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Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, best known as Doubting Thomas. The passage from John 20, in which Jesus appears after His death on the cross, but Thomas happens to be absent is well known. Thomas refuses to believe what he didn’t see for himself, only to be corrected by the Lord when He appears again and shows His wounds to Thomas, even inviting him to place his hand in the wound in His side.

“You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).

thomasRich as this passage from the Gospels is, and it teaches us much about the nature of faith, there is more to St. Thomas than this. In the Bible, he appears in all four Gospels, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew (10:3), Mark (3:18) and Luke (6:15) first list him among the Apostles called by Jesus, while John first mentions him in the story of the death of Lazarus, where Thomas seems a bit defeatist. Upon hearing Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany, in the land of the Jews who had earlier tried to kill Jesus, he says, “Let us also go to die with him”  (John 11:16). Still, it indicates a willingness on Thomas’ part to follow Jesus whatever the consequences, even if death is one. Not exactly the sign of a doubting follower.

Later in the Gospel of John, we see another side to Thomas: the questioning follower, the man trying to understand. As Jesus announces His return to the Father, telling the apostles that they know where He is going and how to get there, Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). This prompts Jesus to teach him – and us – that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thomas comes across as honest and straightforward, not afraid to ask about what he doesn’t understand. The next time we come across him is in the aforementioned passage of the Lord’s appearance in his absence. Thomas doubts, is still as honest and straightforward as ever, but not stubborn: he accepts what the Lord teaches him and professes his faith in his Lord and God.

Thomas appears once more among the disciples to whom Jesus appears at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21;2), but the Evangelist does not tell us any details about what Thomas may have said or done. But he did witness Jesus giving Peter the task to look after His sheep. After the Lord’s Ascension, Thomas remains with the other disciples, as Acts 1:13 tells us, part of the young and rapidly growing Church.

That’s all the Bible tells us about St. Thomas, but it’s enough to slightly correct the image we have of him as a doubter. It would be more accurate to see him as a very honest man, to himself and to others. He is not afraid to ask questions, or even to ask others to be more clear, but also does not hesitate to recognise his own errors and correct them.

Several post-Biblical sources tell of Thomas travelling to India to preach the Gospel there. Indeed, south India is home to the St. Thomas Christians, who can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century. The trip from the Holy Land to India would at least have been possible in the first century, as trade relations existed between the subcontinent and the Roman Empire. It is hard to tell what is true and what is apocryphal in this, but the fact remains that Thomas is strongly connected to Southern Asia, and Christian communities appeared very early in India. A strong-willed follower of Jesus may well have taken it upon himself to undertake such a perilous and uncertain mission to remote parts, all to spread the Gospel and enkindle the faith, serving the Lord as he did from the moment he was first called.

Double duty for the German bishops today, as they have two consecrations of new bishops today to choose from.

wilhelm zimmermannIn Essen, the diocese of the Ruhr, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck will consecrate Bishop Wilhelm Zimmermann as auxiliary bishop of that diocese. Essen’s other auxiliary, Bishop Ludger Schepers, and retired auxiliary Bishop Franz Vorrath will be co-consecrators. Also present will be Hong Kong’s bishop, John Cardinal Tong Hon.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau will see the consecration of its new archbishop, Msgr. Stephan Burger. Promising to start using Twitter after his consecration, the new archbishop, Germany’s youngest at 52, has been received generally very positive, although his perceived orthodoxy has ruffled the usual feathers.

burgerConsecrating him is his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, with the ordinaries of the Province of Freiburg’s other two dioceses, Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, as co-consecrators. The consecration is embedded in Freiburg’s “Diözesantag”, which began esterday with a concert and choral evensong, and continues today with midday prayers, a live program in the square before the cathedral, with music and interviews. After the Mass in which the new archbishop will be consecrated, the festivities close with a “feast of encounter”. The cathedral itself has remained closed due to the preparations for the live television broadcast, and will open only in the early afternoon, about 90 minutes before the Mass starts at 14:30.

