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Just because I can, a news roundup from the Dutch dioceses. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the various corners of the Church province.
Led by Cardinal Eijk, some 100 faithful from the Archdiocese of Utrecht have been on pilgrimage to Rome this week. They visited various churches (Cardinal Eijk’s title church San Callisto, Saint Peter’s, the Church of the Frisians, Saint Mary Major (pictured) and Saint John Lateran), celebrated Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter, saw the sights and capped the trip off with today’s general audience with Pope Francis. Cardinal Eijk offered Mass every day in concelebration with the accompanying and some local priests.
In the Diocese of Breda, the Franciscan sisters in Bergen op Zoom celebrated the 175th anniversary of their diocesan congregation’s existence. They did so in the presence of Bishop Jan Liesen and other guests, and also used the day to reopen their chapel after a year of restoration work. As the congregation also has a thriving sister house in Indonesia, Bishop Michael Angkur of the Diocese of Bogor was also present. With his entourage, he visited other congregations (and some local sights) in the diocese as well.
Also in Breda, the pilgrims to the World Youth Day in Rio had their first reunion (pictured). They did so at Bovendonk seminary. The pilgrims looked back on the weeks in Suriname and in Rio de Janeiro, sharing their experiences with each other and with those who stayed at home to take part in WYD@Home.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam bade farewell to its vicar general, Msgr. Martin de Groot (pictured at left with Bishop Jan Hendriks), after 50 years of service in the diocese. The farewell took place with a choral evensong in Amsterdam’s Basilica of St. Nicholas followed by a reception. In addition to the diocese’s Bishops Punt, Hendriks and Van Burgsteden, Rotterdam’s Bishop van den Hende and Utrecht’s auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom were present, reflecting the wide-ranging duties that Msgr. de Groot performed in and beyond his diocese.
Also in Haarlem-Amsterdam, a unique appointment: the first female Magister Cantus (or, in this case, Magistra Cantus) of the Netherlands. On Sunday Ms. Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen will be installed as such by Bishop Punt. She will have responsibility for the music in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, the musical institute connected to it and the choirs. She has been conducting the cathedral choir since 2010.
Photo credit:  aartsbisdom.nl,  bisdombreda.nl,  Isabel Nabuurs
On Thursday, the “upper church” of the Belgian Marian shrine at Beauraing was elevated to the dignity of basilica minor. The building, built in addition to the original chapel built on the site after the Blessed Virgin appeared there to five children in 1932 and 1933, will henceforth carry the name of Basilica of Our Lady with the Golden Heart.
The importance of Beauraing as one of Belgium’s most important pilgrimage sites was reflected by the fact that seven bishops concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Rémy Vancottem, the ordinary of the Diocese of Namur, in which Beauraing is located. They were Cardinal Godfried Danneels (em. archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Bishops Pierre Warin (aux. Namur), Aloys Jousten (em. Liège), Guy Harpigny (Tournai), Antoon Hurkmans (‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands), Gérard Coliche (aux. Lille, France) and Pierre Raffin (Metz, France).
The new basilica is unique in several aspects. It is very young for a basilica, as it was consecrated only in 1960, and it stands out in its concrete barrenness. There are no decorations and statues (ony very subdued Stations of the Cross). The architect of the building wanted all attention to be on the altar.
Evidently, the vitality of the devotion and the faith displayed here is strong enough to overrule the other unofficial requirements for a minor basilica: that it be of a certain age (usually understood to be in the range of centuries) and of an outstanding beauty.
Our Lady with the Golden Heart is the 28th minor basilica in Belgium, and the fourth in the Diocese of Namur.
Bishop Vancottem’s homily follows in my English translation below:
It is with joy that we are gathered in this in this upper church of the shrine of Beauraing, which was elevated to the status of basilica today.
When Mary appears to the children of Beauraing, it sometimes happens that she says nothing; but it is her attitude and her gestures that speak. Her smile. The arms that are opened. And how can we not be touched when she shows us her heart, as a heart of gold? A mother’s heart which is an expression of the tenderness and the love of the heart of God. A golden heart which reflects all the love of Jesus – Jesus, who, as the mouthpiece of God’s love for all people, goes to the extreme by dying on a cross -, and so one couldn’t give this basilica a better name than that of Our Lady with the Golden Heart. With this, the basilica does not replace the chapel that Mary requested from the children. In a sense, it is an extension of it, and an invitation to answer increasingly better to that other wish of Mary’s to come a pilgrimage here.
In the Gospel of the Annunciation we have just heard Mary pronouncing her “yes” to God. The Gospel ends with these words: “And the angel left her”, which indicates that Mary, according to the Gospel, received no further special revelations. She continued “her pilgrimage of faith” through the dark moments and hardships of life. “[T]he Blessed Virgin,” the Council states, “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross” (Lumen Gentium, 58).
For us, who are still on or pilgrimage in a world where our faith is often tested, the faith of Mary is an example. What was announced by the angel is impossible, humanly speaking. And yet the answer of Mary is a simple and clear: “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said”. Mary trusts the Word of God and devotes her entire life to the service of the “Son of God”. This is typical of the “Gospel image” of the Virgin Mary: Her initial “yes” will develop into lifelong loyalty.
