The long wait is over – A bishop for Limburg

It took two years, three months and a few days, but Limburg finally has a bishop again. Well, once he is ordained and installed, that is. Msgr. Georg Bätzing has been elected by the cathedral chapter and subsequently appointed yesterday by the Pope to become the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Limburg, which had been vacant since the forced retirement of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in March of 2014.

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Msgr. Bätzing was born in 1961 in Kirchen, not far from the Diocese of Limburg. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trier in 1987 following studies in Trier and Freiburg. After serving in parishes in Klausen and Koblenz, he was appointed as subsititute rector of the diocesan seminary in Trier. From 1996 to 2010 he led the seminary and was responsible for the whole of priestly formation in the diocese. He received the title of monsignor in 2005. Since 2012 he has been the vicar general of the diocese.

“If I knew how to laugh and cry at the same time, I would do it,” Msgr. Bätzen reflected on his appointment. The past days had been emotional, he said.  But the first moments of shock after hearing the news have been replaced by joy at his new assignment. Over the past two years he had hoped for a good bishop for the neighbouring Diocese of Limburg, but he never thought it would be him. Confident that God “has nothing but good for him in store”, he looks back on Trier, where his roots lie, and forward to Limburg, the faithful of which he asks to pray for him: “That our common path in the Church of Limburg will be good and under the blessing of God.”

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier also commented on the appointment of hsi vicar general: “With Msgr. Bätzing, Limburg receives an excellent bishop. We all know that. We know Vicar General Bätzing as a person who is kindhearted, authentic and clear at the same time. Georg Bätzing can listen well, relies on participation, is a mediator, but does not shy away from making decisions. He is a priest in all his heart and an inspirational preacher.”

aachenmainzThe Diocese of Limburg was established in 1821 to cater to the Catholics in the then-current Duchy of Nassau, as well as the Free City of Frankfurt. Its territory was taken from the adjacent dioceses of Trier and Mainz. Originally a suffragan see of Freiburg, in 1929 it became a part of the Province of Cologne. In 1930 and 1933 it gained some more territory, from Fulda and Trier respectively. There are some 645,000 Catholics in the diocese, out of a total population of 2.4 million. It has few major cities aside from Wiesbaden and Frankfurt am Main, with the majority of Catholics concentrated in the south and northwest.

Now that Limburg has a bishop again, there are two vacant dioceses remaining in Germany (pictured above at right): Aachen, like Limburg a suffragan of Köln, and Mainz, which borders Limburg in two separate parts to the south and east.

Photo credit: Bistum Trier

For Pallium Day 2016, a small crop

palliumToday, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis will once again be giving out he pallia to the world’s new metropolitan archbishops (or to their representatives). The actual imposition of the woolen band signifying the bond with the Rome and the world Church will take place in the archdioceses at a date of the prelates’ own choosing, per the changes introduced last year.

There are 27 new archbishops in this round, all appointed between 29 June 2015 and today. Here’s the list:

  1. Archbishop Felipe Accrocca, Benevento, Italy
  2. Archbishop-elect Basilio Athai, Taunggyi, Myanmar
  3. Archbishop Théophile Barakat, Homs (Syriac), Syria
  4. Archbishop Luiz Cabrera Herrera, Guayaquil, Ecuador
  5. Archbishop-elect Christopher Cardone, Honiara, Solomon Islands
  6. Archbishop Jozef De Kesel, Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium
  7. Archbishop Zanoni Demettino Castro, Feira de Santana, Brazil
  8. Juan Cardinal García Rodríguez, La Habana, Cuba
  9. Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Saint Paul and Minneapolis, United States
  10. Archbishop Fidel Herráez Vegas, Burgos, Spain
  11. Archbishop-elect Roger Houngbédji, Cotonou, Benin
  12. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, Rouen, France
  13. Archbishop Salvatore Ligorio, Potenza-Muro Lucano-Marsico Nuovo, Italy
  14. Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, Palermo, Italy
  15. Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón, Tijuana, Mexico
  16. Archbishop Darci Nicioli, Diamantina, Brazil
  17. Archbishop Juan Omella Omella, Barcelona, Spain
  18. Archbishop Roque Paloschi, Porto Velho, Brazil
  19. Archbishop Marcos Perez Caicedo, Cuenca, Ecuador
  20. Archbishop Lorenzo Piretto, Izmir, Turkey
  21. Archbishop Eugeniusz Popowicz, Przemysl-Warszawa (Ukrainain), Poland
  22. Archbishop Ruy Rendón Leal, Hermosillo, Mexico
  23. Archbishop Kenneth Richards, Kingston in Jamaica
  24. Archbishop Adam Szal, Przemysl, Poland
  25. Archbishop Lauro Tisi, Trento, Italy
  26. Archbishop Rodolfo Weber, Passo Fundo, Brazil
  27. Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, Bologna, Italy

Most of the archbishops will still come to Rome, even if there is no official imposition taking place. Among these is Mechelen-Brussels’ Jozef De Kesel, the only archbishop from northwestern Europe in this year’s relatively small crop.

