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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
Bishop Joannes Gijsen, who passed away at the age of 80 today, has left a mark on the Church in the Netherlands. Virtually all elements of his service led to comments, criticism, questions and, also, admiration and support. From his appointment in 1972 to his sudden retirement in 1993, his troubled time as ordinary of Roermond and his efforts to maintain a form of Catholic education in the Netherlands, his surprise appointment to Reykjavik and the comparisons between life there and back home (which often saw the Dutch situation in a bad light); Bishop Gijsen made his share of ripples in the pond of the Church.
But in the very first place, Bishop Gijsen must be understood as a man of faith, Asked if he ever experienced any doubt about his faith, he said in an interview in 2007: “True doubt? No, never! I am convinced that the Roman Catholic faith holds the fullness of all knowledge of God and man.”
He lived his life as a bishop that way, as he illustrated in that same interview:
“We’re all priests of the Catholic Church, and especially a bishop has responsibility for the entire Church. You must be able to be deployed anywhere. Of course, it is something else if you can’t because of health or something. But if you’re healthy, you can never say “no”.”
“If, somewhere in northern Iceland, there are a few Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith, you must be able to offer it to them. Our Lord didn’t say: I want to convert the entire world in one go. He went to backward little Palestine and walked around there for three years, if not less. He reached only a few people. But that nonetheless became the foundation of the faith that reached the entire world.”
Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen was born on 7 October 1937 in Oeffelt, a village in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, just on the border with the Diocese of Roermond. He was ordained for that latter diocese in 1957, by Bishop Joseph Lemmens. Although he spent some time in the parish, he was mainly a teacher at the seminaries in Kerkrade and Maastricht, and a student of theology and Church history in Münster and Bonn. In 1972, he was appointed as the 22nd bishop of Roermond, a move that was quite controversial, as the new bishop was known as conservative and his appointment as one imposed from Rome. Reflecting the latter, Bishop Gijsen was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in Rome, with the archbishops of Utrecht and Armagh serving as co-consecrators. Cardinal Alfrink, the archbishop of Utrecht, would have preferred a consecration in Roermond as a first step towards reconciliation, but was evidently overruled. Bishop Gijsen was installed at St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond on 4 March 1972.
As bishop, he modernised the diocese in the line of the Second Vatican Council,determined as he was to put the Council’s documents into practice. In that sense, Bishop Gijsen was not so much a man of the “spirit of Vatican II”, but of the true Council. As a former teacher himself, he worked to maintain some form of true Catholic education in his diocese, with mixed results.
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, today describes Bishop Gijsen as follows:
“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice. He wanted to be loyal to the Pope and the Church. He wanted “to prepare the way for the Lord”, as his motto was. That moved him, among others, to start a seminary at Rolduc, which has formed some 175 priests, including five of today’s bishops (among them Msgr. J. Punt and myself). As Pope Paul VI hoped and expressed, that little plant has borne fruit for the entire country.”
Above: Bishop Gijsen, third from left, pictured with Bishops Punt (second from right) and Hendriks (far right) and several other priests educated at Rolduc, photographed in May of this year.
In January of 1993, Bishop Gijsen suddenly and unexpectedly retired as bishop of Roermond. He moved to Austria to become the rector of a convent. Although rumours abounded about the reasons, the bishop would later explain:
“I have never had Crohn’s Disease, and I have always enjoyed the support of the Vatican. I can deny rumours of that nature without a doubt. I left because the doctor told me: “If you stay for one more year, you’ll either have a stomach perforation or an intestinal disease from which you will not recover, or you’ll have an aneurysm or a stroke. There is no way you’ll be able to keep this up. You must stop now!” That was the reason why I quit so suddenly. It was sudden for me as well. Agreed, the danger of a collapse was also caused by the developments and the experiences of those twenty years [as bishop in Roermond]. But it was mostly exhaustion.”
Three years of recovery followed, after which Bishop Gijsen relayed his renewed availability to Rome. At that time, the Diocese of Reykjavik in Iceland had been vacant for more than two years, so Bishop Gijsen was sent to the see where his great uncle Bishop Meulenberg had served in the 1930s. He was initially sent to be Apostolic Administrator, but in 1996 he was appointment as diocesan bishop.
Where Roermond represented a time of struggle and management, Reykjavik was by far the more enjoyable of Bishop Gijsen’s appointments. In 2006, he spoke in an interview about his appreciation for the country and the Icelandic people:
“I encountered much understanding. Seen from Rome, Iceland, land of the Vikings, seems a barren and terrifying place. But it most certainly is not. Consider, for one, the weather: here in the city, in the shadow of the mountains, the temperature rarely drops below -5°C. [...] From the very start I liked it here. I am very pleased with this place. Life at 66 degrees north is not that different from life in he Netherlands, at 53 degrees. But life is much more organised.”
