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Mgr Jozef De Kesel © Wikimedia Commons (Paul Van Welden)

INTERVIEW: Cardinal-Designate Jozef De Kesel: Culture Is Secularized, Yes, But What an Opportunity

“The joys, the pains and the anxieties of the men of today are also the joys, the pains and the anxieties of the disciples of Christ”

Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, is one of men who will be made a cardinal this Saturday.

In an interview with ZENIT, the cardinal-designate expresses his belief that Christians must “accept wholeheartedly the culture in which we are to accomplish our mission: a pluralistic culture, a secularized society.”

“This culture is also an opportunity,” he says, because it enables one to “discover the freedom of the faith.”

ZENIT: Your Eminence, did you expect this nomination?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: I didn’t expect it at all. I was at Monaco for the meeting of Presidents of the European Episcopal Conferences. It was the end, Sunday after Mass. I was already on the bus to go to the airport and all of a sudden bishops came to see me to congratulate me. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know that the Pope had the intention to publish the names. I couldn’t believe it, I never even thought of it …

ZENIT: How do you see this new mission?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: The “creation” will take place on November 19. I will see what is expected of me at Rome. Perhaps I must become a Consultor in a Congregation, but for the moment I don’t know anything. This nomination is a sign of confidence on the part of the Holy See, not only for me but also for our Church in Belgium, which is living certain difficulties, confronted with a secularized culture.

ZENIT: What are your wishes as Archbishop for your diocese?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: My wish here is to revitalize the Church somewhat. I think that we must accept wholeheartedly the culture in which we have to accomplish our mission: a pluralistic society, a secularized society. It is a profound conviction in me. This culture is also an opportunity, a grace for the Church. In fact, previously Christians were led by society itself. This is no longer the case, but this new situation enables one to discover the freedom of the faith. As a pastor, I wish to encourage our Christian communities; I do not want to hold an anti-modern discourse. It’s our society; it’s in this society that we are called to accomplish our mission. We want a living Church open to the world, and a Church that is solidaristic, even if it’s smaller than previously. The joys, the pains and the anxieties of the men of today are also the joys, the pains and the anxieties of the disciples of Christ. I wish for a Church that accepts the culture in which she lives and that is open to the world, while remaining faithful to the treasure she has received from the Lord in the Gospel.

ZENIT: Have you priorities for the work of vocations?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: The question of vocation is also the question of the revitalization of our communities. It’s when there are Christians that vocations can arise. Youth ministry has always implied also a pole of vocations; it’s evident, but the question of vocations is one of our Christian communities in general.

ZENIT: Brussels is also a European crossroads: does this give a particular visage to your mission?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: Certainly. Perhaps this played a part in the Holy Father’s decision to create me Cardinal. There is here the seat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE). I think there will be a mission to accomplish there as Cardinal.

ZENIT: What is your view on Europe?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: Europe is in crisis and it is also a “spiritual” crisis. It’s not simply a Common Market. In the 50s what inspired the Founders was much more profound, much vaster than now: it was the question of peace, of justice. Today the European project is in question, notably with the increase of nationalisms. But I believe that we must continue, I think it’s a very important project. We have a rich tradition; Europe has something to give to the whole world.

ZENIT: How does the Church in Belgium intervene on ethical questions?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: We live in a democratic society, there are laws; it is not the Gospel, or the Sharia or the Torah that decide the law. But the Church is there and takes part in society’s debate. She belongs to the civil society and from this fact she must make her voice heard. It’s not easy for us in Belgium on a number of ethical questions. There is on one side the democratic society that decides and makes the laws and on the other side the Christian’s conscience. Through Christians engaged in politics, we can make our voice heard, be present and take part in rendering society more human, more fraternal. For me ethics encompasses also the question of the poor, the question of the refugee.

ZENIT: Have you met the Pope already?

Cardinal-designate De Kesel: I went to Rome last June 29 to receive the pallium on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. I was able to exchange <words> with him; he knew my name and is very accessible.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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