Cardinal Müller’s Manifesto of Faith – refutation of its critics

I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was nonetheless yesterday.

Cardinal_Gerhard_Mueller_in_St_Peters_Basilica_at_the_installation_Mass_of_Bishop_Maurizio_Malvestiti_on_Oct_12_2014_Credit_Lauren_Cater_CNA_CNA_10_13_14On Friday, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now a sort of free-roaming cardinal with no specific mission, issued a “Manifesto of Faith“. As he explains in the opening paragraphs he did so on the request of various people, both clergy and laity, in order to provide some measure of clarity to the confusion that exists about Catholic doctrine. Without doubt, we must understand this to be based in the different interpretations of recent papal teachings regarding such varied topics like marriage, sexuality and ecumenism. The teachings themselves may not be confusing, but their communication and interpretation most definitely are. But Cardinal Müller’s reasons go beyond this, and back over past decades and the formation, or lack thereof, of the faithful on matters of conscience, the nature of Christ, the Church, the sacraments, morality and eternal life.

catechism-of-the-catholic-church2628lgThe manifesto is in the first place a summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at least regarding the topics discussed. It is stuffed with references to paragraphs from the document, which aims to summarise the faith, and as such can serve as a helpful reminder of what it is that we confess as Catholics and how that affects our spiritual and daily life. Cardinal Müller also offers a few interpretations and explanations, which are all the interpretations of Tradition, communicated over the years and centuries by popes and theologians alike. Until those interpretations, for example that divorced and civilly remarried faithful can not receive Communion, are changed, they stand. They are what we are beholden to as Catholics. And, despite footnotes and desires expressed in interviews, under Pope Francis no steps have yet been taken to change this.

On to my surprise.

The reception of Cardinal Müller’s manifesto, especially in social media, has been as expected. Some quietly welcomed it, presenting it as a text worth reading, without, I must say, a lot of further comment. Others, however, including a significant number of Vatican commentators and reporters, have taken the text to frame the cardinal and his supporters:

Cardinal Müller, they say, is opposed to Pope Francis, and with this manifesto he presents an alternative Magisterium. Some have gone so far as calling him an anti-pope. How on earth, I wonder, can a text so rooted in the Catechism, in the faith that we all claim to confess as Catholics, be an alternative Magisterium? It is as if the critics claim that this is not the faith they confess, and, worse, not the faith that the pope confesses. If that were true, we would indeed have an anti-pope, but it would not be Cardinal Müller.

The criticism they level at Cardinal Müller is also marked not by theological refutations, but limit themselves to superficialities. The cardinal is angry at the pope for being dismissed as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they say. We know this because of the way he signed his manifesto. He must be opposed to Pope Francis, because the Holy Father chooses not to discuss doctrine that much, instead focusing on social and charitable issues. Thus, they insist, the manifesto should not be taken seriously, even mocked (and not just the text, but in the first place its author).

Worst of all, those critics continue to insist that there is no confusion. There is therefore no other reason for Cardinal Müller to publish his manifesto than to position himself as an alternative authority to the pope. In reality, though, the different interpretations of various recent papal communications, and the spiritual and formative developments of the faithful over the past decades, are clear as day.

In the minds of Cardinal Müller’s attackers, a cardinal’s duty is to quietly fall in line with what the pope says and does. Their mission is not that of a shepherd, but of a sheep. Any hint at them overstepping that role is seen as an attack against them and what they consider the “fluffiest pope ever”, to borrow a phrase. This is an unhealthy attitude that changes the nature of the Magisterium and the hierarchy of the Church into a dictatorship. Some say that’s due to Pope Francis, but it’s his supposed self-appointed supporters who do the most damage.

The manifesto is text worth reading. As I’ve said above, it offers a reminder of what our faith actually entails in various matters. It says little about practical applications, but theologically it is a reminder of the rich foundation and intricate beauty of our faith. The manifesto is also a call to action, to rediscover that foundation and beauty, and grow beyond the earthly superficialities, which have their place and value, but which do not define our faith and unity with Jesus Christ.

The English text of Cardinal Müller’s manifesto is available in several places, such as here, while my Dutch translation can be found via this link.

 

Getting (too far) ahead in ecumenism

“We must journey and continue: not with the enthusiasm of running ahead to reach coveted goals, but walking patiently together, under the gaze of God. Some themes – I think of the Church, the Eucharist and the ecclesial ministry – merit precise and well shared reflections.”

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422Words from Pope Francis, in an audience with delegates from the German Lutheran Church yesterday. He was, not unexpectedly, speaking about ecumenism, urging continuing theological dialogue between various Christian churches and communities. The goals of ecumenism are often enticing, and this may cause some to get ahead of themselves. The themes Pope Francis mentioned – the Church, the Eucharist and the ecclesial ministry – reflect the goals of a shared understanding of what the Church is, a shared belief in the Eucharist and a shared understanding of the priesthood and other ministries in the Church, and which are often assumed to have been achieved already.

ladaria-ferrer.jpg_872573866This quote is especially interesting as a document was leaked yesterday which stated that the German bishops’ proposed pastoral outreach to interdenominational couples – which included the proposal to allow non-Catholic spouses to receive Communion under certain circumstances – is not fit to be published. The document is dated on the 25th of May, and was sent by the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, to the German bishops who participated in the meeting with the CDF and other dicasteries on 3 May. The letter makes it clear that it was sent with the express agreement of the Pope, who discussed the matter with Archbishop Ladaria in two separate audiences.

The prefect identifies three reasons why the proposal is problematic:

  1. “The question of allowing Evangelical Christians in interdenominational marriages  [to receive Communion] is a topic that affects the faith of the Church and is significant for the universal Church.”
  2. “This question also affects the ecumenical relationships with other churches and church communities, which cannot be underestimated.”
  3. “The topic concerns the law of the Church, above all the interpretation of canon 844. Because there are unanswered questions about this point in some parts of the Church, the competent dicasteries of the Holy See have already been tasked with bringing about a speedy clarification of these issues at the level of the unversal Church. It seems particularly appropriate to leave the judgement of the existence of an “urgent grace necessity” to the diocesan bishop.”

In short, the judgement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is much like what Cardinal Rainer Woelki said several days ago: “We in Germany do not live on an island of Blesseds. We are not a national church. We are a part of the great universal Church.”

Recently, Cardinal Woelki again explained his reasons for opposing to proposed outreach. He indicated the unwritten rule that a non-Catholic spouse presenting him- or herself for Communion is never sent away, but, the Cardinal said, these “pastorally motivated exceptions” can’t be “codified onto a new norm.” They belong in the “area of personal pastoral care, of spiritual guidance, of confession and the individual conscientious decision of the faithful” and can’t be formally tied into the status of interdenominational spouses.

Kardinal-Marx-beklagt-in-Weihnachtsbotschaft-sinkende-GeburtenratenCardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference and one of the supporters of the pastoral outreach, has admitted his surprise as the CDF letter. Perhaps rightly, he contrasts it with the initial request from the pope, that the bishops try and find a solution that is as unanimous as possible. Cardinal Marx said that that hasn’t been tried, let alone achieved, yet. He sees the need to discuss the topic in the meetings of the standing council of the conference and the autumn plenary meeting, but also with the dicasteries in Rome and with the Holy Father himself.

 

On Corpus Christi, Cardinal Woelki returns to the debate

The Church celebrated the feast of the Eucharist, Corpus Christi, today. She reflects on and celebrates the wondrous presence of Christ among us in the Blessed Sacrament He has given to the Church. In Germany on this day, it is hard not to think of the recent debates surrounding that sacrament, and especially the question of who can receive it. In Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, spoke about the situation at the end of the Mass he celebrated in the square in front of the city’s cathedral. He revealed what lies at the basis of his difficulties with the proposal to allow non-Catholics to receive Communion:

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“Some think, “What’s the point? That’s nonsense.” Others even think, “It’s a puppet show.” I think: This is about life and death. This is about death and resurrection. This is about eternal life, this is about Christ. This is about His Church and hence this is about the essence. And that is why we must fight for it and find the right way. Not just any way, but the way of the Lord, which He shows us, since He alone is the way and the truth and the life.”