At the moment of her Son’s birth, faith was needed to recognise the promised Saviour in this child of Bethlehem.
- Of the many years of Jesus of Nazareth’s hidden life, the Evangelists only remembered the moment when Jesus was found in the temple. That was a moment of darkness in Mary’s faith. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, Jesus tells His parents. But, the Gospel adds, “they did not understand what he meant. … His mother stored up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2: 48-51).
- Mary suffers the most radical test at the foot of the cross. She stands there, and it is there that she becomes the Mother of all the faithful. It is there that she receives her mother’s heart. It is there that we understand that we can entrust ourselves to her motherly protection.
How important it is to discover the mother of God. Our mother began her journey in faith, like us her children, through dark moments and the tests of life. Her “pilgrimage” is also ours. The “yes” of the Annunciation led Mary to the foot of the cross. But the cross has become a Glorious Cross, an elevated cross. The cross leads to the shining light of the resurrection.
Coming to Beauraing on pilgrimage, we meet Mary, but only to let her lead us to her Son. “Do you love my Son?” she asks. “Do you love me?”"Pray, pray often, pray always.”
In this Year of Faith, in the heart of this Eucharist, she achieves for us, through her prayer, that we advance in faith in Jesus, her Son, died and risen, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Oh Mary, teach us to weather the tribulations of life, to utter a yes to God without equivocating, as you did at the Annunciation by the angel. Be our guide on the way that leads to God, through our yes that we repeat every day.”
The coming pastoral year will be especially dedicated to catechesis. The Catechesis Commission of the Bishops’ Conference will issue a document in early September about the pastoral course concerning the sacraments of Christian initiation. We will have the opportunity to discuss that further later.
I wish you all a good start of the pastoral year!
Photo credit:  Notre-Dame de Beauraing,  Tommy Scholtes
With about 2,500 young Catholics, the German delegation to the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, in July of this year, is decidedly smaller than before. In comparison, some 16,500 young German Catholics attended the Madrid edition in 2011 and about 6,000 travelled all the way to Sydney in 2008. Why such a small group this time around? It’s not the distance or the cost, as Sydney was both further away and hence more expensive. No, in this case it is the German bishops who are discouraging underage Catholics from participating in the festivities, Vatican Insider reports.
Citing both travel costs and concerns about the pilgrims’ safety, the Bishop Conference’s religious education coordinator Markus Hartmann explains that the priests and coordinators accompanying the pilgrims will be ultimately responsible for their safety and that, it would seem, is a risk, or responsibility, they are not willing to take.
In a way, this reflects the added risk that Rio presents. Crime rates are admittedly higher than in, say, Sydney or Cologne, which hosted the event in 2005. On the other hand, it seems a bit odd that the bishops refuse the added responsibility: at other Church events, in or outside Germany, they are still responsible for those under their care, and pilgrims, young or old, can also be injured, fall ill, or even die in other places than Rio de Janeiro. There is always a risk.
It is sad that the bishops of Germany have chosen for this option, instead of relying on security measures that exist in Brazil, or impressing upon the pilgrims the need for extra safety precautions. After the World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro will host both the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup, so Brazil has much to loose if there is a security failure of any sort next July.
No April Fool’s joke, the announcement made by Father Leendert Spijkers on Easter Sunday: granted by Pope Benedict XVI back in February, the 15th century church of St. Peter in Oirschot, Diocese of ’s Hertogenbosch is to be elevated to the status of basilica minor. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will make the official declaration some time in the summer, making it his diocese’s fourth basilica.
The church of St. Peter in Oirschot dates from 1515, replacing its predecessor which had burned down in 1462. From 1648 to 1799 the church was Protestant, and it wasn’t until 1904 that the local parish regained full ownership of church and tower. In the war, the tower was severely damaged from Allied gunfire, and it took until 1952 for restorations to be completed. The church is one of the largest remaining Gothic village churches in the province of North Brabant. The furnishings are partly original and partly taken from demolished churches with the altars dating from around 1700 and 1766 respectively. The church has been a national monument since 1966.
Age and a certain esthetic value are but two elements which can make a church a basilica. Another, and certainly not the least important, is the presence of a certain devotion within an active parish community. In the case of St. Peter’s, that devotion is to the ‘Holy Oak’.
The story goes that, some time in the early 15th century, two shepherds found a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the banks of the Beerze stream. They placed it an oak, but inhabitants of nearby Middelbeers took the statue and put it in their church. The next morning, though, the statue was back in the oak. Villagers of Oirschot came to venerate the statue, and there were reports of miraculous healings.
A chapel was built on the place of the oak, and an annual procession developed to that spot. Oak and chapel were removed in 1649, but a new chapel (view of the interior pictured) was erected in 1854, on the foundations of the old one. The original statue resides in St. Peter’s, but a replica remains at the chapel. Some 250,000 pilgrims and visitors find their way to Mary of the Holy Oak every year.
Photo credit:  Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed,  Parish of St. Peter, Oirschot
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