In 2007, Bishop Gijsen returned home to the Diocese of Roermond and to his family. He moved in with one of his sisters in Sittard, and took on the pastoral care of a small convent. He shunned the media since then, devoting himself, no doubt, to his books and whoever came for a visit.
Looking back on his own life, something he was not too keen to do, Bishop Gijsen said, in the same 2007 interview quoted above:
“I have always tried to simply think along the same line as the Church. I have mainly tried to act on the basis of the Second Vatican Council, because that was our duty, especially for a bishop. I have done so with my abilities and with my inabilities and with the abilities of the people around me, and with their inabilities. We shouldn’t want to judge the result of that this soon. I think we should wait a while. I think you should never want to be your own judge, so I am not going to judge my own life; I’ll leave that to history.”
Today, many priests and bishops have been influenced in one way or another by Bishop Gijsen. As Bishop Hendriks said above, some 175 priests were educated at the seminary he started, but Bishop Gijsen also ordained and consecrated several bishops. In 1983, he ordained the future bishop Everard de Jong, and in 1985, the future Cardinal Wim Eijk. He also consecrated his own auxiliary bishops, Alphons Castermans in 1982, and Joannes ter Schure in 1984. The latter would become bishop of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch almost exactly two months later.
Of course, Bishop Gijsen suffered his share of criticism, and he was not afraid to offer it himself. Shortly before his appointment as bishop of Roermond, he accused the Dutch bishops of having “set the faithful adrift” following the disastrous pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout. He went his own way, and this in part was reason for Blessed Pope John Paul II to call a Special Synod on the Netherlands in 1980.
^Bishop Gijsen, right, with Pope John Paul II, during the latter’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985.
Most serious in his later years were several accusations that surfaced regarding sexual abuse, both in Roermond and in Reykjavik. While no accusations were deemed inadmissible in court, they do point towards serious mismanagement on the part of Bishop Gijsen.
Bishop Joannes Gijsen was not perfect. He had his flaws, but he was driven by an honest desire to be of service and to do what was needed. For that, especially during the 1970s and 80s, we should laud him.
The funeral is planned for 29 June, at 10:30 in the morning, from St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond. On the eve of the funeral, there will be a vigil Mass for the late bishop at the Carmelite convent chapel in Sittard.
Photo credit:  Bisdom Roermond,  arsacal.nl,  Dagblad De Limburger
As I had hoped earlier, Bishop Frans Wiertz’ opening address of the symposium on new evangelisation, which took place at Rolduc seminary on Monday and Tuesday, has been made available on the website of the Diocese of Roermond. As may be expected, I have created an English translation.
Speaking about the need for a road map for the new evangelisation, the bishop took the Acts of the Apostles and Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as the prime elements to draw this map. Both these sources and the actual address are worth a read. The latter was quite well received at the symposium and on Twitter, as it was reported on live by two attending seminarians. It is both thoughtful, a bit playful and practically applicable.
Photo credit: Diocese of Roermond
On today’s list that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints regularly publishes to announce the names of people whose miracles, martyrdoms or heroic virtues have officially been recognised by the Church and confirmed by the pope is the name of a Dutch priest: Father Louis Tijssen (1865-1929), the ‘Holy Dean of Sittard’.
The announcement comes some six months after the remains of Fr. Tijssen were reinterred in the church of Saint Peter in Sittard, Diocese of Roermond. This exhumation was part of the process to come to a future beatification or even canonisation of the beloved priest, whose life was considered exemplary by many around him (confirmed now by the Church), even when he was still alive. The remains were confirmed to be those of Fr. Tijssen, and his new resting place within the church will better allow future pilgrimages and veneration.
Venerable - as we may now refer to him – Louis Tijssen was born in 1865 and ordained a priest in 1888. He taught at the diocesan seminary of Rolduc and was appointed as parish priest of Susteren in 1911. In 1919, he was appointed as Dean of Sittard. He died there in 1929. People admired him for his devout prayer life and priestly ministry. Several prayers were answered upon his intercession and his beatification process was opened in 1957. All we need now, as the diocese notes, is a miracle.
The last Dutchman to be canonised was Saint Charles of Mount Argus, a Passionist priest, also from the Diocese of Roermond, who worked mainly in Ireland. He was declared a saint in 2007.
In September of last year I wrote about an abuse complaint lodged against Bishop Jo Gijsen, emeritus of Roermond and Reykjavik. The complaint was about the future bishop having spied upon a student at Rolduc seminary while the latter masturbated in bed, sometimes between 1959 and 1961. Msgr. Gijsen continues to deny that anything untoward happened, saying last year, in response to the accusation: “If it is true what is being said, it must be a case of mistaken identity. I could not have been that, because I wasn’t in the situation. That they may know me could be true, because I was a teacher. But I could not have done that.”
