Berlin’s big day as Archbishop Koch arrives

Pressegespräch mit Erzbischof Dr. Heiner KochBig day in Berlin today, as Archbishop Heiner Koch is installed as its third archbishop and tenth bishop overall. The installation, starting at 11 o’clock local time, will be streamed live via and

Opening the ceremony is Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt, bishop of Görlitz, as he is the senior bishop of the province composed of Berlin and its two suffragan dioceses, Görlitz and Dresden-Meißen. With that latter see vacant, he is also the only bishop available to do that job. Bishop Görlitz will lead the archbishop to his cathedra, after which the latter officially take possession of it.

Archbishop Koch will also be receiving his pallium from the Apostolic Nuncio during the installation Mass. It had already been granted and collected by him on 29 June, but as the woollen band denoting his office of metropolitan archbishop is now officially bestowed in the home dioceses, each of these is free to determine when and where it takes place. For example, Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg, who was granted the pallium on the same date as Archbishop Koch, will officially be bestowed with it in November.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki, Archbishop Koch’s predecessor in Berlin, will give him the bishop’s staff that belonged to Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, bishop of Berlin from 1961 to 1979. The staff symbolises the office of shepherd.

No less than 29 bishops will be attending the installation, among them Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht, and bishops from Poland and the Czech Republic, in addition to many German bishops. The ecumenical delegation consists of representatives from the Lutheran church in Germany, the Romanian-Orthodox Church, the Greek-Orthodox Church and the Coptic-Orthodox Church. Many local politicians will also attend, with the president of the Bundestag as the highest-ranking official.

In a recent interview, Archbishop Koch spoke about his years in Berlin, to which he is looking forward. But there is already some work cut out for him, as Cardinal Woelki began a number of reforms before being recalled to Cologne. What will be the new archbishop’s focus in those matters?

“In Berlin it is not just about changing certain structures. In the first place there has to be a new substantial positioning. The central questions must be: How can we be christian and Church in a major city or in the country, and how can we fullfill our mission when there are ever more people who say it doesn’t matter to them if there is or is no God.”

How does he see himself as archbishop of Berlin? Will he be mainly for the city or also for the surrounding area?

“In the first place I will be archbishop for the people in the archdiocese. Catholics from Brandenburg and Vorpommern have written to me that I should take care that it’s not only about Berlin. But of course I will also accept invitations, from the federal president to the ARD television studios in the capital, to represent Catholic positions.”

Cardinal Woelki lived in Wedding, a subburb of Berlin with low income and immigrant families. Where will Archbishop Koch live?

“In the first months in an apartment of the Military Ordinariate, and  then in a  former parish house in Lichterfelde [a more residential area in the southwest of Berlin], after it has been renovated. I want to have a very open and hospitable home, where I can eat, sit and speak with visitors. I know how much can informally be discussed over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Much more than in many meetings.”

 Photo credit: Walter Wetzler

Communist Crucifix?

Pope Francis, Evo Morales

Pope Francis has received many gifts during his ongoing papal visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, but none drew as much attention as the one he received yesterday from Bolivian President Evo Morales: a crucifix in the likeness of the Communist hammer and sickle symbol. Already questionable because of the inherent opposition between Communism and religion, it is especially sensitive because Pope Francis himself has been wrongfully called a Communist by certain media. This should get them going again.

luis_espinal_campsThe crucifix in question highlights a rather Latin American problem (although not limited to that continent): the intertwining of Christian concern for the poor with Communist propaganda and politics. This crucifix was either the property of or a copy of the one made by Fr. Luís Espinal Camps (at right), a Spanish-born Jesuit tortured and killed by the Bolivian authorites in 1980. Fr. Espinal is today often considered to be a patron of justice among Bolivia’s poor. During his life he fought against the structural violence, violations of human rights and immunity from prosecution of the military government, and stood up for the rights of the poor, even going so far as to sharing their poverty. Fr. Espinal also advocated that the Church should work with other social groups and organisations when it comes to combatting poverty and injustice.

In many of these aspects the Church finds an ally in Communism, which also claims to work for the good of the poor and their rights. However, there always remains the looming spectre of Communism being inherently opposed to any form of religion, which Karl Marx famously considered “the opium of the people”, a drug that distracts the people from what it should really be focussed on and working towards. Of course, this philosophy remains visible in officially Communist countries such as China, where the Church is forced to remain underground.

