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Priest returns home as archbishop

From second home in Japan, priest goes back to Europe

Father Hollerich Father Hollerich
  • ucanews.com correspondent, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • September 12, 2011
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Staff and students at Tokyo’s prestigious Sophia University are sad to see the departure of a long serving faculty member, Father Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ. But they will be delighted to see him return to his native Luxembourg as the nation’s next archbishop.

Fr. Hollerich was selected in July and recalls that “the day of the election was really tough. I had to do radio and TV interviews and people were even coming up to me on the street.”

In a ceremony this month, he will swear to uphold his country’s constitution before a government official in charge of religious affairs. The ordination itself will then take place on October 16; coincidentally, his father’s birthday. As a reminder of the land where he served for so many years, Tokyo Archbishop Takeo Okada has been invited to participate.

Luxembourg has a population of about 500,000, the vast majority of them - around 400,000 - Catholic. A diocese was created there in 1870 and it was elevated to archdiocesan status under Pope John Paul II. The population is very diverse: foreign residents make up 43 percent, with Portuguese representing the largest demographic. And every day, 120,000 people commute to the country from France.

Despite the size of its Catholic population, a number of testing challenges await Fr Hollerich. Indeed, when he discusses the current state of the archdiocese, he laments, “it might be even worse off than the Church in Japan.”

Two of the main challenges that await him are supporting priests there and pastoral work aimed at young people. “I want to spend two or three years visiting the priests and talking to them, as well as going to all the parishes and listening to the people,” he says. “Just like in Japan, it has become necessary to incorporate foreign-born priests, so inculturation is also essential.”

In fact, Archbishop-elect Hollerich feels his experience in Japan may well have recommended him for the position. “These days, Europe has become a place for missions,” he says. “That is probably a big part of why I was appointed. I might be the first missionary to become a bishop in Europe - there’s no recent precedent.”

He leaves Japan with a feeling of great pride in the Church he leaves behind. “Japan isn’t limited to just being a destination for missioners,” he says. “Japanese can also do mission work, and I pray that they will do more.”
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