In his homily on last year’s feast, Pope Francis entrusted the archbishops  with a call to prayer, faith and witness:

“The Church wants you to be men of prayer, masters of prayer; that you may teach the people entrusted to your care that liberation from all forms of imprisonment is uniquely God’s work and the fruit of prayer; that God sends his angel at the opportune time in order to save us from the many forms of slavery and countless chains of worldliness. For those most in need, may you also be angels and messengers of charity!

The Church desires you to be men of faith, masters of faith, who can teach the faithful to not be frightened of the many Herods who inflict on them persecution with every kind of cross. No Herod is able to banish the light of hope, of faith, or of charity in the one who believes in Christ!

The Church wants you to be men of witness. Saint Francis used to tell his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” (cf. Franciscan sources, 43). There is no witness without a coherent lifestyle! Today there is no great need for masters, but for courageous witnesses, who are convinced and convincing; witnesses who are not ashamed of the Name of Christ and of His Cross; not before the roaring lions, nor before the powers of this world. And this follows the example of Peter and Paul and so many other witnesses along the course of the Church’s history, witnesses who, yet belonging to different Christian confessions, have contributed to demonstrating and bringing growth to the one Body of Christ. I am pleased to emphasize this, and am always pleased to do so, in the presence of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by my beloved brother Bartholomew I.

This is not so straightforward: because the most effective and authentic witness is one that does not contradict, by behaviour and lifestyle, what is preached with the word and taught to others!

Teach prayer by praying, announce the faith by believing; offer witness by living!”

 

End of a chapter – Dachau’s last priest prisoner dies

At the age of 102 Father Hermann Scheipers passed away last night. He was the last surviving priest of Dachau concentration camp.

Seligsprechung des sorbischen Kaplans Alojs Andritzki

Fr. Hermann Scheipers in 2011, photographed in Dresden on the occasion of the beatification of Alojs Andritzki, who was killed in Dachau in 1943. Fr. Scheipers and Blessed Alojs were both in the camp’s sickbay with typhoid fever for some time.

Domradio has an obituary, written by Andreas Otto, which I share in English below:

As prisoner ‘number 24255’ Hermann Scheipers survived hell in Dachau concentration camp. Nevertheless, the priest and enemy of the Nazis survived, to die now at the age of 102.

Hermann Scheipers had a mission. He had to tell young people of that time: how he, as a young priest in 1940, was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Dachau concentration camp, how he survived the war and how he was once again oppressed, this time by the communist dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic. How he survived that time, too, he continuously impressed upon his listeners. On Thursday night Scheipers died in Ochtrup, aged 102. He was the last surviving German clergyman to have been imprisoned in Dachau.

In the Nazi eye

Scheipers hails from Ochtrup in Münsterland. As there were too many priests there in the 1930s, he decided to go to Bautzen in the middle German diaspora. There Scheipers, born on 24 July 1913, was ordained to the priesthood, and began working in the rural parish of Hubertusburg. Apparentry with some success. His self-assured Catholic work among the youth drew the attention of the Nazis. Because he was sympathetic with Polish forced labourers, celebrated Mass with them and heard their confessions, he was arrested on October of 1940 and brought to Dachau concentration camp five months later. His file, which he came across by chance,  states the true reason for his arrest: “Scheipers is a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and thus likely to cause unrest among the population.”

‘Number 24255’

The priest is – especially denigrating – taken to Dachau together with criminals. During the transport one of them wonders, “Well, did you sing out of tune from the pulpit?” Scheipers survived hell as prisoner ‘number 24255’. “You are without honour, without help and without rights. Here, you can either work or perish,” the camp commander welcomes the new inmates. Like many of the priests in Dachau, Scheipers slaves away as a field worker, receiving mostly watery soup to eat. Persons who aren’t fast enough are whipped, hung by the arms or drenched with icy water. Many die. “The only thing one could do was escape or pray,” Scheipers recalled.

Escaping the gas chamber

In 1942 an attack of weakness brings him close to his own murder. His twin sister Anna travels to Berlin, to the Reich security offices and bluffs to the head of the priest department: Everywhere in Münsterland people are saying that her brother is to be gassed. And if it comes to that, the Catholics there will not accept it… This civil courage has effect: he escapes the gas chamber.

