Christians must not turn away when prosperity is achieved at other people’s expense, says new Bishop Reinhold Nann
Bishop Reinhold Nann / reinholdnann.blogspot.com
A German missionary who was appointed bishop in Peru earlier this year says Pope Francis has caused a major shift in the Church by focusing on the margins rather than the center and by naming bishops more concerned with being pastors than bureaucrats.
“Francis has triggered a sea change, a kind of return to the Gospel message. Suddenly, the poor and outsiders – but also the pastor of souls (Seelsorger) who goes out to the peripheries – find themselves center stage,” said Bishop Reinhold Nann in a recent interview the German news agency katholisch.de.
The 57-year-old native of the Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau was named bishop of the Territorial Prelature of Caravelí in Southern Peru last May after serving more than 20 years as a fidei donum (missionary on loan) priest in the South American country.
He said that while attending a course in Rome for new bishops earlier this year he noticed that of the 114 bishops who had been consecrated within the last twelve months there were strikingly few university theologians or “church managers”.
“Most of them were pragmatists and, although I came from one of the poorest and remote regions of Peru, I never felt like an outsider,” Bishop Nann said.
He said Benedict XVI would never have made him a bishop because he has openly sympathized with the “new liberation theology”. But at the same time, he is also a member of the Schoenstatt Movement, which is characterized by a special devotion to Our Lady.
“I am a sinner who knows he is loved by God. I promise to be the opposite of a showy bishop and want to fight against the money gods,” Nann said.
“Individualism is also on the increase in Latin America, while solidarity in society is waning. But money must not be allowed to become a cure-all,” he declared in his very first homily as a bishop.
The young Reinhold Nann wanted to go to Latin America to work in slums already as a seminarian, but his rector had been against it. The opportunity finally arose in 1986 – a year before his ordination to the priesthood – when the Archdiocese of Freiburg entered into a partnership with Peru.
For over four years, he worked together with Peruvian priests on the outskirts of Lima. “It was a turbulent and dangerous time,” he recalled.
“Due to the conflict with the Shining Path guerrilla movement, the country was on the brink of an abyss.”
The German embassy offered to evacuate German citizens, but Fr Nann stayed. Things began to improve in the early 1990’s.
“A Church springtime sent in. People were hungry for peace and wanted religion to be allowed to play a greater role in their lives,” he said.
Bishop Nann said he keeps in contact with young Catholics he prepared for confirmation during those years through WhatsApp Messenger, noting that this is one of the big differences between working as a priest in Latin America and Germany.
“In Peru, I can always work with young people. A great many of them are committed to working in the Church, which is much closer to the people there – in my case closer to the very poor, petty drug dealers and small-time crooks,” the bishop said.
“Pope Francis has called on us to courageously try out new ways and always to look for individual solutions which will benefit the individual. In Germany, however, the chief emphasis seems to be to stick to church law,” he said.
Like Francis, Bishop Nann is also convinced that global problems – like damage to the environment and climate change, but also the question of a just society and fair working conditions – can only be solved globally. Christians must not turn away when prosperity is achieved at other people’s expense, he says.
The bishop said he has experienced global dependency first hand in Peru.
“When large areas of the rainforest are cut down in order to plant cocoa trees so that cocoa can be exported to Europe, the rainforest is irretrievably lost,” he warned.
Asked if it was not unusual for a German priest to be appointed bishop of a diocese abroad, Nann said it was often only a foreign bishop in a remote diocese that could count on financial and personnel support from his home diocese.
Also in La Croix, by Eric Hodgens, a senior priest in Melbourne, Australia.
The Adoration of the Shepherds / Gerard van Honthorst / Wikipedia /
The Christmas tableaux in Matthew and Luke’s gospels are overtures. An overture appears first but is like a film trailer sampling the main attraction.
An acute reader of the Gospels’ Christmas stories will notice that power is central to the Jesus story – and therefore to the following of Jesus.
The expanded story of the Gospels is the claim that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. That’s how a little group of Jesus’ followers remembered him in the early years after his death on the cross. Despite being killed, they saw his death as a victory because they believed that he was now living beyond death – risen from the dead.
A similar victory over death would be theirs if they believed in him. And that avenue to life was God’s plan for all. Jesus was God’s special agent – in fact, God’s son. The crucifixion made sense of their own persecution, which was interpreted as a path to glory after the manner of Jesus.
Written about 40 years after Jesus’ death, this was the central narrative of Mark’s Gospel. It gives evidence of this small, struggling and persecuted group holding firm – despite defections – to a story of God intervening to save his people.
