Pastoral Letter 2011 of Bishop Peter Bürcher

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I find the statue of Christ the King in our Cathedral in Reykjavík ever more beautiful. It is wonderfully beautiful! What does it tell us?

Pope Pius XI gave our Church some special gifts and two of them we can see there. Over the High Altar there is a statue of Christ, standing on the terrestrial globe. It is the original, carved into cedarwood. There are no other copies in the world, since the artist, Gampanya from Barcelona, prohibited all replicas of the statue.

The present of the Pope is an honour to us all. In Reykjavík we have the northernmost Cathedral of the Catholic dioceses of the world. The Pope is thus interested in everything to the end of the world, right up to the high north. He has “anxiety for all the churches” (cf. 2Cor, 11, 28). Without attachment to the Pope there is no Catholic Church in the true sense of the word. Maybe this is also demonstrated by the two colours of our statue of Christ the King, white and yellow, which are indeed the colours of the Vatican. In addition to that comes the colour of silver. When we think of our aluminium industry this colour of our statue of Christ the King might suggest to us its Icelandic identity. For all the joys and sorrows of a people are those of the Church. This is from the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (Gaudium et Spes, 1).

There Christ stands on the globe, his throne. Therefore his left hand holds the sceptre of the King of the Universe. The right hand of Christ is fully stretched out, and blesses the world. Isn’t this wonderful? The blessing is for all people of good will. “Glory to God in the highest, the angels sing, and peace be with those that are of good will!” The peace is so important today, both in our homes and in the whole world. In these times we think of all the victims of violence, especially in the Middle East but also in other countries where many people have been killed. This is terrible and it should never happen again, especially not in a church! Everyone should respect the hand of God. Christ wants to be the King of all of us, whatever our religion.

What also impresses me in the contemplation of our beautiful statue of Christ the King is the crown. It is not a normal crown as with most kings. Here Christ carries a crown that is more like a crown of thorns. The Gospels (Matthew 27, 29, Mark 15, 17 and John 19, 2), tell us about the Roman soldiers crowning Jesus of Nazareth with a crown of thorns. The soldiers gave him satirical symbols of a king, a staff for a sceptre, and they put a scarlet robe on him as they mocked and mishandled him. All of this Jesus suffered for us sinners with great compassion. For he is a King who gives us his love and even his whole life. Christ’s crown of thorns is however beautiful because it points to the glory of the Lord. He will return in glory, as we confess with the whole Church in our creed. “Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved” (Gaudium et Spes 10).

Our statue is not static. It is full of movement. Since the reorganization of the liturgy the Feast of Christ the King is held at the end of the liturgical year. That is supposed to make it clear to us that the goal is the elevated Lord, towards whom the pilgrim people of God is going. Am I, are we now on that road? The yearly Lenten season is for us all an urgent  appeal of conversion to Christ. The words of the two criminals who were crucified with Christ essentially reflect two images of the kingdom: whilst one of them mocks him as a Messiah or a king who cannot save himself, the other recognises in the powerlessness of the crucified one the real power of the king, and surrenders to his mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters, do we, the Christian people of the world, not still appear weak and less than convincing? And evil still seems to have the upper hand. The believing eyes of the criminal, who was crucified with him, were needed to recognise the Kingdom of Christ, which should develop in concrete love in our daily lives.

We believe in a mocked King, a King with a crown of thorns, a King on the cross, as absurd as it might seem to many people. We celebrate him because in his powerlessness on the cross another power emerges: the power of the love of Christ, the never-ending love which is wonderfully beautiful, like the statue of Christ in our Cathedral in the north. Our King and Lord awaits us all. We should not be afraid to approach him, with great love for him and at the same time for our fellow human beings. Amen.

+ Peter Bürcher, Bishop