For Berlin, a Synod Father

kochWith the appointment of Bishop Heiner Koch to Berlin, the German capital has an archbishop again after an almost eleven-month vacancy. He leaves the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, a suffragan of Berlin, vacant after less than two-and-a-half years, making it on of two empty sees in Germany, the other being Limburg.

Who is Archbishop-elect Heiner Koch? Like his predecessor in Berlin, Cardinal Woelki, he was born in the Archdiocese of Cologne, in Düsseldorf. He is less than a week away from his 61st birthday, has been a priest for 35 years (he was ordained on his 26th birthday in 1980) and a bishop for nine years. He is the third archbishop of Berlin, but the tenth ordinary since Berlin became a diocese in 1930. Six of his predecessors were made cardinals.

heiner kochThe new archbishop studied Catholic theology, philosophy and pedagogy at the University of Bonn and is a Doctor of Theology. After his ordination, he was attached to parishes in Kaarst and in Cologne itself (at the cathedral since 1993). He was also school pastor at the Heinrich Heine University in his native Düsseldorf, and in 1989 he started working in the vicariate general of the Archdiocese of Cologne, which probably set him on track to become a bishop. Made a Chaplain of His Holiness in 1993 and Honorary Prelate in 1996, now-Msgr. Koch was made the subsitute for the vicar general in 2002. In the same year he led the preparations for World Youth Day 2005, which took place in 2005.

The next year, he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Cologne, with the titular see of Ros Cré in Ireland. Bishop Koch was responsible for pastoral area South, as well as for the non-German speaking faithful of the archdiocese. In the German Bishops’ Conference, this extended to the pastoral care for Germans abroad.

In 2013, in one of his last appointments as such, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Koch as bishop of Dresden-Meißen, at the opposite end of the country. A year later, the German bishops chose him to head the Commission for Marriage and Family, which made sure he was also chosen as one of the country’s three delegates to this year’s assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

heiner kochThe Synod, then… In the entire saga about the German bishops and the Synod, Archbishop Koch has been one of the main players. He will attend the Synod with Osnabrück’s Bishop Bode and Cardinal Marx, and he also took part in what some have called the “shadow Synod” in Rome with representatives of the French and Swiss episcopates. But it is unfair to call the archbishop a liberal in matters of marriage, family and sexuality. In 2012, he stated that debating certain topics that have been authoritatively decided upon by the magisterium of the Pope and bishops is only “frustrating and ineffective”. “A productive and creative conversation,” he said, “is only possible on the basis of our mutual faith and our mutual understanding of what it means to be a Church.” More recently, Archbishop Koch has been accused of being in favour of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. In an interview in Feruary, he said:

“The questions is if we can’t allow faithful who have been divrced and remarried and are deeply pious to receive the Eucharist under certain conditions. That could take place, for example, after a long conversation with a confessor. We should consider such questions.”

His focus, however, is more on the question of how the Church can be close to people in that situation: not so much doctrine, but pastoral care, as he explained later.

In an interview on the occasion of his appointment to Dresden-Meißen, Archbishop Koch explained his priorities in relating to people, which perhaps also explain why some would falsely think that he is not overly concerned with doctrine:

“I don’t want to start with showing people the ethical consequences wihout them first knowing the reasons for them in the faith. I want to speak to them about God. I want to listen to them and hear what they can tell me about God in their lives.”

This attitude comes to the fore more often, when Archbishop Koch says that difficult questions are not resolved via headlines, but via conversations and encounters with people.

In the same interview, he also explained the Church’s position on same-sex marriages:

“The Church is convinced that a child needs a father and a mother. I also know that there are married couples which neglect children, and homosexual coupes who love them. But that does not change the fact that the family consisting of father, mother and children is a great wealth for all, not least in their gender differences. God created people as man and woman. Together they reflect the fullness of the divine life. There is not consensus in society, but that does not mean that we should abandon this position”.

