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Kamarás István OJD: Francispopery church-reform on the Cserehát


Kamarás István OJD:

Francispopery church-reform on the Cserehát

Budapest, 2017, Egyházfórum, p. 159.

Summary translated by Márton Mesterházy

This book is an amalgam of sociology and utopia, i. e. the amalgam of „what is” and „what might be” though the scene is not a never-never land but a real place, one of the poorest regions of Hungary, and the characters are real people. In his preface to the Church-sociology written on the inspiration of “this also might happen” Miklós Beer, bishop of Vác, writes: “What will be Europe s future, what will be the Church like, in fact, what will the future be like? As a believer, a disciple of Christ, I am daily intrigued, troubled, puzzled by these questions. Harming, excluding, calling to account no one, I trustfully invite everybody to an hour or two of reading and meditating. My companion in our spiritual order, and dear friend has invited me to the game. I accept the role cast on me with the same intention as His “call to adventure”: reform, purity, rejuvenation, in accordance with the miraculous intentions of Our Lord, 500 years after the Reformation.” 

The story starts with the dioceses - to Pope Francis proposal - being divided into three/five parts in order to bring the new bishops closer to their priests and congregations. One of the new dioceses formed from the former Vác Diocese got 33 year old Father Mikó - favourite disciple of the legendary Francispoperist Vác bishop, Miklós Beer - who by then had been his rapporteur in Gypsy matters. His first measure was to offer - in cooperation with ngo-s (nongovernmental organizations) - home and jobs to Muslim refugees coming to our country from Syria and Iraq. Hearing this, the direction of the Hungarian Catholic Church sent Father Mikó (fit as a fiddle) on sick leave of indefinite duration. In the sanatorium, Father Mikó wrote his manifesto For a Francispoperist Church in Hungary!, referring back to a famous event before the end of the 2nd Vatican Synod: the Pact of the Servant and Poor Church of 1965. In that “Catacomb” Pact forty (then five hundred more) bishops of the Synod committed themselves to the Church of the Poor: in which - renouncing any titles or positions - they will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of everyday people, regarding housing, food and means of transportation; renounce all wealth and properties; confide financial and material administration to laymen, in order to be freely bishops, pastors and apostles themselves. They also vowed to be sincere, open and easy to address for any human being, whatever religion he/she believes in. When father Mikó shared his manifesto in Hungarian and in English on Facebook, Pope Francis in a Twitter-message called the Church-reform movement of the young Hungarian bishop “the great hope of our renewing Church”. Thus, the Hungarian Church direction could not avoid appointing father Mikó to head the Cserehát Diocese, formed in the poorest region of the country.

The factual scene of the Church sociologist s utopia, the Cserehát comprises 74 settlements, with four towns, seventeen lesser towns of ten thousand inhabitants or less. In half of the townships less than five hundred, in a quarter three hundred at most, in one fifth less than one hundred people are living. In six settlements at least half of the inhabitants are Gypsies, in fourteen at least a quarter. The population in the majority of the villages in decreasing; increase can be seen only where at least a fifth of the people are Gypsies. Three quarters of the settlements have a Roman Catholic church, two thirds have a Calvinist one, two fifths a Greek Catholic one. At least half of the population of 32 settlements are Roman Catholics; 19 settlements have a Calvinist, 14 a Greek Catholic majority. However, in contrast to 12 Roman Catholic priests, 13 Greek Catholic, and 16 Calvinist pastors are active in the Cserehát; i.e. a Calvinist believer gets twice as many, a Greek Catholic one six times as many priests, as a Catholic one.

Characteristic of the region s ecclesiastical life: only every eighth of the Catholic parishes, every fourth of the Calvinist vicarages, every second Greek Catholic parsonages has a home-page. 

True to the spirit of the Catacomb Pact, father Mikó did not move to the hunting manor-house of  Vadászberény singled out for him, but to the vacant parsonage, where he kept house and drove a car of modest make himself. His sacristan was an adopted, mentally retarded young man, who was happy to take care of the lama (favourite animal of Pope Francis), a present of the Pécs Zoo. The third member of the diocese was a young Sacré Coeur nun, with a degree of marketing/management beside the one in theology, as episcopal secretary. When father Mikó unequivocally told his fellow priests that he would like to put into practice in the Cserehát what he stated in his manifesto, they were simply taken aback. He visualized a poor Church, built up from communities and serving the poor; (something like the one Ferenc Tomka tried to form after the political change of 1989 in Káposztásmegyer, a Budapest housing estate without a church, who began in a block-flat to build up - from person to person, from group to group - his believers community.) Father Mikó assured his colleagues: he would like to put all this into practice in discussion with the people here, in the framework of a permanent diocesan synod. He would like to form the various (conservative, fundamentalist, reformist, charismatic, francispoperist) Cserehát Cathlics into one brotherhood in the spirit of Pope Francis, in whose opinion sinful are those Christians who stop at the philosophy of “it has always been done this way”, who, falling into the sin of sorcery and idolatry, stick with the mentality of “it has always been done this way”, who close their hearts to the surprises of the Spirit. For a first step he proposed, to everybody s bafflement, - what cultural organizers have successfully tried in three villages of the Bakony mountains, then later the bishop of Kaposvár in his own village - to map demand and supply, i.e. to knock at each door, ask and record who is adapt at what, who could and would like to give what, then who would like to know, learn to do what. The next day four of the 12 Cserehát priests asked for either transfer or treatment; for replacement father Mikó invited two one-time priests (with their wives) to head their parishes and hold liturgies of the Word; the only married deacon of the diocese also got an independent parish. Father Mikó went to see the mayor of Vadászberény; he had great difficulties in explaining him his wish (as “His Holiness”) not to have a residence built, but at most a future ecumenical center of spirituality, which would serve as a home for pilgrims, spiritual retreats, or a creative house, furthermore offer programmes to all the people in the region. 

The single fact that the cleric and lay pastors went to knock at the door of their local faithful, who at long last could boast of something, in many cases „their paltry wants”, started the Cserehát self-respect reform. And after meeting supply and demand, and posting the Who would give what?” registers, quite unexpected processes began. In at least two dozen settlements, people ready to share their knowledge started courses and study-groups in: strudel baking, sausage filling, bird-call imitating, dress painting, bee-keeping, watch-repairing, joke-telling, toast-mastering, fur-repairing, pleating, car-repair, poppy dumps baking, grinding, portrait-drawing, willow whistle and procession torchlight making, horror-story telling, poem writing and reciting, music making, juggling, gardening, application writing, language teaching, prayer-service, and, of course, film and dvd rental. 

            Smaller-larger communities soon formed - mainly self-organized, and with some help of the diocese -: computer and other study groups, reading circles, Bible circles, prayer circles, talk-circles, music bands, card companies, techno-house parties, angler and mushroom-picker clubs. Several settlements formed groups for visiting the lonely old and the very poor, calling themselves the Visitors. A poetry and a drama group formed, and (autonomously, though with support from the episcopal secretary) a venture was launched, for selling the „inventions” found marketable from the supply of the “Who would give what?” registers. The first profitable action was finding buyers for wind-proof procession torchlights in several hundred parishes.

Father Mikó tried to convince his colleagues of Christianity, in spite of its many failings, having been an innovation of world history importance, because it created also the possibility of Church and religion criticism. Christianity, with an original concept of the relation between person and community, has enabled us to avoid the traps of both individualism and collectivism. However, he thought the era of „the Christian society” (characterized by the interlocking of Church and state), in which the Church was a system for the conservation of the structure; and its place had to be taken by a Church which would be a community of Christ-believers, in which a person would be neither private entity, nor serial product, but a responsible, politically active character in his/her society.   

In his mind, the believer communities of the new Church should take the form of voluntary organizations, in the multicolour, multiprinciple, multireligion societies of nowadays world. They all could see that their supply-demand action proved the first successful step of the Cserehát Church reform, because it tore up apathy, impassivity, needlessness. He managed to assure his colleagues: he would not meddle in party politics; only serve the common good and the poor, defend interests and values, not coercively but energetically, in the spirit of Pope Francis, who urged us to make “a stirring up of things that will give us a free heart, that will give us solidarity, that will give us hope!” and in the spirit of the  Francispoperist bishop Miklós Beer, who wishes for a Church reform that definitely contradicts both “self-amusing salon-Christianity” and the model of “a service-center Church”. Father Mikó also urged the Church to refrain from demanding money for (as Pierre Bourdieu calls them) “the goods of salvation” - i.e. a mass, the benediction of a tombstone, a funeral, the celebration of a marriage, a chime of bells. They often discussed/debated about how the relation of institution and charisma should work out in the Church - when (as Max Weber described the process) in the course of institutionalization, the organization falling in love with the means of power inescapably moves apart from its original charismatic spirit. 

Clerical colleagues of father Mikó were vexed, understandably, by the replacement of the missing priests. When father Mikó’s opposition - constantly in respectful discourse with him - proposed inviting Salesian monks from Indonesia, the majority dismissed it. Many thought there was no progress to be expected until married priests could also be chosen together with the celibate ones; as many men would not get the charisma of celibacy together with the charisma of vocation, many agreed, the Church would lose a number of good potential priests. Father Mikó saw this otherwise.

            First, he asked his colleagues to map those parish groups which might develop into Church communities able to function without a priest. Then he asked them to look for, within their congregations, people who were more adept in some segment of a priest s work (organization, community-building, social work, teaching, spiritual mentoring, consolation, missionary work) than their own priest. It was partly from among them who became apostles - animators of communities counting 30 to 50 believers. A type of training had to be found which would be neither some crash-course clergy-training, nor specialized training for some activity of apostleship (e. g. youth work, pastoral work for families and Gypsies) - because the chief task for them would be building a community; however, sooner or later each of them had to take on priest work like liturgy of the Word, spiritual conversation, burial and baptism, but that would require a secondary school degree at least. Half of the sixty apostles were women, and - on account of the secondary school degree required - only one fifth of them were Gypsies. Apart from them, some twenty to thirty people would have been ready to go to school again in order to become apostles sooner or later. The Alsóebergény Greek Catholic grammar school assumed the task of leading them up to graduation. When father Mikó asked the candidates of this apostle training (aged from twenty one to seventy) whether they had a wish to become priests - in case Pope Francis permitted their ordination – two dozen of them said yes. For those two dozen special training was organized – with the assistance of priestly teachers ready to help - in order to prepare them for passing the exams of the theological academy working in bishop Miklós Beer’s diocese. 

            The liturgy of the Word led by the apostles was simply called holy Mass by the congregations. In a way they were right, as everything went exactly the same way as in a „regular” Mass, though the „officiants” were well aware of having no authority to officiate. The rule was to say the full text of immolation, but to introduce this part of the Mass with the sentence: „at this moment the priest will say”. The pastoral gremium gave their blessing to that piece of apostleship, though some objected to certain moments of their pastoral work in youth communities. Playful ideas recommended for youth gatherings like “Let s send an SMS to Our Lord God!” or “What would you borrow from Our Lord God?” or “Write a legend about “Our Lord Jesus wanders through the Cserehát with saint Peter” and perform it!” were found at least acceptable (or even brilliant); but ideas like “Is the Blessed Virgin glad when we fall in love?” or “May a catholic married couple celebrate a religious holiday with love-making?” Or “Can we have a techno-house party in the course of a spiritual retreat?” proved to be too much of a good thing for some of them.

                Parish priests, with the 10-12 apostles belonging to them, formed lesser communities, i.e. a parish was made up of 10-12 apostleships. The Cserehát reform-diocese also tried to broaden and deepen Ecumene in the spirit of the Catacomb Pact. They agreed quite soon in the expediency of the three denominations working together in some tasks, first of all poor relief; but bishop Mikó took a much hardier step when he proposing his colleagues to encourage their congregations: attend the worship of either of the two other denominations, wherever there is no Sunday Mass of their own. To prove the progress of Ecumene, the pastors of the three denominations wrote an ecumenical litany for All Hallows, viz.: “Saint Martin Luther, pray for us! Saint John Calvin, pray for us!  Saint John Wesley, pray for us! Saint John Sebastian Bach, pray for us! Saint Mahatma Gandhi, pray for us! Saint Martin Luther King, pray for us!”

            First every month, then every other month, then quarter-yearly, a „synodal whatever” was organized, where anyone could propose, object to, offer anything, where anyone could ask or ask for anything. This form of a public occasion was quite soon taken over by other denominations, and at several places inter-denominational whatevers were also held. Soon after council whatevers also began, then combinations of lay and Church whatevers also came about. 

