Meet the archbishop-elect of Brussels, the capital of the European Union

Archbishop-elect Luc Terlinden Archbishop-elect Luc Terlinden speaks at a press conference to present the new archbishop for Mechelen-Brussels, Thursday, June 22, 2023. | Credit: HATIM KAGHAT/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis on Thursday appointed Father Luc Terlinden the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, passing over Belgium’s sitting bishops in favor of a priest.

The archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, the primatial see of Belgium, is considered the most important position in the Catholic Church in the country.

The city of Brussels is also a major center of international politics and the de facto capital of the European Union.

Terlinden, 54, has been vicar general of the archdiocese since 2021. His episcopal ordination will be on Sept. 3 in Sint-Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen.

Born in Etterbeek, a suburb of the city of Brussels, Terlinden entered the seminary after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in commercial engineering, fulfilling a period of military service, and teaching for a short time in a high school.

He was ordained a priest a month before his 31st birthday in 1999 and proceeded to earn a doctorate in moral theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome. His thesis included a study of the writings of St. John Henry Newman. 

The archbishop-elect’s priestly ministry has been marked by an attention to youth and young adults.

At his first assignment in a parish in Louvain-la-Neuve in 2003, he founded an Italian-style oratory for young people, and in 2013 in a Brussels suburb he co-founded a group for students and young professionals called “Pôle Jeunes XL.”

He spent nine years as the head of vocations for the archdiocese and was president of the French-language archdiocesan seminary, where he has also taught moral theology.

Terlinden told the Catholic Flemish magazine Kerk and Leven in 2021 that he had a profound experience as a young priest at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000. While he was in the military as a young man, he also took part in a military pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.

The archbishop-elect is part of the Jesus Caritas Priestly Fraternity, a community for priests inspired by St. Charles de Foucauld, and has a pet dachshund named Oscar.

In his first interview after the announcement of his appointment, Terlinden said he has “a lot to learn” and expressed his support for the synodal process, according to Kerknet, the website of the Catholic Church in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium.

He has chosen “Fratelli tutti” (meaning “all brothers”) as his episcopal motto.

Terlinden succeeds Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, 76, who was from the Flemish region of Belgium.

With the nomination of Terlinden, who is from the Francophone part of Belgium, Pope Francis has followed the custom of alternating Flemish and French-speakers as archbishop of Brussels.

In 2022, some Catholic bishops in Belgium, including De Kesel, announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses — in open defiance of the Vatican’s 2021 clarification that the Catholic Church does not have the power to give liturgical blessings to homosexual unions.

The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions.

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