At the Katholikentag, German cardinals underline peace

With 90,000 participants* it was the largest edition of the event since 1990. The 101st biannual Katholikentag (despite its name, a multiple-day event) took place in Münster from 9 to 13 May this year, with “Suche Frieden” (look for peace) as its central theme. Peace on a global scale, but also in smaller ways, such as in families, parishes, and, yes, among bishops.

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^30,000 people gathered in Münster’s Schlossplatz for the closing Mass of the Katholikentag 2018. 

As the German bishops have been seemingly rather divided on the topic of Communion for non-Catholics, and despite the words from Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer that the Katholikentag should not be used to exert pressure on either side of the debate**, the topic was raised on more than a few occasions. Your author found Bishop Stefan Oster discussing questions regarding ecumenism in light of these recent developments in a question and answer session at his diocese’s stand at the Kirchenmeile (a massive information market for all manner of Catholic organisations, including the German dioceses), to name but one example.

The two main players in the debate, if only because of their red hats, are Cardinals Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and Reinhard Marx of München und Freising (who also happens to chair the German Bishops’ Conference as president). Both cardinals have gone out of their way to express the importance of unanimity at the Katholikentag. Not in a response to the Communion debate, but in emphasising the continued fraternity and, yes, peaceful conditions among the bishops.

In his weekly “Wort des Bischofs” Youtube talk, Cardinal Woelki said yesterday:

“The many small wars in our communities, in our families, yes also among us bishops must also end in peace. That does mean that one can’t argue about the correct path. I am convinced that debate about a good cause is very necessary, even. But the goal, a fraternal living together at all human levels in harmony with God’s creation, is something that we must not lose sight of!”

urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-180513-99-284653-large-4-3In his homily at the closing Mass of the four-day event, Cardinal Marx reiterated that the Catholic Church must make its unity clear, and that includes its bishops.

The efforts of both cardinals, and other bishops as well, are clearly directed at changing the image of division that is the result of the planned pastoral outreach, the letter of the seven bishops and the meeting in Rome. At the same time, as Cardinal Woelki has stated in the quote above, the debate continues, with the added dimension that the papal directive to strive for unanimity has resulted in different interpretations that must be discussed as well.

Despite good intentions and fraternity, the story is far from over.

*This reflects only the number of tickets sold. While many outdoor events were free of charge, tickets gave access to workshops, exhibitions, discussions, tours and other events. The actual number of people who visited Münster for the Katholikentag will exceed 90,000.

**Regarding finding a solution to the question, with Pope Francis’ request in mind that the German bishops come to a unanimous decision, the bishop of Regensburg said on 9 May: “This task will not be an easy one, since the community of the Church transcends the borders of Germany. A possible unanimous decision can only be made in unity with the joint world episcopate, with the world Church, equally with the bishops’ conference of Canada and with that of Indonesia.”

Photo credit: [1] Guido Kirchner/dpa, [2] dpa/Rolf Vennenbernd

Video first – Pope Francis asks for our prayer

Every month, the Pope has special prayer intentions that he asks us to pray for with him. In this Holy Year of Mercy, these intentions also play a part in obtaining the special indulgence which also includes entering through one of the Holy Doors in the world’s cathedrals and other Jubilee churches.

Also for this Holy Year, the monthly prayer intentions come in the form of special videos, with Pope Francis narrating and appealing to us all to pray with him for, in this case, the cause of interreligious dialogue.

To be honest, sharing this video is a bit like having the Pope as a special guest on my blog.

Father goes viral – the Force is strong with this priest

Few priests have been the focus of so much media attention than Father Roderick Vonhögen in the past week. And it’s all positive too.

Following the release of the second teaser trailer of the upcoming seventh movie in the Star Wars series, Fr. Roderick, who is active in most social and regular media you can think of, decided to shoot a reaction video of his first viewing of the trailer.

First, here is the movie trailer (which, i must admit, had me grinnig broadly as well):

And here is Fr. Roderick’s reaction:

This video, which is by now approaching the 500,000 views, has been picked up and shared, to a flood of positive and enthusiastic responses, by sites like Buzzfeed and 9Gag, as well as Dutch and foreign television programs.

Fr. Roderick is working on a documentary on Star Wars and families, he writes on trideo.com. Why this priest’s fascination for a science fiction saga? Fr. Roderick explains:

“My passion for Star Wars, my media work and my presence on social networks has helped me to reach hundreds of thousands of people that I would otherwise never have met. In every Mass, I pray for them. I’m inspired by pope Francis, who asks us to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem most indifferent. If my goofy video has contributed a tiny little bit to the realization of that challenge, I’m a happy priest.”

Parolin takes the reins

Making the rounds in the rumour mill for a while now, it has been announced today: succeeding 78-year-old Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State is 58-year-old Archbishop Pietro Parolin. Who is this new number two in the Vatican?

parolinPietro Parolin has been working in Rome for the better part of his priesthood, although his ‘official’ diplomatic career is relatively short. From 2002 to 2009 he was Undersecretary for the relations with States in the Secretariat of State, and since 2009 he has been the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. With that function came the title of archbishop, and Parolin was consecrated as such by Pope Benedict XVI. He holds the titular see of Acquapendente.

The summary given here gives an indication of Parolin’s role and influence behind the scenes, even before he was named to the Secretariat in 2002. Pope Francis clearly chooses for experience, but whether the position of the Secretary of State will continue in much the same lines as it did under the last two papacies remains to be seen. The Franciscan reforms are still to gain their momentum, but whatever they will constitute, Archbishop Pietro Parolin will play his part in them.

The Secretary of State runs the entire apparatus of the political and diplomatic duties of the Holy See. He is Always a cardinal, and as Archbishop Parolin is not, he will officially be the Pro-Secretary of State until he is made a cardinal in Pope Francis’ first consistory.

Archbishop Parolin is the youngest Secretary of State since Eugenio Pacelli, the later Pope Pius XII, was appointed at the age of 53 in 1930.

Archbishop Parolin will officially take on his new duties on 15 October.

With this appointment, Pope Francis has also confirmed other members of the Secretariat of State in their functions. As some will recall, the Pope retained the members of the Curia in their functions for the time being after his election. Earlier, he confirmed the vicar-general of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and now he is joined by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for the Relations with States; Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs; and Msgr. Peter Wells, the Assessor for General Affairs.

Also confirmed was the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. This should lay to rest the persistent rumours that the close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI somehow did not get along with the new pope, a sort of clash between the old and the new. Archbishop Gánswein of course said as much already during a visit to Germany, earlier in August.

From 2:15: “When I am with Pope Francis, I have to read in the Bayernischen Zeitung that the chemistry between him and me does not work, or that I have a culture shock because he is an Argentinean and I am not, because I come from a Benedictine background and he from a Jesuit background… All nonsense.”

More as it comes in.

Photo credit: Reuters

Dutch disaster? Michael Voris on Dutch Catholicism

Last week, American social media evangelist and orthodox Catholic Michael Voris visited the Netherlands for two lectures. He also recorded an episode of The Vortex, his regular program on ChurchMilitant.tv. Watch it below:

Some may disregard Voris as overly alarmist, but I think he is rather spot-on. When it comes to transmitting the faith in its entirety, we are faced with enormous challenges in the Netherlands, a society which generally does not accept the existence of absolute truths and a division between right and wrong.

I am also glad to see that he is evidently not alone in this, as Bishop Rob Mutsaerts’ words, quoted by Voris, fit in well with the general theme of this talk.

Remembering the dead, not just a thing of the past

Yesterday I watched a movie befitting the national day of remembrance we mark every May the 4th in the Netherlands. Sarah’s Key deals with a journalist investigation into the fate of a French Jewish girl whose family used to live in the house she and her husband have just bought. The girl’s entire family was deported to and killed in the Polish death camps, but of the girl and her brother there is no trace in the records. A story, therefore, about a girl who was deemed unwanted, but fought and managed to survive her would-be captors and murderers’ efforts to see her dead.

One storyline deals with the lead character’s unexpected pregnancy. As she and her husband have tried for years to conceive and are now somewhat older than the average first-time parents, there is some conflict about what to do. She wants to keep the child, he pushes for abortion.

In a movie about the Holocaust this is an extremely poignant topic. The one lies in the past, the other is very current, but both are centered around death. Public opinion about the Holocaust is, rightly, one of horror and unanimous rejection, but abortion is extremely well-accepted in modern society: it is a medical procedure and an expression about a person’s control over and right to her own body. Or so many genuinely believe.

But put both side by side and compare them: the Holocaust was the conscious and wilful murder of persons that some decided were unwanted, not worthy of life and without a place in their world order. Abortion is the wilful killing of an unborn person that one or more people have decided is not wanted, should not be allowed to burden other’s lives and has no place in their world.

There may be seemingly mitigating circumstances in many cases of abortion, but those guilty of the Holocaust would have said the very same thing. “We had no choice, we were under orders, what could I do?” Today we hear, “I can’t take care of a child, there is no place for a child in my life at this moment, I have no choice.” And so human lives are daily sacrificed to other people’s rights, choices and (perceived) limitations.