As today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the traditional date new metropolitan archbishops come to Rome to receive their pallia to signify their shepherd’s duty, Archbishop Burger will receive his today from the hands of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. This is an unusual action, but does mean that Archbishop Burger doesn’t have to wait a full twelve months to receive his pallium.

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.

parolin tomasi“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.

naamloos-6769The 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.

parolin van megenBut 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.

Archbishop van Megen introduces his parents to Cardinal Parolin

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

With today’s canonisation of Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, the Church now recognises 80 out of 266 Popes as saints. Some think this is too many, and that Popes are being made saints too quickly or too automatically. Whatever the truth in that matter is, the history is interesting.

canonisation

Of the first 58 Popes, from St. Peter to St. Silverius, almost none escaped canonisation, although the process as we know it today did not exist yet. In general, the Church simply recognised an existing cult for a deceased Pope, making him known as a saint. The only exceptions in this five-century period are Pope Liberius (352-366), Pope Anastasius II (496-498), Pope Boniface II (530-532) and Pope John II (532-535).

In the following five centuries there are fewer saints among the Popes, as the process became more formalised, but still quite a lot: 19. Their frequency does decrease sharply towards the end: not a single ninth century Pope was canonised, while the previous century still had four.

For the second millennium, after the Holy See became the sole authority in the area of canonisation, it is actually very possible, without making this post excessively long, to list all papal saints:

  • St. Leo IX (1049-1054)
  • St. Gregory VII (1073-1085)
  • St. Celestine V (1294)
  • St. Pius V (1566-1572)
  • St. Pius  X (1903-1914)
  • St. John XXIII (1958-1963)
  • St. John Paul II (1978-2005)

The number of three canonised saints among the 20th century Popes is striking. The last time the Church had so many papal saints so close together in time was in the eighth century. But is it excessively much? Compared to the first 500 years of the papacy: absolutely not. Nor is it much when we compare it to the total number of people canonised by the nine Popes since 1900: 1501. Less then two-tenths of a percent of these were Popes. In the end, it’s all relative.

Today the principal actors for the 2014 edition of The Passion, which will take place in the city I live in, were revealed, and I must say it seems like a good line-up.

the passion actors singers

The role of Jesus will be portrayed by singer Jan Dulles. He is the lead singer of Dutch band De 3Js, which makes him as good a choice as any singer who is not in the business for the adoration. The only downside is that he has been very critical about the Catholic Church in the past, hurting the feelings of more than a few with an emotional outburst on Twitter. We can only hope that his feelings have abated a bit in the years since.

Mary will be played by musical veteran Simone Kleinsma, who is also starring in the Dutch version of Sister Act. I am very enthusiastic about her involvement, as she has a great singing voice, and the role of Mary will allow her to make use of her great emotional range.

Peter is played by Stanley Burleson, another musical veteran. He also stars in Sister Act, and has appeared in the majority of big musical titles in the Netherlands. The demands of acting and singing a major role in The Passion demands are in good hands with him.

The Narrator is portrayed by media socialite and show business expert Beau van Erven Dorens. He’s the only member of the cast I’m not enthusiastic about. He’ll probably be alright in his role, but I simply don’t appreciate his public persona.

Not in the picture above, but revealed just tonight, is the role of Judas. He will be played by yet another musical veteran: Jamai Loman. He started out as a finalist in one of those talent shows like Idols or something, but has since made a proper career for himself in the musical world.

It’s interesting to see a solid backup for the persona of Jesus, in the form of three experienced musical actors. Their contribution to the format, which is unchanged since the first edition in 2011, should be very interesting.