We often, sometimes as a matter of course, say that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church. But when you really think about what that means, about what the Church teaches and professes about the true presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, the cardinal’s passionate words make a lot of sense.

In his homily, Cardinal Woelki called the Eucharist the greatest mystery of our faith, except for the Holy Trinity. He reminded the faithful in Roncalli Square that by receiving Communion they say “Yes and amen” to the Pope and to the bishop, to the sacramental structure of the Church and to the saints and their veneration. This makes Holy Mass not just “some event” which can be replaced by a Word and Communion service, “no matter how beautiful”. Also worth remembering, especially in the current debate, is this:

“In the first place, what matters is that, in the celebration of the Mass, we have something to give – namely ourselves to God – surrendering ourselves to Him.”

Looking back on the letter sent to Rome by him and six other bishops, Cardinal Woelki said:

“Much has been written and claimed. Among other things, I was said to have secretly turned to Rome, to have secretly written something. In the words of Holy Scripture, I say: I acted openly and freely and have written and said what had to be written and said, in all openness. I say once again: We in Germany do not live on an island of Blesseds. We are not a national church. We are a part of the great universal Church. All our German dioceses are incorporated in the great globe. We are all united with all other Catholic Churches around the world, united under the leadership of the Holy Father. That is why we approach Christ in unity with all other particular churches. In fidelity to the deposit of faith handed down to us by the Apostles.”

Another bishop who mentioned the Communion issue was Essen’s Franz-Josef Overbeck. He said that a “theologically responsible solution” had to be found, but also emphasised that when the salvation of souls in an interdenominational marriage is at stake, Communion must be allowed for both spouses. The question then remains, of course, when this would be the case, and if this isn’t yet covered by the options allowed under the current Code of Canon Law.

Photo credit: Ottersbach (DR)

The cardinal’s testament

On a day in March 2009, Cardinal Karl Lehmann sat down and looked ahead at the day he would pass from this life into the eternal life. Almost nine years to the day later, his successor would lead his funeral Mass and share the spiritual testament with the world.

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In a requiem Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Kohlgraf (who also marked his 51st birthday) and five other bishops*, and in the presence of almost the entire German episcopacy (as well as Cardinals Adrianus Simonis from the Netherlands and Walter Kasper from Rome), Cardinal Karl Lehmann was interred in Mainz’s Cathedral of St. Martin of Tours and St. Stephen today. After the Mass was concluded, the text of the cardinal’s spiritual testament was published on the diocese’s Facebook page. Below, I share my translation.

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

My testament as bishop

I thank God for all gifts, especially the people He has given me, especially also my parents, teachers and my homeland. I am greatly thankful for the many full-time and voluntary sisters and brothers with whom I was allowed to work and who have supported me.

Theology and Church have been the breath of my life. I would choose thusly again! We all , especially in the time after 1945, have buried ourselves deeply in the world and the times, also in the Church. This is also true for me. I pray God and the people for forgiveness. Renewal must come deeply from faith, hope and love. Hence I remind all of the words of my motto, which come from Saint Paul, and which have become ever more important for me: “Stand firm in the faith!”

With gratitude and a request for prayer for me, I greet the Holy Father, the bishops, priest and deacons, all coworkers and all sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Mainz, in my home Diocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, as well as friends in our Church and in ecumenism, and the Catholics of our country, for whom I gladly was chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference for more than 20 years. I was always concerned with the unity in faith in the diversity of our lives, without blinkers and uniformity.

I leave the arrangement of the requiem Mass and the burial to the cathedral chapter and the auxiliary bishops. We have many good customs!

There are two things under which I have suffered time and again, and ever more: In many ways, our earth and, to a large extent, our lives are wonderful, beautiful and fascinating, but they are also profoundly ambiguous, destructive and terrible. Lately, the frightfulness of power and how man deals with it has dawned on me more and more. Brutal thought and the reckless pursuit of power are to me among the harshest expressions of unbelief and sin. Resist their beginnings! I increasingly keep Jesus’ words from Luke in mind:”When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Choose a good successor! Pray for him and for me! Goodbye!”

Mainz, 15 March 2009

+ Karl Cardinal Lehmann

Bishop of Mainz

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In his homily, Bishop Kohlgraf fondly remembered the popularity of Cardinal Lehmann, something that was proven in the days after his death by what people shared on social media:

“One shared that Bishop Lehmann had confirmed him and how much that meant to him. Others shared everyday encounters in the street and small conversations. I know of others for whom the cardinal was a true pastor and guide on he search for a personal faith. Not without reason do the people of the Diocese of Mainz call him “our Karl”. He was able to converse with everyone: with the so-called simple folk and with those with social, ecclesiastical and political influence.”

Bishop Kohlgraf referred to the cardinal’s spiritual testament several times. About the comment that the Church had  ‘buried’ itself in society in the last decades, the bishop said:

“A Church burying itself in the times: in its brevity and poignancy this sentence seems to me to be prophetic. The temptation to plan and create everything, as if administration, planning, material possession is the decisive factor, does not grow smaller. In this way our late cardinal warns us to live according to faith, hope and love, before starting to “create”. The source, which gives us true life, must not be forgotten.”

Cardinal Lehmann instead insisted that the search for God lay in the heart of people: something that is innate to all human beings. This search leads to a God who has a name, who can be addressed.

“The God of the Bible is a God who enters into history, a good of liberation, who accompanies people, “God with us”. He ultimately reveals Himself unparalleled in Jesus Christ. The cardinal’s coat of arms contains an open Bible, a reference to this God who speaks to people and joins them on the way: on the coffin today, likewise, there lies an open Bible. Today, God is also “God with us”. Since this God is so great and has numerous ways of speaking, there is an endless number of ways to come to Him, as numerous as the people and their means of expressing themselves. Theology must be diverse, faith experiences must be possible for different people, faith is not narrow, not uniform”.

The requiem and funeral Mass for Cardinal Lehmann was witnessed by thousands of people along the route of the funeral procession, in the cathedral and on the square in front of it, where faithful could watch the proceedings on big screens. Among the guests were the prime ministers of the federal states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, on whose territory the Diocese of Mainz is located. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived under police escort when the procession had entered the cathedral. Chancellor Angela Merkel had wanted to be there, but had duties in Berlin. She is expected to attend tomorrow’s requiem service in Berlin’s St. Hedwig cathedral.

*Concelebrating with Bishop Kohlgraf were Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Apostolic Nuncio to Germany; Reinhard Cardinal Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference; Gerhard Cardinal Müller, former priest of the Diocese of Mainz; Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg Stuttgart, representing the Oberrhein Church Province, from which Cardinal Lehmann hails; Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr of Erfurt, former priest and auxiliary bishop of Mainz; and Bishop Udo Bentz, auxiliary bishop of Mainz.

Photo credit: [1] Arne Dedert (dpa), [2] Boris Roessler (dpa)

End of an era, as the Great One goes

bischof-em-karl-kardinal-lehmannAlthough not unexpected following the prayer request for his health, issued last week by Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, the death of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, early yesterday morning, is a sad conclusion to a long lifetime of service to the Church, one that coincided with and shaped the past decades of her life and development.

Cardinal Lehmann had been bedridden since suffering a stroke last September, weeks after consecrating his successor, the aforementioned Bishop Kohlgraf. After serving for 33 years at the helm of the Diocese of Mainz, it seems sad that his well-earned retirement was so short.

The life of Karl, der Grosse

Karl Lehmann was born in 1936 in Sigmaringen, the son of a teacher and his wife. After his school years, which partially overlapped with the Second World War, he went to study philosophy and theology in Freiburg and Rome. In 1963 he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome by Cardinal Julius Döpfner, then the archbishop of München und Freising. In the 1960s, Karl Lehmann earned two doctorates in philosophy and theology, but his most noteworthy work in that time was as assistant of Fr. Karl Rahner at the the universities of Munich and Münster, and also as the Second Vatican Council. At the age of 32, in 1968, he was appointed as professor in Mainz and three years later also in Freiburg im Breisgau.