We could see nothing more in President Morales’ gift of this crucifix than a reminder of Father Espinal, a Jesuit like Pope Francis, eminently concerned with the marginalised, again like Pope Francis. But why Fr. Espinal chose to make such a blatant Communist symbol in the first place remains anyone’s guess. Nor would President Morales be unaware of its meaning. It is a symbol with a bitter aftertaste, but one which, now it is being used in such a Catholic context, may be changed for the better: a better life for the poor and marginalised, absolutely, but always with Christ.

Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP

Dr. Peters on WordPress and the art of ‘In Your Face’

An excellent comment from Dr. Peters on the sudden appearance of a rainbow on the WordPress posting page. Dr. Peters is a canon lawyer, but for the purpose of this post he is a fellow blogger on WordPress confronted with “all the lately-found bravery of one who jumps on a bandwagon after someone else has won a fight”.

He writes:

“Mind, WordPress has never, in my three or so years of using it, marked its tool pages with any political logos or symbols of any kind. But today there is an in-your-face gloat over the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell.”


“Yes, a lot of people are happy about Obergefell. I get it. But assuming everyone wants to celebrate it?”

Read the rest over there. Yes, WordPress, you too.

Going green – Christians and the environment

VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE-CANONISATIONBefore summer we may expect Pope Francis’ second encyclical, and its topic will be the environment. For some reason the prospect of a green encyclical has a some Catholics all riled up. Apparently, it is not something the Church should be overly concerned with.

I do notice that this subject is quite politicised, especially in the United States, which is where most of the criticism comes from. It is a left-wing or liberal pet subject, it’s true, and that side of the political spectrum quite often clashes with Catholic faith, to be fair.

But concern for the environment is, in fact, quite Christian. Pope Francis touched upon the subject in his homily this morning, when he said:

It is our response to the ‘first creation’ of God. It is our responsibility! A Christian that does not care for creation, that does not make it grow, is a Christian who doesn’t care about the work of God; that work born from the love of God for us. And this is the first answer to the first creation: to care for Creation, to make it grow.”

The creation story in Genesis, which prompted the Holy Father to make these comments, is the clearest indication of our relation to the world we live in. Not as independent agents, even parasites, whose only effect on the natural world is destruction, as some would have it, but as integral parts of it with a clear duty.

God created us and the world we live in. These are not separate things. Humanity has a role to play in the world: we are to be stewards of it. A good steward is not afraid to use the world around him, but does so with responsibility, in the knowledge that, like him, his world is also a creation of God. He is not the master of it, but he has been given a duty, as we my deduce from Genesis chapter 1, verses 28 and 29:

“God blessed them, saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.”

God also said, ‘Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food.””

There is no debate about man’s use of the world around him. Considering the human influence parasitic and undesirable  is therefore incompatible with Christian teaching. But looking at the larger context of creation as being a product of God given to man for his benefit, we must develop a responsibility. God’s creation is not ours to destroy or give back. It is for us to use and maintain.

In that context environmentalism is a thoroughly Christian concern, and it is no stranger a topic for an encyclical than, say, faith, charity, hope or love.

Charlie Hebdo – Bishops react

Like almost every public authority figure, the Dutch bishops have also released an official response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in paris, two days ago. It is a perfunctory statement, short and quite standard:

Logo Bisschoppenconferentie“The Dutch Bishops’ Conference is shocked and stunned by the reports about the violent attack on the offices of a magazine in Paris, in which twelve people were killed.

The bishops strongly reject the use of any form of violence to impose opinions or religious convictions. They also reject any form of violence aimed at denying people their right to express their own opinions.

The bishops’ sympathies go to the relatives of the deceased victims and also to the injured and their families. “We pray for consolation for them, but also for wisdom for the French authorities in approaching violence because of religious and philosophical opinions.

Furthermore, the bishops’ conference fully endorses Pope Francis’ reaction to the attack.”

More interesting are the reactions of individual bishops.

Bishop Jos Punt, of Haarlem-Amsterdam, sent an open letter to the editors of the major Dutch newspapers and, in extension, to all who work in the free press. In it, he writes:

kn_705396_punt“My thoughts are with your colleagues who have died and with their families, relatives and friends. But my thoughts are also with you and all your coworkers, who are used to be able to bring world news in freedom and rightly consider this a great good in the democratic principles we all cherish. That freedom is now again challenged and that makes you feel unsafe.

As bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam I know that religions and their spiritual leaders, but also ministers, politicians and many others in public office or functions are sometimes targets for satire. That can go very far and cause protests.

But in the context of freedom of speech it must be possible to do so respectfully and must never lead to brutal murder, like yesterday in Paris.”

Bishop Punt also underlines the importance of dialogue between religions with mutual respect and good will, to foster peace and harmony in the world, and reminded that the forces of good are always stronger than the forces of evil. He closes his letter as follows:

“I wish you and your coworkers much wisdom and courage in the decisions you have to make now, perhaps forced by circumstances, in bringing news. But now you are supported by many who have shown their horror at this attack and sympathise strongly with you.”

mgr_hendriks2014_200Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, shares the letter as well, and adds:

“The terrorist action which happened in Paris must be strongly condemned by every sane person. I hope that this will not lead to further violence, but to more attention for the importance of an honest and open dialogue to achieve peace and reconciliation.”

Bishop Gerard de Korte, of Groningen-Leeuwarden, gives advice on how to respond to the attack and its aftermath.

korte“The time for naivety is over. A small number of fanatics can seriously disrupt our society. Our governments have the task of eliminiating terrorists as much as possible before they can strike. But guaranteeing one hundred percent security is of course an illusion.

I think it is sensible to keep our heads cool. It is completely counterproductive to outcry ourselves in anger and fear. Now we especially need a strong and controlled reaction by society. Hysterics and blind hatred towards Muslims must now be avoided. Even in hectic times it is important to keep finding nuances. Citizens in our pluralistic society must seek out that which connects. As creatures of God we people belong fundamentally together, after all.

Bishop de Korte also warns that as Christians we must avoid taking the moral high ground in this matter:

“As Christians we should be humble.  For centuries Christians despised, hated and killed others. After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, Christians have often wanted to violently enforce their vision of the truth. As far as I can see, we have left that unholy way only fairly recently. For our Church the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) also led to a breakthrough on this point. It’s no longer the right of the truth that is in the centre, but the dignity of every human. Christ is the truth in person and every man has the duty to find this truth. But that is only possible in full freedom and without any coercion or violence. We can not make holy God an instrument for our violent actions.”

The Nuncio speaks – Archbishop Eterović on the state of the Church in Germany and abroad

eterovicArchbishop Nikola Eterović has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany since November of 2013. interviewed him about a variety of subjects. I share some of his comments.

About his impressions of the German Church, which has been viewed critically across the world, he says:

“I consider the Catholic Church in this country to be very dynamic and involved. That is not easy, as Germany is very secularised, especially in major cities like Berlin. But the Church is well organised and wants to live according to the Gospel. That is seen, for example, in her role in society, by which she gives witness of Christ. In addition, the Church in Germany and also across the world, provides real aid, for example through Caritas and the relief agencies like Adveniat, Renovabis, Misereor, Missio, Church in Need, Bonifatiuswerk and others.”

Of course, as a diplomat the Nuncio needs to speak carefully. But that does not mean that the efforts of the Church in Germany are negligible. But there is always more than just the laudable work she does in the fields of charity, peace and justice, which becomes clear when Pope Francis’ recent comments that Europe is old and tired appear. Archbishop  Eterović says,

“In Germany the Church shows a decline in active faithful. And recently events have led to people leaving the Church because they no longer want to pay the Kirchensteuer [“Church tax” – ed]. I think that is quite problematic, and we need a new dynamic in catechesis, pastoral engagement, a new evangelisation. On the other hand I also see a certain passivity in individual faithful across Europe. In the end, more than 70 percent of the citizens of the European Union belong to a Christian confession. We must make use of that to better participate in society, for example to influence legislation when proposals do not meet with Christian ethics. In that way the “fatigue”, that the Holy Father spoke about, can be overcome.”

The Church tax, I have come increasingly to believe, is more than just problematic. Although the financial revenue may be used for good, it is a burden in the Church’s pastoral activities, as well as the faithful’s  access to the sacraments. The new dynamic mentioned by the Nuncio is the same “new evangelisation” that has been promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, and which now seems to have snowed under a bit. But we can’t allow it to be: we must take it up and make it happen.

The Nuncio also plays in important role in the selection and appointment of new bishops. In Germany, three dioceses – Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg – are awaiting a new bishop. Archbishop Eterović remains – rightly so – close-lipped about the state of these appointments:

“We follow the canonical rules and the respective concordats. The processes are ongoing, and I hope that the dioceses of Hamburg and Berlin will get new bishops in the coming year. The situation in Limburg is somewhat different. There is an Apostolic Administrator there, who is doing good work.”

