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The five Dutch seminaries have begun the new academic year with a small number of new students, much in line with previous years. The numbers are small when considered per seminary, but the total is not bad for such a heavily secularised country. 36 new seminarians start their education and formation on the road towards the priesthood.
The largest number will study at the Tiltenberg seminary in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, which also houses seminarians for Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht and the Neocatechumenal Way. 20 new students are starting there (although the seminarians of the Neocatechumenal Way live at their own Redemptoris Mater seminary).
The St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch welcomed six new seminarians, and Rolduc in the Diocese of Roermond has four.
Bovendonk, which is the seminary for late vocation, where students study part-time, sees five new enrolments.
Last in the line is Vronesteyn in the Diocese of Rotterdam, which has one new student.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht, perhaps because of the closing of its own seminary last year, has no new students this year. On the other hand, with such low numbers of seminarians per diocese, there are bound to be years when there are no new students.
On the occasion of its twelve-and-a-half year jubilee, two days ago, a whole truckload of guests (if not more) attended the celebration at the Tiltenberg seminary. Msgr. François Bacqué, nuncio to the Netherlands, was main celebrant at the Mass and delivered the homily. In it, he speaks specifically to the seminarians about their future, the importance of Christ’s promise of friendship as well as His commandment to remain in His love. He also speaks about the fact that the Tiltenberg houses student from four dioceses and what that can mean for future priests.
Msgr. Jan Hendriks, the rector of the seminary als refers to that in his address, an excerpt of which is below Msgr. Bacqué’s homily.
The full texts in Dutch may be found here.
Your excellencies, lord mayor, honourable gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ,
With joy and gratitude we celebrate this anniversary, the copper jubilee, of this seminary in the year of the priest.
We wish to thank God for His blessing, for the vocations to the priesthood and the diaconate that have found their way to the seminary, and for the priests and deacons who are already working in the parishes.
We also wish to pray today for the future, for the students of the diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, including the seminarians of Redemptoris Mater -, of the archdiocese of Utrecht, the dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden and the abbey in Egmond, who follow their education here.
Today we pray that the Holy Spirit may continue to touch your heart and give all of you the strength to heed God’s call, every day anew, and that your heart may be moved by God’s love, inviting you to give your life for Christ and His Church.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks to His apostles in the Cenacle about their vocation and election: “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me,” the Lord says. “You are my friends…”. And: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you”. In this way Jesus speaks about the apostles’ calling. But those words are valid for each of you! Your vocation is an election and a sign of God’s love for you. When we keep these words of Jesus in our hearts, we can be nothing but grateful. Through God’s mercy do we, weak people, carry this vocation and election as a valuable treasure in our hearts.
It is certainly good for each of us to regularly consider the ways by which God has led us in His goodness. Every vocation is unique, we have all reached our calling via different ways. But every vocation story is, in the end, a history of God’s personal attention and love for us. He has chosen us to be His friends in a special way, and as a priest to be an ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’.
“Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. [...] I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you…”. Jesus speaks these words on the final evening of His life. They are a spiritual testament. With this, the Lord wishes that His disciples will leave in joy, keep His commandments and remain in love.
May the joy that the Lord gives by your strength! Of course you see difficulties around you in an yourself. I may know priests who are having a difficult time in their parish, a lot of work, duties in many different places. And a man must fight the weaknesses of his own nature. Certainly, there will also be difficulties for you. There is no priesthood without the cross. But stay focussed on the great mercy that you are connected to Christ as His friend and that, as a priest, you will be ‘another Christ’. Stay in the love of the Father.
Keeping the commandments is of course also an important point. Jesus asks it of us and it is part of priestly life. The priest is an example to others. At the ordination, the candidate lies prostrate and he kneels before the bishop to whom he promises obedience. He vocalises his wish and desire to become small and a loyal servant of the Church of Christ. With all this the candidate indicates that he will not follow his own guidance, but that of God, and that he will recognise God’s will in the guidance of his bishop, of the Church. Every priest must be willing to let go of his own will to be able to follow Christ.
But the central calling of the Lord in the gospel that we have heard, must be the insistent and repeated commandment to maintain the love: “Remain in my love. [...] This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you”. That is especially valid for the priests among one another.
Seminary is a school for mutual love; because you live together every day, you learn to support each other, to stand and value each other and so a bond for life may be created. The fact that here there are students from multiple dioceses studying, praying and living together, can strengthen the ‘communio’ and the mutual bond among the priest in the Church in the Netherlands.
The priest is in a special way a man of ‘communio'; he is called to promote unity and community everywhere, among people and with the Lord, also the ‘communio’ with the bishop and the heartfelt bond with the pope and the universal Church.
God has given us everything. In a spirit of gratitude we have gathered here. A thankful person can do nothing but experience joy and love. I wish that spirit of joy and love, that the Lord presented to His disciples, to you all. Amen.
Msgr. Jan Hendriks, Rector of the Tiltenberg seminary
In a way we are entering a new phase. As you know our archbishop, Msgr Wim Eijk – whom I thank once again for the trust in us – has decided to entrust the education of the deacons and priests of the Archdiocese of Utrecht to the Tiltenberg. That has been a major and difficult step. But the decision means that, in effect, the students of all northern dioceses (Utrecht, Groningen-Leeuwarden, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and candidates of the abbey of Egmond are studying here. This has important positive sides and I trust it will turn out well. Means and money are used better, also considering the number of candidates. Seminarians of different dioceses get to know and hopefully value each other better and later as priests, they will be able to working together in the Church. From my own experience I know the positive effects of such a mutual background. This seems especially important to me in light of the future of the Church in our country, which will have to go to a period of restructuring, purification and renewal, but which will always be there, as she has been there for the past 2,000 years, in all the changes of times. Ultimately the Church will have to communicate to message of the gospel and Christ’s merciful salvation with a new drive and as one body.
For that reason we will search and find ways. People now are often searching, the struggle with themselves and with life’s great questions: where do I come from, where do I go, why is everything, why do I exist? Are there set values and is there Someone who has wanted me and loves me? When a person allows himself time for reflection, these question arrive inevitably. As St. Augustine already said: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You”, and – speaking to God – : “You have created us towards You”, “Creasti nos ad Te”. There is an innate desire for God, who is Love, in every person, and that is an opening and starting point for us. Let us pray that we may be able to develop our gifts and talents to answer this innate desire of people. Students experience this especially during their internships, which can therefore be so inspiring and motivational.