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.

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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.

Wrapping up business – Congregation for Bishops gets ready for the conclave

In the final days before the Congregation for Bishops ceases its regular work when the Pope’s abdication goes into effect, it seems it wants to close some open files. Yesterday and today we saw a whole raft of appointments in such diverse countries as Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia and Congo, as well as in the Holy See’s diplomatic representation in several other countries.

Miguel Angel Olaverri Arroniz Standing out are the appointments of Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis and Bishop Miguel Angel Olaverri Arroniz (pictured) of Pointe-Noire in Congo. Tunis is one of northern Africa’s major archdioceses. The previous archbishop, Msgr. Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham, was called to Jerusalem as an auxiliary bishop in January of last year. Pointe-Noire, then, lost her previous bishop, Msgr. Jean-Claude Makaya Loembe, when he was removed from his office because of mismanagement in March of 2011.  He was one of the handful of bishops who lost their jobs under Pope Benedict XVI.

Among the reassignments of Apostolic Nuncios (five were appointed or reassigned today) is Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, who was the Undersecretary for the Relations with States at the Secretariat of State until today. He was assigned as Nuncio to Colombia, and some see this as a result of his name having been mentioned in the context of the Vatileaks scandal. Whether that is true is anyone’s guess, of course, but it does stand out.

The Prefect of the Congregation for Bishop, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, is considered a papabile, so perhaps the Congregation is wise to get as much work done in these last days: who knows, she may lose her prefect during the conclave…

Photo credit: Javier Valiente