First, now that all bishops have arrived in Rome, the group shot:

bishops st. peter's  square

As is typical of Pope Francis, the Dutch bishops were not treated to his prepared speech, but to a 90-minute heart-to-heart. This audience, which for the Holy Father was preceded by a meeting with the Israëli prime minister, and for the bishops by one with Archbishop Beniamino Stella, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (of which Cardinal Eijk is a member), was widely anticipated by the bishops, and that anticipation was justified, considering their reactions afterwards (more on that in a later post).

While Pope Francis chose not to give his talk, he did hand the text out to the bishops at the end of their meeting. I present it below in English:

Dear brothers in the episcopate,

In these days in which you are making your ad limina visit, I greet each of you with affection in the Lord, and assure you of my prayers, so that this pilgrimage may be full of mercy and fruitful for the Church in the Netherlands. Thank you to the dear Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk for the words he addressed to me on behalf of you all!

Let me first express my gratitude for the service to Christ and the Gospel which you perform, often in difficult circumstances, for the people entrusted to you. It is not easy to maintain hope in the challenges that you are facing! The collegial exercise of your office of bishop, in union with the bishop of Rome, is necessary to grow in this hope, in true dialogue and effective cooperation. You are doing well to consider with confidence the signs of vitality which appear in the Christian communities in your dioceses. These are signs of the active presence of the Lord amid the men and women in your country, who expect authentic witnesses of the hope which gives life to us, the hope which comes from Christ.

With maternal patience the Church continues her efforts to answer to the needs of many men and women who, confronted with the future, experience anxiety and discouragement. With your priests, your co-workers, you want to be near to people who suffer from spiritual emptiness and who are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they do not always know how to express this. How else could you fraternally accompany them in this search, than by listening to them and share with them the hope, the joy and the means to go forward which Jesus Christ gives us?

That is why the Church wants the present the faith in an authentic, understandable and pastoral way. The Year of Faith was a good opportunity to show how much the content of faith can unite all people. Christian anthropology and the social teaching of the Church are part of the heritage of experience and humanity at the root of European civilisation, and they can help to reaffirm the primacy of man over technology and structures. And this presupposes openness to the transcendent. When the transcendent dimension is suppressed, a culture becomes impoverished when it should display the possibility of a constant and harmonious unity between faith and reason, truth and freedom. The Church, then, does not only offer unchanging moral truths and attitudes that go against the ways of the world, but offers them as keys to good human and social development. Christians have a special mission to answer this challenge. The formation of conscience becomes a priority, especially through the formation of the ability to judge critically, all with a positive approach to social truths, so that you avoid the superficiality of judgement and the withdrawing movement of indifference. So this requires that Catholics, priests, consecrated persons and laity, are offered a thorough and high quality education. I strongly encourage you to join forces to answer to this need and so enable a better proclamation of the Gospel. In this context the witness and dedication of lay people in the Church and society are important; they have an important role and should be strongly supported. All baptised Christians are invited to be disciples, missionaries, wherever they are!

I encourage you to also be present in public discourse in your society, heavily characterised by secularisation, in all fields where it is suitable for man to make Gods mercy and His grace for all creatures. In today’s world the Church has the task to repeat the words of Christ without ceasing: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:38). But let us ask ourselves: whom of those we meet, meets a Christian, sees something of Gods goodness, of the joy of having found Christ? As I have said often, the Church grows through an authentically experienced episcopate, not through proselytising, but through attraction. She is being sent all over the world to shake up, shake up and maintain hope! Hence the importance of encouraging your people to grab the chances for dialogue, by being present in the places where the future is decided; where they can contribute to the debates about the great social crises concerning, for example, family, marriage and the end of life. Today more than ever we feel the need to go forward on the way of ecumenism and to invite to a true dialogue seeking the elements of truth and goodness, giving answers inspired by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit encourages us to go beyond ourselves and towards others!

In a country that is rich in so many ways, poverty affects a growing number of people. Increase the generosity of the faithful to bring the light and grace of Christ to the places where people are waiting and especially to those most marginalised! The Catholic school, offering young people a decent education, will continue to promote their human and spiritual formation in a spirit of dialogue and companionship with those who do not share their faith. It is important, therefore, that young Christians receive quality catechesis which maintains their faith and brings them to an encounter with Christ. Sound education and an open mind! That is how the Good News continues to be spread.

You know very well that the future and vitality of the Church in the Netherlands depends also on the vocations to the priesthood and religious life! It is urgently needed that an attractive vocations ministry be set up, and the road towards human and spiritual maturity of seminarians be guided, so that they can experience a personal relationship with the Lord which is the foundation of their priestly life! Let us also feel the urgency to pray to the Lord of the harvest! The rediscovery of prayer in many forms, and especially in Eucharistic adoration, is a source of hope for the Church to grow and take root. How important and essential it is that you are close to your priests, available to support them and lead them when they need it! Like fathers, take the time to welcome them and listen to them when they ask for it. And also do not forget to find those among them who do not come; some of them have sadly forgotten their obligations. In a  very special way, I want to express my sympathy and assurance of my prayer to everyone who is a victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue supporting them on their painful road to healing, which they are travelling bravely. Be considerate in responding to the desire of Christ, the Good Shepherd, have the intention to protect and increase the love for the neighbour and the unity, in everything and among everyone.

Lastly, I want to thank you for the signs of vitality with the Lord has blessed the Church in the Netherlands, in that context which is not always easy. May He encourage and strengthen you in your delicate work of leading your communities on the road of faith and unity, truth and love. Be assured that the priests, religious and laity are under the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. I gladly impart to you my Apostolic Blessing as a sign of peace and spiritual joy, and ask you in fraternity not to forget to pray for me!

Catholic TV station RKK supplies the following footage of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis, Cardinal Eijk’s address, and the end of the meeting.

Photo credit: Bisdom Roermond on Facebook

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