Ten or fifteen years later, Matthew and Luke modeled their Gospels on Mark’s. Jesus is always the primary focus as the savior and Son of God. But Matthew has practical communities to address.
Mainstream Judaism was struggling to regroup after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The emerging rabbinic movement was hostile to other factions like Matthew’s.
Matthew responds by claiming to be the purest form of Judaism. He plays out his contemporary problems by telling stories of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees. The more powerful rabbis might be winning – but Matthew believed he had the truth. He ultimately lost that battle.
Luke is not worried by the Jewish reconstruction. His world is the Christianity that is expanding beyond Israel’s borders. His community is inclusive of Israel at its best but now including a growing number of gentiles.
Both Matthew and Luke write prequels to their main story beginning with Jesus’ birth. The gist is that it was all pre-ordained by God. An angel (literally messenger) of God tells of God’s plan. His birth is the work of God’s Spirit. The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. And all this will blossom from dirt-poor beginnings. God’s power is a paradox: strength in powerlessness.
The theme of the central story is life-overcoming-death: the loser being the winner, the least being the greatest. This leads the reader to infer that the communities of Mark and Matthew were bolstering their courage under threat.
Paul, our earliest source, was writing a little over 30 years after Jesus died. “We preach Christ crucified” was his theme. His followers were most resolute when they stuck together. Faith, hope, and love (sticking together) abide. But the greatest of these is love.
Mark wrote around ten years later than Paul. To make his point he puts predictions of his passion on Jesus’ lips. In each prediction the death is inevitable, but rising from the dead is guaranteed.
Mark highlights the paradox. The disciples do not understand. They ask for places of honor, but Jesus tells them they do not know what they are asking. Mark’s insistence on this point leads us to guess that there was already jostling for power in Mark’s little community. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant”. Servant/leadership is the go – not power.
Power/leadership is intoxicating. Christianity’s earliest documents show evidence of the trend. I wonder whether even Mark expected his story that servant/leadership was Jesus’ idea would curb the lust for power in his community.
He has certainly left Christians with a major source of embarrassment because power has won out over service all throughout Christian history. Strong bishops are ten times more likely to be heroes than pastoral bishops.
Once Constantine gave the clergy political power the die was cast. Clergy gradually took over deciding what one must believe and how one must behave. When they got full control they enforced this ruthlessly.
Once power gets on a roll it is hard to stop. The clergy were the only truth dispensers in Christianity. They raised their status by sacralizing clerical leadership.
Bishops and priests were not only ordained (ordained simply means appointed), they were consecrated. They were marked by God and raised to a status close to God. They called it an “ontological change”. They taught this – and they believed it themselves. This reached a peak when they declared that the chief bishop (the pope) was infallible in defining matters of faith and practice.
Clerical power has received heavy blows across the world, most recently from Australia’s Royal Commission into sexual abuse. But what it shows is common knowledge in many places in Europe and the United States, as the Academy Award-winning film Spotlight showed in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Clerical power in the church is dysfunctional. It has aided life-destroying crimes. It resents external criticism. It is unaccountable. It is un-Christian but cannot see it. With the clerical panoply of miter, crozier, ring and pectoral cross, power-dressing is on full display.
Passers-by shake their heads. Paul said: “when I am weak then I am strong”. Jesus said: “Among you, the leader must be like a servant”. And it will not change till the clerical state is desacralized and its power-symbols archived to history.
This is the time to reflect on the Christmas tableau and to take note that it is the powerless Jesus who, for so many, is still the hope of the world.
On track to what? Colonialism, climate change and COP23 Nic Beuret, Anja Kanngieser, and Leon Sealey-Huggins explore the effects of the COP23 negotiations on the global south.
The most prominent global conference on climate change – the UNFCCC 23rd Annual Conference of Parties meeting – recently closed with much fanfare, talk of success and ‘being on track’. There was little to indicate that any significant headway had been made to curb the predicted catastrophic levels of global warming however. Hosted by the COP23 President and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, it was the first time a small island nation had held such a role, and it was hoped by some that this would see a prioritisation of climate-affected small island states. Given the five yearly review cycles of the Paris agreement, this year’s COP was ostensibly orientated towards shoring up transparency measures and expanding frameworks for countries to meet climate goals. The main goal was to translate the global agreement made at last year’s meeting in Paris into a meaningful set of rules – rules that reflected not only the agreement to try to limit future global warming to 2C, but also the more ambitious target of a future limit of 1.5C. For many scientists, 1.5C is the threshold beyond which many island nations such as Fiji come under severe threat of ecological catastrophe.