Karl Lehmann became bishop of Mainz in 1983, vice-president of the German Bishops’ Conference in 1985 and president of the same body in 1987. He was re-elected as such three times and stepped down, for health reasons, in 2008. In 2011, he was named a cardinal with the title church of San Leone I. Cardinal Lehmann participated in the conclaves that elected Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. He submitted his resignation as bishop of Mainz to Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, but this was only accepted upon his 80th birthday by Pope Francis.

He held numerous other positions as a priest and bishop of Mainz as well. A short list:

  • 1969-1983: Member of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK)
  • 1971-1975: Member of the General Synod of German Dioceses
  • 1974-1984: Member of the International Theological Commission in Rome
  • 1986-1998: Member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • 1993-2001: First vice-president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE)
  • 1997-2011: Member of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See
  • 1998-2012: Member of the Congregation for Bishops
  • 2002-2011: Member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
  • 2008-2011: Member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications
  • 2008-2014: Member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches

In his lifetime, Cardinal Lehmann received eight honourary doctorates, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the honourary citizenship of the city of Mainz.

Over the course of yesterday the tributes to the late cardinal poured in, from bishops, priests, prelates of other churches, lay faithful and politicians alike. Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, who broke the news on social media, remembered Cardinal Lehmann as “a great personality, a great loveable human being.” Later on the day, after the Vespers of the dead had been prayed at Mainz cathedral, he commented: “I am grateful for the many meetings and conversations, his warmth and affection. He gave me a lot of courage for a difficult task.”

On Monday, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Bishop Kohlgraf:

“What sadness I received the news of the passing of Cardinal Karl Lehmann. I assure you and all the faithful of the Diocese of Mainz of my deepest sympathies and my prayer fort he deceased, whom God the Lord called to Him after serious illness and suffering. In his many years of work as theologian and bishop, as well as president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Lehmann has helped shape the life of Church and society. It was always his concern to be open to the questions and challenges of the time and to give answers and direction based on the message of Christ, to accompany people on their way, and to find unity across the boundaries of confessions, convictions and countries. May Jesus, the Good Shepherd, grant His faithful servant the completeness and fullness of life in His heavenly Kingdom. A gladly grant you and all who mourn Cardinal Lehmann, and remember him in prayer, the apostolic blessing.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, currently president of the German Bishops’ Conference, characterised Cardinal Lehmann as a “great theologian, bishop and friend of humanity.” He added, “The Church in Germany bows its head to a personality who has significantly shaped the Catholic Church worldwide.’ Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin shared Cardinal Marx’s comments: “I bow my head to a great bishop and theologian, who has always been an example to me.”

The passing of Cardinal Lehmann is something of an end to an era, as Bishop Felix Genn of Münster also acknowledges. “After the death of Joachim Cardinal Meisner last year, the death of Karl Cardinal Lehmann equally marks the end of an ecclesiastical era, which he significantly helped to shape.” Considering the cardinal’s personal history, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck saw him as “a walking and commenting lexicon of [the Second Vatican] Council.”

Cardinal Lehmann is also seen as a major player in ecumenism. Limburg’s Bishop Georg Bätzing said: “With him the Catholic Church in Germany loses a great bridge builder. The bridges that he has established are solid and can be strengthened further. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the chairman of the Evanglical Church in Germany, shares these thoughts, saying, “In the past decades he was a very important partner for the evangelical church and co-advocate for ecumenical cooperation.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel also reacted to the death of Cardinal Lehmann, saying, “I am greatly saddened by the death of Karl Cardinal Lehmann. Today, I think with gratitude of our good conversations and meetings over the course of many years. He has inspired me with his intellectual and theological strength and always also remained a person full of eartly vitality”. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier characterised the cardinals as “a man of clear words who, despite his thoughtfulness and conciliation, did not shy way from political controversy.” It was clear to people who met him, the president added, that the cardinal did not only rely on his own strength, but also on the grace of God.

Another important thread in Cardinal Lehmann’s life was Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, lauds the cardinal as a “true friend of Europe”. He showed us the way as a moral compass and reminded us of the values that make Europe special.”

The many faithful who visited Mainz cathedral to share their condolences unanimously remember “our Karl”, as he was affectinately known in his diocese, as “sympathetic”, “human, open […] and with his humour”, “a fine Christian”, “a man who acted what he preached”.

Cardinal Lehmann will be buried on Wednesday 21 March. The spiritual testament he has left behind will be read out on that day, Bishop Kohlgraf said yesterday.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: [1] Bistum Mainz

 

A rapid appointment – Franz Jung comes to Würzburg

dr.-franz-jung---pressestelle-bistum-speyerMsgr. Franz Jung has been appointed as Bishop of Würzburg after a relatively short vacancy of only five months. The vicar general of Speyer succeeds Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, who retired in September, as the 89th bishop of the northern Bavarian diocese.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in Würzburg St. Kilian’s cathedral by the diocesan administrator, auxiliary bishop Ulrich Boom. Bishop-elect Jung’s election came surprisingly soon considering that it is subject to the Bavarian Concordat, which means that the cathedral chapters of all Bavarian dioceses, as well as that of Speyer, must create a terna of three candidates to be sent to Rome. The Pope then selects the new bishop, and then the government of the federal state(s) in which the diocese lies must also be asked if there are no objections to the chosen bishop. Only then can the new bishop be officially announced.

Bishop-elect Jung comes from a family of teachers and has three sisters. He attended seminary in Munich and Rome, where he studied philosophy and Catholic theology. In 1992 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Franz Kamphaus, of Limburg, in Rome. After several years working in parishes in Pirmasens near the French border and in Speyer, he also worked as the personal secretary of Bishop Anton Schlembach (bishop of Seyer from 1983 to 2007). He is a scholar of the early Church Fathers and early Church history. He has been a member of the cathedral chapter of Speyer since 2008 and vicar general since 2009.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in the presence of some 800 people, even though the news had only broken earlier that morning. Following the announcement, Bishop emeritus Hofmann declared that he believed Msgr. Jung to be the right man in the right place. “I am happy that the appointment came so soon,” he said, adding jokingly, “We are faster than Hildesheim. That also speaks for the Diocese of Würzburg.” Hildesheim, now the only remaining vacant diocese in Germany*, has also seen its previous bishop, Norbert Trelle, retire in September of last year.

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In his native Speyer, Msgr. Jung is seen as a hands-on prelate. He has been responsible for the diocesan reform process which saw the merger of parishes and an overhaul of the pastoral care provided by the diocese. He has also overseen major events such as the 950th anniversary of the consecration of the imperial cathedral, the beatification of Paul Josef Nardini and the funeral of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But the new bishop of Würzburg is also deeply spiritual notes Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, whose vicar general Franz Jung has been for almost 9 years: “In his person, he combines outstanding talents for theology, pastoral care and church administration. These allow him to build bridges between people working in different parts of the Church.”

Bishop Ulrich Boom, who led the diocese as diocesan administrator in the five months between bishops, is equally pleased. He said, “The new bishop is a very level-headed person who can make decisions and can also be cheerful. As he is still very young, we have a bishop who will stay with us for more than 20 years. He will bring his theological expertise, his pastoral and administrative experience. In the diocese, both administration and proclamation must be in order.”

*Albeit not for long. Bishop Heinz-Josef Algermissen of Fulda reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on 15 February, so his resignation will probably be accepted soon.

Photo credit: [1] Pressestelle Bistum Speyer, [2] Klaus Landry

 

Bishop Voderholzer’s remedy to dropping numbers

In a homily at the pilgrimage site of St. Anna Schäffer in Mindelstetten, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg addressed the recently released statistics regarding church attendance and such in the Catholic Church in Germany. He compares them to the equally disastrous numbers in the Lutheran church and explains that the standard liberal remedies of constantly wanting to change church and faith, and getting rid of perceived oppressive dogmas, is not the solution to the crisis.