Amid all the danger, Scheipers is aware of God’s help, even at that time. “I noticed this closeness frequently.” He can not forget how a fellow priest gave him his ration of bread before he was transported towards his death. “Everytime when I celebrate Mass and break the bread, I think of that.” In April of 1945, Scheipers finally manages to escape from a death march towards Bad Tölz.

15 Spies in the DDR

After the war he returns to his former place of work. As a priest in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen he resists those in power in the unjust GDR state. When Scheipers sees his Stasi file after the fall of communism, he has a big scare. 15 Spies were set on his case.  The papers show that a trial against him for distributing subversive propaganda was to be convened. “I was in Dachau for the exact same reasons,” Scheipers commented.

After his retirement Scheipers lives in Münsterland again, from where he travels again and again, despite the discomforts of age, to speak about his experience as a contemporary witness.

Of this his multiple-edition book ‘Gratwanderungen – Priester unter zwei Diktaturen’ [Balancing act – Priest under two dictatorships] – also speaks. This too is a  witness of his unshakeable faith, which he sees expressed in a word from Romano Guardini: “Security in what comes last gives serenity in what comes before.”

Dachau housed virtually all of the clerical prisoners of the Nazi regime: 2,720 clergy were imprisoned there, with the vast majority, 95%, being Catholic. As Fr. Scheipers’ story shows,the Nazis needed little excuse to arrest priests. The Church was a serious opponent to the National Socialist rulers who accepted loyalty to the party and Adolf Hitler alone. Many of the Catholic clergy prisoners have since been beatified, among them Blesseds Titus Brandsma, Bernhard Lichtenberg, Karl Leisner and the aforementioned Alojs Andritzki.

Fr. Hermann Scheipers’ death is a bookend to a formative period in recent history, not only of Europe, but certainly also of the Catholic Church and its relationship to state and government.

Pope Video 6 – Solidarity

Solidarity: it’s a word easily said, but the concept itself is far harder to put into practice. In this month’s video, Pope Francis asks us to pray for more solidarity with the sick and elderly in the cities, where isolation and neglect are so easy to come by. As Christians we are called to do the opposite, not to walk on and ignore, but to stop and encounter.

Small miracles – In Lourdes, Bishop Wiertz gets personal

Visiting Lourdes with faithful from his diocese last week, Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz related a personal story about his deteriorating eyesight. The 73-year-old bishop, the most senior of the active bishops in the Netherlands, has been suffering from an increasing loss of his sight for a while now. And, as he puts it, “it will not get better”.

Perhaps Lourdes was the perfect place to share such a personal experience of a physical ailment. Here, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, thousands of pilgrims come every year to seek healing from what ails them, and the diocesan pilgrimage led by Bishop Wiertz (together with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, recently retired from ‘s-Hertogenbosch) was no different.

Bishop Wiertz gives no indication that it prevents him from doing his duties as bishop. As he explains, it forces him to focus more on listening instead of watching, and each word he reads requires more time, so perhaps he has to take things a little bit slower. But he has an auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Everard de Jong, at his side to lead the Diocese of Roermond with its 1 million faithful. For now, we need not expect yet another round of bishop appointments.

The full text of Bishop Wiertz’s homily follows below:

“You may have noticed this week that I always read my text with a little light. That is because I can no longer see very well. I will turn 74 this year and even bishops are not safe from all sort of old age ailments. But you need not feel sorry for me: I am in good health for my age. Except for those eyes. Sight is failing. And it will not get better.

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A while ago this bothered me, as I have to read, and read out, much. And in my free time I like to read books: novels, history, theology. I manage with those lights, but I’m not as fast as I used to be. That is no disaster, but it is a nuisance. Until I discovered something a few months ago. Since I have to read more slowly, I also read with more attention. Every word becomes clearer, so to speak. It sticks more and I reflect on its meaning more.

Walking around here in Lourdes, I wonder if this eye problem does not also have a deeper meaning. I may see a little less, but I also got something in return. A more intense awareness of the meaning of words. And in conversation listening becomes more important than looking.

God lets us have new experiences before we realise it ourselves. I do not mean to say that all illnesses or physical defects are a good thing. Not at all. Over the course of the years I have spoken to more than enough people who really suffer. My ailment is like nothing in comparison. But I have also learned from these sick and handicapped people – here in Lourdes, but also in the parishes where I have worked – that there is only one way to overcome suffering: by going through it. And at the same time look for support with God.

Luckily, nowadays doctors can do a lot to cure people are make physical suffering more bearable. But the best way to learn and accept your situation is through prayer. “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray,” we heard in the first reading. It doesn’t make you better in the literal sense of the word, but it can help you feel better.