The complaints commission of the Catholic Church, working to get to the truth in numerous abuse cases, has now deemed otherwise. It considers the story of the former student “credible and honest”, NRC reports today. But the commission then continues with deciding the complaint inadmissible, since it does not deal with sexual abuse per se. The student did not forced to masturbate, and neither did it happen in a situation where one person was dependent on the other.
It would seem that the investigation of this claim halted at the stadium of deciding its believability. Msgr. Gijsen claims that the facts reported are not true. Since the complaints commission makes no judgement on that, we must be extremely careful in deciding what is and is not true here. But what remains is a serious indictment of the behaviour of a cleric in a time when much of the abuse that services now took place.
Who knows, maybe Bishop Gijsen is right in claiming that the complaint is based on things that never happened or involved someone else altogether. What we do know is that the complains had been deemed believable, and that Bishop Gijsen, if he did it, greatly overstepped the boundaries of propriety, to paraphrase the NRC report.
In September 2010, when the claim first surfaced, the Diocese of Roermond let it be known that it had passed the matter on to the public prosecutor. It is unknown what, if anything, they are doing, or will do, with it.
A second complaint against Bishop Gijsen is still being investigated.
Photo credit: Gerard Klaasen/RKK
With the academic year well underway (in fact, the first break is happening this week), the numbers of new students at the Dutch seminaries have been released. With 18 new seminarians (some of whom are pictured to the left, at the Tiltenberg seminary) there is an ever-so-slight drop from last year, when 20 new names were added to the books. With several ordinations having taken place in the previous academic year, the total number of students at the four seminaries in the Netherlands remains at exactly 100.
A breakdown per seminary:
Rolduc, Diocese of Roermond, received 2 new students, both from the Neocatechumenal Way. The total number at Rolduc is now 29.
Tiltenberg, Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam: 7 new seminarians, with another way possibly joining them later. The total number is now 44.
Bovendonk, Diocese of Breda, als has seven, with four of hem starting in the first year. The three others, because of previous education, join a later year. Bovendonk now has 18 part-time students.
Saint John’s Centre, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch: 2 new students, bringing the total to 12.
The Tiltenberg comfortably holds on to its top position when it comes to the numbers, which can be explained in part because it remains the only seminary above the great rivers. It is home to students from at least four dioceses.
Looking at the numbers per diocese then:
Breda: 4 (2 of whom study independently at the FCT)
‘s Hertogenbosch: 2
Utrecht: 4 (maybe 5)
The ‘harvest’ is… okay, but the need for further vocational promotion and formation should be clear.
Things are moving fast now in the process towards the beatification of Servant of God Dorothea Visser. Yesterday saw the installation of the ecclesiastical court that is to analyse and judge her life and virtues. The three-man court consists of a delegatus episcopalis (delegate of the bishop), a promoter iustitae (promotor of justice) and a notarius (secretary). This is the fourth step towards a possible future beatification, following the judgement of a miracle, the appointment of a postulator in Rome and the creation of a historical commission.
Archbishop Eijk of Utrecht, the archdiocese in which Dorothea Visser lived, and which therefore is responsible for the proceedings, offered the following prayer at the start of the installation of the court:
God our Father,
You are a God of mercy and Love.
We have come together here to open the Process of Beatification
of the Servant of God
She was a dedicated and obliging woman,
who suffered and prayed much.
Who shared in a special way
in the suffering of Your Son Jesus Christ
through her stigmata.
She dedicated this suffering for the conversion of sinner
And the sanctification of Your Church.
We ask you,
May she soon be elevated to the honour of the altars
through a beatification.
We thank you for the witness
of Dorothea Visser
Through Christ our Lord.
Appointed to the court are Msgr. Dr. Stefaan van Calster, priest of the Archdiocese of Mechlin-Brussels and professor at Rolduc Seminary; Father Frenk Schyns, vice-head of the ecclesiastical court of the Archdiocese of Utrecht and the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and priest of the former; and Dr. A. Habets, delegate for Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Utrecht.
In addition to this court, Msgr. Jan van Peijnenburg has been added to the historical commission as additional expert. Msgr. van Peijnenburg is the former archivist of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Msgr. Van Calster invites anyone with useful information regarding the beatification to approach the court. The official address to write to is:
Kerkelijke rechtbank inzake zaligverklaringsproces Dorothea Visser
attn. Mgr. dr. S. van Calster, delegatus episcopalis
p/a Maliebaan 38-40
3581 CR Utrecht
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.