November 2021 #1 – female firsts for Lutherans and Vatican

News in brief.

First woman to lead the Lutheran World Federation. Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt from the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church took up her new role as General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) on 1 November. Burghardt grew up in Estonia during the Soviet occupation, and while her grandparents had been active members of the Lutheran church, her father, along with her aunt and grandmother, were deported to Siberia in 1949. Rev Dr Burghardt was previously Head of Development for the Estonian Lutheran Churches Institute of Theology in Tallinn, as well as advisor to the church for international and ecumenical relations. 

First female head of Vatican government. The pope has named Raffaella Petrini as secretary general of the Vatican government. The Italian nun will be responsible for overseeing administrative operations, including the Vatican museums, the post office, and the police. The role is traditionally held by a bishop. In the past few months, the pope has named several women to high-profile positions, including Alessandra Smerilli as Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and as a delegate of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission, and Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. 

No Covid-pass for church services in the Netherlands. A raft of new measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid were announced this week in the Netherlands. But unlike France and Switzerland, the country stopped short of introducing the Covid-pass for services. A Covid-pass vaccination certificate is, however, required for choir practices.

Spotlight on Leuven.

Sint-Antoniuskapel (Hasseltweg 263). Founded in 1299, this chapel has become a site of pilgrimage since the remains of Saint Father Damiaan, who died in Hawaii, were reinterred there in 1936. The chapel had over the centuries been home to several religious orders, but had been purchased in 1860 by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers), coincidentally the same year in which Father Damiaan was admitted to the religious profession. The steady stream of pilgrims to Father Damiaan’s tomb meant the Picpus Fathers were required to make significant architectural improvements to the chapel in the 1960s. 

Sint-Michielskerk (Naamsestraat 57a). Built in the mid-1600s, this flamboyant Baroque-style church was modelled on Il Gesù in Rome, the “mother church” of the Jesuits. The striking white granite facade is recognised as one of the Baroque masterpieces of Europe. 

Sint-Pieterskerk (Grote Markt 1), centrally located on the Grote Markt, this Brabant Gothic church has been rebuilt and modified many times in its history. In the early 1500s, building work began on three spires, which would have made it the tallest building in the world at this time. However, structural problems and lack of funds meant they were never completed. The church suffered further damage in both WWI and WWII. It is home to several renowned works by Flemish master painters, including The Last Supper by Dirk Bouts.

Saint of the week: Willibrord

On 7 November, the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church and Eastern Orthodox Church celebrate the feast of Saint Willibrord, a saint whose life exemplifies centuries of the historical interconnectedness of Christianity across Europe. Born in Northumbria in around 658, Willibrord spent his early life at the Abbey of Rath Melsigi in Ireland. From there, he was sent as a missionary to the Frisians, where he established several churches, including a monastery in Utrecht, thereby becoming the first bishop of the important seat of Utrecht. He also established an abbey in Echternach, where he was said to have been buried. The city of Echternach is renowned for its annual dancing procession held in honour of Saint Willibrord every Whit Tuesday. The Echternach “hopping procession” is recognised by UNESCO as an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and draws pilgrims from across Europe.

Looking ahead.

This Sunday, 7 November 10.00 to 11.00 CET, the American Cathedral in Paris will hold a forum titled “A City Scarred by Religious Strife: Paris and the Protestant Reformation, from Conflict to Communion”. 
On Monday 15 November from 17.00 to 18.30 CET, on the occasion of the Fifth World Day of the Poor, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) will host an online webinar “Listen to the Cry of the Poor in the context of COVID-19 and its recovery”.

Picture credits. Photo of Leuven by Thomas Bormans | graphic design by European Churches Chronicle.

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