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Just before the weekend, Cardinal Eijk wrote a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Utrecht about what could perhaps be considered the single most divisive topic in the Dutch Church today: parish mergers and the closing of church building.
The letter is, in my opinion, one of the better written outings of a bishop in recent years. Cardinal Eijk starts out by explaining his understanding the pain of seeing one’s church closed, and the role the building plays in the lives of so many faithful.
“It is the church where they let their prayers ascend to God, where they were baptised and had their children baptised, were they were married and were they said goodbye to their loved ones. The church also which the faith community itself saved up for: stone by stone, beam by beam, roof tile by roof tile. Until the church was ready to enter service as the highest attainable purpose for a building: as a House of God and meeting place for His people. The church is the place where we may receive the Eucharist and so can come closest to Christ.”
In recent years, the project of parish mergers in several dioceses has led to communities splitting off from the diocese and choosing their own path. These communities are usually driven by their very strong sense of community which they want to preserve. About that, the cardinal writes:
“There are faith communities where the sense of community is so strong that it acts like a barrier. We must strive to also be a faith community “with the neighbours”. And while a sense of community is a great good, it can’t put up walls. Solidarity transcends the boundaries of local faith communities, because as the human body has many limbs, we are all together in Christ one body. Among us as Christians the sense of community must reach further than the direct environment. What matters is that we desire to grow in unity of brothers and sisters in Christ: not just in our own faith community, but also and especially across the boundaries of our own faith community.”
Cardinal Eijk also devotes words to how the process works: that the initiative of closing churches does not lie with him, but with the parish councils in question, and that no one enjoys such a necessary step. But needs must, as they say, and the reality of today means that we can’t stick our heads in the sand, but that we must face it head on. And that is not always enjoyable.
And at the root of all these considerations? There lies our true support: the Lord Himself. When we become dejected, lose faith and even hope when our church is forced to close, we may find ourselves in the good company of the Apostles. But in Christ there is always hope, even if our home of many years is lost. As Catholics, we have a higher home to strive for, after all.
A good letter, well worth a read. I have an English translation available here
In 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.
Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.
1. Topic of the Catechesis
In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.
The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.
The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ
In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage .In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.
That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” 
As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:
The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” .
The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I [...] have decided to write an ordered account for you, [...] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” .
Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” .
So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!
3. Jesus lives
To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried . The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.
But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen .
That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen , to the Apostles in their home , on the shore of the lake , on the road , and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).
On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.
Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them .
Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel . We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them .
4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus
Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” . Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.
A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” , and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” .
When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil . The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” 
In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” . Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel .
B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.
Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” . In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” .
Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” . And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” .
Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” .
Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent . To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” . And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” . In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” . That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” .
Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus . Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.
5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus
Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:
Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear );
Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.
It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate .
6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ
As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:
Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room  and in the community of the Church;
Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice );
Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel ;
Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.
In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.
7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)
The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:
Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel
Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.
8. Questions to discuss
Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
What would you like to learn from Jesus?
What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?
+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam
Photo credit: P. van Mulken
As the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.
Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:
1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
- 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
- 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
- 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
- 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s College, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.
The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.
Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.
Photo credit: Belga.
Last month I wrote about a curious manifesto from the hands of a group of professors who criticised the general trend of parish mergers in the Dutch dioceses. I wrote then,
“[t]hey warn that mergers, which are ongoing or planned in virtually all dioceses, will destroy the “flourishing, sparkling and adult faith communities, in which lay faithful contribute in modern ways, adapted to local circumstances to faith life and liturgy, in open communication with local authorities” that have sprung up in the second half of the previous century.”
Although the manifesto failed to engender much attention in our outside the Church, apart from certain modernist circles (keen as they are to agree with anything that criticises one or more bishops and their actions), Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden did offer a response today, both in the Nederlands Dagblad and on the diocesan website.
It goes without saying that the bishop is unable to agree with the manifesto’s claims. He especially disagrees with the claim that the parish mergers and general scale expansion is some authoritarian policy, enforced from above. He writes,
“Our country has seven independent dioceses and each bishop has their own approach. Without wanting to write an apololgy, I want to indicate briefly how I have started the process of mergers in the Northern diocese. Following my installation as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden in September of 2008, I conducted a tour of meetings with the pastoral teams and parish councils of my diocese. It soon became clear to me that the more than 80 parishes were not future-proof. Cooperation and mergers are called for to keep as many faith communities as possible afloat. The existing parishes are incorporated in 19 new parishes, which largely coincide with existing parish cooperations and partnerships. This plan, by the way, was not enforced from the top downm but was first allowed to develop for a year. I and my staff have explained the plan as clearly as possible in 19 information meetings, and allowed teams and councils to respond. Their remarks were included in a definitive plan which has to be completed in 2018. Adminstrative upscaling can, by the way, coincide very well with pastoral downscaling. In any case, I didn’t want to authoritatively enforce anything, but I have always wanted to work to create as large a support base as possible.”
This to illustrate the reality of the process, which is quite distinct from perceptions that may exist in several quarters. But to reunite reality and perceptions, Bishop de Korte pleads for an intensive dialogue. “Communication and perseverance”, he writes, are especially required now.
Mergers and upscaling are not a goal in themselves:
“Without wanting to sound panicky, we can say that the advancement of the Gospel is at stake. [...] The purpose of the new diocesan organisation and parish structure is the (renewed) introduction of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our part of the world. There is not time to lose for this task, and it requires every faithful. Especially now, every faithful is called because of their baptism. The faith if the baptism must be lived. That way we can evangelise, with actions and words.”
In a way, it’s nice to be able to look back on a normal month. No papal resignation, no sede vacante, no conclave, no new Pope (well, the latter is not entirely true…). A fairly average number of 8,378 views in April reflects this. Not to say there weren’t any events and posts that did not draw attention…
1: Countdown to papal Twitter launch: 843
2: Léonard’s example in the face of insanity: 290
3: What to learn from the attack on Abp. Léonard: 181
4: A Catholic queen for the Netherlands? & Before Sacra Liturgia, Bishop Rey explains why liturgy matters: 93
5: Six years ago today: 75
6: Papal prayers for a new King: 66
7: Sacra Liturgia 2013 – why liturgy matters: 65
8: Pope Francis and “God spray”: 64
9: The fall of Cardinal Piacenza: 50
10: Synod of Bishops – day nine: 48
And, as ever, the tin cup still rattles, time still equals money and the Pope is, indeed, still Catholic. Don’t forget to support this blog with asmall donation of whichever size you prefer:
Back in 2007, tonight was the eve of Easter, and in the evening I received no less than three sacraments. Six years of being a part of Christ’s mystical body, and still not a regret in sight.
“To have faith means: to make GOD great, to let HIM be great. I see this as the first and most important task for us Christians in our country’s present and its future. That is the most important service which we, as Church, have to offer the people.
Dear fathers, dear mothers, let God be great amid your family, so that your children can grow up in the security of His love.
Dear priests and religious, who have come in such great numbers, who give a witness of the Gospel by your way of life: strengthen the people in the faith and be bridge builders with me for God’s presence in our entire world.
Dear sisters and brothers, who do your work as craftsmen, industrial labourers, farmers, civil servants, politicians, entrepeneurs or whatever: let God be great in your daily work, to the glory of God and the good of the people.
Through your Baptism and Confirmation you all share in the life of Christ and in His mission as teacher, shepherd and priest. He has called and enabled us all to witness of Him; and especially where the Lord has placed us: in our jobs, our families, in business, in public life and indeed also in the office of bishop: various services, one mission, to make sure that God is made great. In this shared concern we are all Church!
As your new bishop, I am willing to lead in prayer and as first evangeliser. But I need you, I need you all. It is not possible with you.”
A passage from the closing remarks of Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer at the end of the Mass in which he was consecrated and installed as the 78th bishop of Regensburg, yesterday. Doing the honours as consecrating bishop was Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, with Archbishop Gerhard Müller (emeritus of Regensburg) and Bishop František Radkovsky (ordinary of the neighbouring Czech Diocese of Plzeň) serving as co-consecrators.
More than 4,000 faithful, among them 400 priests, were present in the cathedral of St. Peter, as well as the basilica of the Nativity of Our Lady to the Ancient Chapel and the church of St. Johann, where a live broadcast of the three-hour Mass was shown. It was also shown live on Bavarian television.
In the wake of renewed media attention for that strange and imaginary concept of ‘debaptising’, and following the Church celebrating the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday, some words by our Holy Father on, you guessed it, Baptism:
“Dear brothers and sisters, what occurs in the Baptism that in a few moments I will administer to your children? It is this: they will be forever united in a profound way with Jesus, in the mystery of this power of his, that is in the mystery of his death, which is the font of life, to participate in his resurrection, to be reborn in a new life. This is the wonder that today is repeated also for your children: receiving Baptism they are reborn as children of God, participants in the filial relation of Jesus with the Father, able to turn toward God calling him “Abbà, Father” with complete confidence. Upon your children too the heavens have opened, and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am pleased. Inserted in this relation and liberated from original sin, they become members of the one body that is the Church and are now able to live in the fullness of their vocation to sanctity so as to have the possibility of eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ resurrection.”
Pope Benedict XVI spoke these words in his homily fo the Mass in which he baptised 20 children, an annual tradition on the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. One of the things we can infer from this is that Baptism is so very much more than a membership act. Having oneself removed from the Church’s records does not break the seal of Baptism, and one will forever remain one of God’s adopted children, adopted out of His own free will. The doors to God are always open, and our “vocation to sanctity” within the “one body that is the Church” remains forever. Whether we’re in a parish’s records or not.