Risky trip – Pope to Lebanon

A week from today, on 14 September, Pope Benedict XVI will depart on what is, in some ways, one of the most risky apostolic journeys of his papacy. He will be returning to the Middle East for the fourth time – after Turkey (2006), Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and Cyprus (2010) – and this time the ever-looming spectre of local tensions is very concrete in the form of the civil war raging in next-door Syria. And with Lebanon’s recent history firmly tied up with that of Syria, the papal journey has been in limbo until recently.

Lebanon is the most Christian country in the Middle East, with almost 40% of the population belonging to several Christian churches, with the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch being the largest of these. Other Churches in union with Rome that have a significant presence in Lebanon are the Greek Melkites, the Armenian, the Chaldean, the Syrian and the Roman Catholic Church. All these Churches have their own circumscriptions, which makes for an intricate landscape of dioceses, patriarchates and vicariates. There are 33 active bishops and patriarchs in the country, headed by   the Patriarchs Béchara Pierre Raï (Maronite), Nersès Bédros XIX Tarmouni (Armenian) and Ignace Youssif III Younan (Syrian). Also of note are Lebanon’s only cardinal, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir (Maronite emeritus) and Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad (Syrian emeritus).

The upcoming papal visit will be a three-day affair, with major events careful spaced over the available time. On 14 September, the Holy Father will obviously be welcomed in Beirut, and he will sign the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (which he himself kicked off during his visit to Cyprus two years ago). On 15 September, Pope Benedict will meet with representatives of the government, diplomats, religious leaders (always interesting in a country with a strong Muslim presence) and the world of culture. He’ll also meet with young people, another staple of papal visits abroad, at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerké. The last day, 16 September, will see a public Mass and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation, as well as the recitation of the Angelus and the departure ceremony.

A fairly short visit, but an important one, as its impact will not be limited to Lebanon. Countries like Syria and Iraq, which also have fairly significant Christian minorities, are no doubt also a focal point of this visit.

In the meantime, let’s pray for safety for the Holy Father during his journey to a place where tensions run high, and for a fruitful apostolic journey, for Christians in Lebanon and abroad.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Martini passes away

Mere minutes ago, after Parkinson’s disease had confined him to a hospital bed, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini passed away, 85 years old. The leader of the Church’s ‘loyal opposition’, a voice for liberalism on many issues, Cardinal Martini was also an erudite scholar of Scripture, papabile in many eyes and a polyglot, said to have been able to speak 11 languages.

Born in Turin as the son of an engineer, young Carlo Martini was educated by the Jesuits and entered that order in 1944, when he was 17, and started studying to become a priest. He was ordained in 1952. He wrapped up his studies in philosophy in Gallarate and theology in Chieri. Fr. Martini was awarded a doctorate in fundamental theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1958. A few years of teaching followed, after which Fr. Martini graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

His scholarly career took off after that. In 1962, Fr. Martini accepted the Chair of Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and became that institute’s rector in 1969. In 1978, he was appointed as chancellor of the Gregorian, of which the Biblical Institute was a part. Almost 18 months later, he was given his first pastoral assignment, and not the smallest: he was appointed as archbishop of Milan.

Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Archbishop Martini himself and created him a cardinal in the consistory of February 1983. Cardinal Martini, then almost 56, became cardinal priest of San Cecilia.

As archbishop of Europe’s largest diocese, Cardinal Martini also served in other functions. He was relator of the 6th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which focussed on ‘Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church’. He was also president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences from 1986 to 1993. The scholar-cardinal became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2000.

In 2002, Cardinal Martini resigned as archbishop of Milan, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. He returned to his life as biblical scholar, moving to Jerusalem to work at the Pontifical Biblical Institute once more. Cardinal Martini was able to participate in the conclave of 2005, and is rumoured to have been a possible future pope.

Cardinal Martini had a reputation of being quite liberal on many topics, which no doubt made enemies in some quarters, but questioning things is what he had learned in his many years as a scholar. On topics such as contraception, euthanasia, and the ordination of women (at least as deacons), Cardinal Martini diverged from the general stance of the Church, but he was never sanctioned or warned in any way. His focus on education, social justice and the collegiality of bishops can only be lauded.

Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini passed away in Gallarate, northwest of Milan, after Parkinson’s disease left him unable to eat and drink normally. He received fluids intravenously, but refused further treatment. He is said to have wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, where he purchased a grave site.

The College of Cardinals now numbers 206, of whom 118 are electors.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passes away

After six years battling cancer, Paul Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi passed away yesterday. The former archbishop of Kaohsiung’s death leaves 207 members of the College of Cardinals, of whom 119 are electors.

Born in China in December of 1932, Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi entered the Jesuit order, but fled the country when the Communists took over. In 1955 he was ordained to the priesthood in the Philippines, where he worked as director of the Chinese Section of Sacred Heart School in Cebu City. Studying for a doctorate in spiritual theology at Rome’s Gregorian University, Father Shan too a position at the Jesuit novitiate in Thuduc, Vietnam from 1961 to 1963. He went to Taiwan after taking his final vows in 1963, where he was appointment as master of novices and later as rector of a high school. In 1980, he was consecrated and installed as the third bishop of Hwalien, also in Taiwan. During that time, in 1987, he was chosen to chair the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, a position he would until 2006. In th meantime, in 1991, he was elected as bishop of Kaohsiung. He would remain there until his retirement in 2006. In 1998, he became for a while the only Chinese cardinal when Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed him as cardinal-priest of San Crisogono. The cardinal revealed his having lung cancer shortly after his 2006 retirement.

Cardinal Shan was especially committed to interreligious dialogue, perhaps not surprising in a country where less than 5% of the population is Christian. As bishop of Kaohsiung he worked towards formation of the laity and local priests. In the Curia, Cardinal Shan was a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Special Council for Asia of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops

Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi was 88.

Photo credit: ChenHao Yang/Flickr

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Stafford turns 80

Hello, 120! For the first time since the last consistory, the number of cardinal electors is back at the maximum allowed number of 120, as American-born Cardinal James Stafford celebrates his 80th birthday today.

Born in the cradle of the Catholic Church in America, Baltimore, James Francis Stafford was the only child of a furniture store owner of Irish descent. After his high school days he intended to study medicine at the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore, but a close friend’s death in a car crash caused him to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

After two years of study, the archbishop of Baltimore, Msgr. Francis Keough, sent him to Rome’s Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1958, James Stafford earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the later institution.

The rector of the North American College, Bishop  Martin O’Connor, ordained James Stafford to the priesthood in 1957, alongside one Edward Egan who would later become a fellow cardinal. Upon his return to the US, Father Stafford became an assistant priest in his native Baltimore until 1962. He then went to study at the Catholic University of America, earning a Master of Social Work in 1964. For the next two years, Fr. Stafford served as assistant director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities and as an assistant priest, once again in Baltimore. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan appointed him as director of Catholic Charities in 1966, a position Fr. Stafford would hold until 1976. He earned he title of Monsignor in 1970 when Pope Paul VI made him a Chaplain of His Holiness. As president of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Presbyteral Senate since 1971, he helped reorganise the central services of the archdiocese.

In 1976, Msgr. Stafford was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. He was granted the titular diocese of Respecta, which today belongs to Dutch-born Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane, Australia. Archbishop William Borders consecrated Bishop Stafford on 29 February. Upon his appointed, he became the vicar general of Baltimore. From 1978 to 1984, he led the commission on  Marriage and Family Life of the American bishops’ conference, and in 1980 he attended the Fifth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the Christian Family, in Rome.

In 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Stafford as Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, where he was installed the following January. There, he focussed on restructuring, improving and evangelisation, especially among African Americans. During his time in Memphis, Bishop Stafford also chaired the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB from 1984 to 1991.

Bishop Stafford moved even further west in 1986, as he was appointed archbishop of Denver. High point of his time in that see was the 1993 World Youth Day. which saw half a million young Catholics gather in the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome, to lead the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In this role, he was responsible for the organisation of the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, the 2000 WYD in Rome and the 2002 WYD in Toronto. In the consistory of 1998 he was created a cardinal and became the cardinal-dean of Gesù Buon Pastore alla Montagnola. In 2003, Cardinal Stafford became the Major Penitentiary, one of the highest positions in the Curia.

