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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.”
It’s a bit late, but since there is an interest in it, here is the schedule for the Holy Week celebrations in the Dutch cathedrals. As ever, things may change at any time, but since this information is taken from the various diocesan websites, it should simply be accurate.
Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Cathedral of St. Joseph:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:00: Mass offered by Bishop Gerard de Korte
Good Friday, 14:00: Stations of the Cross for children
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Holy Saturday, 22:00: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 11:00: Mass
Easter Monday, 11:00: Mass
Archdiocese of Utrecht, Cathedral of St. Elisabeth:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass (at the Church of St Mary in Apeldoorn).
Wednesday, 21:00: Tenebrae and Lauds, followed by silent prayer until 8 o’clock the next morning
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass offered by Cardinal Wim Eijk
Maundy Thursday, 21:30 Tenebrae and Lauds
Good Friday, 8:00: Morning Prayers
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross (at the church of St. Augustine)
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Cardinal Eijk
Good Friday, 21:30: Tenebrae and Lauds
Holy Saturday, 16:00-17:00: Confession
Holy Saturday, 21:00: Easter Vigil, offered by Cardinal Eijk
Easter Sunday, 10:30: Mass offered by Cardinal Eijk
Easter Monday, 10:30: Mass
Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Cathedral Basilica of St. Bavo:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass (for both the diocese and the Military Ordinariate).
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Jos Punt
Good Friday, 21:00: Tenebrae
Holy Saturday, 21:30: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 10:00: Mass offered by Bishop Punt
Easter Monday, 10:00: Mass
Diocese of Rotterdam, Cathedral of Sts. Lawrence and Elisabeth:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass, followed by a prayer vigil until 7 o’clock the next morning
Good Friday, 10:30: Stations of the Cross for children
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Holy Saturday: 22:30: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Hans van den Hende
Easter Sunday, 11:00: Mass offered by Bishop van den Hende
Easter Monday, 11:30: Mass offered by Bishop van den Hende
Diocese of Breda, Cathedral of St. Anthony:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass (at the church of St. Gummarus in Wagenberg).
Maundy Thursday, 19:00: Mass, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen
Good Friday, 15:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Liesen
Good Friday, 19:00: Stations of the Cross, led by Bishop Liesen
Holy Saturday, 21:00: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Liesen
Easter Sunday, 10:30: Mass, offered by Bishop Liesen
Easter Monday, 10:30: Mass (at the Begijnhof chapel)
Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Cathedral Basilica of St. John:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass
Good Friday, 15:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Good Friday, 19:00: Stations of the Cross
Holy Saturday, 22:00: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 10:00: Mass
Easter Sunday, 11:45: Mass
Easter Monday, 11:00: Mass
Diocese of Roermond, Cathedral of St. Christopher:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 18:30: Mass, offered by Bishop Everard de Jong (at the Munster)
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross, led by Bishop Frans Wiertz
Good Friday, 19:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Wiertz (at the Munster)
Holy Saturday, 20:30: Easter Vigil offered by Bishop Wiertz
Easter Sunday, 11:30: Mass offered by Bishop Wiertz
Easter Monday, 11:30: Mass
Marking the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, which becomes effective in the evening of 28 February, all Dutch and Flemish dioceses will be offering a thanksgiving Mass for his pontificate. With the exception of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Antwerp, all will do so on the day of abdication itself.
The two metropolitan archdioceses, Utrecht and Mechelen-Brussels, will feature the most extensive celebrations. In Utrecht, a Mass will be offered at 12:30 at St. Catherine’s cathedral, which will be followed by Holy Hour, a sung Rosary, Vespers and Benediction at 6. Whether Cardinal Eijk will attend this day is unclear. Mechelen-Brussels will offer no less than three Masses, all at 8pm: In Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, in Louvain (St. Peter’s) by auxiliary Bishop Leon Lemmens, and in Waver (St. John the Baptist) by auxiliary Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn.
The other thanksgiving Masses will take place at 6pm in Bruges (by Bishop Jozef De Kesel), at 7pm in Groningen (Bishop Gerard de Korte), Breda (Bishop Jan Liesen) and Roermond (Bishop Frans Wiertz), and at 8pm in Ghent (Bishop Luc Van Looy) and Hasselt (Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens). All Masses will be at the respective cathedrals of the dioceses, except in Breda, where the Mass will be offered at the chapel of the Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven, and Hasselt, where the Basilica of Our Lady will host the Mass
The next day, 1 March, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will offer a Mass at 7:30pm, and on 3 March, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny will offer one at 5pm.
In addition to these Masses, parishes, communities and other societies may of course also mark the abdication with Masses or prayer services.
In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:
“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”
I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.
Every now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.
The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.
And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.
And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.
On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.
Cardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. [...] I must say I have very good memories of him.
His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”
Bishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.
We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”
Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”
Just before day broke today, a raging fire reduced the church of St. Clement in Nes, on the island of Ameland, to ashes. Only the walls of the island’s sole Catholic church remain standing, the mayor of the island has said.
The devastating fire comes just two days after the new pastoral team was presented by the bishop. Under the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden’s consolidation of parishes, the local island parish is to be united with several mainland parishes. Parish priest Fr. Paul Verheijen travelled to the island this morning to support the local community.
Bishop Gerard de Korte calls the situation “dramatic”, but expects the church to be rebuilt and the local Protestant communities to be hospitable to the Catholic faithful on Ameland.
The church of St. Clemens was the church where Cardinal Jan de Jong, archbishop of Utrecht from 1936 to 1955, was baptised and where he offered his first Mass. In his days, the territory of Groningen-Leeuwarden was still part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. The church was a national monument, built in 1877 by famed architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the diocese’s cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen.
Congratulations, prayers, best wishes, but above all gratitude to Brother Hugo, who yesterday made his perpetual vows as a hermit to our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte.
A very well-attended Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen was the setting for this very unique occasion. Unique, since Brother Hugo is the sole contemplative religious within the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Invited guests – priests, religious and laity - from both the north and the south of the country, both areas being places where major parts of Brother Hugo’s recent history took place, filled the pews, while the diocesan curia (Bishop de Korte, vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar Fr. Arjen Bultsma and cathedral administrator F. Rolf Wagenaar concelebrated, with many priests attending in choir.
Brother Hugo resides as a hermit in the tiny countryside hamlet of Warfhuizen, where he lives in and maintains the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, housed in the village church. He has done so for the past 11 years.
In Canon 603 of the Code of Canon Law we read the following about hermits:
§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.
§2 Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess, by a vow or some other sacred bond, the three evangelical counsels, and then lead their particular form of life under the guidance of the diocesan Bishop .
What’s described in Paragraph 2 is what the Church, through the diocesan bishop, has now done. In essence, Brother Hugo is now fully a part of the assets of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, not only because he lives his life of prayer and penance under the direction of the diocesan bishop, but also because his prayer and life as a hermit is specifically geared towards the benefit of the diocese and the Church in the entire Netherlands.
And as such, we can be nothing but grateful. Grateful that Brother Hugo has been willing and able to answer God’s call so radically, and for us as members of the Church in the north of the Netherlands.
Photo credit:  O.L.V. van de Besloten Tuin,  Jan Willem van Vliet/DVHN
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the pilgrims from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden during last Wednesday’s audience. Standing next to him is our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte. About the enthusiasm of the younger pilgrims, who chanted his name and tried to sing for him – were it not for an orchestra that decided to start performing at the same time – the Holy Father said, “They are a bit noisy, aren’t they?” He then blessed them. He also stated that the Netherlands is a nation with friendly Catholics. Well, if the pope says so, we must surely try to be.
Two spiritual fathers, one’s own bishop and the shepherd of the entire Church: too rare not to share.
Photo credit: Marlies Bosch
It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.
The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.
In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:
“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.
“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”
The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.
In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:
“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.
Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.
No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.
Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.
Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.
Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”
And about evangelisation, he added:
“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.
Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.
The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”
Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:
“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”
In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:
“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”
In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:
“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”
In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.
Photo credit: ,  Ramon Mangold,  Peter van Mulken