COP23 failed in many regards to cement the Paris agreement. It was a continuation of the previous year’s rhetorics of targets, mitigation and promises of finance. Alongside the launch of a very public ‘coal-phase out’ agreement (lacking any timeline or actual commitments), there was an absence of any commitments to action by countries in the global North to take action before 2020, lack of detail or agreement on climate finance, a continuation of the paucity of funding for adaptation and no agreement on how to compensate for the losses and damages caused by climate change. Given that the various agreements and pledges made thus far on climate change mean likely future climate change will be between 3-4C, an increase many scientists see as catastrophic, these failures are all the more significant.
The discourse of ‘being on track’ is informed by the protection of assets and infrastructures held in the Global North rather than the preemption of increasing climate events in the Global South. Ample scientific evidence has shown that unless fossil fuel production and consumption is imminently reduced to an extent far exceeding that discussed by world leaders, the possibility of staying below 2C, let alone 1.5C, is extinguished. To this extent, prevention has long been replaced with mitigation and adaptation, which would severely impact upon frontline communities in the Global South, especially those which are already seeing the decimation of land, crops and resources leading to current and future mass migration. For non-frontline Global Northern nations, higher GDPs and longer lead in times make climate proofing a more realistic prospect, and more focus is thus placed on insulating borders and protecting national economies.
The conflict around the terms of loss and damages is a key indication of this disjunction. Adaptation can only help so much, and for those nations already suffering the effects of superstorms, droughts, flooding, and ocean inundation, large scale adaptation may be too late. Compensation for loss and damages is necessary for planning relocation in places facing sea level rise such as Kiribati, or to support the switch to heat-tolerant crops such as from coffee to cacao in South America. The current narrow focus of loss and damages in technical reports means that the reality of climate caused loss and damage does not cohere with actual experience. Attempts by frontline nations to broaden this scope have been blocked by Global Northern countries through the COP itself. While some money has been pledged by G20 countries, this does not take into account that mere insurance will not cover everyone effected for all losses. What is also being seen are collaborations between developed nations with private insurance firms. This means that such firms are gearing up to directly profit off the evermore frequent disasters. For these reasons and more, there is a call by vulnerable countries to frame loss and damages as a political issue, not just a technical one. Doing this would perhaps involve acknowledgment of climate debts and reparations, and would place the issue permanently on the agenda, mainstreaming it into other processes such as capacity building, financing and technology transfers – a call that is unsurprisingly being objected to by leaders from the Global North.
Countries in the Global North are working through the COP to disavow their climate debts through reframing attention on insurance mechanisms and voluntary aids or opportunistic investment. These efforts are accompanied by broader moves to secure scarce resources, as exemplified by land grabs, the expansion of fracking and the development of new fossil fuel pipelines. The brief appearance at the COP of President Trump’s team was emblematic of this, with their focus being on the development of ‘clean’ coal and nuclear energy, and the absence of discussion of either reparations for climate debts, or serious plans to reduce emissions and abate warming. Somewhat disingenuously, the seriousness of the coming catastrophe is directly acknowledged by the countries of the North. It is in evidence in the exponential expansion of border regimes which are aimed at securitizing responses to climate-related migration, and indeed migration more generally. In this way, the adaptive response to climate change entails the architecture of repressive border regimes alongside the design of profitable disaster insurance mechanisms. All of which is done with the express focus on the needs or interests of Northern elites.
The ‘track’ which we are apparently on, then, is one geared towards trapping people in the South so as to both better insulate Northern elites from the costs of, and to even profit from, disasters. This year witnessed devastating weather events around the globe, including devastating flooding in Central Africa, deadly drought in parts of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, and unprecedented hurricanes in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic ocean. These are a likely sign of things to come as we hurtle ever-faster towards climate chaos. It is no coincidence that those who are most vulnerable to these events are those for whom existing COP processes seem to offer little promise. The COPs are structured so as to prioritise the longer term interests of the Global North at the direct expense of the immediate threats facing people in the Global South.
What we have seen from how COPs have increasingly functioned from the beginning is that it operates as a means of containing politics, of shifting political questions into technical ones, not of progressing them. In this regard, we are indeed ‘on track’. As movements and communities around the world recognise, any hope of achieving a just response to climate change needs to go outside or beyond the COP as a process. Doing this allows for scope to discuss the kinds of reparative measures that would support the essential adaptations, and the free movement, required to preserve life for those in the Global South.