When talking about the Holocaust we do not accept this: the murder of countless people is not suddenly alright because others wanted to exercise their rights or choices, and not even because they were forced to. The murders are not suddenly okay.

The same should be true when we talk about abortion (and, for that matter, euthanasia). Murder is never alright. Mitigating circumstances don’t make it so. It is certainly never a clinical procedure, an industry as the Holocaust was in the past, and abortion is today.

Remembering the dead, as we did yesterday in this country, must never be a safe ritual which only refers to the past. There are organisations which rightly emphasise that many of the atrocities we remember still happen today in other parts of the world. But we are not exempt from that realisation. In our society there is also still a Holocaust taking place every day: a Holocaust against the unborn.

And those unborn are persons, just like the Jews and other unwanted persons during the Holocaust never stopped being persons. Many would wish it so, but there is no magical transition during birth which make a fetus a person. A person is a person is a person from the get go. Killing a person is never alright, never a medical procedure, never an industry.

Time to stop the Holocaust.

Smiling Pope 2.0?

We’ve seen Pope Francis being compared to his immediate predecessors, as is only natural, but while seeing him individually greet the cardinals today, the similarities between him and Pope John Paul I are quite striking.

Look at these two videos, the first giving an impression of Pope Francis today, and the second showing some select footage of Pope John Paul II in 1978:

But ultimately, although it is a fun exercise and a means to get to know him, we must let Pope Francis be himself and allow him the time to find his place on the Chair of St. Peter. Perhaps he will continue to remind us of Pope John Paul I, or of any other pontiff that came before him. But simply seeing him as a carbon copy of anyone does neither him or his predecessors any justice.

“Liberated from the slavery of fashion”

In an excellent CNS video, Father Wojciech Giertych explains why Catholic priests are men only, and also delves into the counter-cultural nature of Christ and the unique closeness to Him that women often achieve.

Fr. Giertych is the Theologian to the Papal Household and, as such,  advises the Pope on theological issues and checks the theological clarity of papal publications.

The radicality of Fr. Michel-Marie Zanotti-Sorkine

He’s shown up on my computer screen more than once in recent weeks: a young French priest from Marseille who has gotten attention for dressing like a priest wherever he goes. In this video (in French with Dutch subtitles) he explains why.

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But I also think, you see, that the priesthood must be visible!”

Interviewer: “That is why, if I may, you wear the cassock?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “Yes, the cassock, I truly wear it for the 96% who do not come to Church. Because, these throngs who stay outside, who do not go to the churches, how do you want them to have the chance to encounter a priest? It is necessary that, in the bars I visit, on this great boulevard I walk every day, that there is the possibility for everyone to come to me, to speak to me, to entrust me with something in their lives. This cassock, it is essential!”

Interviewer: “That is how that happens?”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “That is indeed how that happens! I think we should really have a major examination of conscience here, because at this time we are about 15,000 priests in France, do you realise that? 9,000 are active, I think. There are also 4,000 religious! I am certain that when everyone, by a decree from heaven, would again wear the cassock, put on the hood, well, what would happen: every day many people would meet servants of God, and the Church would once again take her place in social events.”

Interviewer: “You are not making friends by saying this.”

Fr. Zanotti-Sorkine: “But that does not matter, I am saying it for the Lord, and I am saying it for the future of Christianity!

The visibility of the priest through outward appearances has nothing to do with vanity or a sense of importance. Rather, the cassock and, more frequently, the Roman collar, serve two purposes: wearing it, the priest is continuously reminded of his very nature as one ordained to serve God in a very particular way. And his visibility as such makes him available for the people he is tasked to serve. If they don’t recognise him for what he is, they do not know to come to him with their needs.

Father Michel-Marie’s enthusiasm is a reflection of the importance of priestly attire. No vanity, but availability and service.

HT to Fr. Andy Penne.

The spirituality of serving at the altar

An interesting film which reveals the spirituality behind the duties of altar servers., which are not just some tasks which need doing. Like so many elements of our Catholic life, it is based in a well-developed spirituality, and in turn, feeds that spirituality on a  very personal level.

This is one of the beautiful things about our faith: holiness is achievable by simply doing it. Physical actions, like the speaker in the film says, can help us achieve an inner disposition on the road to personal holiness.

We live in an age where people appreciate spirituality, the transcending elements that we can strive for. Often, this appreciation is manifested in the popularity of self-help books, paranormal events and elements of the eastern religions. Our own Catholic faith also has spirituality on offer, a spirituality which is mature, deep and continuously challenging, but which is attainable for all of us if we would just devote some time and effort to it.

HT to Fr. Dwight Longenecker.