An 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.
Like last week, there is a new set of questions to be answered. People came here in the past week to find answers, and I hope they found at least some indication of them, but if not: here is some more direct and detailed information. I will try my best to give useful and truthful answers, but in the case of some of today’s question it is really better to consult a priest, theologian or Church historian.
1. Is Roman Catholicism legal in the Netherlands?
Simple answer: yes. There is no prohibition on being Catholic or speaking and writing about being Catholic in the Netherlands. Article 6 of the Dutch Constitution protects every citizen to freely confess their faith within the limits of the law.
The Catholic Church is fully established in the Netherlands, with full diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the Holy See, a resident Papal Nuncio and a bishops’ conference.
2. Explain why the Eucharistic liturgy is meant to be the source and summit of our spiritual lives.
This is one of those questions I referred to above. I will try to offer a basic explanation, but you are really best served with someone who is more knowledgeable about this.
The Eucharistic liturgy is the whole of rituals, words, gestures and actions we use to celebrate the Eucharist. That liturgy is a unity and reflects the content of what we celebrate: the Eucharist. And is that Eucharist that is the source and summit of the Christian life. By source we mean that everything we do as Christians has its origins in the Eucharist, and by summit we mean that that Eucharist is also the highest goal that we can achieve. Nothing exceeds or transcends it.
The Eucharist is Christ on the Cross, God who sacrificed Himself for us. The Eucharist is then a supreme act of love. For Himself, God need not have died, but He did so out of love for us. We needed it. He did not.
That sacrifice, that divine love, is the engine that drives our Christian life. Our love for God and our neighbours, our desire to be loved, flows from the divine love.
If we do not give the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, an important place in our Christian life, we take away the driving force, the nourishment for our Christian actions and words, our life. Christ gave Himself for us, now we need to accept Him in our hearts, and that is what the Eucharist does for us, and what we do in the Eucharist.
3. Who initiated transubstantiation in the Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ did. At the Last Supper, He gave bread and wine as His Body and Blood to His followers. And these followers were well aware of what Jesus had said about those things earlier:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Joh 6:48-51).
When Jesus then said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body” and ‘This is my blood”, the Apostles would have remembered the above passage. Although they had no way of understanding how, they would also have no doubt that Christ was serious: He is the living bread, and the bread He now brings is, as He says, His body.
But since when does the Church refer to this mystery as ‘transubstantiation’? A quick glance at Wikipedia shows us that the term appeared in the Middle Ages, and at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 the Church first used it in writing. But although they didn’t use the word ‘transubstantiation’, the fact of bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ had already been accepted by the earliest Church Fathers, such as St Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr (both in the first half of the second century).
The answer to the question would then be: Christ initiated it, and the Church recognised the mysterious transubstantiation virtually from the very start.
4. Can I have an altar just for saints?
Well, depending on what you mean by ‘altar’, you either can or can not. If you are referring to the surface upon which the sacrifice of the Mass takes place, I don’t think you can. Such an altar is always for Christ, although it can feature images or statues of saints, of course.
However, if you are talking about a small ‘prayer table’ in your home, you most definitely can, although I would personally recommend that you also include Christ. A set place in the house where you can go and light a candle and pray is definitely a good thing, and such a place can include statues or images of saints to help us pray. Certainly when you have a special devotion to a certain saint, you may want to give that saint pride of place, and frequently ask him or her to intercede for your intentions with the Lord.
As long as there is no danger of your prayer table (ie. not an altar upon which the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place) becoming a site for idolatry, you may certainly use images of saints to help you focus on Christ and your relationship with Him.
It’s been quite the year for the Church in the world, in the Netherlands and here on the blog. In this post, I want to look back briefly on what has transpired. What happened before will, in many cases, have its effect on what will happen in the coming year.
The variety of events has been great, but if we had to characterise 2012, we can of course list the major stories: the two consistories for the creation of new cardinals, the ongoing abuse crisis and the efforts in the Netherlands and Rome to deal with it, the Synod of Bishops, the start of the Year of Faith, the retirements, appointments and deaths, the local stories in my neck of the woods and the (mis)representation of the Church in the wider world. These can all characterise the year for the Catholic Church. But since there are as many interpretations as there are readers, I’ll limit myself to presenting the major stories on my blog per month.
For this blog, it has been a good year. With 87,017 views it has been the best year yet, and I am happy to note that I have been able to provide stories, opinions and translations that have been picked up well by other bloggers and media. The pope’s letter to the German bishops on the new translation of the Roman missal, for which I was able to create an English working translation; the Dutch translation of the Christmas address to the Curia; a German interview with Archbishop Müller and my list of surviving Vatican II Council Fathers are examples of this. Both local and international media picked these up, resulting in increased interest for my blog. For that, thank you.