Following the example of some other bishops, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam shares some of his thoughts on and experiences of the ad limina visit in a letter to the faithful of his diocese:

kn_705396_puntBrothers and sisters,

Returned from Rome after the ad limina visit, I felt the need to share some experiences with you about this remarkable week, on which I look back with inspiration and gratitude. With auxiliary bishop Msgr. J. Hendriks and emeritus auxiliary bishop Msgr. J. van Burgsteden s.s.s. we and the other Dutch bishops were, in the first place, on a pilgrimage to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Together we celebrated the Eucharist in those special places, and also in the other great basilicas of Rome. We have prayed for the unity between the world Church and our Dutch Church, and for all who work in it and do their very best.

The week started with a high point: the meeting with Pope Francis. This was friendly and fraternal and the Pope urged us not to be discouraged by the problems of secularisation in the Netherlands. Instead of giving an address, he invited us to have a conversation. The current situation in the Netherlands places us before new challenges and according to the Pope we must find new pastoral ways to confront them. The Church has a missionary task, not only the bishops, but also the parishes, the entire faith community and every individual faithful. Our time demands a clear witness. The Pope also emphasised that caritas and diakonia can be ways for young people to find faith in Christ. Because, as people are no longer as open to God Himself, they may well be to their neighbours. In the neighbour they will eventually discover the face of Christ. Of course, the issue of church closings was also mentioned. In our diocese that is only a limited issue. The Pope did expressly call the bishops to sympathise well with the feelings of those involved in all necessary reorganisations.

Another topic was the problem of sexual abuse and the care for victims. The Pope proved to be very pleased with the way the bishops in the Netherlands addressed this. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a temporary approval to the guidelines which the bishops have established to prevent sexual abuse in the future.

As in many other speeches and conversations, the Pope also emphasised to us the need of making the Sacrament of Penance and reconciliation accessible. Worldwide the number of confessions is on the increase, because the Pope continuously speaks about the need to reconcile ourselves with God and the other. No one can do without mercy, and in order to be merciful to others we must first be willing to receive it ourselves. The Church has a wonderful sacrament for that and people must be guided pastorally towards it in a new way. Mercy and seeing the person next to you as “image of God Himself” are terms that the Pope continuously repeats.

Finally, the Pope also asked us a sort of question of conscience. Where do you yourself, as bishops, find the strength, your hope and joy amid all the concerns and problems? The Gospel must always be visible as the Good News of forgiveness, salvation and redemption. He urged us to always quench our thirst from that and communicate it to others. The Church, the Pope indicated, grows from an authentically experienced faith and through honest attraction. She is being sent to awaken and plant faith, hope and love in people.

In the days that followed we heard much of what the Pope had said in our meeting with the Congregations and Councils. In more than a dozen meetings a great variety of topics was discussed. From youth to marriage and family, to the role of the bishops in social media. And also the issue of church closing and the pastoral approach to people who do not fully live according to the teachings of the Church. Interesting conversations which also showed how the Church approaches these topics worldwide.

Time and again we were asked to continue in the way we have, but with patience and always in open and positive communication with the faithful.

Finally we were able to inform the Pope that he is very popular in the Netherlands because of the way he acts. He told us to make use of that. At an earlier occasion I spoke with the Pope about a possible visit to the Netherlands. He seemed very interested. With the other bishops we have agreed to consider the possibilities.

On our website you can read in detail what we discussed and experienced in Rome. There are also many photos which paint a good picture of the relaxed atmosphere we enjoyed there together (www.bisdomhaarlem-amsterdam.nl).

In the new year we will certainly begin to work on the results of this ad limina visit, and first discuss it on the various levels of our diocese. Hopefully this will culminate in a real diocesan pilgrimage to Rome in 2015. You are all invited to take part in that, and information about it will be available via your parish in the course of January. It would be wonderful if we could be united then, as a diocese praying, celebrating and witnessing our faith, with young and old, around our Pope Francis.

Towards the feast of the Incarnation I wish you, also on behalf of both auxiliary bishops, a blessed continuation of Advent and a very blessed Christmas.

