With a strong reminder, Pope Francis launches the Synod

synod eijk

Serious and solemn faces this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica – solemn for Mass and serious in the face of the duties lying ahead for the participants in the Synod, among them Cardinal Wim Eijk (sixth from the left, next to Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco).

The actual discussions will start tomorrow, but as ever, the Synod really began at the source and the summit: Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist.

In his brief homily, Pope Francis reminded all present about what the Synod participants are to do (or, as the case may be, not do):

“We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.

My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).”

The trouble with headlines – no sins and no new developments in Pope marrying 20 Roman couples

Making headlines is not always easy. I sometimes find myself having completed a blog post with relative ease, only to struggle with coming up with an eye-catching headline. They need to be short, interesting and true to the content of the article they announce and, in essence, summarise. I imagine that these are the same concern of those who write for a living for newspapers, journals and on websites. But in recent days too many have failed to follow the rules…

Yesterday, 20 Roman couples were married in St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis. This is pretty rare for Popes to do for the simple reason of their many other duties. Pope Benedict XVI never did it, and Pope St. John Paul II only got around to it once over the 27 years of his pontificate. But as he is the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, witnessing the marriage of some of the faithful of his diocese is a wonderful opportunity to be near to his closest flock: the Romans themselves.

pope-wedding

The couples were from all walks of life and a broad range in age, and all had their own stories, as the Pope hinted at in his homily: “The path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life!” Rare are the couples whose story is the stereotypical romantic one: they meet, fall in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after. I think it is safe to assume that none of the twenty couples married yesterday have had such smooth sailing. And that is what inspired many headlines.

 “Pope marries sinners,” we read. “Francis overthrows tradition by marrying cohabitating couples!” and more along such lines. The essence of all this was that Pope Francis, they said, in contrast to Catholic teaching and the practice of the Church for years, married people who were living in sin. But was that really true?

The simple answer is no. In reports about yesterday’s ceremony we read that one of the grooms has had a previous married nullified and that a bride already had a child. Others were apparently already living together for a long time before marrying. While it is objectively so that the Church has its concern about children being born outside marriage and cohabitation while not married, these in themselves have never been reason for the Church refusing to marry couples. In fact, it is simply so that the Church gladly welcomes any couple who wants to receive the sacrament of marriage.

marriageMarriage is a sacrament that includes both rights and duties. To oneself, to one’s  partner, to God and to the community. It is good for the future husband and wife to be well aware of these, be willing to accept them and know how to include them in their lives together. That is a  lifelong process, but it starts before marriage begins.

From the outside we may notice many irregularities – a child outside of marriage, a previous marriage – but we should not jump to conclusions about these 20 Roman couples. All we know is that these irregularities are now regularised, and that is reason for joy.

There is certainly no reason to see sins and new developments where there are none. Pope Francis did not do anything that could not be done before, and nothing that priests across the world don’t do regular (although they would rarely marry forty people in one go). What is remarkable, however, is that it happened. That 20 couples said yes to each other, promised to stand together in good and bad times and let their love bear fruit and new life in all sorts of ways. That’s the true headline.

Photo credit: [1] Alessandra Tarantino/AP,  [2] Paul Haring/CNS

Moving up – 6 Cardinal Deacons advance

In yesterday’s ordinary consistory, Pope Francis announced the ‘promotion’ of six cardinals. They were all cardinal deacons, created in Pope St. John Paul II’s last consistory on 21 October 2003. As that is ten years and a few months ago, these cardinals were up for a potential promotion from cardinal deacons to cardinal priests. Such a promotion has little effect on their day to day activities and duties, in part because four of the six are already retired, but mainly because it is largely ceremonial. They move up in precedence among their brother cardinals: as deacons they ranked under the cardinal priests, but they now move up according to the date the were created cardinals and the order in which they appeared on the list announcing the consistory.

And one cardinal loses a duty which put him in the world’s spotlight back in March of last year…

tauranmarchisano, herranz, lozano, nicora, cottier

Cardinals Jean-Louis Tauran, Francesco Marchisano, Julián Herranz Casado, Javier Lozano Barragán, Attilio Nicora and Georges Cottier were just six of an impressive 30 cardinals that St. John Paul II created in what would be his final consistory. With Cardinal Renato Martino, who for some reason is not ‘promoted’, they were the most senior cardinal deacons in the College of Cardinals. With their appointments as cardinal priests, they come before such famous prelates as Cardinals Scola, Turkson, Pell and Ouellet, and also all cardinals created by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (except for the cardinal-bishops and the eastern patriarchs made cardinals by the Pope emeritus).

The new cardinal priests keep their title churches, with the exception of Cardinal Lozano Barragán, who was cardinal deacon of San Michele Arcangelo, but is now cardinal priest of Santa Dorotea, a new cardinal title.

The biggest practical change comes with the promotion of Cardinal Tauran, who was the cardinal protodeacon, the most senior cardinal deacon. And as such it was his duty to announce the election and name of a new Pope, as he did in March of last year. The new protodeacon is the aforementioned Cardinal Renato Martino. But since he is 81, he will have no role in the proceedings of a future conclave (which should, admittedly, be still a long way off). Replacing him is Cardinal William Levada, and should we have a new Pope between now and two years, he will be the one announcing his name.

The appointments are also a sign of appreciation for their work done for the Church. Below are a few short overviews of the careers of the six new cardinal-priests:

Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran is 71, and was born in Bordeaux, France. From 1969 to 1990 he was a priest of the Archdiocese of Bordeaux (-Bazas), after which he was appointed as secretary in the department of the Secretariat of State that deals with the relations with other nations. From 2003 to 2007 he worked as archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and librarian of the Vatican Library. In 2007 he took up his current office: President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in which he is responsible for the ecumenical outreach of the Church.

Francesco Marchisano is 84 and hails from Italy. A priest of the Archdiocese of Turin since 1952, he became Secretary of the Pontifical Commission of Preserving the Church’s Patrimony of Art and History in 1988, and he remained so until 2003. During that time he also had several other tasks: he was President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology from 1991 to 2004; President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church from 1993 to 2003; President of the Fabric of St. Peter from 2002 to 2004; and Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica from 202 to 2006. His final office before retirement was as President of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See from 2005 to 2009. Cardinal Marchisano retired at the age of 80.

Julián Herranz Casado is also 84 and comes from Spain. He was ordained a priest from Opus Dei in 1955 and was appointed as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts in 1983. In 1994 he was appointed as the President of that same Council, a position he held until his retirement in 2007. Cardinal Herranz was also one of the cardinals entrusted by Pope Benedict XVI with the investigation into the VatiLeaks scandal.

Javier Lozano Barragán, from Mexico, is 81, and was ordained a priest in 1955. From 1979 to 1985 he was auxiliary bishop of Mexico and later the bishop of Zacatecas until 1996. In 1997 he came to Rome to become President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, a position he held until retiring in 2009.

Attilio Nicora, 77, comes from the Archdiocese of Milan, where he was a priest from 1964 to 1977. He became auxiliary bishop of Milan until resigning 1987. In 1994 he took on a new task, as Bishop of Verona, where he stayed until 2002. In that year he became President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See until retiring in 2011. In recent years he headed the Financial Information Authority of the Holy See.

Georges Marie Martin Cottier, lastly, is 92 and hails from Switzerland. He joined the Dominican Order in 1946 and was ordained in 1951. A distinguished professor and theologian, he was secretary of the International Theological Commission and has also been Theologian of the Papal Household.

A consistory for the history books

It was anything but a regular consistory this morning. Not only Francis’ first, but also one coloured, as Holy See communications advisor Greg Burke put it on Twitter, “lots of red with a bit of white”. Seated next to the cardinal bishops was the humble figure of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, back in St. Peter’s for the first time since Ash Wednesday of last year. His presence gave us the unique sight of a Pope watching his own successor creating cardinals. We can safely say that that has never happened before. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed back to the basilica behind which he spends his days. Pope Francis made sure that his first greeting was to his predecessor, and later words of welcome by Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin were followed by applause. And although those in attendance were asked not to applaud upon the entrance of Pope Francis, no one minded this one bit.

francis benedict consistory

As expected, the rite of the ceremony was unchanged from the previous two, although there were unique accents. The absence of Cardinal Capovilla, and Pope Francis descending from his place in front of the altar to grant biretta, ring and bull to wheelchair-bound Cardinal Kutwa, are but two examples.

In the meantime, I have updated the list of cardinals on this blog. The new cardinals join the rest of the College at the bottom of the list, as far as precedence is concerned.

And finally, some photos that I came across:

parolin consistory

As the first name on the list, Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, addresses the Pope on behalf of the other new cardinals.

francis parolinPope Francis waves to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI to acknowledge and thank him for his presence.

francis ouédraogoPope Francis with Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo

cardinals consistory

New and old cardinals greet and congratulate each other.

brenes solorzano benedictCardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solórzano embraces Pope Benedict

Four bishops look back – the ad limina in hindsight

Four bishops have written their thoughts and feelings about last week’s ad limina visit down and shared the resulting texts on the websites of their respective dioceses. Here, in full, are my translations, reflecting the encouragement that the bishops took home from their encounter with Pope Francis and the offices of the Curia.

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden:

“What did the ad limina visit bring me as bishop of the North? I think in the first place encouragement. Our report included many statistics which cause concern. The Church, after all, continues to shrink. But the Pope and also his coworkers in the various Congregations and Pontifical Council continuously warned the bishops against a sterile pessimism. The message was always: be patient, make contact, try to connect, don’t write anyone off, don’t blow up any bridges. Every bishop should after all be a ‘pontifex’, a bridge builder. I saw these words as a confirmation of my policy. In a recent article on the future of Roman Catholicism I summarised that policy in two words: clear and cordial. The Church of tomorrow can only thrive when she stays close to Jesus. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus for every person and our entire world should be at the heart. God’s mercy should also make us merciful and mild in how we deal with one another.

At the same time that should happen in a heartfelt and inviting way. Not with a pointing finger or a frown, but with an open attitude and a smile. There are many stalls in the modern religious market. For religious searchers the choice for Christ and His Church is not always the obvious one. For many of our contemporaries, faith is a search, a process. Parishes and church communities are called to increasingly initiate people in the treasure of Christian tradition and bring them to Christ, step by step. For ultimately every person is called to live his or her life out of the friendship with the living Christ.

Encouraged by the ad limina visit I continue my work as bishop. In turn, I hope to be able to encourage Catholics and other Christians to live the life of their Baptism. Pope Francis continuously asks us to be brave and to live out of hope. Let us grab the plough, out of the joy of the Gospel!”

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkWim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht:

“The preparations for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops were preceded by numerous speculations. What would the new Pope Francis think of the Dutch bishops? Wouldn’t they be strongly chastised for their policies? In that context, many think of the mergers of parishes and the closing of churches, which the bishops would be deciding upon out of ideological motives and because of a shortage of priests. What was striking was that the approach of sexual abuse by Church workers was now getting less attention.

In my article for the November issue of the diocesan magazine Op Tocht, which was also spread to the parishes as a letter, I discussed in detail the painful necessity of parish mergers and church closings in several locations. The archdiocese does not take the initiative to close a church. That is in the first place the responsibility of the parish councils, which then request the archbishop to remove a church from service. But in the end neither the archbishop nor the parish council make the decision, but the people who decide to no longer take part in worship and no longer support the Church financially.

In the 1950s ninety percent of the Catholics attended Church on Sunday. Today that is five percent and that percentage is still dropping. Anyone can see that church closings then become unavoidable. The same goes for parish mergers. Parishes which can no longer survive alone, can join forces with other parishes and form a new thriving faith community. We must now take our responsibility for the future. Our children who still believe must have the opportunity to celebrate and share the faith. It would be irresponsible to try and maintain everything we have now and use up all available means doing so, leaving future generations empty-handed.

The Pope understands this, and so does the Roman Curia. In other parts of the world, for example in the United States, the need for parish mergers and church closings becomes apparent. Between 2000 and 2011, 121 churches in the Diocese of Essen, Germany, were removed from use and closed.

Many other topics were also discussed. The Pope and his coworkers received, for example, detailed information from the Dutch bishops about the situation around the sexual abuse of minors. In the last months, fruitful cooperation has come into being between the chairmen of the Bishops’ Conference, the KNR (Conference of Dutch religious) and KLOKK, the major umbrella organisation for victims of sexual abuse. They jointly established a final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of claims of sexual abuse concerning deceased perpetrator and cases of sexual abuse that fall under the statute of limitations. Said chairmen also presented a joint report to Secretary Opstelten on 5 November of this year, the so-called base-measurement, in which the implementations of the recommendations of the Deetman Commission of 2011 were investigated. The report includes a number of solid pieces of advice to improve the approach to claims of sexual abuse. The Bishops’ Conference, the KNR, KLOKK, and the management and overview foundation for sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands have enthusiastically begun implementing this advice. The base-measurement was translated into English and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Dutch bishops and the KNR coupled the announcement of the final date with a call to all to supply supportive evidence for claims of sexual abuse where possible. We also called all to – contrary what sadly sometimes occurs elsewhere – not oppose victims in any way when they make a claim, or blame them for it, but support hem as much as possible. They suffered enough under the sexual abuse. We called all to help the Church clean her slate in the interest of the victims. The Pope encouraged us to continue on this road. At the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith we were also told that we chose a “good direction”.

The way in which Pope Francis replied to the Dutch bishops’ policies was heartwarming for them. He was visibly moved by the difficulties we face. His biggest fear was that we would become discouraged because of the problems we are struggling with, and that we would succumb to feelings of sorrow. He impressed upon us not lose hope, hope in the promises of Christ: “This hope never disappoints.” The message which he repeatedly drew our attention too was, “Do not look back, try not to keep what you once had, but look ahead.” A word that he continuously repeated was, “avanti, avanti, sempre avanti.” Keep going forward than do not look back at the past. In the past the Church may have had great buildings and structures, but we live in the present. In the present, you must take your responsibility.

As Dutch bishops we feel very much confirmed and encouraged by the Pope and his coworkers to go “avanti”, that is to say, forward on the path we are on. What we take with us from this very successful ad limina visit is that we should not Always look back nostalgically to a rich past, but that we must go “avanti”, forward, with our task to proclaim Christ and His Gospel. We must now take our responsibility and take the necessary measures, even if they are not always popular, to make sure that there are enough means and opportunities to also in the future proclaim the faith in Dutch society. If we don’t do anything now and maintain everything, we take away from our children the means to share the Gospel and celebrate the faith.

For the bishops it was also a special experience to be together for an entire week in Rome. In addition to unity with the world Church, the ad limina visit has also strengthened our mutual unity. Many concrete questions from the bishops have been answered by workers in the Roman Curia. We will get to work with the advice we received, in courage and enthusiasm.

The ad limina visit was closed with a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Mary Major. Here, at the end of the celebration, we answered Pope Francis’ call to us in the address he gave us in writing at Monday’s audience, to dedicate our Church province to Mary. This we did, and we confirmed it by praying the Hail Mary together. We asked Mary to pray for us to God to make our beautiful ad limina visit fruitful for the proclamation of the Catholic faith in the Netherlands.”

hoogenboomBishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

“What is the homework that Pope Francis gave the Dutch bishops during the ad limina visit?” I was asked in the preliminary conversation before a radio interview… My answer was that an ad limina visit, since its establishment in the 16th century, is first and foremost a pilgrimage of the bishops to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And that is how I look back on it as well: the ad limina visit was a precious week in which we, the Dutch bishops, prayed in the four great basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls), in the Church of the Frisians and in the Santa Maria dell’Anima (where Pope Adrian VI, from Utrecht, lies buried). The fact that, on 2 December, we could first celebrate Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the catacombs and shortly afterwards meet the personal successor of this Apostle on the see of Peter, Pope Francis, was for me without doubt the high point of our ad limina visit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls the Apostle Peter to strengthen his brothers, the other Apostles, in their faith. And that is exactly what Pope Francis did towards us as Dutch bishops. Aware of the situation in which the Dutch Roman Catholic Church finds herself, the Pope directed words of hope and encouragement to the bishops and all Roman Catholics in our country. In the ‘group talk’ with the Pope I could ask him, referring to Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13), how he sees the relation between liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and diakonia. Pope Francis’ answer was that the worship of God and the service to the neighbour, especially the neighbour in need, are inextricably entwined. He also mentioned practical examples from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires where he was archbishop. We can mirror the practical examples from our archdiocese to that; for example the food collection for the Food bank during the Chrism Mass in Apeldoorn.

That we could start the ad limina visit with a fraternal meeting with Pope Francis, despite original plans,  is to me a gift from God’s providence. During our visits to the Congregations and Pontifical Councils we reported on the developments in the Dutch Church province since the last ad limina visit in 2004. But on those occasions we also looked ahead, and time and again we heard words which referred to the joy of the Gospel, to Christian joy and the trust in God about which Pope Francis had earlier spoken with us so warmly and inspirational. A joyful message which I continue to carry with me in my life and works as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht. It was not about getting homework assigned and which you reluctantly start, but about confirmation and encouragement in performing a joyful duty for life.”

woortsBishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

We continue encouraged, with hope and joy, amid the concerns and responsibilities. The Pope and the Curia, people with their inspiration, it has all come much nearer for me. I am grateful for having experienced this and also grateful that we are part of that one world Church, led by the Pope, above all of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Mary, Peter and Paul and all those other saints and blesseds. It has strengthened me, not least the daily Masses and prayer and sympathy of many at home. That does good.

What will also stay with me: when we left the room after the conversation with the Pope, I spoke with him about the contact with rabbis and Jewish organisations. He squeezed my arm and indicated: continue with that. He was happy about it.”

Diocesan news roundup

Just because I can, a news roundup from the Dutch dioceses. Let’s  take a look at what’s been going on in the various corners of the Church province.

Dag%20vier%20kelk%20M%20Maggiore%20klLed by Cardinal Eijk, some 100 faithful from the Archdiocese of Utrecht have been on pilgrimage to Rome this week. They visited various churches (Cardinal Eijk’s title church San Callisto, Saint Peter’s, the Church of the Frisians, Saint Mary Major (pictured) and Saint John Lateran), celebrated Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter, saw the sights and capped the trip off with today’s general audience with Pope Francis. Cardinal Eijk offered Mass every day in concelebration with the accompanying and some local priests.

In the Diocese of Breda, the Franciscan sisters in Bergen op Zoom celebrated the 175th anniversary of their diocesan congregation’s existence. They did so in the presence of Bishop Jan Liesen and other guests, and also used the day to reopen their chapel after a year of restoration work. As the congregation also has a thriving sister house in Indonesia, Bishop Michael Angkur of the Diocese of Bogor was also present. With his entourage, he visited other congregations (and some local sights) in the diocese as well.

breda wydAlso in Breda, the pilgrims to the World Youth Day in Rio had their first reunion (pictured). They did so at Bovendonk seminary. The pilgrims looked back on the weeks in Suriname and in Rio de Janeiro, sharing their experiences with each other and with those who stayed at home to take part in WYD@Home.

de groot hendriksThe Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam bade farewell to its vicar general, Msgr. Martin de Groot (pictured at left with Bishop Jan Hendriks), after 50 years of service in the diocese. The farewell took place with a choral evensong in Amsterdam’s Basilica of St. Nicholas followed by a reception. In addition to the diocese’s Bishops Punt, Hendriks and Van Burgsteden, Rotterdam’s Bishop van den Hende and Utrecht’s auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom were present, reflecting the wide-ranging duties that Msgr. de Groot performed in and beyond his diocese.

Also in Haarlem-Amsterdam, a unique appointment: the first female Magister Cantus  (or, in this case, Magistra Cantus) of the Netherlands. On Sunday Ms. Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen will be installed as such by Bishop Punt. She will have responsibility for the music in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, the musical institute connected to it and the choirs. She has been conducting the cathedral choir since 2010.

Photo credit: [1] aartsbisdom.nl, [2] bisdombreda.nl, [3] Isabel Nabuurs