            It was easy to see that the cause of the Cserehát Church reform was to a great extent „Gypsy affair”, thus the problem was given high priority. It was evident that it was practically impossible for young Gypsies to go to university, to become a white collar worker from a segregated region; even getting to a grammar school was very difficult, to a technical college more or less possible; while getting to a training college quite possible. Together with local teachers they agreed it was no use pushing over-age, class-repeating, bored, ruffling youths into the traditional schooling system - some other type of training would be needed where they would feel motivated. They thought such youths might learn professions to be picked up in, say, one year and a half, besides computer practice, driving and English; hoping the youths might take a liking to interesting lessons in the knowledge of human nature.

Father Mikó (as in his former job) made a point of offering a home to Syrian refugees, and he found partners for the aim in the mayor of Vadászberény and the people there. The eight Syrian families (two Orthodox, two Catholic, four Moslem) were found in a Turkish refugee camp: they had nothing left at home, and were happy to come to the Cserehát. All of them knew Arabic, a language one colleague of father Mikó was diligently learning. Integrating the refugees was successful beyond hope, partly due to the fact that the Cserehát Gypsies learned English from the Syrians. On the model of the House One in Berlin, a house of unity was built in Vadászberény, which – extending the Ecumene also to non-Christian religions – was named Ecumenical temple. Later it was simply called Lily, as the building was shaped like a lily - a symbol which could be considered both Christian and Moslem. Its six petals - six places of worship opening from the central circle, God s temple - served the Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics, the Syrian Catholics, the Calvinists, the Pentecostals and the Moslems. (The latter naturally faced to Mecca.) Religious symbols could only be found in the chapels; the centre, God s temple, was lit by the natural light of the dawn, day, evening and night sky only.

The most important result of apostleship - beside the parishes built on living communities of 30-50 believers - by the end of the third year of the diocesan Church reform, was the fact that – though the proportion of the poor was hardly diminishing – nobody was famished or freezing any more in the Cserehát. As another palpable result, the monetary conditions of the diocese improved to such an extent that father Mikó could keep his promise: in the Cserehát “the goods of salvation” did not cost money. The leaders of the diocese fully informed the congregation about material matters, they could get to know, from item to item, what the functioning of an apostolic community, a parish or the complete diocese cost. After three and a half years the Cserehát Church reform proved so convincing, that Miklós Beer, bishop of Vác, sent there his ordinands for pastoral practice, and his good friend, Tamás Fabiny Lutheran bishop followed his example. 

            In the middle of the fourth year, a visitatio canonica took place in the Cserehát diocese, covering this time exclusively the investigation into the work of the Cserehát diocesan bishop. The committee of ten, made up mainly of canonists, reluctantly took notice first of all of the fact that in this diocese neither the bishop, nor any of the clerics dealt with money matters. With no small surprise they got to know there was no vacant parish in the Cserehát, they could find even in the filiae apostles living on the spot (or very near), who held liturgies of the Word (called „holy Mass” by the believers) every Sunday and holiday, but also went to see families for praying together, for a “spiritual conversation” on weekdays, generally during dinner. The number of confessants was neither smaller nor bigger than earlier or elsewhere, on the other hand the number of spiritual conversations was astoundingly big. When the visitators asked his fellow priests and the apostles about their bishop, the answers reminded them mostly of hagiographies. Of course, father Mikó could have been suspended for a fraction of his legendary acts. For his interactive homilies, for example, or for the fact that no-one had ever seen him with the mitre or the crozier. His only significant opposition testified that father Mikó never gave commands, nor even orders, but discussed everything with everybody, never coercing anyone to anything, for example he relieved him (knowing his practice so far) of the obligations of the diocesan reform. At last the visitation committee asked the bishop of Cserehát to show them his mitre. Father Mikó repentingly admitted he had no idea where he had put it. As a result, of course, the visitation committee unanimously proposed the Hungarian episcopate to discharge father Mikó.

            Father Mikó had counted on this, and the idea of the Order of Cserehát Church Reformers had formed in him already a year before. He had sent his project to Pope Francis, who at once gave it his blessing; thus the week following father Mikó s discharge, the order had 15466 members, the majority of  the practicing Catholic believers of the Cserehát. Members of the order called themselves simply reformers at first, then – considering the Calvinists – Francispoperists. The successor of father Mikó had very few “disorderly” believers left. This is the state of the Cserehát Church reform, presently carried on by the collectively led Francispoperist Order; as Pope Francis has asked father Mikó to work in His environment.






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