Worldwide the Church is involved with politics, especially when it comes to peace, justice and development, as we have seen recently in the easing of relations between Cuba and the United States. But what about the influence of the Church on the regular faithful?

“We must in any case work on our pastoral care. Especially young people want to know what the Christian faith really means. With his charisma Pope Francis continuously manages to clarify the actuality of the Gospel and the message of Jesus. And I believe that the people out there are only waiting to rediscover this message: fraternal love and the love, justice and solidarity of God”.

Archbishop Nikola Eterović was born in Croatia in 1951 and ordained a priest of the Diocese of Hvar in 1977. In 1999 he was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Sisak, and appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. From 2004 to 2013 he was Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and in 2013 he returned to the diplomatic service as Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. In 2009, he was given a new titular see, Vinkovci, as Sisak was re-established as a proper diocese in Croatia.

Prayer and the authentic image of God – Bishop Punt’s letter for Advent

In his message for Advent, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam addresses the distortion of religion in the world, and presents a two-fold solution:

Punt“The world is in chaos, but there is hope. Humanity isn’t completely left to its own devices. 2000 years ago the heavens were broken open. Shepherds saw a great light. Angels showed them the way. The Messiah was born. God’s Son become man. Since then His Spirit comes down on this world. But the Evil is also making tracks. In the end, good shall be victorious. That is a divine promise. The Lord knows His time.

Distorted images of God

If that perspective of God, hope and eternity no longer exists, everything changes. Existing norms and values, the sense of humanity, everything loses its foundation. We have seen it in the last century, dominated by atheist ideologies and an unprecedented contempt of humanity. But religion in itself is no guarantee for peace and humanity either.

Distorted images of God and eternity can equally lead to cruelty. That is something we see especially in our time. In the extremism of the so-called Islamic State religion has taken on inhuman forms. No one seems to have an answer ready. Not the moderate and authentic Islam, and even less the western politicians and military. How to fight people who do not fear death, since they see it as a quick road to Paradise, even if they have to drag innocent people along with them. How to deal with people who think they can please God by cutting the throats of “unbelievers”. Nothing can stand up to that. Politicians and soldiers are powerless.

A father looks for his child

This is mostly a moral and spiritual question. It concerns closing the sources of hate, and denying the distorted images of God and eternity. Extremists draw their strength and fanaticism from them. For decades their hatred against the west has grown, partly because of western neocolonial politics.

What can we do now? I think two things: presenting an authentic image of God, and prayer. Recently I saw a documentary about a father looking for his son. There had been a fight at home, the boy had been unjust to his parents, went out into the world and had gone missing. His father then resigned from his job, sold everything he owned and went looking for his child. For years he travelled, across half the globe, until he had found his son and was able to embrace him again. All the fighting and accusations were completely forgotten.

There is no more beautiful image of who and how God is. You don’t need to look for him. He is looking for you. You only need to allow yourself to be found, by being open for His existence and His love, by the willingness to direct your life towards truth and justice, and by praying, even as a heart’s sigh. No prayer is lost.

Saved by prayer

Centuries before Christ the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, advances on Jerusalem with an enormous army. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, refuses to surrender the city. Sennacherib writes him a  letter and taunts him, “Who do you think you are? You have seen how Assyria has defeated all peoples. How would Jerusalem be saved? Do not be fooled by the God you trust, He will not be able to save you from my hands.” Hezekiah goes to the Temple and places the letter on the altar of the Lord, and prays, “Lord, you alone are God over all kingdoms of the earth. Hear how Sennacherib taunts you, the living God. Save us from his grasp, so that all people of the earth will see that You alone are God”.

That night, Scripture informs us, the angel of the Lord brought down death and confusion on the camp of Assyria. Sennacherib struck camp and returned in humiliation to Assyria, where he died.

Whether it concerns our personal life or the situation in the world, the Lord waits for our prayer and confidence to bring salvation. Let us place our prayer and good deeds, but also our needs and sins, before the Child of Bethlehem, like the shepherds and the wise men did. He will give us peace and a solution, although perhaps along very different roads than we would expect. In that sense, I wish you a blessed Christmas.”

+ Msgr. dr. Jozef M. Punt
Bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam