The state of the world at Christmas, according to Bishop Punt

In his regular ‘Word from the Bishop’ column, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam this time looks ahead to Christmas, and particularly the state of our world today. Are political grandstanding and military threats really an answer, he asks. While we live in a broken world, power is needed to keep opposing powers in check, but real change starts in the hearts of people, he argues.

20160110_punt_70“We are celebrating Christmas in a tense time. The Middle East is on fire. North Korea and American are threatening “fire and fury” upon each other. Almost all countries are rearming themselves. Each one, in their own opinion, to defend themselves against the others. That is how the First World War started. How do we break this spiral of fear, hate and violence?

The world leaders are betting on diplomacy, shows of force and alliances. Understandable. At the same time, everyone knows that that is not the ultimate solution. What we need is a New World Order, many politicians therefore claim. Especially a world government with complete power and authority to control international conflicts. What they forget is that leaders are also always people with exactly the same weaknesses. They, too, easily fall into self-interest, greed and lust for power. We see it everywhere around us. We have already seen in extreme way, in Hitler, Stalin and Mao, what the concentration of power leads to. On a worldwide level the consequences will be unimaginable.

Great thinkers from the past have long foreseen this and warned against it. Think of Dostoyevsky or George Orwell, or of Aldous Huyxley with his famous novel Brave New World (1932). Or also of Robert Benson, an English priest from the 1900s, with his novel Lord of the World (1907). Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have referred to it as a warning to us. Visionary, Benson describes a secularised world in which mankind, plagued by fear and chaos, calls for a strong leader. Then, an all-powerful dictator rises, a sort of Antichrist. He does indeed bring order with power and control, but ultimately robs mankind of all its dignity and freedom. A new world order is not the answer to chaos and war, but sooner or later a highway to the most complete dictatorship of all time. As long as we live in this broken world, powers must always be confronted by other powers.

But how should things be? I have said it before: the world will only change when man changes. Diplomacy, alliances and sometimes military interventions are necessary, but can only combat the symptoms of a wounded world and an inwardly wounded mankind, but it is not the cure. That should take place in the heart of man. And the Good News of Christmas is that this is possible. Man has a conscience and is able to change. He can became great and holy, a force for good for all mankind. Great and small people defeating evil, first in their own hearts, and then changing their surroundings and the world. Our time needs such people, not least in politics. Nothing in man’s being or in his history should be an obstacle to that, the Lord promises.

You will probably the beautiful song Amazing Grace. What you may not know is that it was written by the captain of a slave ship in the eighteenth century, John Newton. In a storm he was touched by the light of God, and saw the great evil of his life. He had the courage to confront it and ask for forgiveness. One moment of grace completely changed him. He began to strive for the abolishment of slavery, and later became a gifted preacher who drew full churches in England. Only the change of heart can offer the solution. The entire Bible is an encouragement to open yourself up to the touch of God’s Spirit.

But Scripture also teaches us that that touch is never open-ended and always presents us with a choice. When the Spirit comes in force, as it did for John Newton, his mild Light will let you feel the love of God, but also show you the dark places of your heart and your hidden sins. Not to discourage you, but to give you the chance to change what is not right, and to receive forgiveness. That is why Christ has come, Scripture tell us, to save us through the forgiveness of our sins. We can leave behind everything that we regret and confess honestly. When you believe in this Child, love incarnate, and bring everything that weighs you down and holds you back to Him, He will carry it with and for you, and give you strength to be a force for good for the world around you. And after this life He will receive you in His eternal Kingdom. Some will receive this gift of redemption in gratitude, like the shepherds and the magi, and kneel down to worship the Child. Others will be too prideful for that, like Herod, and hold on to their power, greed and lust, persecute the Child and banish God from their lives.

Christmas is the feast of the Light. The Light of God’s Love and truth that enlightens the hearts of people, and through them the world. May this Light be ours in these days. In that sense I wish you all a Blessed Christmas.”

 

Advertisements

Pope Francis announces 16 new cardinals “from the world’s peripheries”

It is about five weeks before the consistory, so the announcement was expected any day, but Pope Francis managed to surprise again. At the end of today’s Angelus he announced his first batch of cardinals, 16 in all. The list is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who’s who.

  • 220px-Pietro_parolinArchbishop Pietro Parolin (58), Secretary of State. No surprise here. The Secretary of State has traditionally always been a cardinal, and although the position looks to undergo some changes in Pope Francis’ curial reforms, but the title and rank of the occupant is not among them. In contrast to his important function in the Curia, Cardinal-designate is quite young. Only three current members of the entire College (Woelki, Tagle and Thottunkal) are younger.
  • baldisseriArchbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (73), Secetary General of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. Also no surprise, but for different reasons. The important role given to him early on in Francis’ pontificate, organising the two upcoming Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and already wearing the red skullcap that Pope Francis himself wore until his election to the papacy, indicated that he would be among the Pope’s first cardinals. Cardinal-designate Baldisseri will be the third Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to be made a cardinal. The previous one was Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte.
  • müllerArchbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (66), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Head of the first among equals of Curial dicasteries, Archbishop Müller was also quite certain to be among the new cardinals. Ever since the Popes were no longer heads of the Doctrinal office, all Prefects were cardinals. Some have made assumptions that Cardinal-designate Müller was not going to be made a cardinal, because the ‘orthodox’ prelate seemed to be at odds with the ‘liberal’ Pope, but those are evidently mere rumours. The Prefect and the Pope work closely and well together, and Müller has even hosted the Holy Father for dinner.
  • Mons_-Beniamino-StellaArchbishop Beniamino Stella (72), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Another sure candidate because of his function. The diplomat-prelate has made a rapid rise in the Curia last year, but that does not make his appointment surprising. Since as far back as the 16th century, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has been a cardinal.
  • nicholsArchbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols (68), Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom. Somewhat of a surprise, although the UK is now without any active cardinal electors, with Scottish Cardinal O’Brien in effective retirement. For some he is considered too liberal, but the fact remains that Cardinal-designate Nichols has been an archbishop for almost 14 years (first of Birmingham, now of Westminster), and in his current see he is the 11th cardinal. In fact, since its establishment in 1850, all ordinaries of Westminster were made cardinals.
  • monsleopoldobrenesArchbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano (64), Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua. Now we are getting into the more interesting and unexpected choices for red hats. Cardinal-designate Brenes Solórzano is only the second archbishop of Managua to be made a cardinal. He is also the second elector in all of Central America (not counting Mexico).
  • lacroixArchbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (56), Archbishop of Québec, Canada. The successor of Cardinal Ouellet in the French-Canadian capital, Cardinal-designate Lacroix could have been expected to be made a cardinal some day, but he did not feature on many lists. Québec has been a cardinal see before, but rarely automatically. At 56, he will also be the second-youngest member of the College.
  • KutwaArchbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa (68), Archbishop of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. From the start of speculations a likely candidate in traditionally cardinal-deprived Africa, Cardinal-designate Kutwa is the third archbishop of Abidjan in a row to be made a cardinal, with his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Agré, still alive. Before being appointed to Abidjan in 2006, Archbishop Kutwa had been Archbishop of Gagnoa since 2001.
  • tempestaArchbishop Orani João Tempesta (63), Archbishop of São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Host of the most recent World Youth Days and head of one of global Catholicism’s largest communities, Cardinal-designate Tempesta follows in the footsteps of his predecessors since the late 19th century.
  • bassettiArchbishop Gualtiero Bassetti (71), Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy. The only Italian ordinary on the list, Cardinal-designate Bassetti is a bit of a surprise. Perugia has rarely supplied a cardinal. His appointment comes in lieu of other, more likely, sees such as Turin or Venice.  Th vice-president of the Italian bishops’ conference was recently also appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
  • poli mitraArchbishop Mario Aurelio Poli (66), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis’ own successor in the Argentinean capital and in fact the second ordinary appointed in his papacy, Cardinal-designate Poli need not have been a surprise choice. Five of his six predecessors in Buenos Aires also became cardinals.
  • yeom soo-jungArchbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung (70), Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea. As South Korea is one of the fastest growing Catholic countries in the world, and certainly in Asia, it is certainly fitting for its capital’s archbishop to be made a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Yeom Soo-Jung is the third of Seoul’s archbishops to be made a cardinal. In addition to the Archdiocese of Seoul, the cardinal-designate is theoretically also pastorally responsible for the Catholics of North Korea.
  • ezzati andrelloArchbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (71), Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Chile. A main-stay on the lists, Cardinal-designate Ezzati Andrello heads a traditional cardinalatial see. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals. The Salesian cardinal-designate was previously archbishop of Concepción, also in Chile, before being appointed to that nation’s capital.
  • ouédraogoArchbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo (68), Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Only the second cardinal to hail from this western African country, he is a bit of a surprise. Cardinal-designate Ouédraogo is president of the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso, and a welcome addition to the College, considering his nationality and heritage.
  • quevedoArchbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (74), Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines. A second elector from the Philippines was very welcome, but it being the archbishop of Cotabato is quite surprising. No cardinal has come from there before. Cardinal-designate Quevedo, however, has been archbishop of Nueva Segovia, and president of both the Philippine bishops’ conference and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
  • chibly_langloisBishop Chibly Langlois (55), Archbishop of Les Cayes, Haiti. Another young cardinal, and the first from Les Cayes. Cardinal-designate Langlois is even more noticeable for not being an archbishop and the first Haitian cardinal. The Haitian hierarchy, then, looks rather unique, with the bishop of a regular diocese wearing the red, while the nation’s two archbishop do not. Bishop Langlois has been the president of the bishops’ conference of Haiti since the end of 2011.
  • capovillaArchbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla (98), Archbishop-prelate of Loreto, Italy. The oldest cardinal, Cardinal-designate Capovilla is a remarkable choice. He was Blessed Pope John XXIII secretary during the latter’s entire papacy, and we can therefore see his elevation in light of the Blessed Pope’s upcoming canonisation and the Second Vatican Council he convened. He will be the oldest cardinal of the College, and also the oldest to be created in the Church’s history.
  • aguilarArchbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar (84), Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain. A retired ordinary of a see which has supplied only one other cardinal in the past, the creation of Cardinal-designate Aguilar must be seen as Pope Francis personal choice as well as, perhaps, the importance he attaches to the mission. Cardinal-designate Aguilar is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  • felixArchbishop Kelvin Edward Felix (80), Archbishop emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia. Another first as no cardinals have ever come from the smaller Caribbean nations. Cardinal-designate Felix’s elevation is another step in creating a more representative College of Cardinals.

All in all, the biglietto fits well with the priorities of Pope Francis, as the new cardinals come from all corners of the world, from the Curia and (in larger part) from the world’s dioceses, and are not limited to the standard traditional cardinalatial sees. But it also tells us that Pope Francis is not willing to let go of tradition altogether. For the proper functioning of the Curia and the College of Cardinals, it seems, he recognises that he needs the Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Clergy to be cardinals. But he also wants the important Synod of Bishops to be represented well, hence that body’s Secretary General’s presence on the list. He understands the importance of major sees like Westminster, Québec, Abidjan, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Seoul, but also Managua and Ouagadougou, all on equal footing. And lastly, it seems, there are cardinals who warrant the red for their personal qualities – Bassetti, Quevedo and Langlois, as well as the new impulse their elevation would give to their local faith communities.

And then, even the elevation of three non-electors tells us something. Archbishop Capovilla’s presence is especially poignant, as it connects the current pontificate with that of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council he convened. Pope Francis is very clearly a child of the Council. Some have noted his physical likeness to Good Pope John, but here we see a hint that that likeness may well run deeper.

Of the 19 new cardinals, 16 will be electors, being under the age of 80. Only four of the new cardinals (Parolin, Baldisseri, Müller and Stella) will be Cardinal Deacons, as the are members of the Curia. The remaining 12 will be Cardinal Priests, being current or retired ordinaries.

Blessed Bishop Francis of Pyongyang?

250px-Francis_Hong_Yong-hoAn interesting suggestion from the bishops of South Korea to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: start the process to beatify the bishop of Pyongyang. Rather than a fairly improper effort to underline the holiness of one of their own, the bishops instead point to the strange and worrisome story of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-Ho and the plight of all the faithful in North Korea, Catholic or otherwise.

According to the official records of the Holy See, he is the oldest serving bishop of the Church, at the age of 106. But paperwork and reality do not always match, and the reality is that no one has seen Bishop Hong Yong-Ho in the past 51 years. No one knows if he is dead or still lives in some North Korean re-education camp. The North Korean regime isn’t exactly friendly to any religion, and publicly belonging to any faith is a risky business in that country. There are no priests in North Korea that we know of, but the Holy See steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the state-imposed reality as far as the appointment of bishops is concerned. Several South Korean bishops are officially appointed as administrators of North Korean dioceses, but no ordinaries, since the regime does not allow any priest to exercise his ministry.

Bishop Hong Yong-Ho, appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Pyongyang in 1933, and then as its first bishop in 1962 (the date of his disappearance), is the only North Korean prelate of whom we don’t know his date of death.

Of course, we may assume that the bishop has been dead for a long time. But the continued listing of his name as ordinary of the North Korean capital is a silent but solid protest against the violently anti-religious regime in that country; As long as we don’t get to hear anything about the fate of our man, we are not going to acknowledge anything you say or do (or don’t say or do), that sort of stuff.

In the meantime, Bishop Hong Yong-Ho has unknowingly become a symbol of the Church’s stance against the totalitarian regime of the Kim family and the worship they demand from their subjects. A future Blessed Bishop Francis would not only once more bring the situation in North Korea to the world’s attention, but would also serve as an inspiration for Christians in similar situations in other countries.

Nota bene: Of course the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can’t suggest anyone for beatification if that person hasn’t died yet, so there seems to be an obstacle there.

After 66 years, a new bishop

The cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pinsk

Vacant sees, dioceses without a bishop, are not unheard of. At any given time, the worldwide Church has a few dozen of these, as bishops are transferred or pass away and a successor is not yet selected. These vacancies usually last from several months to some two years in exceptional cases. The Diocese of Pinsk, in Belarus, has a different story, though. It has been without a bishop of its own for almost exactly 66 years…

Belarus is often regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe, and a country whose government looks back fondly on its Soviet history. Not surprisingly, the Church is looked upon with suspicion at best, although she has been allowed to maintain her ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the form of three dioceses and an archdiocese. Of these, Pinsk covers the entire southern third of the nation.

Established in 1925, Pinsk was led by two bishops in succession: Bishop Zygmunt Łoziński from 1925 to 1932, and Bishop Kazimierz Bukraba from 1932 to 1946. But then that episode ended, coinciding with the aftermath of World War II and the Soviet Union’s incorporation of formerly Polish territory into Belarus. Just like in other Communist countries, the Church had a hard time, especially when it comes to the free appointment of bishops and priests. As in other dioceses, apostolic administrators were appointed. For Pinsk, these were Bishop Wladyslaw Jedruszuk, auxiliary bishop of Pinsk from the time of Bishop Bukraba, from 1967 to 1991; Cardinal Kazimierz Świątek, the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, from 1991 to 2011; and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, Cardinal Świątek’s successor as archbishop of Minks-Mohilev, from June 2011 to today.

As the last of Belarus’ dioceses, Pinsk now once more has its own bishop. He is Msgr. Antoni Dziemianko, 52 years old, and until today Minsk-Mohilev’s auxiliary bishop. The bishop, who incidentally has the same motto in his coat of arms as our own Cardinal Simonis – Ut Unum Sint -, was ordained to the priesthood in 1980. In 1998, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Grodno, also in Belarus, with the titular see of Lesvi – a see once held by the late Cardinal Sánchez of the Philippines. In 2004, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, of which he was the apostolic administrator from June of 2006 to September 2007, upon the retirement of Cardinal Świątek. He continued his duties as auxiliary bishop until his appointment as ordinary of Pinsk today.

Although a vacancy of 66 years is extraordinary, it is, sadly, by no means unique. There are eight jurisdictions, in China, North Korea, Greece, Ukraine and Romania, which have been vacant for longer. The record holder is the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki in Greece, which has been vacant since Bishop Allesandro Guidati became archbishop of Naxos-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos in 1929…

Photo credit: [1] Rostisław Wygranenko