According to Bishop Voderholzer, the numbers point out something else: an evaporation of faith. He also puts this into perspective, saying that the Lord never promised his followers to be a majority anywhere. Rather, he foresaw difficulties and opposition. So, depressing numbers should, in themselves, really not be a cause for us to give up.

1085557_m1w590q75v2214_PortrtbildBischof_2“Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Last Friday, the 21st of July, the statistics for the Catholic Churc and the Lutheran Church in Germany for the year 2016 were published. You will probably have heard a few things about it via radio and television or in the newspaper.

The outcome was not very surprising. Like before, the number of people leaving the Church are disconcertingly high, even when they have dropped by some 11 percent in the Catholic Church as compared to 2015. The number of baptisms has increased slightly, the number of marriages decreased soewhat. In Hamburg and Berlin the number of Catholics has grown, due to the influx of Catholic foreigners; but in general the number of Catholics is growing smaller.

Dear sisters and brothers, I do not want to bore you with numbers and statictics today, on the Anna Schäffer Day of Remembrance. But the public reactions to these numbers are noteworthy and lead us to look further.

As a remedy to turn these trends around and to preserve our social relevance we are continuously advised to – literally – “open up and rid ourselves of rigid conservative dogmas.”

In this case, these are:

Abolishing the celibacy of priests;

Removing the different tasks and appointments of men and women in the Church and admitting women into apostolic ministry;

Consenting to the demand of full legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage;

Admitting everyone to Communion, and so on.

You know the list of demands as well as I do.

Dear sisters and brothers! The problematic nature of this advice becomes clear with a quick glance at the statistics of the Lutheran church. If the application of the aforementioned pieces of advice would really be a way of improving the situation of the Church, flourishing life must be visible in the Lutheran church.

But what do the numbers say? More people leave the Lutheran church – and have done so, with the exception of 2014, for years – than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that in the Lutheran church these demands have all basically been fulfilled and all these alleged impediments to being church are no longer present. But this is generally ignored in public, even though the numbers were presented on the same day. Isn’t the reason that this is being ignored perhaps that it would reveal the blatant weakness, yes, the inconsistency and absurdity of this “good” advice to the Catholic Church?! Can one, in all seriousness, present the path of the Lutheran church as a remedy, when it is so often led to an even greater distance to the faith and the church? I say this without malice! I know Lutheran fellow Christians who completely agree with my assessment and who warn us Catholics not to make the same mistakes.

We must look much further in the whole debate. The statictics reveal a secularisation which has been progressing for years, a loss of church affiliation and lastly a decline in the substance of faith, an evaporation of the awareness of God. That is why we do not really have a shortage of priests, but a much more fundamental shortage of faith. The priest shortage is a symptom, like a fever. But the fever is not itself the disease, but it indicates the presence of an inflammation. I am certain: the fever of the priest shortage indicates the disease of lack of faith. As an aside, the Lutheran church has also long known the phantom of lack of priests, as there are too few young people who study theology and are willing to also put themselves professionally at the service of the Gospel; all this without celibacy and with the possibility for women to also assume the office of the priesthood! This should give us a sense of the true reasons for the lack of church adherence.

Dear sisters and brothers, come together at the grave of Saint Anna Schäffer! We all have the image and the fate of the Church at heart. But not in the sense that we belong to her as to a club whose public image and strength are the ultimate goal; but for the sake of the message and the sake of the people, for whose sake God became man in Jesus Christ. In the Church He takes us into service for His Gospel. The Lord did not promise us that we would always be the majority; rather, He predicted headwind and resistance.

For that reason we should not concern ourselves too much with numbers and statistics. What should concern us is that the Gospel can lighten up our environment, through our lives in faith. Everywhere where we overshadow the Gospel because of inattentiveness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness, we are called to convert and once more give the Lord space.

Instead of constantly changing the structures, also and especially the sacramental structures of the Church, instead of diluting the message of the Gospel and instead of proclaiming a light version of Jesus, evangelisation is called for, a saturation of society with the Spirit of Jesus. And the first and all-important step on that way is a daily striving towards holiness, the daily listening to God’s word and the willingness to begin the reform of the Church with myself. That is reformation: the renewal of faith, the restoration of the image of Christ which was engraved in us in Baptism and Confirmation. Where this is granted to us in God’s mercy, where we succeed in this, we will make the people of our time once again curious about the faith which supports us. And then we can also explain the hope that lives within us.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord! In the endeavours of evangelisation in our time Saint Anna Schäffer is in every aspect an example and also an advocate.

She wanted to devote her life to the mission abroad. But the Lord had destined her for the mission in her own country. Before becoming a comforter and source of joy in faith for many, she had to allow herself to be evangelised again, and radically so. Accepting her suffering as a partaking in the cross of Christ was anything but easy. Bedridden and with her gaze upon the cross she faced this process of inner healing and transformation. She so became a bright sign of God’s work, a messenger of faith to countless people and ultimately a saint of the Catholic Church.

And so we pray today for her intercession, that the Lord will grant each and everyone of us the grace to begin the reform of the Church in ourselves; that we muster the courage to lt ourselves be evangelised anew every day and in this way be prepared to serve the mission of the Church – for the salvation of humanity and the glory of the triune God, whose is the glory, today, every day and forever. Amen.”

In Rottenburg-Stuttgart, a bishop goes and another arrives

Yesterday saw the early retirement of Bishop Johannes Kreidler, auxiliary of the southern German Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and the appointment of his successor. Unlike dioceses in most parts of the world, the ones in German almost all seem to come with a standard set of auxiliary bishops; when one retires, a new one is appointed almost immediately. There are exceptions, and some sees may do without an auxiliary bishop for  a while, but they can expect the eventual appointment of one in due time. While Rottenburg-Stuttgart has two, other dioceses have rather more, with Münster topping the list with no less than four auxiliary bishops (and a fifth is expected to be named some time this year). In many cases the appointment to auxiliary bishop is a given for episcopal vicars of specific pastoral areas of a diocese. It makes for a rather large and – I imagine – unwieldy bishops’ conference.

Matthäus KarrerBack to Rottenburg-Stuttgart. The successor of 70-year-old Bishop Johannes Kreidler, who has retired for health reasons, is 48-year-old Matthäus Karrer. The new bishop is a member of the cathedral chapter and heads the department of pastoral planning in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. He joins Bishop Gebhard Fürst and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Renz at the head of that diocese, which covers the central and eastern part of the State of Baden-Württemberg. Bishop-elect Karrer studied theology in Tübingen and Munich, writing a dissertation on “marriage and family as house Church”. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1995. In 2008, after more than a decade as parish priest in several locations, he was appointed as the first Dean of Allgäu-Oberschwaben.

The consecration of Bishop Karrer is scheduled for 28 May. As an auxiliary bishop he has been given the titular see of Tunnuna. That former diocese, located in modern Tunisia, has a bit of a recent tendency of not being held long by one bishop. Bishop-elect Karrer’s predecessors there, Bishops Stephen Robson, now of Dunkeld, Scotland, and Jan Liesen, now of Breda, the Netherlands, were appointed as ordinaries of dioceses of their one after less than two years. In Germany, only Mainz is still awaiting a new ordinary…

Photo credit: Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart/Jochen Wiedemann

Pope in Sweden – the Dutch translations

In this post I have collected my translations of the various homilies and addresses given by Pope Francis during his short visit to Sweden. Perhaps needlessly said, apart from this paragraph, the post will consist of Dutch text.

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Homilie tijdens de oecumenische gebedsdienst in Lund:

“”Blijf in mij zoals ik in u” (Joh. 15:4). Deze woorden, uitgesproken door Jezus bij het Laatste Avondmaal, laten ons een blik werpen in het hart van Christus, kort voor Zijn ultieme offer aan het kruis. We kunnen Zijn hart voelen kloppen met liefde voor ons en Zijn verlangen voor eenheid onder allen die in Hem geloven. Hij vertelt ons dat Hij de ware wijnstok is en wij de ranken die, net zoals Hij één is met de Vader, één met Hem moeten zijn, willen we vrucht dragen.