God heals in a different way. He helps you discover things in your illness of handicap, things you weren’t aware of before. Call them small miracles who help you every day to handle life.

Many people know Lourdes because of the great miracles. But in all the years that I have been coming here I have never seen those. I did witness many small miracles. People who can handle things again after a pilgrimage. People who find out, here in Lourdes, that they can still do a lot of things themselves. Like me with my more intense readings and more intensive listening. A small miracle. It is nothing compared to the miracle Jesus performs for the royal official in the Gospel. His son lives again even before he realises it himself. And why? What did he do? Nothing more than taking Jesus’ word for it. We can have faith in Jesus, that all that we experience in our lives has meaning. Even when we do not see it ourselves.

That is why we can look for the small positive things that cheer us up. Small things which help us through the day, who make us able able to handle things for a while. The smile of someone we know. A kind word. The good care of volunteers. The fact that we are making such a beautiful trip together. These are small miracles that God gives us. Winks from heaven, which He uses to show us that He thinks of us and grants everyone healing in His very own way.

You will shortly recieve the laying on of hands. You may experience that as a sign that God is with you, that He gives you strength and helps you. Perhaps in a way that you haven’t thought of yourself. Let us always be open to God, who walks His own paths in healing, but never leaves us.

Amen.”

Photo credit: Organisatie Limburgse Bedevaarten

“Farewell diocese” – Bishop de Korte says goodbye

While the Mass for his installation as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has begun, here is my translation of Bishop Gerard de Korte’s final message to the faithful of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the diocese he leaves behind:

Foto-Ramon-Mangold-ANP

“On Monday 29 February, around 10:30, the Papal Nuncio, Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, rang and asked if he could come to Groningen that day. He wanted to discuss an “important topic”. I knew then that it would be about the succession of Bishop Hurkmans of Den Bosch. And my intuition was confirmed that afternoon. The Nuncio told me that Pope Francis had appointed me as the new bishop of Den Bishop. The news led to some necessary chaos, both for me as for many faithful in our diocese.

In september of 2008 I was installed in the cathedral as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Despite all sorts of great and small concerns – when is our earthly life ever without clouds? – I look back on the years behind me with gratitude. A few years ago, the downsizing of the diocesan offices caused many concerns. Especially the letting go of several respected employees, solely for economic reasons, was a difficult but also necessary decision.

A lot has happened in the past years. Almost automatically, I recall the merger of parishes and caritas groups. After a long period of preparation and a broad consultation of pastoral teams and parish councils, the decision was made in autumn of 2011 to merge the 80 parishes into some 20 new parishes. This process must be completed on 1 January 2018. Starting point is the vision to combine administrative upscaling with pastoral downsizing. In the large diocese of the north we must try and maintain as many of the 80 faith communities as possible. In my letter “The years of truth” (January 2015) I made a distinction between church building and faith community. When it is no longer possible to maintain a church building, but the local faith community is still (relatively…) alive, the faithful can choose to continue coming together for the liturgy and other activities. The core thought here is: keeping the Church as close to the faithful as possible.

By now, I have moved to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Moving is an exercise in the art of letting go. I have to say goodbye to a nice house, a great team of coworkers and so many other good people. In recent days I have spoken of an Abrahamic experience. Like the father of our faith I must leave the good and familiar country and go into the unknown in the hope that it will be good to be there as well. By the way, I am confident that I will soon find a true home again in Den Bosch.

You will go on as Catholics of the north. A small but conscious minority. I gladly repeat the call from my letter “The years of truth”: Catholics, take your responsibility. You are called to manifest the faith of your baptism. Pope Francis urges Catholics not to remain hidden in the sacristy or church building. Vital faith communities are missionary communities with open doors. All things being equal, we gather in out church buildings for the celebration of the Eucharist and other forms of liturgy. This feeds our soul and gives us the strength to give form to the imitation of Christ in our daily lives. Pope Francis frequently speaks of a Church which looks towards all of society. A Church that prefers to be dirty because she has spent too much time in the streets, instead of sick because she has been inside too much.

Finally, I would invite you to pray for each other. Hopefully you are willing to pray for the success of my new mission in the south. My task will not always be easy, but much is possible in the power of God’s Spirit. In the south I pray for wisdom for Pope Francis and all who are preparing the appointment of a new bishop. I hope for a new bishop who will work for a warm and hospitable Church around Christ as our living Lord. I wish you all the best and God’s  blessing. Continue on the path of faith, hope and especially love “trusting in Christ”.

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard De Korte”

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold