Coming out of Gemelli Hospital in Rome last Friday, this was one of the important issues that Pope Francis had in mind. “Maybe he even concluded it in his hospital room”, slips Cardinal De Kesel. It has been a year since the latter, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, had sent his letter of renunciation to the Pope, having reached the canonical age of 75 years. Since then, the nuncio Mgr Coppola – the Pope’s diplomat sent to Belgium – has criss-crossed the country, met the faithful, taken notes and sounded out a few candidates for succession. At the end of his investigations, he wrote a thick file and decided on a casting of three priests capable of succeeding Jozef De Kesel and taking up the challenges of the Church in Belgium. The archbishop is indeed the one who takes the helm and coordinates the “conference of bishops”. It is therefore from a list of three names that François chose, at the end of last week, the one who was often cited in the forecasts: Luc Terlinden.
As is customary, after a Dutch-speaker (Cardinal De Kesel), the archdiocese returned to a French-speaker. Following the short passage through Mechelen of Archbishop Léonard from 2010 to 2015, after the “pontificate” of Jozef De Kesel (from 2015 to 2023) marked by the Covid and by long months of illness for him, Rome wanted to appoint a younger bishop who could initiate projects and establish a longer term vision for the Church in Belgium. This is the case with the “young” French-speaking Luc Terlinden, 54 years old. This passing of the baton from one generation to another is all the more significant as the appointment of this Thursday announces a very important game of musical chairs within the institution. It is in Lode Van Hecke (Ghent), Jean-Luc Hudsyn (Walloon Brabant), Guy Harpigny (Tournai) and Pierre Warin (Namur-Luxembourg), who have all reached retirement age, that the nuncio must find successors in the coming months.
The Pope has chosen: Luc Terlinden will be the new Archbishop of Belgium-
If Luc Terlinden was chosen, it is also because he was put in a good school. For almost two years, he has been “going up” to Mechelen to assist Josef De Kesel as vicar general of the archdiocese. Enough to take the pulse of the most difficult cases, to perfect your Dutch and to rub shoulders with all the bishops. However, it still had to make a name for itself in the field of the parishes of Flanders.-
Priest of important steeples (Louvain-la-Neuve and Sainte-Croix in Ixelles), doctor of moral theology, “man of prayer and great interiority” (according to Cardinal De Kesel), Luc Terlinden also has the quality of have worked a lot with young people. With them he set up many projects and was able to follow some of them as president of the French-speaking seminary for five years. While the drop in vocations particularly worries Rome (there will be 8 French-speaking priests ordained and only 4 Dutch-speaking this year), this experience with young people has been noticed.
Finally, whether in Rome or in Belgium, one of the greatest dangers which awaits the Church is that of the fracture. The crisis of institutions and societal divisions ended up affecting Catholics. Especially since times are tough. Secularization obliges them to review their postures, to reconsider their presence in the field, and the synod (a universal reflection) on the future of the Church wanted by the Pope raises some taboos: the place of women, homosexual people, marriage priests… When one questions his former parishioners, the qualifiers of “unifier”, “attentive”, “discreet but attentive”, “anxious to underline the traces of hope”, are those which come up most regularly. Luc Terlinden will have to carry them high to keep the faithful united and to tackle the very sensitive issues (reform of parishes, maintenance or not of places of worship, place of the laity, (bio)ethical issues, etc.) which are already awaiting him on his desk.