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The Diocese of Roermond reports the passing of Bishop Joseph Willigers, the Mill Hill missionary who was born within the diocese and rose to become the first bishop of Jinja in Uganda. He was 81 years old and had been living in the Mill Hill house in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, since his return from Uganda earlier this year.
Joseph Bernard Louis Willigers entered St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill when he was 19. In 1955, aged 25, he was ordained in London by Cardinal Bernard Griffin and sent to Rome to study Canon Law. Upon his graduation in 1958 he left for Africa to work in the mission. He worked in education and basic pastoral care in Uganda and Kenya and in 1965 as vicar general of the Kenyan Diocese of Kisumu, under the Dutch bishop Jan de Reeper. In 1967 Msgr. Willigers was appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Jinja, east of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. His consecration was performed by Uganda’s first cardinal, Emmanuel Nsubuga. For an impressive 42 years, Bishop Willigers led the faithful of his diocese, until he retired in March of 2010. As bishop, Msgr. Willigers was inspired by the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and was characterised as intelligent, hospitable and warm.
In 2009, he participated in the Synod of Bishops’ Assembly on Africa. His contacts with his native diocese of Roermond continued through the years, as Roermond financially supported projects in Jinja, and as Bishop Willigers had family back home.
Returning to the Netherlands in ill health, Bishop Willigers took up residence in the Vrijland mission house in Oosterbeek, where he passed away in the early morning yesterday, in the presence of his sister. His funeral will also take place from there, on 5 October.
Photo credit: Missionaries of Mill Hill
By word of the diocesan vicar, the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch has released an open letter, addressed to the “parishioners of Someren and Lierop and other interested parishioners elsewhere”, about ecumenism. The aforementioned parishes had earlier cancelled a planned ‘ecumenical Eucharist’, after the diocese said that something like that is not allowed. The explanation offered by Fr. Ron van den Hout (pictured below)should not come as a surprise to anyone with some understanding of what the Church teaches about ecumenism and the nature of the Eucharist.
Below I have translated the core passages of the letter, which can be read in full, and in Dutch, here.
“The Catholic Church encourages ecumenical contacts with Protestant communities. They should get to know each other; they can undertake social activities together; they can listen to the Word of the God and pray together. It is however not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist or Last Supper together. That prohibition has been repeated time and again by the Popes, but also by the Dutch bishops. Why is it not permitted? Because Last Supper and Eucharist, although they both refer back to the institution and assignment of the Lord, are not the same. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made sacramentally present, and that bread and wine truly and permanently become the Body and Blood of Christ. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, this Eucharist is source and summit of the Church’s life. According to Catholic understanding only a validly ordained priest can consecrate the Eucharist. Protestants don’t have validly ordained priests. They do not believe in the true transformation of bread and wine and have a more symbolic understanding of this sacrament. That is the reason why the Church does not allow a joint celebration. She also does not allow non-Catholics to receive Communion and Catholics to take part in the Protestant Last Supper. This in order to prevent confusion regarding this sacrament which for us is the heart of faith.
Misguided ecumenical actions, such as joint celebration of the Eucharist/Last Supper, hurt the unity and do not advance ecumenism, on the contrary. Unity is then no unity of faith, but a unity in feeling. What matters is that we as church communities, and so not so much as individual parishes and communities, learn to discover, through discussion, conversation and study, what the Lord truly intended with His Church and the sacrament of unity. In the meantime we pray in parishes and communities for the Holy Spirit’s help. Only He can bring true unity closer, step by step.”
The diocese’s letter comes in the wake of some discussion which mostly focussed on the perceived authoritative stance of the diocese. Several media have published this letter as a press release, much like it earlier published a critical letter on a local newspaper’s front page.