Hier in Lund, tijdens deze gebedsdienst, willen wij ons gezamenlijk verlangen laten zien om één te blijven met Christus, zodat we leven hebben. We vragen Hem: “Heer, help ons in uw genade om dichter met U verenigd te zijn en zo, samen, een effectievere getuigenis te geven van geloof, hoop en liefde.” Dit is ook een moment om God te danken voor het werk van onze vele broeders en zusters van verschillende kerkelijke gemeenschappen die weigerden genoeg te nemen met verdeeldheid, maar in plaats daarvan de hoop op verzoening van allen die in de ene Heer geloven levend hielden.

Als katholieken en Lutheranen zijn we een gezamenlijke weg van verzoening gegaan. Nu, in de context van de herdenking van de Reformatie van 1517, hebben we een nieuwe kans om een gezamenlijke weg te kiezen, één die in de afgelopen vijftig jaar vorm heeft gekregen in de oecumenische dialoog tussen de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Ook wij kunnen geen genoegen nemen met de verdeeldheid en afstand die onze scheiding tussen ons geschapen heeft. Wij hebben de kans een kritiek moment van onze geschiedenis te repareren door voorbij de controverses en meningsverschillen, die ons er vaak van hebben weerhouden elkaar te begrijpen, te gaan.

Jezus zegt ons dat de Vader de “wijngaardenier” is (vg. vers 1) die de wijnstok verzorgt en snoeit om te zorgen dat die meer vrucht draagt (vg. vers 2). De Vader heeft steeds zorg voor onze relatie met Jezus, om te zien of we werkelijk één met Hem zijn (vg. vers 4). Hij waakt over ons, en Zijn blik van liefde zet ons aan ons het verleden te zuiveren en in het heden te werken om een toekomst van eenheid tot stand te brengen, die Hij zozeer verlangt.

Ook wij moeten met liefde en eerlijkheid naar ons verleden kijken, fouten herkennen en vergeving zoeken, want God alleen is onze rechter. Met dezelfde eerlijkheid en liefde moeten we inzien dat onze verdeeldheid ons scheidt van de oorspronkelijke intuïtie van het volk van God, dat van nature verlangt één te zijn, en dat die verdeeldheid historisch bestendigd werd door de machthebbers van deze wereld, en niet zozeer het gelovige volk, dat altijd en overal met zekerheid en liefde door zijn Goede Herder geleid moet worden. Zeker, er was aan beide zijden een oprechte wil om het ware geloof te belijden en te behouden, maar tegelijkertijd weten we dat we in onszelf zijn opgesloten door angst voor of vooroordeel over het geloof dat anderen met een ander accent en taal belijden. Zoals Paus Johannes Paulus II zei: “We moeten niet toestaan dat wij worden geleid door de intentie onszelf te willen benoemen als rechters van de geschiedenis, maar alleen door de motivatie om beter te willen begrijpen wat er is gebeurd en om boodschappers van de waarheid te worden” (Brief aan Kardinaal Johannes Willebrands, President van het Secretariaat voor de Christelijke Eenheid, 31 oktober 1983). God is de wijngaardenier, die de wijnrank met immense liefde verzorgd en beschermd; laten wij geraakt zijn door Zijn waakzame blik. Het enige dat Hij verlangt is dat wij als levende ranken in Zijn Zoon Jezus blijven. Met deze nieuwe blik op het verleden beweren we niet een onpraktische correctie op wat er gebeurd is te willen realiseren, maar “het verhaal anders te vertellen” (Luthers-Rooms Katholieke Commissie over de Eenheid, Van Conflict naar Eenheid, 17 juni 2013, 16).

Jezus herinnerert ons eraan: “Los van Mij kunnen jullie niets” (vers 5). Hij is degene die ons onderhoudt en ons aanmoedigt manieren te vinden om onze eenheid steeds zichtbaarder te maken. Zeker, ons verdeeldheid is een enorme bron van lijden en onbegrip geweest, maar het heeft ons er ook toe geleid eerlijk te erkennen dat we zonder Hem niets kunnen; zo heeft het ons in staat gesteld bepaalde aspecten van ons geloof beter te begrijpen. Dankbaar erkennen we dat de Reformatie geholpen heeft de Heilige schrift een meer centrale plaats te geven in het leven van de Kerk. Door het gezamenlijk luisteren naar het woord van God in de Schrift zijn er belangrijke stappen voorwaarts gezet in de dialoog tussen de Katholieke Kerk en de Lutherse Wereldfederatie, wiens vijftigste verjaardag we nu vieren. Laten we de Heer vragen dat Zijn woord ons bijeen mag houden, want het is een bron van voeding en leven; zonder de inspiratie van het woord kunnen we niets.

De geestelijk ervaring van Maarten Luther daagt ons uit ons te herinneren dat wij zonder God niets kunnen. “Hoe kan ik een genadige God verkrijgen?” Deze vraag achtervolgde Luther. De vraag van een rechtvaardige relatie met God is in feite de bepalende vraag voor ons leven. Zoals we weten ontmoette Luther die genadige God in het goede nieuws van Jezus, mensgeworden, gestorven en verrezen. Met het concept van sola gratia herinnert hij ons eraan dat God altijd het initiatief neemt, nog voor enige menselijke reactie, zelfs als Hij dat antwoord wil opwekken. De rechtvaardigingsleer drukt zo de essentie van het menselijke bestaan tegenover God uit.

Jezus spreekt voor ons als onze bemiddelaar voor de Vader; Hij vraagt Hem dat Zijn leerlingen één mogen zijn, “zodat de wereld kan geloven” (Joh. 17:21). Dat geeft ons troost en inspireert ons om één te zijn met Jezus, en daarom te bidden: “Geef ons de gave van eenheid zodat de wereld kan geloven in de kracht van uw barmhartigheid”. Dit is de getuigenis die de wereld van ons verwacht. Wij christenen zullen geloofwaardige getuigen van de barmhartigheid zijn in zoverre dat vergeving, vernieuwing en verzoening dagelijks onder ons worden ervaren. Samen kunnen wij Gods barmhartigheid verkondigen en zichtbaar maken, concreet en met vreugde, door de waardigheid van ieder persoon hoog te houden en te bevorderen. Zonder deze dienst aan en in de wereld is het christelijk geloof onvolledig.

Als Lutheranen en katholieken bidden wij samen in deze kathedraal, in het bewustzijn dat we zonder God niets kunnen. Wij vragen Zijn hulp om levende ledematen te zijn, blijvend in Hem, steeds met behoefte aan Zijn genade, zodat we samen Zijn woord aan de wereld kunnen geven, die zijn tedere liefde en barmhartigheid zo nodig heeft.”

Gezamenlijke verklaring ter gelegenheid van de gezamenlijke Katholiek-Lutheraanse herdenking van de Reformatie:

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“”Laten we met elkaar verbonden blijven, jullie en Ik, want zoals een rank geen vrucht kan dragen uit eigen kracht, maar alleen als ze verbonden blijft met de wijnstok, zo kunnen ook jullie geen vrucht dragen als je niet met Mij verbonden blijft” (Johannes 15:4).

Met dankbare harten

Met deze Gezamenlijke Verklaring drukken wij vreugdevolle dankbaarheid aan God uit voor dit moment van gezamenlijk gebed in de kathedraal van Lund, aan het begin van het jaar waarin we het vijfhonderdste jubileum van de Reformatie herdenken. Vijftig jaar aanhoudende en vruchtbare oecumenische dialoog tussen katholieken en Lutheranen heeft ons geholpen vele verschillen te overbruggen, en heeft ons wederzijds begrip en vertrouwen versterkt. Tegelijkertijd zijn we dichter tot elkaar gekomen door de gezamenlijke dienst aan onze naasten – vaak in situaties van lijden en vervolging. Door dialoog en gedeelde getuigenis zijn we niet langer vreemden. We hebben veeleer geleerd dat wat ons verenigdt groter is dan wat ons scheidt.

Van conflict naar gemeenschap

Hoewel we ten diepste dankbaar zijn voor de geestelijke en theologische gaven van de Reformatie, belijden en betreuren we voor Christus ook dat Lutheranen en katholieken de zichtbare eenheid van de Kerk hebben beschadigd. Theologische verschillen gingen samen met vooroordelen en conflicten, en religie werd een instrument voor politieke doeleinden. Ons gezamenlijk geloof in Jezus Christus en ons doopsel vereist van ons een dagelijkse bekering, waarmee we de historische meningsverschillen en conflicten die het dienstwerk van de verzoening verhinderden van ons afwerpen. Hoewel het verleden niet verandert kan worden, kan wat er herinnert wordt en hoe het wordt herinnert wel veranderen. Wij bidden voor de genezing van onze wonden en van de herinneringen die ons beeld van de ander blokkeren. We verwerpen nadrukkelijk alle haat en geweld, in het verleden en heden, vooral wanneer uitgevoerd in de naam van religie. Vandaag horen we het gebod van God om alle strijd aan de kant te zetten. We erkennen dat we, bevrijd door genade, voorwaarts gaan naar de eenheid waartoe God ons steeds roept.

Onze toewijding aan gezamenlijke getuigenis

Nu we die periode in de geschiedenis als een last achter ons laten, beloven wij plechtig samen te getuigen van Gods barmhartige genade, zichtbaar in de gekruisigde en verrezen Christus. In het bewustzijn dat de manier waarop wij ons tot elkaar verhouden onze getuigenis van het Evangelie vorm geeft, wijden wij ons toe aan de verdere groei van gemeenschap, geworteld in het doopsel, terwijl we proberen de overblijvende obstakels die volledige eenheid nog verhinderen te verwijderen. Christus verlangt dat we één zijn, zodat de wereld kan geloven (vg. Joh. 17:21).

Vele leden van onze gemeenschappen verlangen ernaar de Eucharistie aan één tafel te ontvangen als een concrete uitdrukking van volledige eenheid. Wij ervaren de pijn van degenen die hun hele leven delen, behalve de verlossende aanwezigheid van God aan de Eucharistische tafel. Wij erkennen onze gezamenlijke pastorale verantwoordelijkheid om een antwoord te geven op de geestelijke dorst en honger van onze mensen om één te zijn in Christus. Wij verlangen ernaar dat deze wond in het Lichaam van Christus zal genezen. Dit is het doel van onze oecumenische inspanningen, die we willen bevorderen, ook door onze toewijding aan de theologische dialoog te hernieuwen

We bidden tot God dat katholieken en Lutheranen samen zullen kunnen getuigen van het Evangelie van Jezus Christus, en de mensheid uitnodigen het goede nieuws van Gods verlossende handelen te horen en ontvangen. We bidden tot God om inspiratie, aanmoediging en kracht zodat we naast elkaar kunnen staan in het dienstwerk, de menselijke waardigheid en rechten hooghouden, met name van de armen, werken voor gerechtigheid en alle vormen van geweld afwijzen. God roept ons op allen die verlangen naar waardigheid, gerechtigheid, vrede en verzoening nabij te zijn. Vandaag in het bijzonder verheffen we onze stemmen voor een einde aan het geweld en extremisme dat zo vele landen en gemeenschappen, en talloze zusters en broeders in Christus, treft. We sporen Lutheranen en katholieken aan om samen te werken in het ontvangen van de vreemde, degenen die gedwongen zijn te vluchten vanwege oorlog of vervolging te hulp te komen, en de rechten van vluchtelingen en asielzoekers te verdedigen.

Meer dan ooit beseffen we dat ons gezamenlijk dienstwerk in deze wereld moet reiken tot aan Gods scheppen, die lijdt onder uitbuitingen en de gevolgen van onverzadelijke hebzucht. We erkennen het recht van toekomstige generaties om te genieten van Gods wereld in al haar potentieel en schoonheid. We bidden voor een omslag in harten en hoofden die leidt tot een liefdevolle en verantwoordelijke zorg voor de schepping.

Eén in Christus

Op deze gunstige gelegenheid drukken wij onze dankbaarheid uit aan onze broeders en zusters die de verschillende christelijke wereldgemeenschappen en broederschappen vertegenwoordigen die hier aanwezig zijn en zich aansluiten bij ons gebed. Nu we ons opnieuw toewijden aan de beweging van conflict naar gemeenschap, doen we dat als ledematen van het ene Lichaam van Christus, waarin we door het doopsel zijn opgenomen. We nodigen onze oecumenische partners uit ons aan onze verplichtingen te herinneren en ons te bemoedigen. We vragen hen voor ons te blijven bidden, met ons op weg te gaan en ons te ondersteunen in het uitvoeren van de gebedsvolle verplichtingen die wij vandaag uitspreken.

Oproep aan katholieken en Lutheranen in de wereld

Wij roepen alle Lutherse en katholieke parochies en gemeenschappen op om stoutmoedig en creatief, vol vreugde en hoop te zijn in hun toewijding om de grote reis voor ons voort te zetten. In plaats van conflicten uit het verleden, zal Gods geschenk van eenheid onder ons de samenwerking leiden en onze solidariteit verdiepen. Door dichter in het geloof tot Christus te komen, door samen te bidden, door naar elkaar te luisteren, door de liefde van Christus voor te leven in onze relaties, zullen wij, katholieken en Lutheranen, onszelf openstellen voor de kracht van de Drieëne God. Geworteld in Christus en van Hem getuigend vernieuwen wij onze vastberadenheid om trouwe voorboden te zijn van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor de hele mensheid.”

Toespraak tijdens het Oecumenisch evenement in Malmö Arena:

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“Ik dank God voor deze gezamenlijke herdenking van het vijfhonderste jubileum van de Reformatie. We gedenken dit jubileum met een hernieuwde geest en erkennen dat de christelijke eenheid een prioriteit is, omdat we weten dat er meer is dat ons verenigt dan ons scheidt. De weg die we gegaan zijn om die eenheid te bereiken is zelf een groot geschenk dat God ons geeft. Met deze hulp zijn we vandaag hier bijeen gekomen, Lutheranen en katholieken, is een geest van broederschap, om onze blik te richten op de ene Heer, Jezus Christus.

Onze dialoog heeft ons geholpen te groeien in wederzijds begrip; het heeft wederzijds vertrouwen bevordert en ons verlangen om verder te gaan naar volledige eenheid bevestigd. Eén van de vruchten van deze dialoog is de samenwerking tussen verschillende organisaties van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Dankzij deze nieuwe sfeer van begrip zullen Caritas Internationalis en de World Service van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie vandaag een gezamenlijk overeengekomen verklaring ondertekenen die gericht is op het ontwikkelen en versterken van een geest van samenwerking ter bevordering van de menselijke waardigheid en sociale gerechtigheid. Ik groet van harte de leden van beide organisaties; in een wereld die door oorlogen en conflicten uit elkaar getrokken wordt, zijn en blijven zij een lichtend voorbeeld van toewijding tot en dienst aan de naaste. Ik moedig u aan voort te gaan op de weg van samenwerking.