But now, let’s once more go over 2012 and look back on what happened in that year:
By 2016, the small religious broadcasters – including Catholic RKK – are to cease their work, as the government has decided to pull the financial plug on them. Originally preserved as a reflection of the perceived variety desired by the television audience in the Netherlands, they are now seen as an unwanted religious presence on state-funded television, since religion is something that belongs “behind the front door”. That is the general tone of the comments I read about this development.
The decision to stop financing these broadcasters – which also include Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and humanists in addition to the RKK – is remarkable in part because the government promised to maintain their licence to broadcast. Now that the financial plug is to be pulled, having a licence is really not much use.
An easy answer would seem to be to find other financers, but the problem is that these are hard to find. A logical financer for the RKK would be the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. But in a time when even they are cutting communication expenses – whatever the wisdom of that may be – they are in no place to cover the costs needed.
But the government’s decision points to an even more serious issue: that faith and all its expressions is not something that should be shown on state television. By singling out the religious broadcasters the governments is basically curtailing the freedom of expression of people of faith and their institutions. It is not a matter of merely cutting costs (that would just as easily be achieved by cutting one of the three public television channels, for example), but a conscious decision to single out a specific group of broadcasters with a clear religious identity. This is no exaggeration. The options of saving money now spent on television are myriad. The decision to remove the religious sound from the television package is a clear signal: “Faith is not something we need or want in our society” (for television reflects society, or at least influences that society, and increasingly for the worse).
Some might ask if it really is such a bad thing, for what do the religious broadcasters contribute? Yes, it is true that individually they do not have many hours available to broadcast programs, and that as a result of that not many people watch them. But these are merely numbers, and numbers considered in comparison to the big boys: the big game shows, the news, the soap series, sports… When numbers become reasons for or against continued existence, we should start to worry. By that I don’t mean that numbers mean nothing. If a broadcaster is evidently superfluous, one could ask if its continued existence would do any good. That is not the case here. The Catholic message is not superfluous, the presence of a televised Mass is never pointless. As Catholics in the Netherlands we need the Catholic presence on television. Lofty as social media are, the Dutch consumer generally still turns to his TV for instant information.
In its choice to single out the religious broadcasters, the state has decided what can and can not be shown on television, and thus becomes totalitarian. It’s not a cost-cutting measure, but the pursuit of an agenda.
And so the liturgical year draws to a close as we mark the start of the new one tomorrow, and this blog happily marked the 200,000th visitor some weeks ago. 200,000 visits since I began almost three years ago? For some blogs that is next to nothing, but for me it is a reason to be grateful. Thank you.
Onward to the top 10 of last month, when we saw 6,262 visits.
In order to mark the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Method in Great Moravia (encompassing the modern Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and parts of Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine), Slovakia has decided to mint a special memorial 2 Euro coin depicting the two ‘Apostles to the Slavs’ in 2013. A lofty memorial of an event which lay at the basis of Slavic culture in central Europe and beyond.
Saints Cyril and Method came to bring the Christian faith to people who had not yet heard it. Their faith dictated who they were and what they did and said. To ignore that part of the persons is negligent and a falsification of history.
But that is precisely what the European Commission and several member states of the European Union (of which Slovakia is a member) now wants. The crosses on the saints’ clothing and the aureolas indicating their sainthood have been identified as possibly insulting or disturbing some citizens of the Union. By the grace of policy makers, only the double Byzantine cross, which also serves as Slovakia’s national symbol, was allowed to remain.
The Slovakian bishops’ conference has rightly stated that this is a lack of respect for Europe’s Christian traditions. A spokesperson wondered if Europe is a state of rights or a totalitarian system dictating which attributes are tolerated.
This is only one example in a series of Europe curtailing the display of identity and the free exercise of religion. The reasons given, that some unknown person may take offense at the symbols shown, are unreasonable in the extreme. I may say that a lack of Christian symbols offends me. Will the EU take that into account? Will they remove other symbols, statements, images, actions or whatever if they perhaps offend me? The banner of tolerance is used as a tool of intolerance.
This unreasonable fear of any display of religion, even in imagery that has a solid basis in history, is nothing but the complete denial of Europe’s own identity and history. Sts. Method and Cyril were Christians and we remember them for bringing the Christian faith to parts of Europe , so why on earth should we not remember them for who they were? Christian missionaries, not empty vessels to be filled with the identity that modern Europe dictates.
“Is it not true that in a very short time the Lebanon will become productive ground, so productive you might take it for a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17)
With his return yesterday from a successful three-day visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI concluded what may, beforehand, have seemed like a very risky trip indeed. The ongoing protests (staged or otherwise) in Muslim countries, including some in Lebanon itself, formed a disturbing backdrop, and at times I caught myself wondering if the papal visit would end without incident. Luckily, and thank God for it, it did.
In contrast to the heated emotions and violent outburst in other parts of the Middle East, the Holy Father brought a message of peace, respect and encouragement, not just to the Catholic and other Christians in Lebanon, but to people of faith in the entire Middle East and the whole world.
Below I share some interesting passages from the various addresses and homilies given by the pope. You may read the full texts, which often include further expositions on what I have quoted, here.
On not cancelling the visit, and the reason to go ahead:
“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.” [Interview during the flight to Lebanon, 14 September]
“Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world… [T]he essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.” [Idem]
On the Exaltation of the Cross:
“Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!” [Address at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September]
On peace through human dignity:
“Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 3). The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.” [Address to members of government, diplomats, religious leaders and cultural representatives, 15 September]
The workings of evil:
“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.” [Idem]
Freedom of religion:
“The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!” [Idem]
The challenges of youth
“The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.” [Address to young people, 15 September]
“I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” [Idem]
In closing, here is the rendition of Panis Angelicus that was sung during the public Mass in Beirut:
At the end of another successful apostolic journey, it’s time to look back at the days the Holy Father spent in Cuba. The island nation may be officially Communist, but that does not mean that Pope Benedict XVI was not welcome. On the contrary. In addition to an official welcome by President Raúl Castro and a private meeting with his brother Fidel, the faithful of the country came out in droves to welcome the Holy Father enthusiastically. As in Mexico, this did much to energise the pope, who at times seemed quite fatigued, judging by the many press photos I have come across.
Now, let’s highlight some of the words that the Holy Father addressed to nthe people of Cuba and the world. The original texts are, as usual, available here.
Rebirth of society
“Many parts of the world today are experiencing a time of particular economic difficulty, that not a few people regard as part of a profound spiritual and moral crisis which has left humanity devoid of values and defenceless before the ambition and selfishness of certain powers which take little account of the true good of individuals and families. We can no longer continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer. On the other hand, real progress calls for an ethics which focuses on the human person and takes account of the most profound human needs, especially man’s spiritual and religious dimension. In the hearts and minds of many, the way is thus opening to an ever greater certainty that the rebirth of society demands upright men and women of firm moral convictions, with noble and strong values who will not be manipulated by dubious interests and who are respectful of the unchanging and transcendent nature of the human person” (Welcoming ceremony, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).
A home for humanity
“In Christ, God has truly come into the world, he has entered into our history, he has set his dwelling among us, thus fulfilling the deepest desire of human beings that the world may truly become a home worthy ofhumanity. On the other hand, when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant, for the “Yes” to the love between God and humanity who responds to him” (Homily, Santiago de Cuba, 26 March).
“It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it. And we see also how the beginning of the earthly life of the Son of God was marked by a double “Yes” to the saving plan of the Father – that of Christ and that of Mary. This obedience to God is what opens the doors of the world to the truth, to salvation” (Idem).
The lofty mission of the family
“The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life. In his loving plan, from the beginning of creation, God has entrusted to the family founded on matrimony the most lofty mission of being the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church. With this certainty, you, dear husbands and wives, are called to be, especially for your children, a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church” (Idem).
“The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), claiming is incapable of knowing it or denying that there exists a truth valid for all. This attitude, as in the case of scepticism and relativism, changes hearts, making them cold, wavering, distant from others and closed. There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand.
On the other hand, there are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism; they close themselves up in “their truth”, and try to impose it on others. These are like the blind scribes who, upon seeing Jesus beaten and bloody, cry out furiously, “Crucify him!” (cf. Jn 19:6). Anyone who acts irrationally cannot become a disciple of Jesus. Faith and reason are necessary and complementary in the pursuit of truth. God created man with an innate vocation to the truth and he gave him reason for this purpose. Certainly, it is not irrationality but rather the yearning for truth which the Christian faith promotes. Each man and woman has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices.” (Homily, Havana, 28 March).
Freedom of religion
“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world.
The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.
When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic” (Idem).
 Javier Galeano/AFP/Getty Images
,  Reuters/Tony Gentile
 Reuters/Osservatore Romano
 Esteban Felix/AFP/Getty Images
I don’t know how it is from different nationality’s point of view, but from mine it certainly seems that the secular media have latched on to the pope’s New Year’s address to the diplomatic corps, given yesterday. A shame they didn’t latch on to all of it, or they might have discovered such interesting topics as the financial crisis, the youth, world stability and peace, education, development, religious freedom, and respect for the environment. Instead, far too many reporters and editors took (parts of) the following passage to make into headlines:
“In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life and, as I pointed out during my visit to Croatia, “openness to life is a sign of openness to the future” (Address at National Day for Families, Zagreb, Croatia, 5 June 2011). In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells, as well as the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning prenatal selection on the basis of sex.”
“Pope condemns same-sex marriage” they screamed, and “Gay marriage destroys society”. That’s certainly one way to completely miss the point and misrepresent the Holy Father and what he said. And, I fear, it is indicative of the modern obsession with liberal sexuality in which everything is allowed, as long as it feels good and doesn’t immediately harm anyone.
Anyway, if you want to know what the pope actually says, go read his words.