In 2007, Cardinal Stafford turned 75 and submitted his resignation , which Pope Benedict XVI accepted in 2009. On 1 March 2008, Cardinal Stafford made use of the option to be promoted to cardinal-priest, and was granted the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio.

In 2008, Cardinal Stafford spoke prophetic words as he compared the election of President Barack Obama to the Agony in the Garden. The president’s consistent steps to curtail religious liberty and freedom of conscience seem to prove the cardinal’s opinion.

Cardinal Stafford was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Special Council for Oceania of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

An introduction to Abp. Müller

There has been much talk about the new prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, but we haven’t heard much from him. Hence, as a sort of introduction, my translation of this interview, courtesy of Johannes Schidelko of Kath.net.

KNA: My Lord Archbishop, what do you feel in the face of your appointment?

Müller: Gratitude for the confidence that the pope gives me. It is not an easy task, considering the entirety of the World Church; but it is a beautiful assignment to be able to serve the pope in his teaching. The office has a universal ecclesiastic dimention – and has nothing to do with centralisation.

KNA: When did you know that you would be going to Rome?

Müller: For a while already. But the change of office needs to run its ordered course.

KNA: Do you know why the pope has appointed you? Did he want a German, a theologian, someone he trusted?

Müller: It certainly wasn’t about the nationality, and as Catholics we all belong to the world Church. But the Holy Father knows me and my theological work, not only as an author, but also as an expert of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and in the committees of Ecumenism and Faith of the German Bishops’ Conference.

KNA: When do you begin in your office?

Müller: I have already begun, on July 2nd.

KNA: You are now one of the most important people in the Vatican, and one of the closest collaborators of the pope. What are your first steps?

Müller: I have already met with the leaders of the Congregation, to get an overview of the daily procedures and responsibilities. The scope is very broad: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith consists of three departments: the doctrinal, disciplinary and marriage departmentd. The prefect is at also president of the Bible Commission and the International Theological Commission. We have about fifty immediate employees. Then there are the “Feria quarta”, the meetings of cardinals, which takes place every four weeks.

KNA: What are your substantive priorities?

Müller: The Congregation is responsible for the promotion of the doctrine of the faith, and not only for its protection. The 1965 reorganisation of the agency has placed this positive aspect in its heart. It is about the promotion of theology and its basis in Revelation, to ensure its quality, and to consider the important intellectual developments on a global scale. We can’t simply and mechanically repeat the doctrine of the faith. It must always be associated with the intellectual developments of the time, the sociological changes, the thinking of people.

KNA: What do you want to emphasise especially? What do you want to especially deal with in the near future?

Müller: The Congregation has the task of supporting the pope in his Magisterium. We must orient ourselves on the emphases he makes in his proclamations. During his journey to Germany, Benedict XVI put the question of God at the centre. He also spoke of the ‘worldliness’ of the Church – a topic not only intended for Germany. It is about a right understanding of the nature and mission of the Church; about finding the right balance between shutting out the world and adapting to it – so that we can truly serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In particular, we have to counter a widespread apathy in matters of faith. The ‘Year of Faith’, with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council and twenty years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be an essential contribution to this.

KNA: You begin your service in a turbulent time for the Vatican. Or is the Vatican currently back on its feet again?

Müller: I don’t know much about this concretely. It remains to be seen what the investigations reveal. What seems important to me is that the good works of the many hundreds of employees in the Curia are not overlooked. They are unfairly associated with these individual actions; the impression is created that everyone is involved. That is totally out of the question.

KNA: Another major topic in Rome is the anniversary of the Council. What do you expect from looking back?

Müller: We do not need a hermeneutic that is imposed upon the Council from outside. It is important to explore the hermeneutic that is included in the Council itself: the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, as the Holy Father has repeatedly underlined. A Council is the execution of the highest magisterium of the Church in the communion of the bishops with the Pope.

In this sense, the Second Vatican Council was a wonderful event, albeit from a somewhat different type than some previous councils. It was its legitimate intention to respond not only to certain errors and correct them, but to provide an overall view of the Catholic faith. It wanted not many individual elements, but the big picture, the great architecture of the present church with large rooms where you can feel at home and gladly live.

KNA: The Council, however, also created problems, for example for the SSPX.

Müller: Everyone who calls himself Catholic, will also have to keep the principles of the Catholic faith. These are not pre-formulated by the CDF or anyone else, but given to us in the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. One can therefore not simply pick from it what fits in a given structure.

Rather, one must be open to the whole of the Christian faith, the whole profession of faith, the Church’s history and development of her teaching. One must be open to the living Tradition which does not end somewhere – say in 1950 – but goes on. Inasmuch as we appreciate history with her great achievements, we must also see that every era is also directly related to God. Every era has its own challenges. We can not explain a historical era according to the classical pattern, but we walk from one summit to the next.

Photo credit: Armin Weigel dpa/lby

Guiding the Synod – the presidents-delegate

As the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation comes ever closer, the Holy Father today appointed three president-delegates. As this official page explains the duties of the president-delegates are:

1: to guide the workings of the Synod according to the faculties entrusted to him in the letter of delegation, following the agenda and observing the procedural norms set down in this Ordo;
2: to assign to certain Members, when deemed opportune, particular tasks, so that the Assembly might better proceed with its work;
3: to sign the Acts of the Assembly. If there are several President-Delegates, all sign the Acts concluding the Assembly.

In other words, they are ultimately responsible for how the Assembly functions on a day-to-day basis, with a special focus on the individual competencies of the participating bishops. The president-delegates for this fall’s Assembly are John Cardinal Tong Hon, bishop of Hong Kong; Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega, archbishop of Guadalajara; and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (pictured), archbishop of Kinshasa.

Together with the general rapporteur, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, and the special secretary, Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, they represent five continents. A reflection, perhaps, of the international nature of the Synod.

On the road to the Synod – the Instrumentum laboris

An important step on the road to this autumn’s Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation yesterday: the publication of its Instrumentum laboris, the document outlining the points that will be discussed at the convocation of bishops from all over the world, and is the result of questions that we submitted after the initial Lineamenta was published in March.

The focus of the Synod, the New Evangelisation, is an important one. If applied correctly and effectively, it will be a great aid in overcoming our speechlessness about our faith.

Attached to the Instrumentum is a foreword by Archbishop Nicola Eterovic (pictured at right, during the presentation of an earlier Instrumentum in 2008), the general secretary of the Synod of  Bishops, which serves as an introduction to the entire document. I have that text available in a Dutch translation.

Also today, it was announced which bishops will represent Belgium at the Synod. They are Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Malines-Brussels and Bishop Jozef  De Kesel of Bruges. Dutch bishops have not been named yet, but likely candidates are Cardinal Eijk, as well as Bishops Mutsaerts (who holds the Catechesis portfolio in the Conference) and De Korte (Church & Society). But any guess is as good as mine. We’ll have to wait and see.

Photo credit: [1] Reuters, [2] Emanuela de Meo/CPP

Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Vlk turns 80

With today’s 80th birthday of Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, by chance on Ascension Day, the number of cardinal electors drops to 122, returning it almost back to the legal maximum.

With the fighting spirit of his namesake (‘Vlk’ means ‘wolf’ in Czech), Cardinal Vlk has left his mark as the Church and nation of the Czechs found their place in Europe after the yoke of Communism.

Only ordained a priest at 36, Miloslav Vlk is not so much a product of academia, although he is no slouch there, but worked his way through life in Communist Czechoslovakia – even as a priest he had to work as a window cleaner for eight years in order to stay out of the government’s sights. A worker-cardinal turns 80.

Born in 1932, Miloslav Vlk grew up under the threat and occupation of Nazi Germany. During the height of the war – as entire villages were massacred in retaliation for resistance activities – 11-year-old Miloslav first started thinking about the priesthood. However, considering this a dream unattainable for a farm boy, he instead wanted to become an aircraft pilot. As the war ended, and a new Communist Czechoslovakia was created, Miloslav worked in an automobile factory and did his military service in the first half of the 1950s. He was then able to study archival science in Prague and worked in various archives until the mid-1960s. In 1964, he could finally follow his desire of studying theology in Litomerice. In the summer of 1968, during the Prague Spring of political liberalisation (which would soon be crushed by the Soviet Union), Miloslav Vlk was ordained to the priesthood, 36 years old.

He started his ministry working as secretary to Bishop Joseph Hlouch of Ceské Budejovice. This was apparently reason for state authorities to consider him suspicious, and in 1971, Father Vlk was forced to relocate to various parishes throughout southern Bohemia, and in 1978, he lost his state authorisation to exercise his priestly ministry. From 1978 until the end of 1988, Fr. Vlk lived in hiding, earning an income, first as a window cleaner and, from 1986, as an archivist in the archives of Prague’s State Bank.

In 1989 the tides turned. As the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia loomed, Fr. Vlk was again authorised to exercise his priestly ministry for a ‘trial year’. He worked as a curate near the Bavarian border. And then, in 1990, the country ceased to be Communist…

On 14 February 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II pulled Father Vlk out of obscurity and appointed him as bishop of his native Ceské Budejovice. He would not be holding that position for very long, because a mere year later, he was called to Prague, to succeed 91-year-old Cardinal Tomášek as archbishop of Prague. As archbishop, and since 1994 as cardinal, Msgr. Vlk concerned himself not only with the local Church, but also with the Church in Europe, mirroring the new Czech Republic’s international outlook. From 1993 to 2001 he was President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, He was also the special secretary of the first Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops in 1991 and also took part in the ninth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1994) and the second Special Assembly for Europe (1999).

Cardinal Vlk resigned as archbishop of Prague in February of 2010 and was succeeded by Dominik Duka. He is cardinal-priest of the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. He was, until his 80th birthday, a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Special Council for Europe of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Clergy Congregation to the priests: “Be holy!”

In a letter published on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of the Clergy, taking place on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 15 June this year, the Congregation for the Clergy writes a letter (translation)to the world’s priests. The letter, signed by the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza (pictured), and secretary Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, focusses on St. Paul’s appeal to all Christians: “This is the will of God: your holiness!” (1 Thess. 4:3).

The authors firmly relate the letter to the upcoming Year of Faith and the anniversaries of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and also the upcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the new evangelisation. These latter three events must be the focus of priests everywhere in the framework of the Year of Faith.

The final paragraph outlines why priests especially need to be holy:

“Today’s world, with its ever more painful and preoccupying lacerations, needs God – The Trinity, and the Church has the task to proclaim Him. In order to fulfil this task, the Church must remain indissolubly embraced with Christ and never part from Him; it needs Saints who dwell “in the heart of Jesus” and are happy witnesses of God’s Trinitarian Love. And in order to serve the Church and the World, Priests need to be Saints!”

Cardinal Watch: Cardinal Daoud passes away

Just before the dawn of Easter, Ignace Moussa I Cardinal Daoud passed away in Rome, aged 81, early this morning. Cardinal Daoud was the former highest prelate of the Syrian Catholic Church and had retired from his official functions in 2007.

Born in 1930 in Syria as Basile Moussa Daoud, the future cardinal was ordained a priest in 1954 and went on to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. In 1977, he became the Syrian Bishop of Cairo, a position he held until 1994, when he became the archbishop of Homs in Syria. Over the course of October of 1998, he was elected, confirmed and enthroned as Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, and he took the name Ignace as his first name, a tradition for Syrian patriarchs.

After some two years, Patriarch Daoud was called to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, but kept the title of Patriarch ad personam. Shortly afterwards, in the consistory of 21 February 2001, he was created a cardinal, but did not receive a title church, since he was a prelate of an eastern Catholic Church.

Cardinal Daoud resigned in 2007, but remained a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Special Council for Lebanon of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops until his 80th birthday in 2010.

The College of Cardinals now counts 211 members, of which 123 are electors.

Photo credit: Patrick Herzog/AFP/Getty Images