+ Jozef M. Punt
Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam

Four bishops have written their thoughts and feelings about last week’s ad limina visit down and shared the resulting texts on the websites of their respective dioceses. Here, in full, are my translations, reflecting the encouragement that the bishops took home from their encounter with Pope Francis and the offices of the Curia.

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden:

“What did the ad limina visit bring me as bishop of the North? I think in the first place encouragement. Our report included many statistics which cause concern. The Church, after all, continues to shrink. But the Pope and also his coworkers in the various Congregations and Pontifical Council continuously warned the bishops against a sterile pessimism. The message was always: be patient, make contact, try to connect, don’t write anyone off, don’t blow up any bridges. Every bishop should after all be a ‘pontifex’, a bridge builder. I saw these words as a confirmation of my policy. In a recent article on the future of Roman Catholicism I summarised that policy in two words: clear and cordial. The Church of tomorrow can only thrive when she stays close to Jesus. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus for every person and our entire world should be at the heart. God’s mercy should also make us merciful and mild in how we deal with one another.

At the same time that should happen in a heartfelt and inviting way. Not with a pointing finger or a frown, but with an open attitude and a smile. There are many stalls in the modern religious market. For religious searchers the choice for Christ and His Church is not always the obvious one. For many of our contemporaries, faith is a search, a process. Parishes and church communities are called to increasingly initiate people in the treasure of Christian tradition and bring them to Christ, step by step. For ultimately every person is called to live his or her life out of the friendship with the living Christ.

Encouraged by the ad limina visit I continue my work as bishop. In turn, I hope to be able to encourage Catholics and other Christians to live the life of their Baptism. Pope Francis continuously asks us to be brave and to live out of hope. Let us grab the plough, out of the joy of the Gospel!”

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkWim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht:

“The preparations for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops were preceded by numerous speculations. What would the new Pope Francis think of the Dutch bishops? Wouldn’t they be strongly chastised for their policies? In that context, many think of the mergers of parishes and the closing of churches, which the bishops would be deciding upon out of ideological motives and because of a shortage of priests. What was striking was that the approach of sexual abuse by Church workers was now getting less attention.

In my article for the November issue of the diocesan magazine Op Tocht, which was also spread to the parishes as a letter, I discussed in detail the painful necessity of parish mergers and church closings in several locations. The archdiocese does not take the initiative to close a church. That is in the first place the responsibility of the parish councils, which then request the archbishop to remove a church from service. But in the end neither the archbishop nor the parish council make the decision, but the people who decide to no longer take part in worship and no longer support the Church financially.

In the 1950s ninety percent of the Catholics attended Church on Sunday. Today that is five percent and that percentage is still dropping. Anyone can see that church closings then become unavoidable. The same goes for parish mergers. Parishes which can no longer survive alone, can join forces with other parishes and form a new thriving faith community. We must now take our responsibility for the future. Our children who still believe must have the opportunity to celebrate and share the faith. It would be irresponsible to try and maintain everything we have now and use up all available means doing so, leaving future generations empty-handed.

The Pope understands this, and so does the Roman Curia. In other parts of the world, for example in the United States, the need for parish mergers and church closings becomes apparent. Between 2000 and 2011, 121 churches in the Diocese of Essen, Germany, were removed from use and closed.