Ik heb aandachtig geluisterd naar de mensen die getuigenis hebben gegeven, hoe zij te midden van zoveel uitdagingen dagelijks hun leven toewijden aan het opbouwen van een wereld die steeds meer wil reageren op het plan van God, onze Vader. Pranita sprak over de schepping. De schepping zelf is duidelijk een teken van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor ons. Als gevolg kunnen de geschenken van de natuur ons tot het overwegen van God aanzetten. Ik deel je zorg over het misbruik dat onze planeet, ons gezamenlijk thuis, schaadt en ernstige gevolgen heeft voor het klimaat. Zoals we in ons, in mijn land zeggen: “Uiteindelijk zijn het de armen die de kosten betalen voor ons feesten”. Zoals jij terecht opmerkte hebben zij de grootste impact op degenen die het meest kwetsbaar en behoeftig zijn; zij worden gedwongen te emigreren om aan de gevolgen van klimaatverandering te ontsnappen. Wij allemaal, en wij christenen in het bijzonder, zijn verantwoordelijk voor de bescherming van de schepping. Onze manier van leven en ons handelen moet altijd overeenstemmen met ons geloof. Wij zijn geroepen harmonie op te wekken in onszelf en met anderen, maar ook met God en Zijn handwerk. Pranita, ik moedig je aan vol te houden in je toewijding in naam van ons gezamenlijk thuis. Dank je!

Mgr. Hector Fabio vertelde ons over het gezamenlijk werk van katholieken en Lutheranen in Colombia. Het is goed om te weten dat christenen samenwerken om gemeenschappelijke en maatschappelijke processen van algemeen belang op te starten. Ik vraag jullie in het bijzonder te bidden voor dat grootse land, zodat, door middel van de samenwerking van iedereen, de vrede, waar zo naar verlangd wordt en die zo nodig is voor een menswaardig samenleven, eindelijk kan worden behaald. En omdat het menselijk hart, als het naar Jezus kijkt, geen grenzen kent, moge het dan een gebed zijn dat verder reikt, en al die landen omvat waar ernstige conflicten voortduren.

Marguerite maakt ons bewust van de hulp aan kinderen die het slachtoffers zijn van wreedheid en het werk voor de vrede. Dit is zowel bewonderenswaardig en een oproep om de talloze situaties van kwetsbaarheid van zo vele personen die zich niet kunnen laten horen serieus te nemen. Wat jij als missie beschouwd is een zaadje, een zaadje dat overvloedig vrucht draagt, en vandaag, dankzij dat zaadje, kunnen duizenden kinderen studeren, groeien en in goede gezondheid leven. Je hebt geïnvesteerd in de toekomst! Dank je! En ik ben dankbaar dat je zelfs nu, in ballingschap, een boodschap van vrede blijft verspreiden. Je zei dat iedereen die jou kent denkt dat wat je doet gek is. Natuurlijk, het is de gekte van de liefde voor God en onze naaste. We hebben meer van die gekte nodig, verlicht door het geloof en vertrouwen op de voorzienigheid van God. Blijf werken, en moge die stem van hoop die je aan het begin van je avontuur hebt gehoord, en je investering in de toekomst, je eigen hart en de harten van vele jonge mensen blijven raken.

Rose, de jongste, gaf een werkelijk ontroerende getuigenis. Ze heeft gebruik kunnen maken van het sporttalent dat God haar gaf. In plaats van haar energie te verspillen in negatieve situaties heeft ze voldoening gevonden in een vruchtbaar leven. Luisterend naar jouw verhaal, dacht ik aan de levens van zoveel jonge mensen die verhalen als het jouwe zouden moeten horen. Ik wil dat iedereen weet dat ze kunnen ontdekken hoe prachtig het is om kinderen van God te zijn en wat een privilege het is om door Hem geliefd en gekoesterd te zijn. Rose, ik dank je vanuit mijn hart voor jouw werk en toewijding om andere vrouwen aan te moedigen om weer naar school te gaan, en voor het feit dat je dagelijks bidt voor vrede in de jonge staat Zuid-Sudan, die dat zo erg nodig heeft.

En na het horen van deze krachtige getuigenissen, die ons deden nadenken over onze eigen levens en hoe we reageren op de noodsituaties overal om ons heen, wil ik al die regeringen danken, die vluchtelingen helpen, alle regeringen die ontheemde mensen asielzoekers helpen. Alles dat gedaan wordt om deze mensen in nood te helpen is een groots gebaar van solidariteit en een erkenning van hun waardigheid. Voor ons christenen is het prioriteit om erop uit te gaan en de verstotenen – want zij zijn werkelijk verstoten uit hun thuislanden – en de gemarginaliseerden van onze wereld te ontmoeten, en de tedere en barmhartige liefde van God, die niemand afwijst en iedereen accepteert, voelbaar te maken. Wij christenen zijn vandaag geroepen om actieve deelnemers te zijn in de revolutie van tederheid.

Straks horen we de getuigenis van Bisschop Antoine, die in Aleppo woont, een stad die op de knieën gedwongen is door de oorlog, een plaats waar zelfs de meest fundamentele rechten met minachting worden behandelt en vertrapt. In het nieuws horen we elke dag over het afschuwelijke lijden vanwege de strijd in Syrië, door dat conflict in ons geliefde Syrië, die nu al meer dan vijf jaar duurt. Te midden van zoveel verwoesting is het werkelijk heldhaftig dat mannen en vrouwen daar gebleven zijn om materiële en geestelijke hulp te bieden aan de noodlijdenden. Het is ook bewonderenswaardig dat jij, beste broeder Antoine, blijft werken tussen zulk gevaar om ons te kunnen vertellen over de tragische omstandigheden van het Syrische volk. We houden ieder van hen in onze harten en gebeden. Laten we de genade van oprechte bekering afsmeken over de verantwoordelijken voor het lot van de wereld, voor die regio en voor allen die daar ingrijpen.

Beste broeders en zusters, laat ons niet ontmoedigd raken tegenover vijandigheid. Moge de verhalen, de getuigenissen die we hebben gehoord, ons motiveren en ons een nieuwe impuls geven om steeds nauwer samen te werken. Als we weer thuiskomen, mogen we dan een toewijding meebrengen om dagelijkse gebaren van vrede en verzoening te maken, om moedige en trouwe getuigen van christelijke hoop te zijn. En zoals we weten, de hoop stelt ons niet teleur! Dank u!”

Homilie in de Mis voor Allerheiligen:

“Vandaag vieren we met de hele Kerk het hoogfeest van Allerheiligen. Hiermee herdenken we niet alleen hen die in de loop der eeuwen heiligverklaard zijn, maar ook onze vele broeders en zusters die, op een stille en onopvallende wijze, hun christelijk leven hebben geleefd in de volheid van geloof en liefde. Onder hen zijn zeker vele van onze verwanten, vrienden en bekenden.

Dit is voor ons dan een viering van heiligheid. Een heiligheid die niet zozeer te zien is in grote daden of buitengewone gebeurtenissen, maar veeleer in dagelijkse trouw aan de eisen van ons doopsel. Een heiligheid die bestaat in de liefde voor God en de liefde voor onze broeders en zusters. Een liefde die trouw blijft tot het punt van zelfopoffering en volledige toewijding aan anderen. We denken aan de levens van al die moeders en vaders die zich opofferen voor hun gezinnen en bereid zijn – ook al is dat niet altijd makkelijk – van zoveel dingen af te zien, zoveel persoonlijke plannen en projecten.

Maar als er één ding typisch is voor de heiligen, is het dat zij daadwerkelijk gelukkig zijn. Zij hebben het geheim van authentiek geluk ontdekt, dat diep in de ziel ligt en zijn bron heeft in de liefde van God. Daarom noemen we de heiligen zalig. De Zaligsprekingen zijn hun weg, hun doel richting het thuisland. De Zaligsprekingen zijn de weg van het leven die de Heer ons leert, zodat wij in Zijn voetstappen kunnen volgen. In het Evangelie van de Mis van vandaag hoorden we hoe Jezus de Zaligsprekingen verkondigde aan een grote menigte op de heuvel bij het Meer van Galilea.

