“Commitment to the best of his ability”

Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck is the new Catholic military bishop for the German armed forces. The appointment by Pope Benedict XVI. was announced on Thursday in Rome, Berlin and Essen. In a first reaction Overbeck speaks of an important task, for which he will do his best.

"The pastoral care of soldiers is an important task, especially in today's world," said the new military bishop on his appointment. He thanks the Holy Father for the great trust. "I will do my utmost for the welfare of Catholic servicemen and women and their families," Overbeck stressed on Thursday.

The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, expressed his delight at the appointment. "The choice is a good one, and I am grateful to Bishop Overbeck for taking on this additional high responsibility."The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) expressed a similar opinion. The soldiers are under extraordinary strain, both because of their missions abroad and because of the upcoming structural reforms of the Bundeswehr, in which they are "more than ever" dependent on pastoral care, explained ZdK President Alois Gluck.

The second Ruhr bishop in charge
The 46-year-old Bishop of Essen is the successor of Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa, who held this office until 2010. The episcopal church of the military bishop is the St.St. John's Basilica in the immediate vicinity of the Papal Nunciature in Berlin. Bishop Overbeck's appointment marks the second time that the office of military bishop has been entrusted to a "Ruhr bishop": from 1961 to 1978, the first bishop of Essen, Dr. Franz Hengsbach, Catholic Military Bishop for the German Armed Forces.

In the few months as bishop of the Ruhr, Overbeck has positioned himself – not least in the media – as a man of clear principles. He defends Catholic teaching that homosexual practice is a sin. He is also firmly opposed to demands to abolish celibacy or to introduce the priesthood for women. At the same time, Overbeck is a strong advocate for the socially disadvantaged. He wants to be the audible voice of Catholic social teaching.

The Bishops' Conference made it clear last year that Overbeck was expected to have a special role within the church: against the backdrop of the abuse scandal, it set up a working group consisting of three bishops to coordinate the debate on the state and future of the church. With him: Franz-Josef Overbeck. Especially as a young bishop he sees himself in duty. He points out that he belongs to a generation in which people are no longer naturally church-bound. He sees his task as repositioning the church in an increasingly "profane world" and "helping people to find God".

Ignatius of Loyola joined
Spiritually Overbeck feels connected to the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola. And he also names St. Benedict. In the Benedictine Abbey of Gerleve, he seeks spiritual retreat once a month. The bishop will have to fight for such respite in the future. At the same time, Overbeck, who was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago and survived the disease, knows that clergy also need time off. He likes to seek it with classical music or reading.

Overbeck takes office as military bishop at a difficult time for the Bundeswehr. Again and again, soldiers are killed in foreign missions or return to their families completely traumatized. In addition, the German Armed Forces are to be reduced from the current 250.000 on
180.000 soldiers to be reduced in size. This structural reform also means that the military chaplaincy must reposition itself. Only one of Overbeck's many new tasks.

Germany's youngest bishop
The newly appointed military bishop was inaugurated on 19. June 1964 born in Marl. After graduating from high school in 1983, he studied Catholic theology and philosophy, first at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Munster and from 1984 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The then Curia Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger consecrated him on 10. October 1989 in the church of St. Ignazio to the priesthood in Rome. Overbeck then continued his studies in Rome and, starting in 1990, gained experience as a chaplain in the parish of St. Sixtus in Haltern first experience in pastoral care.

In 1994, he was released for further studies, at the same time taking on the task of director of the German Students' Home in Munster and becoming cathedral vicar at the St. St. Paul's Cathedral. In February 2000, he was awarded a doctorate in Catholic dogmatics with a thesis on "The God-centered human being. A systematic investigation into the determination of man and the "self-realization" of God in the anthropology and theology of the Trinity of Wolfhart Pannenberg" doctoral thesis. In the same year Overbeck took over the direction of the Institute for Diaconate and Pastoral Services (IDP) in the diocese of Munster and became the episcopal commissioner for the permanent diaconate in the diocese. The IDP is the center for all pastoral assistants and permanent deacons. In 2002, he took on the additional task of ecclesiastical assistant for the Community of Christian Life.

Pope Benedict XVI. appointed Overbeck on 18. July 2007 as titular bishop of Matara in Numidia (North Africa) and auxiliary bishop in Munster. Overbeck received his episcopal ordination on 1. September 2007 by Bishop Reinhard Lettmann in the St. St. Paul's Cathedral in Munster and at the same time became resident cathedral chaplain at the High Cathedral Church in Munster. His motto is the first words of the hymn of the Mother of God Mary: "Magnificat anima mea" (My soul praises the greatness of the Lord).

Germany's youngest bishop served as a regional bishop in the approximately 365.000 Catholics active in Munster-Warendorf region. On 29. March 2008, the Munster cathedral chapter elected Dr. Franz-Josef Overbeck as diocesan administrator for the period of the sede vacante, after Pope Benedict XVI. the age-related resignation of Bishop Lettmann effective 28. March 2008 had accepted. With the amption of office by Bishop Felix Genn on 29. March 2009 the office expired.

In 2008, Franz-Josef Overbeck was accepted into the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. The solemn investiture took place in Cologne Cathedral by the Grand Master of the Order, the Curia Cardinal John Patrick Foley.

Member of the Faith Commission
Pope Benedict XVI. appointed Auxiliary Bishop Overbeck of Munster on 28. October 2009 to the Bishop of Essen. The introduction took place on 4. Advent Sunday, 20. December 2009, in the Essen Cathedral.

In the German Bishops' Conference, Overbeck is a member of the Faith Commission and the Commission for Societal and Social Ies, as well as chairman of the sub-commission for contacts with Latin America (especially ADVENIAT) in the Commission for the World Church. Since 2010, Bishop Overbeck has been Ecclesiastical Assistant to the Pontifical Foundation Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP) and a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

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