Many other topics were also discussed. The Pope and his coworkers received, for example, detailed information from the Dutch bishops about the situation around the sexual abuse of minors. In the last months, fruitful cooperation has come into being between the chairmen of the Bishops’ Conference, the KNR (Conference of Dutch religious) and KLOKK, the major umbrella organisation for victims of sexual abuse. They jointly established a final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of claims of sexual abuse concerning deceased perpetrator and cases of sexual abuse that fall under the statute of limitations. Said chairmen also presented a joint report to Secretary Opstelten on 5 November of this year, the so-called base-measurement, in which the implementations of the recommendations of the Deetman Commission of 2011 were investigated. The report includes a number of solid pieces of advice to improve the approach to claims of sexual abuse. The Bishops’ Conference, the KNR, KLOKK, and the management and overview foundation for sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands have enthusiastically begun implementing this advice. The base-measurement was translated into English and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Dutch bishops and the KNR coupled the announcement of the final date with a call to all to supply supportive evidence for claims of sexual abuse where possible. We also called all to – contrary what sadly sometimes occurs elsewhere – not oppose victims in any way when they make a claim, or blame them for it, but support hem as much as possible. They suffered enough under the sexual abuse. We called all to help the Church clean her slate in the interest of the victims. The Pope encouraged us to continue on this road. At the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith we were also told that we chose a “good direction”.

The way in which Pope Francis replied to the Dutch bishops’ policies was heartwarming for them. He was visibly moved by the difficulties we face. His biggest fear was that we would become discouraged because of the problems we are struggling with, and that we would succumb to feelings of sorrow. He impressed upon us not lose hope, hope in the promises of Christ: “This hope never disappoints.” The message which he repeatedly drew our attention too was, “Do not look back, try not to keep what you once had, but look ahead.” A word that he continuously repeated was, “avanti, avanti, sempre avanti.” Keep going forward than do not look back at the past. In the past the Church may have had great buildings and structures, but we live in the present. In the present, you must take your responsibility.

As Dutch bishops we feel very much confirmed and encouraged by the Pope and his coworkers to go “avanti”, that is to say, forward on the path we are on. What we take with us from this very successful ad limina visit is that we should not Always look back nostalgically to a rich past, but that we must go “avanti”, forward, with our task to proclaim Christ and His Gospel. We must now take our responsibility and take the necessary measures, even if they are not always popular, to make sure that there are enough means and opportunities to also in the future proclaim the faith in Dutch society. If we don’t do anything now and maintain everything, we take away from our children the means to share the Gospel and celebrate the faith.

For the bishops it was also a special experience to be together for an entire week in Rome. In addition to unity with the world Church, the ad limina visit has also strengthened our mutual unity. Many concrete questions from the bishops have been answered by workers in the Roman Curia. We will get to work with the advice we received, in courage and enthusiasm.

The ad limina visit was closed with a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Mary Major. Here, at the end of the celebration, we answered Pope Francis’ call to us in the address he gave us in writing at Monday’s audience, to dedicate our Church province to Mary. This we did, and we confirmed it by praying the Hail Mary together. We asked Mary to pray for us to God to make our beautiful ad limina visit fruitful for the proclamation of the Catholic faith in the Netherlands.”

hoogenboomBishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

“What is the homework that Pope Francis gave the Dutch bishops during the ad limina visit?” I was asked in the preliminary conversation before a radio interview… My answer was that an ad limina visit, since its establishment in the 16th century, is first and foremost a pilgrimage of the bishops to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And that is how I look back on it as well: the ad limina visit was a precious week in which we, the Dutch bishops, prayed in the four great basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls), in the Church of the Frisians and in the Santa Maria dell’Anima (where Pope Adrian VI, from Utrecht, lies buried). The fact that, on 2 December, we could first celebrate Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the catacombs and shortly afterwards meet the personal successor of this Apostle on the see of Peter, Pope Francis, was for me without doubt the high point of our ad limina visit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls the Apostle Peter to strengthen his brothers, the other Apostles, in their faith. And that is exactly what Pope Francis did towards us as Dutch bishops. Aware of the situation in which the Dutch Roman Catholic Church finds herself, the Pope directed words of hope and encouragement to the bishops and all Roman Catholics in our country. In the ‘group talk’ with the Pope I could ask him, referring to Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13), how he sees the relation between liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and diakonia. Pope Francis’ answer was that the worship of God and the service to the neighbour, especially the neighbour in need, are inextricably entwined. He also mentioned practical examples from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires where he was archbishop. We can mirror the practical examples from our archdiocese to that; for example the food collection for the Food bank during the Chrism Mass in Apeldoorn.