De Zaligsprekingen zijn het beeld van Christus en als gevolg van elke christen. Ik zou er hier slechts één willen noemen: “Zalig die zachtmoedig zijn”. Van zichzelf zegt Jezus: “Kom bij Mij in de leer, omdat Ik zachtmoedig ben en eenvoudig van hart” (Matt. 11:29). Dit is zijn geestelijk portret en het onthult de overvloed van Zijn liefde. Zachtmoedigheid is een manier van leven en handelen die ons dichter bij Jezus en elkaar brengt. Het stelt ons in staat alles dat ons verdeelt en vervreemd aan de kant te zetten, en steeds nieuwe manieren te vinden om verder te gaan op de weg van eenheid. Zo was het met de zonen en dochters van dit land, waaronder de heilige Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad, kortgeleden heiligverklaard, en de heilige Birgitta van Vadstena, mede-patrones van Europa. Zij hebben gebeden en gewerkt om banden van eenheid en broederschap tussen christenen te smeden. Een zeer sprekend teken hiervan is dat we hier in uw land, getekend als het is door het naast elkaar leven van vrij verschillende volkeren, samen het vijfde eeuwfeest van de Reformatie herdenken. De heiligen brengen verandering tot stand door zachtmoedigheid van het hart. Met die zachtmoedigheid komen wij tot het begrip van de grootsheid van God en aanbidden we Hem met oprechte harten. Zachtmoedigheid is de houding van hen die niets hebben te verliezen, omdat hun enige rijkdom God is.

Op een bepaalde manier zijn de Zaligsprekingen de identiteitskaart van de christen. Zij identificeren ons als volgelingen van Jezus. Wij zijn geroepen zalig te zijn, volgers van Jezus te zijn, de problemen en angsten van onze tijd het hoofd te bieden met de geest en liefde van Jezus. Zo moeten wij in staat zijn nieuwe situaties te herkennen en beantwoorden met verse geestelijke energie. Zalig zijn zij die trouw blijven terwijl zij het kwaad verdragen dat anderen hen toebrengen, en hen vergeven vanuit hun hart. Zalig zijn zij die in de ogen kijken van de verlatenen en gemarginaliseerden, en hen hun nabijheid laten zien. Zalig zijn zij die God in ieder persoon zien, en hun best doen om anderen Hem ook te laten ontdekken. Zalig zijn zij die ons gezamenlijk thuis beschermen en verzorgen. Zalig zijn zij die afzien van hun eigen gemak om anderen te helpen. Zalig zijn die bidden en werken voor de volledige eenheid tussen christenen. Dit zijn allemaal boodschappers van Gods barmhartigheid en tederheid, en zij zullen zeker van Hem hun verdiende loon ontvangen.

Beste broeders en zusters, de oproep tot heiligheid is aan iedereen gericht en moet van de Heer ontvangen worden in een geest van geloof. De heiligen moedigen met hun levens en voorspraak bij God aan, en wijzelf hebben elkaar nodig als we heiligen willen zijn. Elkaar helpen heiligen te worden! Laat ons samen de genade afsmeken om deze oproep met vreugde te ontvangen en mee te werken en de vervulling ervan. Aan onze hemelse Moeder, Koningin van Alle Heiligen, vertrouwen we onze intenties toe en de dialoog gericht op de volledige eenheid van alle christenen, zodat wij gezegend mogen zijn in ons streven en heiligheid in eenheid mogen behalen.”

Photo credit: CNS/Paul Haring

Just before the announcement, an interview with Archbishop De Kesel

Minutes before today’s announcement and presentation of the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Kerknet had the chance to sit down and ask a few questions to Archbishop-elect Jozef De Kesel. The interview about memories of the past and hopes for the future gives some idea of who Msgr. De Kesel is.

In my translation:

aartsbisschop-jozef-de-keselAt your ordination as priest you were surrounded by priests of the family, and especially also your uncle, Leo De Kesel [auxiliary bishop of Ghent from 1960 to 1991, who ordained his nephew]. Was it a matter of course for you to follow in their footsteps?

“The well-known Uncle Fons, a Norbertine from Averbode Abbey, was also there. But no, in 1965 it was already not a matter of course anymore. My vocation comes in part from the family context, but also from my involvement in the Catholic Social Action and in the parish, where a group of us studied the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council.”

Who were your mentors?

“In that time we read, for example, Romano Guardini. I also followed the movement around Charles de Foucauld. Later, when I studied theology, I read with interest the Jesus book and other literature of Msgr. Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner and Willem Barnard.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a great source of inspiration for me. I mostly discovered him when I was responsible for the Higher Institute of Religion in Ghent. I was so fascinated by Letters and Papers from Prison that I subsequently read all his works.”

What connects these inspirations?

“The theologians teach me that the Christian faith is a great treasure with a rich content and tradition. Bonhoeffer teaches me to understand that this tradition can be experienced in different contexts.

We no longer live in the  homogenous Christian society of the past. But the comfortable situation of that time is not the only context in which to experience your faith.”

As bishop you chose the motto “with you I am a Christian” in 2002. What did you mean by that?

“The first part of the quote by St. Augustine is, “For you I am a bishop”. By choosing only the second part I clearly state that my first calling as a bishop is to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Everything else follows from that. For me it is important to jointly take responsibility. That responsibility binds us as a society. The quote is also a clear choice for collegiality in exercising authority. I am very happy with the three auxiliary bishops that I can count on in the archdiocese.”

What are the great challenges for the Church today?

“The question is not so much how many priests we need and how to organise ourselves. But: what do we have to say to society? Formation and the introduction into the faith are very important for that. It is not a question of having to take an exam in order to be a part of it. There can be many degrees of belonging. But we can assume that there is a certain question or desire when people come to Church.

Don’t misunderstand me. A smaller Church must also be an open Church and relevant for society.”

What sort of Church do you dream of?

“A Church that accepts that she is getting smaller. The Church is in a great process of change and that sometimes hurts. But that does not mean that there is decay. There have been times in which the Church was in decay while triumphing.

I dream of a Church that radiates a conviction, that radiates the person of Jesus Christ. Of an open Church which is not only occupied with religious questions, but also with social problems such as the refugee crisis.

Politics have to be neutral, but society is not. Christians are a part of that and should express themselves.”

You did not take part in the Synod on the family, but will probably get to work with its proposals. What will stay with you from this Synod?

“The Synod may not have brought the concrete results that were hoped for, such as allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. But it is unbelievable how much it was a sign of a Church that has changed. The mentality is really not the same anymore.

I may be a careful person, but I do not think we should be marking time. Mercy is an important word for me, but in one way or another it is still  somewhat condescending. I like to take words like respect and esteem for man as my starting point. And that may be a value that we, as Christians, share with prevailing culture.”

May we assume that you will take up the thread of Cardinal Danneels?

“It is of course not my duty to imitate him, but I have certainly learned much from him. Also from Msgr. Luysterman [Bishop of Ghent from 1991 to 2003], by the way, with whom I have long worked in Ghent.”

Your predecessor liked to court controversy in the media. Pope Francis stands out for his human style. What is the style we may expect from you?

“In the papers I have already been profiled as not mediagenic. We will see. For my part, I will at least approach the media openly and confident.”

Will you be living in Brussels, like Msgr. Léonard, or will you choose the archbishop’s palace in Mechelen?

“Msgr. Léonard will be staying in Brussels for a while, so my first home will be Mechelen. I think it would be interesting to alternate and also have a place in Brussels.”

You like Brussels, don’t you? And Brussels likes you.

“The love is mutual, yes. I am certainly no stranger to the French speaking community in our country.”

The Church in Brussels announced this week that Confirmation and First Communion will now be celebrated at the same time, at the age of ten. A renewal you can agree with?

“I wrote the brochure about the renewal of the sacraments of initiation myself, and I conclude that Brussels interprets my text to the full. I am very happy about that. Brussels immediately shows itself as the laboratory of renewal that I so appreciate about it.”

The five years in Bruges were not easy. How have they changed you as a man or what did you learn from them?

“In Bruges I had final responsibility in an environment I did not know well. As auxiliary bishop I was happy to often discuss things with the archbishop, and now I was more on my own. As archbishop I am very happy to be able to rely on three good auxiliary bishops with whom I will be pleased to discuss matters. Like my time as episcopal vicar in Ghent and as auxiliary bishop in Brussels, I consider the past five years as an important learning experience.”