal Message is food for thought for all “who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate”. I think that’s me and you.

“Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5):
Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time

Access to the media – thanks to technological progress – makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false. The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always “grinding”, but it is up to us to choose what to feed them (cf. SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, Epistle to Leontius).

I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.

I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.

I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.

Good news

Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?

For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.

This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation. He has told us that we are not alone, for we have a Father who is constantly mindful of his children. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5): these are the comforting words of a God who is immersed in the history of his people. In his beloved Son, this divine promise – “I am with you” – embraces all our weakness, even to dying our death. In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure. That hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5) and makes new life blossom, like a shoot that springs up from the fallen seed. Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.

Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom

To introduce his disciples and the crowds to this Gospel mindset and to give them the right “lens” needed to see and embrace the love that dies and rises, Jesus uses parables. He frequently compares the Kingdom of God to a seed that releases its potential forletter t life precisely when it falls to the earth and dies (cf. Mk 4:1-34). This use of images and metaphors to convey the quiet power of the Kingdom does not detract from its importance and urgency; rather, it is a merciful way of making space for the listener to freely accept and appropriate that power. It is also a most effective way to express the immense dignity of the Paschal mystery, leaving it to images, rather than concepts, to communicate the paradoxical beauty of new life in Christ. In that life, hardship and the cross do not obstruct, but bring about God’s salvation; weakness proves stronger than any human power; and failure can be the prelude to the fulfilment of all things in love. This is how hope in the Kingdom of God matures and deepens: it is “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow” (Mk 4:26-27).

The Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, like a seed that is easily overlooked, yet silently takes root. Those to whom the Holy Spirit grants keen vision can see it blossoming. They do not let themselves be robbed of the joy of the Kingdom by the weeds that spring up all about.

The horizons of the Spirit

Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension. Even though the Lord may now appear more distant, the horizons of hope expand all the more. In Christ, who brings our human nature to heaven, every man and woman can now freely “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). By “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7‑8).

Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate. This confidence enables us to carry out our work – in all the different ways that communication takes place nowadays – with the conviction that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.

Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough. We nurture it by reading ever anew the Gospel, “reprinted” in so many editions in the lives of the saints who became icons of God’s love in this world. Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2017

Francis