220px-Karte_Erzbistum_BerlinThe future in Berlin. As archbishop in the German capital (with equal pastoral responsibility for the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Archbishop Koch will increasingly be at the heart of the action for both state and Church. In a reflection of recent political history after the reunification, when Germany’s political institutions moved from Bonn  to Berlin, the German Bishops’ Conference has long been considering moving their offices to Berlin as well. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, also resides in that city. As mentioned above, six of his predecessors (including the five immediate ones) were made cardinals, so we may see a second Cardinal Koch (in addition to Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) at some point. Archbishop Koch is young enough to wear the red with influence. But even in purple he will have his work cut out for him.

His predecessor, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, quickly established himself as a bishop in the mold of Pope Francis: close to the margins of immigrants and workers. Archbishop Koch will probably have little problems taking that attitude on as well. The Archdiocese of Berlin is twice the size of Dresden-Meißen, but has about the same number of Catholic faithful. It is in the process of merging parishes to better serve these faithful, which is a sensitive process to lead for any bishop.

More to come…

A personal message from the Pope

francisExpanded for the first time into a two-day festival, and also for the first time on the grounds of Mariënkroon Abbey, west of Den Bosch, the annual Dutch Catholic Youth Day was treated today to a personal message from Pope Francis. Dated to 25 June, the message uses the three-bullet point format that Pope Francis also often employs in his homilies. The three keywords, however, came directly from the festival’s theme: New, Pure and Intense.

The Holy Father recalls the topics he announced in his first Message for World Youth Day: the Beatitudes. It is, he writes, “a concrete programme of life that can serve as a guide on the path to true happiness.” Latching on the theme, Pope Francis claims that “the message of Jesus’ Beatitudes is new,” invites us to contemplate Jesus’ purity of heart, and reminds us that “young people want to live intense experiences!” These three point the way that Jesus “himself has taken,” that He is.

I have also made a Dutch translation of the message.

Pope Francis announces 16 new cardinals “from the world’s peripheries”

It is about five weeks before the consistory, so the announcement was expected any day, but Pope Francis managed to surprise again. At the end of today’s Angelus he announced his first batch of cardinals, 16 in all. The list is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who’s who.

  • 220px-Pietro_parolinArchbishop Pietro Parolin (58), Secretary of State. No surprise here. The Secretary of State has traditionally always been a cardinal, and although the position looks to undergo some changes in Pope Francis’ curial reforms, but the title and rank of the occupant is not among them. In contrast to his important function in the Curia, Cardinal-designate is quite young. Only three current members of the entire College (Woelki, Tagle and Thottunkal) are younger.
  • baldisseriArchbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (73), Secetary General of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. Also no surprise, but for different reasons. The important role given to him early on in Francis’ pontificate, organising the two upcoming Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and already wearing the red skullcap that Pope Francis himself wore until his election to the papacy, indicated that he would be among the Pope’s first cardinals. Cardinal-designate Baldisseri will be the third Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to be made a cardinal. The previous one was Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte.
  • müllerArchbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (66), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Head of the first among equals of Curial dicasteries, Archbishop Müller was also quite certain to be among the new cardinals. Ever since the Popes were no longer heads of the Doctrinal office, all Prefects were cardinals. Some have made assumptions that Cardinal-designate Müller was not going to be made a cardinal, because the ‘orthodox’ prelate seemed to be at odds with the ‘liberal’ Pope, but those are evidently mere rumours. The Prefect and the Pope work closely and well together, and Müller has even hosted the Holy Father for dinner.
  • Mons_-Beniamino-StellaArchbishop Beniamino Stella (72), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Another sure candidate because of his function. The diplomat-prelate has made a rapid rise in the Curia last year, but that does not make his appointment surprising. Since as far back as the 16th century, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has been a cardinal.
  • nicholsArchbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols (68), Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom. Somewhat of a surprise, although the UK is now without any active cardinal electors, with Scottish Cardinal O’Brien in effective retirement. For some he is considered too liberal, but the fact remains that Cardinal-designate Nichols has been an archbishop for almost 14 years (first of Birmingham, now of Westminster), and in his current see he is the 11th cardinal. In fact, since its establishment in 1850, all ordinaries of Westminster were made cardinals.
  • monsleopoldobrenesArchbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano (64), Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua. Now we are getting into the more interesting and unexpected choices for red hats. Cardinal-designate Brenes Solórzano is only the second archbishop of Managua to be made a cardinal. He is also the second elector in all of Central America (not counting Mexico).
  • lacroixArchbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (56), Archbishop of Québec, Canada. The successor of Cardinal Ouellet in the French-Canadian capital, Cardinal-designate Lacroix could have been expected to be made a cardinal some day, but he did not feature on many lists. Québec has been a cardinal see before, but rarely automatically. At 56, he will also be the second-youngest member of the College.
  • KutwaArchbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa (68), Archbishop of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. From the start of speculations a likely candidate in traditionally cardinal-deprived Africa, Cardinal-designate Kutwa is the third archbishop of Abidjan in a row to be made a cardinal, with his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Agré, still alive. Before being appointed to Abidjan in 2006, Archbishop Kutwa had been Archbishop of Gagnoa since 2001.
  • tempestaArchbishop Orani João Tempesta (63), Archbishop of São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Host of the most recent World Youth Days and head of one of global Catholicism’s largest communities, Cardinal-designate Tempesta follows in the footsteps of his predecessors since the late 19th century.
  • bassettiArchbishop Gualtiero Bassetti (71), Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy. The only Italian ordinary on the list, Cardinal-designate Bassetti is a bit of a surprise. Perugia has rarely supplied a cardinal. His appointment comes in lieu of other, more likely, sees such as Turin or Venice.  Th vice-president of the Italian bishops’ conference was recently also appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
  • poli mitraArchbishop Mario Aurelio Poli (66), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis’ own successor in the Argentinean capital and in fact the second ordinary appointed in his papacy, Cardinal-designate Poli need not have been a surprise choice. Five of his six predecessors in Buenos Aires also became cardinals.
  • yeom soo-jungArchbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung (70), Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea. As South Korea is one of the fastest growing Catholic countries in the world, and certainly in Asia, it is certainly fitting for its capital’s archbishop to be made a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Yeom Soo-Jung is the third of Seoul’s archbishops to be made a cardinal. In addition to the Archdiocese of Seoul, the cardinal-designate is theoretically also pastorally responsible for the Catholics of North Korea.
  • ezzati andrelloArchbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (71), Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Chile. A main-stay on the lists, Cardinal-designate Ezzati Andrello heads a traditional cardinalatial see. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals. The Salesian cardinal-designate was previously archbishop of Concepción, also in Chile, before being appointed to that nation’s capital.
  • ouédraogoArchbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo (68), Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Only the second cardinal to hail from this western African country, he is a bit of a surprise. Cardinal-designate Ouédraogo is president of the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso, and a welcome addition to the College, considering his nationality and heritage.
  • quevedoArchbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (74), Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines. A second elector from the Philippines was very welcome, but it being the archbishop of Cotabato is quite surprising. No cardinal has come from there before. Cardinal-designate Quevedo, however, has been archbishop of Nueva Segovia, and president of both the Philippine bishops’ conference and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
  • chibly_langloisBishop Chibly Langlois (55), Archbishop of Les Cayes, Haiti. Another young cardinal, and the first from Les Cayes. Cardinal-designate Langlois is even more noticeable for not being an archbishop and the first Haitian cardinal. The Haitian hierarchy, then, looks rather unique, with the bishop of a regular diocese wearing the red, while the nation’s two archbishop do not. Bishop Langlois has been the president of the bishops’ conference of Haiti since the end of 2011.
  • capovillaArchbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla (98), Archbishop-prelate of Loreto, Italy. The oldest cardinal, Cardinal-designate Capovilla is a remarkable choice. He was Blessed Pope John XXIII secretary during the latter’s entire papacy, and we can therefore see his elevation in light of the Blessed Pope’s upcoming canonisation and the Second Vatican Council he convened. He will be the oldest cardinal of the College, and also the oldest to be created in the Church’s history.
  • aguilarArchbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar (84), Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain. A retired ordinary of a see which has supplied only one other cardinal in the past, the creation of Cardinal-designate Aguilar must be seen as Pope Francis personal choice as well as, perhaps, the importance he attaches to the mission. Cardinal-designate Aguilar is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
  • felixArchbishop Kelvin Edward Felix (80), Archbishop emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia. Another first as no cardinals have ever come from the smaller Caribbean nations. Cardinal-designate Felix’s elevation is another step in creating a more representative College of Cardinals.

All in all, the biglietto fits well with the priorities of Pope Francis, as the new cardinals come from all corners of the world, from the Curia and (in larger part) from the world’s dioceses, and are not limited to the standard traditional cardinalatial sees. But it also tells us that Pope Francis is not willing to let go of tradition altogether. For the proper functioning of the Curia and the College of Cardinals, it seems, he recognises that he needs the Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Clergy to be cardinals. But he also wants the important Synod of Bishops to be represented well, hence that body’s Secretary General’s presence on the list. He understands the importance of major sees like Westminster, Québec, Abidjan, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Seoul, but also Managua and Ouagadougou, all on equal footing. And lastly, it seems, there are cardinals who warrant the red for their personal qualities – Bassetti, Quevedo and Langlois, as well as the new impulse their elevation would give to their local faith communities.

And then, even the elevation of three non-electors tells us something. Archbishop Capovilla’s presence is especially poignant, as it connects the current pontificate with that of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council he convened. Pope Francis is very clearly a child of the Council. Some have noted his physical likeness to Good Pope John, but here we see a hint that that likeness may well run deeper.

Of the 19 new cardinals, 16 will be electors, being under the age of 80. Only four of the new cardinals (Parolin, Baldisseri, Müller and Stella) will be Cardinal Deacons, as the are members of the Curia. The remaining 12 will be Cardinal Priests, being current or retired ordinaries.

The General Report for the Ad Limina – the first part

Logo BisschoppenconferentieToday the Dutch Bishops’ Conference published the general report on the Catholic Church in the Netherlands that will be presented to Pope Francis during the ad limina visit that will take place from 2 to 7 December. This report comes accompanied by reports on every diocese, which the individual ordinaries will present. Those reports remain confidential, but the general report is public. In due time, I will be posting the entire report in English. For now, however,  a look at the first part, which aims to give an overview of the state of the Church in the Netherlands, and some of the ongoing developments that dictate current policy and trends.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands

The time that the Roman Catholic Church was a great people’s church. lies some decades behind us. We are developing into a church of choice with, especially in the southern dioceses, elements of cultural Catholicism. Before us lies a future in which people who want to be Roman Catholic do so expressly out of a conscious choice. We are investing in the new evangelisation, deepening of the faith and of the personal relationship with Christ. In recent years we anchored ourselves clearly on the basics of our Catholic identity. The richness of the Roman Catholic Church, with her sacraments, social teaching, liturgy, documents and the diversity of offices and ministry has been painted and communicated more clearly and we will continue to work on that.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands exists in a situation of decline, which has begun long ago. In 25 years the number of members dropped by 1 million to 4,044,000 Catholics. At this moment, 24.1 % of the total population is Roman Catholic, and that makes her the largest group of faithful in the Netherlands.

By merging parishes and stimulating cooperation between parishes and parish groups, we want to assure that the local parish remains or becomes a thriving and attractive faith community. From these larger parishes or parish groups missionary initiatives are undertaken, searching for new possibilities to familiarise people with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands performs her mission in a strongly secularised society. In it she does not want to retreat as on an island, but remain in dialogue with government, society, other Christians and followers of other religions and philosophies.

