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It seemed like an April Fools’ joke at first, but if it is, it is impressive in its preparation, scope and execution. Five young Catholics of the Belgian youth collective Verse Vis asked to and succeeded in interviewing Pope Francis and had the entire question and answer session recorded for later broadcast. And they did it all via the shortest route possible, directly from them to the Pope. And the Holy Father responded enthusiastically. As he explained in a short bit of footage released earlier, he feels obliged to help a young person when he or she comes to him with questions.
A press conference later today will give more information… or make us all look like fools.
Despite the date, the course of today removed all doubt that this was some elaborate joke. Both Belgian and Dutch broadcasters have plans to broadcast the interview on television, and a photo appeared just now of the young interviewers posing with Pope Francis and Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy:
More reports and comments from various media are appearing on the group’s own website, linked above. From these we learn, for example, how the interview became a reality: Inspired by the World Youth Days in Rio last summer, the group, which endeavours to communicate the faith to young people in an appealing way, shared their idea to interview the Pope with Bishop van Looy, who promptly sent a fax to the Vatican and received a response with permission for the interview. The group then prepared a number of questions, both personal and general. The actual contents of the interview, which was more like a conversation than a Q&A session, remain under wraps until the Thursday evening broadcast of Belgian news program ‘Koppen’. Pope Francis was friendly, comforting and cordial and gave his interviewers a message of hope for the future: to find the treasure in their hearts and cherish that for the rest of their lives.
Just because I can, a news roundup from the Dutch dioceses. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the various corners of the Church province.
Led by Cardinal Eijk, some 100 faithful from the Archdiocese of Utrecht have been on pilgrimage to Rome this week. They visited various churches (Cardinal Eijk’s title church San Callisto, Saint Peter’s, the Church of the Frisians, Saint Mary Major (pictured) and Saint John Lateran), celebrated Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter, saw the sights and capped the trip off with today’s general audience with Pope Francis. Cardinal Eijk offered Mass every day in concelebration with the accompanying and some local priests.
In the Diocese of Breda, the Franciscan sisters in Bergen op Zoom celebrated the 175th anniversary of their diocesan congregation’s existence. They did so in the presence of Bishop Jan Liesen and other guests, and also used the day to reopen their chapel after a year of restoration work. As the congregation also has a thriving sister house in Indonesia, Bishop Michael Angkur of the Diocese of Bogor was also present. With his entourage, he visited other congregations (and some local sights) in the diocese as well.
Also in Breda, the pilgrims to the World Youth Day in Rio had their first reunion (pictured). They did so at Bovendonk seminary. The pilgrims looked back on the weeks in Suriname and in Rio de Janeiro, sharing their experiences with each other and with those who stayed at home to take part in WYD@Home.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam bade farewell to its vicar general, Msgr. Martin de Groot (pictured at left with Bishop Jan Hendriks), after 50 years of service in the diocese. The farewell took place with a choral evensong in Amsterdam’s Basilica of St. Nicholas followed by a reception. In addition to the diocese’s Bishops Punt, Hendriks and Van Burgsteden, Rotterdam’s Bishop van den Hende and Utrecht’s auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom were present, reflecting the wide-ranging duties that Msgr. de Groot performed in and beyond his diocese.
Also in Haarlem-Amsterdam, a unique appointment: the first female Magister Cantus (or, in this case, Magistra Cantus) of the Netherlands. On Sunday Ms. Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen will be installed as such by Bishop Punt. She will have responsibility for the music in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, the musical institute connected to it and the choirs. She has been conducting the cathedral choir since 2010.
Photo credit:  aartsbisdom.nl,  bisdombreda.nl,  Isabel Nabuurs
Hello, 120! For the first time since the last consistory, the number of cardinal electors is back at the maximum allowed number of 120, as American-born Cardinal James Stafford celebrates his 80th birthday today.
Born in the cradle of the Catholic Church in America, Baltimore, James Francis Stafford was the only child of a furniture store owner of Irish descent. After his high school days he intended to study medicine at the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore, but a close friend’s death in a car crash caused him to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.
After two years of study, the archbishop of Baltimore, Msgr. Francis Keough, sent him to Rome’s Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1958, James Stafford earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the later institution.
The rector of the North American College, Bishop Martin O’Connor, ordained James Stafford to the priesthood in 1957, alongside one Edward Egan who would later become a fellow cardinal. Upon his return to the US, Father Stafford became an assistant priest in his native Baltimore until 1962. He then went to study at the Catholic University of America, earning a Master of Social Work in 1964. For the next two years, Fr. Stafford served as assistant director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities and as an assistant priest, once again in Baltimore. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan appointed him as director of Catholic Charities in 1966, a position Fr. Stafford would hold until 1976. He earned he title of Monsignor in 1970 when Pope Paul VI made him a Chaplain of His Holiness. As president of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Presbyteral Senate since 1971, he helped reorganise the central services of the archdiocese.
In 1976, Msgr. Stafford was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. He was granted the titular diocese of Respecta, which today belongs to Dutch-born Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane, Australia. Archbishop William Borders consecrated Bishop Stafford on 29 February. Upon his appointed, he became the vicar general of Baltimore. From 1978 to 1984, he led the commission on Marriage and Family Life of the American bishops’ conference, and in 1980 he attended the Fifth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the Christian Family, in Rome.
In 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Stafford as Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, where he was installed the following January. There, he focussed on restructuring, improving and evangelisation, especially among African Americans. During his time in Memphis, Bishop Stafford also chaired the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB from 1984 to 1991.
Bishop Stafford moved even further west in 1986, as he was appointed archbishop of Denver. High point of his time in that see was the 1993 World Youth Day. which saw half a million young Catholics gather in the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome, to lead the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In this role, he was responsible for the organisation of the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, the 2000 WYD in Rome and the 2002 WYD in Toronto. In the consistory of 1998 he was created a cardinal and became the cardinal-dean of Gesù Buon Pastore alla Montagnola. In 2003, Cardinal Stafford became the Major Penitentiary, one of the highest positions in the Curia.
In 2007, Cardinal Stafford turned 75 and submitted his resignation , which Pope Benedict XVI accepted in 2009. On 1 March 2008, Cardinal Stafford made use of the option to be promoted to cardinal-priest, and was granted the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio.
In 2008, Cardinal Stafford spoke prophetic words as he compared the election of President Barack Obama to the Agony in the Garden. The president’s consistent steps to curtail religious liberty and freedom of conscience seem to prove the cardinal’s opinion.
Cardinal Stafford was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Special Council for Oceania of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
Below is the official prayer for World Youth Day 2013, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro. It is now almost exactly a year since I attended World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, and I can say that prayer is an integral element for the success of these days. While I will not be going to Rio, many people I know (and don’t know) are, and I suggest that they, and many more who will be staying at home, will often pray this prayer for them and their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Oh, Father, You sent Your Eternal Son to save the world and chose men and women, through Him, with Him and in Him, to proclaim the Good News to all nations. Grant us the graces necessary so that joy may shine in the faces of all young people, the joy of being, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the evangelists the Church needs in the Third Millennium.
Oh Christ, Redeemer of humanity, the image of Your open arms on the top of Corcovado welcomes all people. In Your paschal offering, You brought us by the Holy Spirit to an encounter of sonship with the Father. Young people, who are fed by Eucharist, hear You in Your Word and meet You as their brother, need your infinite mercy to run the paths of the world missionary-disciples of the New Evangelization.
Oh Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son, with the splendor of Your Truth and the fire of Your Love, send Your Light to all young people so that, driven by their experience of World Youth Day, they may bring to the four corners of the world faith, hope and charity, becoming great builders of a culture of life and peace and catalysts of a new world.
I whipped up a Dutch translation here.
Yesterday, the summer for the Church truly began as Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. While we may see some news and appointments trickle out of the Holy See until the middle of the month, things will only really start picking up until late August, as the papal return to Rome comes closer. Last summer was an anomaly in that respect, as Benedict travelled to Spain for the World Youth Days in the middle of his summer vacation. The first major event this year will be his visit to Lebanon in September.
Let’s use this time, which will undoubtedly be reflected in a rather less frequent posting routine here, as a time of rest, reflection, prayer and recharging for the coming year. And as we do so, let’s add a prayer for our Holy Father, that his summer at Lake Albano may offer him enough rest, so that we may soon see the joyous pope which we have too often had to trade for a tired-looking pontiff in recent months.
Photo credit: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Roman Curia and looked back on the year behind him and us. He devotes a significant amount of words to the August’s World Youth Days, but also considers the faith crisis, a “faith fatigue”, in the west, which he endeavours to counter in various ways.
Read my translation of the address here.
Christmas is rapidly approaching. Let’s pray that it may herald a new beginning, not least here in the Netherlands, as Catholics everywhere try to deal with the horribly recent history of abuse. These words from our Holy Father may be read as encouragement and invitation to rediscover one of the five important points the pope makes: the joy of our faith, which is ultimately the joy of being unconditionally accepted, so that we can not only accept others around us, but most certainly also ourselves.
Photo credit: Claudio Peri/AFP/Getty Images
Picked to be one of eleven starting points for the new evangelisation in western Europe, the city of Brussels, self-styled capital of Europe and biggest urban area of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels and as such the heartland of Belgian Catholicism, prepares itself for the Metropolis project, starting in Lent of 2012. The official website of the Church in Brussels and Flanders, Kerknet, offers a first glimpse at the plans which, it admits, are not fully developed yet.
Part of the work is expected to take place in local parish communities, but the faith will also have a larger visible presence in the city. Well-known citizens of Brussels will be reading out the entire Gospel of Mark, both in real life in the Notre-Dame du Finistère church and via a big screen in the busy Nieuwstraat. Churches will be open on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and the example of the World Youth Days will be follows as both Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols will host catechesis meetings with young people, newly baptised adults and young parents wishing to have their child baptised.
A starting point, surely, that will make the Catholic faith visible once more. Let’s pray that the momentum to be gained here will be used fully to propel the new evangelisation into the future.
Photo credit: Philippe Massart