A preview of the papal visit to Malta

Later today, Pope Benedict XVI will board a plane and fly to Malta for a two-day pastoral visit. The program, missal and other important facts about the trip are or will be published by the Vatican here, and of course there are plenty of reporters tagging along. One of them is Anna Arco, who is already previewing the visit at her blog.

An item not on the program but which may be included nonetheless, is a meeting between the pope and Maltese victims of sexual abuse. A group of men who were abused as boys have already met with Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta and they have requested to meet the pope as well. Archbishop Cremona said he would forward the request to the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI has met with victims of abuse in the past, most notable during his trips to the United States and Australia. Those meetings have always been private and never part of the program of the trip. While it is theoretically possible that the Holy Father meets with the men, a look at the program shows there won’t be much time for it. Maybe on Sunday afternoon, in between the luncheon and the farewell at the nunciature.

A point of minor concern is the virtually omnipresent ash cloud over Europe. Some airports in northern Italy are closing down today, but Rome is expected to remain open. If not, the pope could always follow the example of Saint Paul and travel to Rome by boat… But without a shipwreck on Malta, please.

The travelling pope

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroad

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroadPope John Paul II was of course the greatest travelling pontiff of all time, making 104 trips to 129 countries in his 26-year pontificate. That is more visits abroad than all the other popes combined. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, being rather older at the start of his pontificate and of a more private nature, doesn’t come near to that, and very likely has no intention of doing so. But that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically turn down invites to come and visit a place or country. This year he has no less than five trips abroad planned.

The first trip will be a short two-day visit on 17 and 18 April to Malta, where he’ll obviously meet with local dignitaries of state and Church, and he’ll also pray at the cave where St. Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome, as mentioned in chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles.

In May, the Holy Father will be in Portugal from 11 to 14 May. He’ll visit Fatima there, the site where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children in 1917.

The Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, the Sagrada Família, still under construction

In June he’ll go to Cyprus, in part to hand the Middle Eastern bishops the working documents of the Synod on the Middle East to be held in October.

The September trip to the United Kingdom is highly anticipated, partly because rumour has it that the pope will personally beatify the Venerable John Henry Newman, and also because of the recent document Anglicanorum Coetibus on the relations with the Anglicans. There are visits planned to sites in both England and Scotland.

The fifth trip was only recently announced: in November, the pope will travel to Spain to visit Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. He’ll be in Santiago because of the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the basilica there, and in Barcelona he will consecrate the Sagrada Família, Antoní Gaudi’s massive church that has been under construction since 1882. That consecration Mass should be something to behold.

Over the course of each trip the pope will speak publically at various locations and I expect that a fair few of these addresses will stir up the media. I look forward to offering at least a sampling of those texts and issues here, both in English and in Dutch.

“I did not want this disturbance” – Fr. Luc Buyens’ homily

The homily that Father Luc Buyens gave last Sunday is online. It is, of course, the homily in which he explained to his parishioners (and the protesters who were also present) why he couldn’t give Communion to an openly homosexual man. What with all the media commotion surrounding that, I think it is interesting to see what Fr. Buyens actually said. Below is the homily in English (emphases mine). 

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Father Buyens during his homily. Photo: René Manders

 

Dear parishioners of Reusel, dear people from elsewhere, 

After the feast of carnival last week, on Ash Wednesday we have entered our holy Lent, the Christian time of fasting. For us this is a time of more focus on prayer, the practice of confession and being solidary with our neighbour. A time which Jesus has entered before us in His mortal life. I believe that we, as postmodern people of the 21st century, can still learn from that. When a person chooses for such a time of purification, according to Luke the evangelist, there are three points which become clear. 