1. Developments

  • The reorganisation of the Bishops’ Conference support structure was completed this year.  On the diocesan level there were reorganisations of the diocesan curia and a restructuring of ecclesiastical life. Ambitions, priorities and organisations must be adjusted to a decrease of available personal and financial means, the size of the faith community and the way in which one participates in the community. It makes the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands a “Church in conversion”.
  • knox_bible_openedThe bishops and their coworkers make parishes aware of their missionary duty and the importance of decent catechesis in the parishes, which makes, attuned to the various stages of life, people familiar with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of the Church. In the past fifty years there has not been enough attention for systematic education in the faith in accordance with the teaching of the Church. A multi-year religious education program for children, youth and young adults, developed by employees of the Diocese of Roermond, is also promoted in other dioceses. Much is being done for a good formation of the countless volunteers who take care of catechesis in the parishes. On multiple sides means of assistance are being developed, such as pastoral care with an emphasis on presence in the concrete lives of people, the use of new media, the Alpha Course and initiatives of new movements.
  • Within the context of the mergers of parishes, parochial caritas foundations are also being merged, creating larger and stronger caritas foundation able to create a diaconal face for the larger parishes. A missionary Church must also give clear witness of the Gospel in the diaconal works of love.
  • Mergers of parishes and decline – with the unavoidable consequence of closing church buildings – create unrest and pain in many places.
  • wydPolicy and the joining of forces regarding the pastoral care of young people have led to a successful Dutch participation in the World Youth Days in Cologne in 2005 (3,500 participants), Sydney in 2008 (700 participants), Madrid in 2011 (1,250 participants) and Rio de Janeiro in 2013 (300 participants). The World Youth Days in Rio de Janeiro drew fewer participants because of the distance and the high costs related to the journey. Additionally, the previous World Youth Days (Madrid) took place only two years earlier, which made the time to save money shorter. The annual Catholic Youth Day draws every years some 1,500 young people from all over the Netherlands. The World Youth Days especially deepened the Catholic faith of many participants, as well as the formation of their personal prayer life and active participation in Church life. There is special attention for the follow up of the World Youth Days through youth activities in the dioceses and on a national level. The dioceses also develop their own programs for youth activities.
  • The Passion is the name of a musical event organised by Roman Catholics and Protestants, in which the story of the passion of Christ and the Gospel of Easter take centre stage, and which since 2011 has taken place annually on Maundy Thursday, every time in a different location. It is broadcast live on television. Famous artists portray the roles of Christ and others who appear in the passion and the Easter Gospel. The event is a missionary chance to present the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ in a modern way to a large audience. In 2011 the event drew almost 1 million viewer. In 2012 there 1.7 million. In 2013 no less than 2.3 million viewers tuned in to The Passion.
  • There are some fifty Catholic immigrant communities and some thirty immigrant parishes (of which a few are Catholic parishes of the Eastern rite) These immigrant Catholic faith communities are often very vital and introduce experiences and expression of the Catholic faith from their country or culture of origin. In that way they contribute to a new momentum in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands.
  • In words and action the bishops follow a clear policy regarding the ecclesiastical, liturgical and sacramental life concerning the position and duty of priests and deacons, as well as pastoral workers and other lay ministers.
  • RKK_logo_paars_magentaThe social relevance of the Church plays a role in her relation to the government, the society, the other churches and church communities, as well as to other religions and philosophies. An important tool is the allocated broadcast time for the Roman Catholic Church (RKK), which the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Katholieke Radio Omroep (KRO) fill in cooperation. National government carries the costs for the RKK. This time offers special opportunities to reach Catholics and non-Catholics. But the government has decided to stop financing the RKK and withdraw the licenses of all religious broadcasters, so also including the RKK, in 2016. That is why it is important that the KRO continues expressing her Catholic identity in her own broadcast time. In cooperation with the bishops, the KRO will take over the broadcast of the Sunday Eucharist and a few programmes of the RKK. In addition, the bishops are investigating if there are more affordable means to broadcast programmes with a Roman Catholic identity, for example via Internet television and radio.
  • Whereas the principle of the separation of Church and state originally guaranteed the prevention of state interference with Church affairs, this separation is now used by some to urge for a religious neutralisation of the public domain. This helps in the privatisation of religion and faith. The bishops are in favour of Church and state being clearly separate from one another, both administratively and organisationally. This does not, however, mean a separation between faith and conviction on the hand, and politics on the other. The Roman Catholic faith implies a clear and develop social doctrine, a rich source of inspiration for civilians and politics. The opinions of secular groups in society are, like religious opinions, not neutral.

This part of the report is fairly factual, although it does give an idea of where the priorities of the bishops lie. It is fairly policy-driven and therefore automatically rather far removed from the daily experience of faithful and their pastoral needs and wishes. That is an ongoing issue in the Church in the Netherlands: it is still difficult to make the step from policy to practice, from the discussions and plans of the bishops to the daily affairs and experiences of people. That is a gap that needs to be closed from both sides.

The bishops will have arrived in Rome by 1 December, when they will offer a Mass at the Church of the Frisians, with Cardinal Eijk as the main celebrant. This Mass will be broadcast live on television.

The important things happen behind closed doors – the Council of Cardinals gets to work

Although much attention has been given to Pope Francis’s second interview in less than two weeks (more on that later), the real meat behind his proposed reforms is being discussed behind the closed doors of the private library in the papal apartments.

council of cardinals

The Council of Cardinals, from left to right: Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, George Cardinal Pell and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya.

The Council of Cardinals (not the ‘G8’ – that’s a dumb name) will meet twice daily until Thursday. On Friday, they will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Assisi. In the previous months, the cardinal members have been working generally solo, collecting information from the bishops, priests and faithful in their part of the world, although they have been in contact of course. During World Youth Day in Rio, some of them met up unofficially to speak about their mandate.

The meetings which started today will remain private and, as the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, we shouldn’t be expecting any sweeping changes just yet. The council’s work will take a long time, which is also the reason why Pope Francis made it a permanent body. Membership is to the Pope’s  discretion, and we may expect a ninth member from one of the Eastern Churches soon.

In closing I recommend this interview with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, conducted by Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV, in which the cardinal speaks about the Council of Cardinals and their work, among other things:

Photo credit: Catholic News Service photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

At WYD@Home, Bishop van den Hende on the living Lord

van den hendeIn 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.

Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.

1. Topic of the Catechesis

In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.

The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ

In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage [1].In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.

That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” [2]

As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:

  • The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [3].
  • The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I […] have decided to write an ordered account for you, […] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” [4].
  • Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” [5].

So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!

3. Jesus lives

To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried [6]. The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.

But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen [7].

That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen [8], to the Apostles in their home [9], on the shore of the lake [10], on the road [11], and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).

On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.

Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them [12].

Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel [13]. We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them [14].

van den hende4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus

Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [15]. Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.

A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” [16], and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” [17].

When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil [18]. The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” [19]

In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” [20]. Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [21] As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel [22].

B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.

  1. Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” [23]. In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” [24].
  2. Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” [25]. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” [26].
  3. Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” [27].
  4. Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent [28]. To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” [29]. And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” [30]. In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” [31]. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” [32].

Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus [33]. Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.

5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus

Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:

  • Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
  • Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
  • Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear [34]);
  • Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
  • Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.

It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate [35].

6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ

As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:

  • Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room [36] and in the community of the Church;
  • Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
  • Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
  • Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice [37]);
  • Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel [38];
  • Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.

In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.

7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)

The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:

  • Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
  • Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
  • Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel

Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.

8. Questions to discuss

  • Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
  • What would you like to learn from Jesus?
  • What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?

+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam

Photo credit: P. van Mulken

At welcoming ceremony, Dutch pilgrim to meet the Pope

ANNEMARIE SCHEERBOOM

For Dutch pilgrim Annemarie Scheerboom, 21, World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro will be even more special than it already is. As part of the ceremony that will welcome Pope Francis into the city on Thursday, Annemarie has been chosen to represent the European pilgrims and will address the Holy Father in both Dutch and English.

Annemarie also attended the World Youth Days in Sydney (2008) and Madrid (2011). At the latter event, she was part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht’s group that also included me. In daily life, she studies biology, is active in the Sant’Egidio community, edits a Catholic youth magazine and works at a restaurant for the homeless. She considers Pope Francis a “great source of inspiration”.

What Annemarie will tell the Pope is unknown at this time, although an interview with her will be put online at the Dutch World Youth Day portal www.wjd.nl tonight.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold for Jong Katholiek/RKK