That we could start the ad limina visit with a fraternal meeting with Pope Francis, despite original plans,  is to me a gift from God’s providence. During our visits to the Congregations and Pontifical Councils we reported on the developments in the Dutch Church province since the last ad limina visit in 2004. But on those occasions we also looked ahead, and time and again we heard words which referred to the joy of the Gospel, to Christian joy and the trust in God about which Pope Francis had earlier spoken with us so warmly and inspirational. A joyful message which I continue to carry with me in my life and works as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht. It was not about getting homework assigned and which you reluctantly start, but about confirmation and encouragement in performing a joyful duty for life.”

woortsBishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

We continue encouraged, with hope and joy, amid the concerns and responsibilities. The Pope and the Curia, people with their inspiration, it has all come much nearer for me. I am grateful for having experienced this and also grateful that we are part of that one world Church, led by the Pope, above all of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Mary, Peter and Paul and all those other saints and blesseds. It has strengthened me, not least the daily Masses and prayer and sympathy of many at home. That does good.

What will also stay with me: when we left the room after the conversation with the Pope, I spoke with him about the contact with rabbis and Jewish organisations. He squeezed my arm and indicated: continue with that. He was happy about it.”

With the ad limina officially over (although one meeting has been moved to today for those bishops remaining in Rome), it’s time to take a look back at what took place on Thursday. Friday activities will follow in due course.

Thursday morning was filled with the usual meetings, this time to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (the Congregation for Religious, in sort). Bishop Hendriks, in his daily blog, reports that these were “not boring, despite what some might think”. The meeting with Cardinal Coccopalmerio at the Pontifical Council, the bishop writes, was very fruitful and revealed that many cases of church closings and the merger of parishes, all very current affairs in the Dutch Church, need further study.

Not all bishops attended these meetings, as some were at the Pontifical Council for Culture. Bishop Gerard de Korte, one of these, expressed specific admiration for Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Council’s president, and his project of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, which aims to foster dialogue between faithful and non-faithful.

cappuccino break ad liminaIn the afternoon, after a lunch and cappuccino break (at left), Cardinal Angelo Amato received the bishops at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints (pictured below), a meeting with some consequences for current Dutch causes. Top of the list were the martyrs of Alkmaar, murdered for the faith in 1572, and Fr. Johannes Roothaan, the second founder of the Jesuit Order. Both causes were dormant for decades, but may now become active again.

causes of saints meeting ad liminaBishop Frans Wiertz presented Dutch-born Bishop Frans Schraven as a possible patron saint for victims of sexual abuse. The case of Bishop Schraven, killed in China by Japanese soldiers in 1931 for not submitting the women and girls under his protection to be used as sex slaves, was opened earlier this year.

Mass on Thursday was offered at the church of the German College in Rome, the Santa Maria dell’Anima, which is also home to the grave of the only Dutch pope, Pope Adrian VI. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans was the homilist, and he spoke, among other things, about the mystery of the Church:

“The Church is a mystery because, although she is human, she is especially divine. We are the people of God. It is easy to recognise the human and the too human in the Church. The divine is harder to see, and can’t be caught in questionnaires. This depends on faith. In Jesus the human and the divine go together harmoniously. God is visible in the power of His words, in the signs He gives. The Apostle Thomas confesses, when He sees the signs of His wounds upon seeing Christ: “My Lord and My God”.

On another level, the Church carries God. God calls His people together. He is present in the faithful, in Holy Scripture, in the Sacraments, among others in men whom God calls to make Christ present in the Church as priests.”

Bishop Hurkmans also spoke about those who were the first to be called, the Apostles.