1. The temptation to turn stones into loaves… apparently, a lot is possible from the world of spirits. But Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone”, and everyone who knows the Bible, knows what actually follows next: “but by every word of God”. It is sublime to know that Jesus will eventually feed His own with the bread of heaven, which makes us people grow into the ‘living rock’, into the spiritual building that He establishes and of which He is the cornerstone that holds everything together. But apparently the devil isn’t caught that easily. He comes with a second challenge: “If you therefore will adore before me, all shall be yours”, and Jesus replies, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”: the God for Whom every knee must bend. How can we, dear people, adore and honour Him here on Earth? The only right answer is: there where Jesus shows Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Adoration. ‘God with us’ in the form of consecrated bread. That is how He shall be with us until the end of days. And how can we serve Him? In our neighbour, by serving him or her as we would want to be helped ourselves. Jesus lives in the first place in the poor, the small, the abandoned and fragile, the least of all. If we apply God’s word to what is called temptation, the enemy or tempter is sent back from the very start, and so follows the third temptation: Cast yourself down and you will be carried, in other words: the challenge to cross boundaries, to tempt fate as happens so often these days. What does Jesus say then? “You shall not the tempt the Lord you God”. Creature: know your place. Know what you are doing if you want to tempt the Lord your God. Woe that man… 

At that point Satan leaves until the designated time to take his revenge, which will cost him dearly, because Jesus’ death has given eternal life to people of good will and the restoration of all things. This is what God’s Church stands for. He who beliefs and is baptised will be saved from a death that will last forever. From now on man can consider his life from the principle of eternity and let this dictate his values. Jesus entrusted this faith to the Church and, by spreading the Word and administering the sacraments to the people, the Church sanctifies the world. 

Following the commotion after pastoral matters were leaked to the press, I would like to say the following. When we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist we do this to consider God’s word and possibly to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Communion or Holy Host. “Truly my Body and Blood”, as Christ teaches us. This ‘bread from heaven’ is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. In 2008 the Dutch bishops published a letter asking the ministers of the Eucharist to make the faithful aware of what communicating in God’s Church means. They gave four models to achieve a good formulation towards the faithful. All four of those models indicate that one can’t receive Communion under certain circumstances, and that, including the amendments in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism, goes for everyone. 

Dear people, why do I mention all this? To tell you that there is nothing wrong when something is lived orderly. There are boundaries for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and for everyone else possible. 

There are rules which the Church must apply so that people approach and receive God in the right manner. The Church has the task to keep and protect the people. Especially when they threaten to make mistakes out of ignorance, the Church warns like a concerned mother. On the football field, the referee also engages with a player who acts inappropriately. It can’t be that in the Church, which is eternal, all rules which stem from the Ten Commandments, are cast aside just like that. When I participate in carnival festivities I know I have to respect their rules and the same goes for when I want to participate actively in the life of the Church. Faith reveals itself in acts and here too the Law is what everything is measured by, to the benefit of all. “One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled”, the Lord of heaven and earth says. 

I have said a lot and I could say more, but I know that I will feel like a useless help who only tried to do his work in good conscience. I did not want to single out anyone. Everything took place in private. I don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. I know that there is often a lot of pain and sorrow for the people concerned but also, despite all difficulties, the intention to do and be good. The Church is called to be specifically close to those concerned and to help them carry the sacrifices of such a disposition as a cross, together with the crucified Christ. I believe that bringing such a sacrifice can be a great blessing to the Church and the world who needs that so much. They who are willing to carry this cross are even invited and encouraged to frequently receive the sacraments and the blessings of the Church to be strengthened to persevere. After every fall or mistake every believer can and must reconcile himself with God through an honest confession, if he wants to sit at the table of the Lord. That goes for every grave sin of any nature. 

To you, who have come here in such large numbers, I would like to say that I, as a priest, am willing to suffer for the sign I stand for. Just like I wish to be respectful to each and every one of you I would want to receive the same respect in return. Sadly, I must inform you, that things do not automatically point in that direction. I do not declare war on anyone, but I ask the Lord of heaven and earth that His peace may soon descend on Reusel once more. Our people here do no benefit from what is happening and do not work that way. 

To the press I would like to say that I did not want this disturbance. This parish has been entrusted to my care by the bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This is my workplace that has been given and nothing more. I think that I have given enough clarity and ask that you turn towards persons of the diocese of Den Bosch and specialists in these matters. 

In our Church it is not usual that priests act autonomously. In the case that I have been blamed I have only acted after discussion with the bishop and my colleagues. 

I wish to close with the word of the great apostle Paul with his words to the Christians of Philippi: “Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ”. 

“Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.” 

I wish you all a blessed preparation for Easter. 

Father Luc Buyens

Homily at the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops

The text of Archbishop Eijk’s homily at the consecration of auxiliary bishops Hoogenboom and Woorts was published today on the website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. Here is my translation.    

Archbishop Eijk flanked by his new auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom and Msgr. Herman Woorts

In today’s Gospel reading we witnessed the meeting of Jesus, the Risen Lord, with some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. At that occasion Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” When Jesus asks the same question for the third time, it becomes painfully clear to Peter that he betrayed Jesus in the night of Gethsemane three times, before the cock’s crowing. That saddens him.    

The meeting with Jesus confronts Peter with his own weakness, insignificance and failure. That is always painful. But from Peter one thing must be mentioned: his love for Jesus is true and he is remorseful, as his sadness shows. And that is why Jesus fulfills the promise He made to Peter, when he changed His name from Simon to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16,18). Now Jesus truly appoints Peter as leader of the apostles and first pope, by saying: “Look after My sheep”.    

 And that is what Peter would do, until they bring him to the place where he does not want to be, as Jesus had predicted to him: the cross upon he too will die a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero in 64.    

Elsewhere in the New Testament, “look after my sheep” is also said to bishops and priests (1 Pet. 5, 2-4; Acts 20, 28), Looking after, shepherding means here that the pope, bishops and priests bring the people entrusted to their pastoral care to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that they will feed them with God’s Word and the sacraments.    

Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts: you too have been called by the Risen Lord to look after His sheep. When meeting candidates for confirmation, the bishop is always  asked, “How did you become a bishop, did you really want it?”    

There are no adverts on the Internet or in the newspapers for bishops. Not because advertising is expensive, but simply because you are not expected to apply for it. You are asked. Officially someone is bishop “through the mercy of God and the favour of the Holy See.” In the request from the Holy Father, the steward of Christ on Earth, to become auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, lies the voice of Christ for both of you. We are grateful to you both that you said ‘yes’ to the vocation of the priesthood and that you today say ‘yes’ to the vocation of the episcopate.    

What may you expect from the episcopate? I can assure you one thing, from my own experience: being a bishop is never boring! That may sound quite positive, but – to be honest – a bishop’s could sometimes be a bit more boring, as far as I am concerned. There have been very intense moments, not just for the apostle Peter and the other apostles, but for all their successors, the bishops all over the world.    

I am not telling you anything new. After all, you are both already part of the diocesan curia. You, Msgr. Hoogenboom, have been my vicar general since my appointment as Archbishop of Utrecht, now more than two years ago. And you, Msgr. Woorts, have been diocesan vicar of Utrecht and vicar for the policy sector liturgy since last February. You both have been working with merit in pastoral and official business in our diocese, and that in a period in which we have to make difficult decisions to make the archdiocese healthy again. You can only do that if you are not striving for the popularity prize. And neither of you is. That is why you both expressly chose the following text from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as today’s first reading: “It is not ourselves that we are proclaiming, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” You do not work to improve your own image or popularity and falsify God’s Word, but you proclaim it openly.    

Like Peter, bishops can get into situation and be face with decisions that they had preferred to avoid. In that regard, you did not avoid your responsibility as vicar general and diocesan vicar in difficult circumstances. But what is necessary for God’s Church, for the shepherding of the flock, we should also do out of love for the Lord. Looking after the sheep, the pastoral care for the people entrusted to their care, also requires that the bishops make sure that there is enough wholesome and healthy grass in the field for the grazing; more so, they must make sure there even is a field for the grazing.    

Can a man take on such a difficult task? Like Peter all bishops are men with talents and weaknesses. It is often thought that the priesthood and the episcopate ask too much, especially considering celibacy and the limited access to modern society for Christ and His Gospel? As we saw, Peter gains next to forgiveness also a new spirit and a new life because of his encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. It is a St. Paul says: “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own.”    

For that power we pray during the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration: the consecrating bishops pray that God may pour the Spirit of authority that He gave to His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles, also over you. We pray for the intercession of Saint Willibrord, the founder and patron saint of our archdiocese, that the Holy Spirit may abundantly bless and make fruitful your pastoral duties as auxiliary bishops. Amen.

Papal Message for World Communications Day

It’s not even remotely May yet, but the Vatican already published the text of Pope Benedict’s message for the World Communications Day, on 16 May 2010.

The Holy Father connects the theme of the day, The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word, to the ongoing Year for Priests, and as such the target audience seems to be mostly the priesthood. The pope aptly identifies modern communication as an arena in which the Church, and priests especially, must invest.

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

 The world of modern communications, especially the internet, is not simply a place to reach out to Catholics. It very clearly is a plce where priests can make God present for all, believer and non-believers alike.

Just as the prophet Isaiah envisioned a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Is 56:7), can we not see the web as also offering a space – like the “Court of the Gentiles” of the Temple of Jerusalem – for those who have not yet come to know God?

These are very keen and important observations, I think. With many people being very active online, it would be quite strange if the Church would not do anything with that. The pope accurately quotes St. Paul, from the letter to the Romans:  “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?”

Not just important, it’s an obligation.

Read the original text or my translation.

A cardinal bids his farewell

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Godfried Cardinal Danneels, archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels and primate of the Belgian Church Province, bids his official farewell. At 76 years of age, it is time for him to retire. There is no successor yet, but the general expectation is that it won’t be long until Rome names one, and that that will coincide with the official acceptance of the cardinal’s resignation by the pope. Here is the homily he deliver today in Brussels.

It is a very eloquent piece of writing that even touches upon some of the points raised by Msgr. Marini on adoration and liturgy.

 “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven”, Ecclesiastes says (Ecl. 3,1). There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, a time to start and a time to go. Shepherds come and shepherds go. But there is one Shepherd who continues to take care of you: “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13,20). And He, He remains: the Christ.

And that Shepherd should the be the focus of today. Jesus. With the author of the Letter to the Hebrews I say: “all you who are holy brothers and share the same heavenly call should turn your minds to Jesus, the apostle and the high priest of our profession of faith.”(Heb. 3,1)

Lift your eyes to Jesus

There is much that can frighten us when we look ahead: the crisis, the Church in the tempest, far fewer people and means and many who search and do not find the way. May I ask you, brothers and sisters, to keep looking towards Jesus? As the Gospel says: He sleeps in the bow of the ship of the Church in the tempest. And we keep saying: “’Master, do you not care? We are lost!” But we know the answer: “Why are you so frightened?” yes, why are we frightened? Fear is the only thing the Lord will blame us for. Not that we did not work enough, or planned or organised enough. But that we had no trust and no faith. That we did not look at Him; that we did not notice and believe that He was there among us. That He was there in the smallest and poorest among us and saw us with their eyes. He was also there in His Word that ceaselessly sounded in the liturgy. Clearly audible. But He is especially among us in the gift of His Body and His Blood. Yes, more, deeper and longer there than anywhere.

Lift yours eyes to Jesus, especially in Eucharistic adoration. I already asked you this at All Souls in 2006. I do it again today, the last time as archbishop. Grant me this.

Love the Church

Another thing: ‘Love the Church.’ I have served her wholeheartedly my entire life. A bishop is married to the Church. That is why he wears a ring. Love the Church! Certainly, she has her wrinkles, no wonder after 2,000 years. The Song of Songs already says: “I am black but lovely… Take no notice of my dark colouring, it is the sun that has burnt me… My mother’s sons made me look after the vineyards” (Songs 1,5-6) To see the Church as she really is – both divine and human – you need faith, that clear vision that can penetrate into the depths; that sees what can’t be seen. For the Church keeps within her an unfathomable mystery. She has something of the darkness and something of the light, sunlight and shadow both come over her. I like to repeat after Saint Augustine: “When I speak of the Church, I can’t stop.” And every time we discover a blemish in her, we must – after a moment of pain – be able to say: “but perhaps that spot on her skin is actually mine, it clings to my skin.” She is my mother and all mothers grow old. But precisely because of that do we appreciate our mother more: she is, after all, mine.

We received everything from the Church: the Scriptures and the sacraments, all the beauty of the liturgy, the tender pastoral care that many have received. We received Mary and all the saints and numerous brothers and sisters in the same faith. The strength of the Church lies in the liturgy. When the liturgy is celebrated beautifully and prayerfully, she creates an image of the Church as she really is: austere and grand at the same time, divine and human. The liturgy is the strongest form of evangelisation we have. No one escapes her mysterious charms. It could be that, in the times to come and the winter of indifference, the liturgy becomes the prime fireplace where we can warm ourselves on the Gospel.

Not of the world, but in the world

Something else. Many of our contemporaries barely know anything of the Gospel. Even its vocabulary is unfamiliar to them. The language is alien. We are almost back at the early days of the Church: a handful of people in a sea of unbelief and indifference. Perhaps more still an ocean of ignorance. What to do? Start to develop a healthy Christian sense of self-awareness. That is not pretense or pride: it is simply standing behind the truth. How can anyone follow us if we are mere shades? No one follows shadow images. To show and confess our identity – without issues and arrogance. We belong to Christ and the Gospel. To dare to be ourselves. It is allowed. It is even mandatory. Because “if the trumpet sounds a call which is unrecognisable, who is going to get ready for the attack?”(1 Cor. 14,8) St. Paul already wrote. Dare to be radically evangelical, and show it without issues.

But more is required. We must dare to take full part in the culture around us: in her science, her knowledge, her progress, the fabulous development of her technology, the modern thinking of modern man, in her art and culture, in the latest sensibilities. Certainly, we need the gift of discernment – not everything on the market is in good condition, after all. But how can one discern, when one does not know anything or wants to know anything?

Christians live on the edge of a knife: the are in the world, but do not belong to the world. That paradox cuts right through their hearts; it crucifies them. Just as it has also crucified Jesus, suspended high between heaven and earth. That is us as well: crucified, hanging between heaven and earth. But exactly there, on that intersection, the resurrection and the new life springs from. Should we start calling out loudly? Sometimes, yes: that is called speaking the language of the prophet. But Isaiah said of Jesus – the servant – “his voice is not heard in the street…” The most important thing has happened, in the silence of the cross. For the silence also speaks.

Speak clearly. But we must seek and find the gift not to sound arrogant, all-knowing or superior when we speak. Speak to serve, not to rule. Speak like Jesus spoke: “He felt sorry for them”. The lay there “like sheep without a shepherd.”(Matt. 9,36) Compassion is suffering with. To like to see people as they are, not as we would prefer them to be.

Perhaps also this: We Christians have a lot to do and we do a lot for the world: we fight for justice, solidarity, for food and for creation… But there is something unique to us: to bring forgiveness and reconciliation into the world. Here and elsewhere. To work towards reconciliation between all those colours, races and languages. In that respect our nation has become a laboratory. To be able to live together we need law and order, of course. But the problems won’t be solved without the service of reconciliation and forgiveness. He who gives lets another live indeed. He is as someone who gives birth, But he who for-gives is someone who raise a dead person.

Looking back at thirty years of shepherdhood among you, what can I say? I see what I have done and have not done. I know my successes and failures, the chances taken and missed, my talents and my flaws, my good and my bad. What to say? This. Maybe this: what the young priest from the novel by Georges Bernanos, ‘Journal d’un curé de campagne, whispered just before he died: “Tout est grâce”. All is grace… Yes. “All is grace”. Is it a coincidence that these were also the words of Saint Teresia of Lisieux? Tout est grâce. All is grace. Thank God with me.

+ Godfried Cardinal DANNEELS,
Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels