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Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond devotes his Advent letter to the topic of the religious, the people who consecrated their lives and themselves to God:
“Brothers and sisters,
In this time of Advent we begin a new Church year. A year that Pope Francis has declared as the Year of religious life, consecrated life. Religious are not some different breed of people, but just like us, faithful who are living “in the world”, according to the three evangelical counsels: obedience, poverty and chastity.
They live together in a community of brother or sisters, according to a certain spirituality. Sometimes they have come together around a common goal. The communities in which they live are often called monasteries. The religious who lead a contemplative and withdrawn life, do so in abbeys.
It may seem as if almost no one in western Europe joins a monastic community anymore. But there are some 900 religious living in our diocese. Many are elderly and with a great service record, but there is also a significant number of young religious. Recently some new monastic communities settled in Limburg.
Many people associate abbeys, monasteries and monastic life with the long gone days of the “Rich Roman Life”. But nowadays, both in traditional monastic life and on its peripheries, interesting things are happening all the same.
From the media we may sometimes even assume that there has never been so much interest in monasteries, monastic life and products from monasteries. Our Pope Francis himself is a religious. In films and television programs monastic life continues to thrive. After the impressive films “Into Great Silence” about the monks of Chartreuse and “Des Hommes et des Dieux” about Trappists in northern Africa of some years ago, the RKK television series about monasteries and abbeys also turned out to receive good ratings.
Even more remarkable is the (re)discovery of this form of Christian life in Protestant circles. In Friesland a new Protestant monastery was established recently, based on old Catholic traditions. The ecumenical religious community of Taizé manages to draw and inspire more than 150,000 young people every year.
Religious life had and has great value for the Church. Religious were the ones to set the great developments of our western society into motion. They have also always coloured the life of the Church with their social, scientific and cultural initiatives. The Church would lose her variegation and topicality if monastic life were to disappear.
The Church, and with her also the faith, has a bad name for many people these days. But many – including young people – have a desire to connect with a deep and “higher” truth, which is more important than civil truths.
We all know these civil truths: the truth that you have to earn enough money to live or be able to do fun things in order to be happy. I am not saying that these are wrong truths by definition, but for religious and also for me other truths are more important.
Which ones? The highest truth that I know lies in the experience that there is a far bigger world that exists beyond man. A world which calls forth connectedness with God and with people. And one which is given shape in a special way in the birth of the Son of God, which we will celebrate again in a few weeks.
In the experience of the grandeur of creation and humanity the fuel for the religious life is also found. Someone who is sensitive to that experience – and becomes aware of it – feels something that makes everything human insignificant. Earthly pleasures pale in comparison. If you really accept the experience and dare to let go of civil frames of reference, you not rarely feel an appeal to connect in some way or another with that great truth.
The religious and consecrated life is a proven possibility in which the connectedness with God and people leads to unconditional service to the world, experienced from a fraternal or sisterly community.
I call upon all of you to approach both active and contemplative religious life in a positive way. To bring young people also in contact with it and to appreciate our brothers and sisters who chose the consecrated life as fellow faithful, who let the faith prevail in their lives, above all those civil truths of our modern time.
In these weeks of Advent we are at the beginning of the time of Christmas. The time in which we celebrate that God became man. In the past Christmas was concluded with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the Lord (2 February), traditionally also called Candlemas. Since a few years this is also the Day of Consecrated Life.
Following the consecration of God to the people at Christmas, we are then called to consecrate ourselves to God. On this day we want to especially remember the people who dedicated their entire lives to the service of Christ and His Church.
I call upon all the priests in our diocese to invite the religious in their area to take part in the services in their parish(es) on the Day of Consecrated Life. At the same time I call upon the religious of our diocese to visibly take part in the services in the parishes on that day. Their contributions in our diocese are important.
I call upon all of you to pray together in the coming year – and especially on the Day of Consecrated Life – for religious life in our Church . A prayer for new vocations. A prayer in which we ask that the variety and the actuality of our faith and our Church will root itself in the choices of many young people for some form of consecrated life.
In my personal prayer on that day I want to thank God for all the religious, old and young, the sisters and brothers, who are always working unconditionally for the people in Limburg, be they faithful or not.
Looking forward to a year in which we focus on the religious and therefore also their choice to imitate Christ, I wish you a good time of preparation for the feast of His birth.
Roermond, Advent 2014
+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”
On the first Sunday of Advent – which is tomorrow, so happy new year – the Year of Consecrated Life begins in the Church. Although in the Netherlands the presence of religious communities varies per area – from virtually none in the north, to numerous in the south – it is good to remember that they are there, often hidden from view, praying and working for all of us and for the Lord.
Bishop Frans Wiertz opened the Year in the Diocese of Roermond (which is home to some 900 religious) and spoke the following homily.
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” With these words Pope Francis opens his apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium, which has already impressed so many people.
A central element of the words of the Pope is the message that it is Jesus Christ who can fill our hearts with joy. Not a temporary joy or cheap sense of fun, but deep joy which we shall feel through the personal encounter with Christ. The desire for that encounter is something that we may experience once more in the coming weeks. Advent is a time of expectation, a time of hope; a prophetic time too, which lets us look forward to the encounter with the Christ child. “But in my trust in you do not put me to shame,” the Psalm of this first Sunday of Advent tells us. In those words the hope and expectation already resound, which we also hear in the words of Pope Francis when he says that “with Christ joy is constantly born anew”. Every year we experience this expectant time again, in which we go from dark to light. Towards joy.
At the same time we may perhaps consider Advent to be a metaphor for everyone who dedicates his or her life to the service of the Kingdom of God: sisters, brothers, monks and nuns lead a life of Advent. A life in hopeful and prophetic expectation of the encounter with Christ. A life on the way to the light. And therefore by definition a life of joy.
“Where there are consecrated religious, there is joy,” Pope Francis says in the preparatory texts for the Year of Consecrated Life that we open today. With that he does not mean, of course, that every religious per definition leads a joyful life. Because in a sense a consecrated life is choosing a voluntary martyrdom. Your choice for life in a religious community is a radical one. You deny yourselves much: married life, a family, a career in society. In some parts of the world religious even live in very difficult circumstances. These are certainly not to be envious about.
And yet they choose to continue that life. Because they want to life according to the Gospel with the people around them, and so manifest something of the coming joy of the Kingdom of God. I am grateful that there are always people, also in our part of the world, who decide to dedicate their life completely to God.
Our society doesn’t always understand this. Perhaps it can’t be understood when you are not looking forward to God in your own life. When you can’t live from the hope of the coming joy of the encounter with Christ. When you can’t live in Advent. That is why I have great respect for those who do make that choice. Especially for young people who today – against all trends – choose a life that is completely dedicated to God.
In the Gospel of today we are called to be vigilant. This can be interpreted in all sorts of ways. In the context of this celebration I would say: Let us be vigilant that we do not lose the charism of the religious life in our diocese and beyond. The Church needs religious. Throughout the centuries the renewal and the renewed evangelical zest has always been initiated out of religious movements. This will also have to happen now. Whether they will be new movements, foreign religious establishing themselves among us, or perhaps a revival of classical orders and congregations, that is something the future will show.
But it is our task together to create such a climate in which religious life remains possible. A climate in which people can choose a life in Advent, in imitation of Christ and towards the encounter with Him. I invite you to be open to initiatives which allow the joy of the Gospel to be constantly born anew, as the Pope says.
A logo has been designed for the Year of Consecrated Life which includes three words: Gospel – prophecy – hope. Life the Gospel, be prophetic and keep for us the hope, so that many will experience the hope you carry in your hearts. Amen.
+ Frans Wiertz
Bishop of Roermond”
In the time during and following Pentecost, the dioceses in Northwestern Europe generally get new priests, as seminarians are ordained during this time in which the Church remembers and celebrates the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles and His continuing work in the Church today.
The ordinations are spread out across the entire month of June, with the first batch having taken place last weekend. On 6 June, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck ordained Fathers Marius Schmitz (30) and Christoph Werecki (28) for the Diocese of Essen, and on Sunday the 7th the vast majority followed, with 5 new priests in Aachen, 4 in Berlin, 1 in Dresden-Meiβen, 1 in Erfurt, 3 in Hamburg, 2 in Münster, 2 in Osnabrück, 5 in Paderborn and also 5 in Würzburg. Additionally, 6 transitional deacons were ordained in München und Freising, as well as 2 permanent deacons in Trier.
On Monday the 9th, the first of a number of ordinations in the Netherlands took place, of Father Ton Jongstra in ‘s Hertogenbosch. He was ordained for the Focolare movement. On Saturday, 14 June, 2 new priests will be ordained for Haarlem-Amsterdam and 1 for Roermond. On the same day, in Würzburg, two Franciscan priests will be ordained. On 21 June, one priest will be ordained for Utrecht.
Lastly, on the 22nd, 2 new priests will be ordained for Mechelen-Brussels, one transitional deacon for Bruges on the 25th, and a final new priest for Ghent on the 29th
All in all, we’re looking at 41 new priests, 7 transitional deacons and 2 permanent deacons in the dioceses of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The youngest priest is 25-year-old Fr. Johannes van Voorst tot Voorst, to be ordained for the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam; most senior is 63-year-old Fr. Joost Baneke, Archdiocese of Utrecht. The average age is 33 for the priests and 34 for the deacons.
Most new priests and deacons come from the dioceses for which they are ordained, but some have come from abroad. Fr. Alberto Gatto (Berlin) comes from Italy, Fr. Przemyslaw Kostorz (Dresdem-Meiβen) from Poland, Fr. Mario Agius (Haarlem-Amsterdam) from Malta, Fr. Jules Lawson (Hamburg) from Togo, Fr. Jiji Vattapparambil (Münster) from India, and Fr. Alejandro Vergara Herrera (Roermond) from Chile.
Below an overview of names, dates and the like of the latest influx of men who will administer that most necessary of services to the faithful: the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Diocese of Essen: Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck ordains Fathers Marius Schmitz (30) and Christoph Werecki (28).
Diocese of Aachen: Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff ordains Fathers Matthias Goldammer (27), David Grüntjens (26), Achim Köhler (40), Michael Marx (30) and Andreas Züll (38).
Archdiocese of Berlin: Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki ordains Fathers Alberto Gatto (40), Bernhard Holl (33), Johannes Rödiger (33) and Raphael Weichlein (31).
Diocese of Dresden- Meiβen: Bishop Heiner Koch ordains Father Przemyslaw Kostorz (27).
Diocese of Erfurt: Bishop Reinhard Hauke ordains Father Andreas Kruse (44).
Diocese of Fulda: Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen ordains Father Markus Agricola.
^Archdiocese of Hamburg: Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke ordains Fathers Heiko Kiehn (33), Roland Keiss (29) and Jules Lawson (47).
Archdiocese of München und Freising: Reinhard Cardinal Marx ordains transitional Deacons Alois Emslander (29), Johannes Kappauf (28), Manuel Kleinhans (30), Michael Maurer (28), Martin Reichert (26) and Simon Ruderer (30).
Diocese of Münster: Bishop Felix Genn ordains Fathers Jiji Vattapparambil (35) and Thomas Berger (38).
Diocese of Osnabrück: Bishop Franz-Josef Bode ordains Fathers Hermann Prinz (44) and Kruse Thevarajah (29).
Archdiocese of Paderborn: Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker ordains Fathers Christof Graf (28), Markus Hanke (41), Stefan Kendzorra (29), Tobias Kiene (28) and Raphael Steden (26).
Diocese of Trier: Bishop Stephan Ackermann ordains permanent Deacons Hans Georg Bach (59) and Michael Kremer (51).
Diocese of Würzburg: Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann ordains Fathers Andreas Hartung (31), Sebastian Krems (38), Paul Reder (42), Michael Schmitt (31) and Simon Schrott (29).
Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch/Focolare movement: Bishop Jan van Burgsteden ordains Father Ton Jongstra (56).
Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam: Bishop Jan Hendriks ordains Fathers Johannes van Voorst tot Voorst (25) and Mario Agius (31).
Diocese of Roermond: Bishop Frans Wiertz ordains Father Alejandro Vergara Herrera (34).
Diocese of Würzburg/ Franciscans: Bishop Firedhelm Hoffman ordains Fathers Martin Koch (33) and Konrad Schlattmann (28).
Archdiocese of Utrecht: Wim Cardinal Eijk ordains Father Joost Baneke (63).
Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels: Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard ordains Fathers Gaëtan Parein (37) and Denis Broers (54).
Diocese of Bruges: Bishop Jozef De Kesel ordains transitional Deacon Matthias Noë (24).
Diocese of Ghent: Bishop Luc Van Looy ordains Father Herbert Vandersmissen (32).
Photo credit:  ordinations in Aachen, Andreas Steindl,  new priests of Hamburg, K. Erbe
Below is the full text of the homily that Pietro Cardinal Parolin gave yesterday at the consecration of Archbishop Bert van Megen, in the cathedral of Roermond. He gave his homily in English, but since there is no video of this that I could find, I have translated the text from the Dutch translation back to English. Here’s hoping the general intention of it remained intact.
“Your Excellencies, honoured guests, dear Monsignor Bert and family, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
It’s a special joy to me to preside over the consecration of Monsignor Hubertus van Megen, who has been named by our Holy Father as titular archbishop of Novaliciana and to Apostolic Nuncio of Sudan. On the occasion of this joyful event, Pope Francis asked me to share his heartfelt greetings as well as his communion with all present here. It is a time of great joy for all of us who have come together here in this cathedral today, but for you, dear Monsignor Bert, it is a time of gratitude for all the blessing which God has granted you over the years. Today you are surrounded by your parents and family, your friends and your brothers, the priests of this local Church of Roermond. This Church first raised you in the faith, you were ordained a priest for here and here you spent the first years of your priestly ministry. You also bring to the joy of this day the years of studying in Rome and your considerable experience in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, most recently in Zambia and Malawi. You are now called to return all of this to God and serve Him and new way and with greater responsibility. Today you will be consecrated to be a successor of the Apostles, a herald of the Gospel and a shepherd of Christ’s flock, with the special duty of representing the vicar of Christ in his concern for the Church in the entire world, yes, in his care for the entire human family.
The rich symbolism of the rite of consecration eloquently speaks of the continuity of the Church’s faith and life throughout the centuries. Through the imposition of hands and the invoking of the Holy Spirit you will be welcomed to the College of Bishops. This college succeeds in all ages the Apostle to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted the care of His flock. So you, Monsignor Bert, will become a link in a living chain which goes back uninterrupted to Jesus Himself, and will continue to the end of times, according to His promise. It will be your duty to preach the Gospel of salvation integrally, to take care of strengthening the Church community in faith and, by the celebration of the sacraments, to work for the distribution of the Kingdom of Christ in truth and life, holiness and mercy, love and peace.
“Do you love me?”, “Feed my lambs”; “Look after my sheep” (Joh. 21:15-17). Jesus’ words to the Apostle Peter in today’s Gospel are especially applicable to someone who, like Monsignor van Megen, is called to be both bishop and Papal Nuncio. These words remind us that the task of the bishop, his ministry, must first and foremost be based on his personal love for Jesus Christ and his personal relationship with the Good Shepherd. Every day Jesus asks the bishops again, “Do you love me?” In essence this questions is of course also directed to every Christian; each one of us is called to know and love the Lord. During this time of Easter we have contemplated how every one of has died in Baptism and risen to a new life in Christ, how we received the gift of His Holy Spirit and a call to share in the mission of the Church.
But the Lord’s question – “Do you love me?” – is directed in a special way to those who are also called to shepherd His flock with apostolic authority. It is meaningful that the new bishop receives the ring during the rite of consecration, the symbol of His unconditional love for the Lord and His Church, before receiving the crosier, the symbol of his pastoral authority. Pope Francis reminded us that it is the shepherd’s task to go before the flock as its guide, but also to walk with the flock as a disciple, to listen to its voice and sense where the Holy Spirit, the source of every gift and mission, wants to lead it. “For you I a a shepherd,” Saint Augustine said, “but with you I a a Christian” (Serm. 340:1). To be a loyal shepherd requires those virtues that Saint Paul presents in the first reading today: integrity following from a personal conversion, honest and frank witness to the truth and self-sacrifice in service to all, faithful and non-faithful (cf 2 Kor. 4:1-2;5-7).
If all this is true for every bishop, it is all the more true for the bishop who is also a Nuncio, a personal representative of the Successor of Peter, the rock on whom the Lord built His Church (cf. Matt. 16:18). As a concrete sign of the communion of the local Churches with the Holy See in Rome, the ministry of the Apostolic Nuncio is exercised in a manifestly universal sense: in service to the mission of the Church, he is called to promote the unity in mind and heart of the bishops with the Pope, to confirm his brothers in loyalty to the Gospel and the mission of the Church and to foster a spirit of authentic ecclesiastical community in every aspect of the life of the local Churches. He is also called to everywhere encourage those seeds of justice and peace, which are the leaven of God’s Kingdom. For as we know, the Church is the sign and sacrament of a new mankind, reconciled and renewed in Christ.
Dear Monsignor Bert, in the exercise of your own episcopal ministry you are sent as a representative of the Holy Father to Sudan, a country that is dear to him, a country that has suffered greatly in recent years from violence and civil unrest. In unity with the bishops of that country, you will be called to proclaim, in word and example, a Gospel of reconciliation, forgiveness and mercy. In a special way you will also be called to support the Christian community in Sudan, a small flock which nonetheless is very dear to God. Confirm the in their faith and in their loyalty to the great commandment of loving God and the neighbour. In this way you will perform your mission which you receive today: by making, “as a servant for Jesus’ sake”, the glory of God visible as it is revealed in the crucified and risen Lord (cf. 2 Kor. 4:5-7), and by encouraging your brothers and sisters to trust in His victory over the powers of sin and death.
Now that you are preparing for your consecration and your new responsibilities, know that you can count on the mercy that this sacrament hold, on the confidence and prayers of the Holy Father and on our own prayer, friendship and support. We commend you and your ministry to the protection of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a great daughter of Sudan and an excellent witness to the power of God’s mercy to redeem and transform even the most difficult situations. May the Risen Lord always support you in His love and bear rich fruits from the ministry that is about to be entrusted to you. Amen.”
All photos: Bisdom Roermond
An example of the 140,000 prayer cards that the Diocese of Roermond is printing and distributing for the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. While various parishes, especially named for one of the two new saints, will mark the occasion, there is no Church province-wide celebration of next Sunday’s unique event. Whereas the canonisations will be shown in a number of cinemas in neighbouring countries, no Dutch cinema chain has been approached to do so. The general impression among the bishops seems to be that there is little interest among Dutch Catholics. To which I have to wonder: if there is nothing being organised, how can interest be measured…
Anyway, the event will at least be broadcast live on television and via livestream in the Netherlands, and both the state and Church have sent representatives to Rome. The secretary of foreign affairs, Mr. Frans Timmermans will be there on behalf of the government, while the bishops have delegated Bishop Everard de Jong. Some feigned indignation was presented about Cardinal Eijk not going because of other obligations, but that has turned out to be a non-issue in the media. The Cardinal did send out the following letter to the parishes of the Archdiocese of Utrecht:
“On this Second Sunday of Easter Pope Francis will canonise two of his predecessors: the Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Two new saints who are in addition well-known persons for many faithful of today: in this case, it makes the example of saints especially powerful. The 27th of April of this year is therefore all the more a joyful day for the entire Catholic Church.
The Italian Pope John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) was Pope from 1958 to 1963. A period of only five years, but in that time he was able to do an achieve much. For example, he announced, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965. With it, he tried to bring the Church ‘up to date’ under the famous motto of aggiornamento. As Church, we still gratefully reap the fruits of this Council. In 2012, for example, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of this Council in the Dutch Church.
John XXII’s nickname was ‘the good Pope’, in part because of his warm personality, his evangelical humility and his great sense of humour. Many faithful still remember him fondly, but others do so as well, because he appealed “to all people of good will.”. He managed to win over many people, even important Communists at the height of the Cold War. His Encyclical Pacem in Terris – published less than two months before his death – is considered to be his most important; in it he explains that peace on earth must be rooted in truth, justice, love and freedom.
The Polish Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was Pope from 1978 to 2005. He became most known for being a great evangeliser: he travelled tirelessly across the globe to proclaim the Gospel and in 1984 he was the founder of the World Youth Days, which gather millions of young people to celebrate the faith.
His pontificate contributed to a large extent to the fall of Communist rule in the former eastern bloc, including his native Poland. He became increasingly ill in his final year, but continued holding the office of Peter. That he remained in office despite his debilitating illness and was not afraid to appear in public, is a witness to the inviolable dignity of man, which remains under all circumstances, and he so encouraged many people suffering from disease and physical handicaps. Until the end his help and support was the Blessed Virgin Mary, for whom Pope John Paul II cherished a livelong devotion. During his funerals pilgrims asked for his immediate canonisation with the cry of “Santo Subito!” – and less than ten years later that time has come.
Hopefully Pope John XIII and John Paul II can be a source of inspiration and encouragement in faith and life to even more people because of their canonisation.
Hopefully they can continue to contribute to an increasing unity of all Christians and all humanity by their words and deeds during their earthly life and also by their prayer now in heaven.
On this Second Sunday of Easter (also declared by Pope John Paul II in 2000 as Divine Mercy Sunday) united in prayer with the many pilgrims who have travelled to Rome – also from the Netherlands – for this double canonisation. We may have faith in the intercession of these two new saints, also and especially for a blessed future for the Church in our country and our entire world.”
In the meantime, in Rome, the logistics are impressive, as Vatican Radio reports. With hundreds of busses and dozens of chartered airplanes coming in from Poland alone, 2,500 volunteers are working to provide the thousands of pilgrims with four million free bottles of water, 150,000 liturgy booklets and 1,000 portable toilets. Seventeen video screens throughout the city will allow most visitors – who will be gathered from St. Peter’s Square all the way to the banks of the River Tiber – to follow the canonisation.
And one of them will be the Pope emeritus, as was confirmed today. So, two Popes being canonised by another Pope, while a fourth Pope is in attendance. Certainly, one for the history books.
It’s hardly inconceivable anymore, but somehow it is still hard to believe accusations of sexual abuse against a generally well-respected bishop. And when the bishop denies and seems to be supported in that denial by the competent authorities, that is a relief. Just so in this case, but there’s preciously little room for such denial anymore.
A week after the death of Bishop Joannes Gijsen, formerly of Roermond, the institute charged with deciding if an accusation is founded or unfounded reopened the case against him. The bishops was accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse in the time late 1950s and early 1960s, when the future bishop was a young priest. The claims of two victims have now been deemed plausible, it was revealed today. In the first case there are accusations of forced oral sex and attempted or actual rape; while the second revolves around a single instance of improper touching. The complaints commission have decided that the cases of touching are plausible, whereas the (attempted) rape and oral sex can not be proven (which is not to say they didn’t take place, the commission stressed).
Instrumental in this decision was the appearance of a second complaint and the defence of the bishop, which was deemed highly implausible. In his defence, Bishop Gijsen claimed not to know the victim, while he was known to have regularly visited the victim and his family and to have received letters from the victim’s father.
As Bishop Gijsen is no longer alive, there is little that can be done, even if his crimes were not subject to the statute of limitations. Bishop Frans Wiertz, who succeeded Bishop Gijsen in 1993, apologised to the victims and expressed his regret and sorrow. When the complaints were first expressed, Bishop Wiertz immediately notified the relevant authorities and advised the victims to do the same. But even when having done what is possible this late, a feeling of powerlessness remains.
Sexual abuse, however long ago, does not simply go away. It lasts for the victims, and no less for all who have known them or the perpetrator. And when the latter is a priest or bishop, a moral example (even in hindsight), who turns out to have lied about what he did, that is all the worse.
On Saturday Pope Francis appointed Dutch Msgr. Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan. A high-profile appointment, certainly for a Dutch priest. Msgr. Bert van Megen is a priest of the Diocese of Roermond, and that diocese’s Bishop Frans Wiertz considers the appointment “a great honour.” As Nuncio, he will be similar to a country’s ambassador in another country, maintaining contact with the government and also with the local Church.
Archbishop-elect van Megen was born in 1961 in the town of Eygelshoven and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, after studying at the diocesan seminary Rolduc, which produced more than one other bishop. After his ordination, Father van Megen was stationed in parishes in Nieuweinde and Schaesberg, both in the Diocese of Roermond. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service and subsequently worked at Nunciatures in Sudan, Brazil, Slovakia, Israel, the United Nations and most recently in Malawi, where he was chargé d’affaires.
Archbishop-elect van Megen joins a very select club, as he is only the fourth Dutch prelate to represent the Holy See at the highest level in a given country. The other members of this club are Archbishop Bernhard Gijlswijk (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1922 to 1944), Archbishop Adriaan Smets (Apostolic Delegate to Persia from 1922 to 1930) and Archbishop Martin Lucas (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1945-1952, Apostolic Internuncio to India from 1952 to 1959 and Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia from 1959-1961). There are currently two other Dutch-born bishops active abroad: Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, and Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane. In addition, six more are retired.
The Apostolic Nunciature to Sudan was established in 1972 and seven archbishops have preceded Msgr. van Megen there. The most recent was Archbishop Leo Boccardi, who was transferred to Iran in July of last year. Previous Nuncios to Sudan also represented the Holy See in other parts of Africa at the same time, specifically Eritrea and Somalia. While Somalia currently has a Nuncio assigned, Eritrea has not, so Msgr. van Megen may eventually also be assigned to that country.
The Catholic Church in Sudan is covered by two circumscriptions; the Archdiocese of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The archbishop of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako is 73, so Msgr. van Megen will very likely be involved in the appointment of his successor.
About 5% of the population of Sudan is Catholic, mainly in the south and in Khartoum. Officially there is freedom of religion, but socially there is a strong pressure against conversion from Islam to Christianity. The violence and civil war that has affected the country in recent years makes for an interesting first posting for a new Nuncio.
Msgr. van Megen will probably be consecrated soon after Easter, but the location is not yet known, although Rome seems likely. If so, Pope Francis or Cardinal Parolin may well perform the consecration. But Mgr. van Megen has also said that he hopes that the ceremony will take place in the Netherlands. In that case I can imagine that Bishop Wiertz will consecrate him. As archbishop, Msgr. van Megen will hold the titular see of Novaliciana, located in modern Algeria. Previous holders of this see were, for example, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain from 2004 to 2010, and Cardinal Achille Silvestrini when he was Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1979 to 1988
He led a diocese for less than four hours, but Bishop Manfred Melzer probably won’t lose any sleep over it. It is simply standard procedure in Cologne: as the archbishop retires, leadership of the archdiocese falls automatically to the most senior auxiliary bishop. Until, that is, the cathedral chapter has picked a diocesan administrator, and they didn’t take very long to do that. Vicar General Msgr. Stefan Heβe (pronounced “Hesse”) (pictured at right) runs the ongoing affairs of the archdiocese until Pope Francis confirms the election of a successor to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who retired today after 25 years, two months and a few days at the head of one of Germany’s oldest sees.
In 1988, Cardinal Meisner came to Cologne from Berlin, 14 months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Höffner. Today he becomes the first archbishop of Cologne in almost 129 years to retire, and he does so at the almost unprecedented age of 80. Cologne now joins three other German dioceses – Erfurt, Passau and Freiburg in Breisgau – which are also still awaiting a new bishop, in the case of the former two since October of 2012.
Cardinal Meisner leaves Cologne in the hands of diocesan administrator Msgr. Heβe, and Auxiliary Bishops Melzer, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff. The diocesan administrator now had the duty to collect an expansive report on the state of the archdiocese and send that to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. In the meantime, the see of Cologne is Sede vacante nihil innovetur, in other words, while there is no new bishop, no changes may be made. In other respects, Msgr. Heβe has the same rights and duties as a diocesan bishop.
The Archdiocese of Cologne, or Köln as it is properly called, is the second oldest in Germany (only Trier is older), dating back to the year 200, and once dominated the western part of modern Germany as well as major parts of the Low Countries. The Dioceses of Roermond (Netherlands), Magdeburg, Aachen and Essen (Germany) and parts of Liège (Belgium) were at one time or another all part of Cologne.
The archbishops of Cologne were powerful men, in that rather German way that they were both spiritual and worldly leaders, being electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, while not the primatial see of Germany, Cologne remains important, being the largest diocese in number of faithful (some 2 million) and covering a significant part of the Industrial Ruhr area and including the major cities of Cologne, Bonn (former capital city of West Germany) and Düsseldorf. Cologne has produced 10 cardinals and 7 ordinaries who were declared saints.
Joachim Meisner was born on Christmas Day 1933, in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, but at the time the city of Breslau in Germany, which was rapidly falling into the clutches of the Nazis. Having lived through the war as a child and young teenager, Joachim Meisner ultimately became a priest of the Diocese of Fulda in 1962, days before his 29th birthday. In 1975, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, which has been established only two years before (tensions between communist East Germany and the Holy See meant that the former had almost no full-fledged dioceses). Bishop Meisner was also given the titular see of Vina. In 1980, he became the bishop of Berlin, which, because of the aforementioned tensions, was not yet an archdiocese. Bishop Meisner stayed there for eight years, being created a cardinal in 1983, before being called to Cologne in 1980 (a poster welcoming his arrival is pictured at left).
Coinciding with his retirement, Cardinal Meisner published his final Lenten letter, which is also a farewell to his archdiocese and the faithful for whom he was pastorally responsible. He concludes the letter as follows:
Dear Sisters, dear Brothers,
I was allowed to serve you as Archbishop of Cologne for a quarter of a century. I have always wanted to testify to the peace of God and bring this across to you, since it is the strength of our hope. I thank you once again from my heart for all the strength which I found in that and beg you all very much for your forgiveness when my service were not a source of strength, but perhaps a source of irritation. The Lord will complete everything which was only fragmentary in my service. I will remain – God willing – among you until the hour of my death and will now have more time to pray for you all, and bring all your concerns and hopes to the heart of God.
The all-powerful God bless you all, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”
And now? The Archdiocese of Cologne has already started the process of selecting a new archbishop by appointing a diocesan administrator. Possible candidates will now be chosen by several entities, all according to the Concordat that the Holy See signed in 1929 with Prussia, the state of which Cologne was then a part. Among these entities are Archbishop Eterovic (pictured) as the Papal Nuncio; the bishops of the other dioceses which were part of Prussia: Aachen, Berlin, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Görlitz, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn and Trier; and the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The Nuncio will then collect all proposed candidates and will create a list of three candidates which he considers the best choices. This so-called terna will be added to the other proposals and sent to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will draft its own terna based on the information provided. The list will then go to the Pope, who will either confirm it, or make some changes of his own. Then, the list goes back to the cathedral chapter of Cologne.
The cathedral chapter will elect the new archbishop from final terna. Voting continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes (at least 8 out of 15). After three voting rounds, only the two candidates who got the most votes continue. If all candidates have five votes after the second round, only the two oldest candidates continue on. For the fourth round of voting a simple majority is sufficient. Do both candidates still have the same amount of votes, the oldest candidate is elected.
After a new archbishop is elected, the governments of the States of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz can voice political concerns against the elected. The Nuncio must seek and obtain the permission of the elected for this. Once the governments agree, the Pope officially appoints the new archbishop.
In the Diocese of Roermond today, Bishop Frans Wiertz officially closed the diocesan phase of the case of Limburg-born Bishop Frans Schraven. The paperwork, documenting the bishop’s life and the reasons for a possible future beatification, is now to be sent to Rome, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will eventually present it to Pope Francis, who has the final say about what will happen next. The file includes the proposal to declare Bishop Schraven a martyr, which negates the need for a miracle before his beatification.
Franciscus Hubertus Schraven was born in Lottum, Diocese of Roermond, in 1873. At the age of 21 he joined the Congregation of the Mission, in which he was ordained a deacon (1898) and a priest (1899). In that year he departed Marseille for China, and in 1920 he was appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Southwestern Chi-Li in China, and consecrated bishop with the titular see of Amyclae. He led the community which is now the Diocese of Zhengding until 1937, when he died at the hands of Japanese troops engaged in the lengthy war with China that led into the Second World War in Asia.
On 9 October 1937 the Japanese conquered the city of Zhengding where Bishop Schraven was responsible for the protection of some 4,000 refugees, mostly women and children. As the soldiers plundered the city and killed and raped at will. At length, the Japanese authorities demanded that Bishop Schraven hand over some women to fill the soldiers’ need for “comfort”, in other words, to serve as sex slaves. The bishop refused. In the evening of the day that the city fell, Bishop Schraven and nine priests were arrested and deported by truck. It took until 1973 before their fate was discovered: they had been burnt alive on a pyre…
In his homily today, Bishop Wiertz spoke the following words about Bishop Schraven:
“Someone who found out firsthand what it means to follow Jesus, is Monsignor Schraven, for whom we are gathered today. Because of his refusal to supply comfort girls, he chose in favour of a human existence for some one Thousand women. He chose against seeing women as objects, as commodities. With that he also chose for a literal following of Jesus.
When Bishop Schraven met with the Japanese soldiers, he must have realised what the risks of his position were. He literally told the commander, “You may kill me if you want, but giving you what you want, never!” A courageous attitude, which fits completely with what he wrote earlier that year to his family here in Limburg: “Essential is that we are ready when God calls us”.
Sometimes it becomes clear that – surprisingly enough – different times have the exact same needs. Bishop Schraven resisted sexual abuse of women. In many places in the world this sort of abuse still takes place. As Church, as faithful people, it is our task to resist that in the name of Jesus.
In recent years there has been much to do about abuse by people of the Church herself. It was shameful to find that faithful were guilty of something like that. Bishop Schraven shows us that in the Church there have also Always been people who chose the good side, who condemned abuse and even gave their own lives if need be. In Monsignor Schraven we have an example of someone who radically stood up for the protection of girls and women from sexual violence.
Where we are able to support efforts who aim to do the same, we, as Church, can’t fail to do so. We are obliged to do so in Jesus’ Holy Name. Hopefully we are soon able to invoke the intercession of Blessed Bishop Schraven, who gave his own life in imitation of Jesus in the fight against the abuse of people.”