“Consider Peter. He is among us in his successor, Pope Francis. In a unique way he calls us to faith and gives hope to many. He speaks about Gods mercy. He touches, embraces, the hurt. His aim is to return to the Church the glory of her divine soul. He emphasises the mission of he Church: to restore hurt people in Christ. He explains, as we heard in the first reading, that there is no place in Gods plan for high fortresses. For pride, arrogance, selfish wealth. In the end times the gates of heaven will be opened for the just nation who remained loyal to God. Every Pope presents heavenly Jerusalem to the world. May our faith remain standing amid the storms and danger which leave destructive traces in Church and world. To continue expecting everything from God, in humility and simplicity.

hurkmans ad limina

He then likened the current Pope to his predecessor, Pope Adrian VI, who saw his own attempts to reform the Church stopped by an early death. “Adrian, a simple, humble Apostle who gave Christ a central place in the concrete life of the Church”.

“Brothers, brothers and sisters, in our time marked by a cultural break, Popes are part of a Church and world marked by secularisation, by a gap between rich and poor, by the need to clear the past, by major ethical questions because of the strides of science and digital means. There is so much around us. Today, Jesus calls us, as we heard in the Gospel, to continue searching for the basis. Christ continues inviting us to place ourselves under God, to do His will. Christ leads. He is the way, the truth and the life. It is Advent. Christ is coming among us. Let us, following the example of Peter, Adrian and our Pope Francis, make the mystery of the Church visible. By a simple and poor life. By meeting our neighbours one by one and come together with them around Christ. He comes to us, let us go to Him in gratitude. From our meeting with Him the reform that our time needs will flower. May God reign in our hearts. Amen.”

Finally, the bishops did not let the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas go by unnoticed, as Bishop Hurkmans surprised them all with a little present from the saint. “They can say a lot about bishops, but they all worked very hard,” he said as the reason for the presents. “Sinterklaas has asked me to respond to that and be his Zwarte Piet,”the bishop joked. “I have made a reminder to Pope Francis and Rome, and I have a print on which I wrote: “Ad Limina 2013. It is Francis! Faith, hope and love” with ‘hope’ underlined twice.”

Fr. Roderick Vonhögen made the video below for RKK. It is delightful to see our bishops in lighthearted moments like these.

Photo credit: [1] [2] Bishop Jan Hendriks, [3] Ramon Mangold

Also released yesterday, the full text of Cardinal Eijk’s address to Pope Francis at the start of the meeting of the bishops with the Holy Father on Monday. As reported earlier by several bishops, the talk is mainly a summary of the general report for the ad limina, and does not contain much we don’t know already. As an introduction, though, it suffices, and for the sake of completeness I share my translation below.

bishops with pope francis

Holy Father,

We, the Dutch bishops, have looked forward eagerly to this personal meeting with you, the current vicar of Christ on earth, and we consider it the high point of our ad limina visit, after the Masses at the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul and in the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and of St. Mary Major. For the major part of the Dutch bishops this will be their first meeting with you, which adds a special tone to this moment.

The ad limina visit is in the first place a pilgrimage to the graves of the Apostles here in Rome and the personal meeting with you. It is also a chance to report on the religious, cultural, social and pastoral developments and some problems and special questions regarding our Church province. About all of this we have sent you a report from our Conference which, except for the report of each diocesan bishop, has also been published. In the general report we want to paint a clear and honest picture of the current situation in our Church province and we say clear-cut that it is not in every aspect optimistic.

The number of Catholics in the Netherlands continues to decrease rapidly. This mostly concerns the number of practising Catholics, which means that the number of financial means available is decreasing rapidly. Since the Church in the Netherlands is not subsidised by the state, she depends on voluntary donations from the faithful. Although these are very generous towards the Church, they are unable to collect sufficient financial means to maintain their parish churches. We expect that one third of the Catholic churches in our country will have to be closed by 2020 and two-thirds before 2025. In recent years the Dutch dioceses were forced, for the same reason, to reorganise their curia and let employees go. In the case of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, this was also necessary to avoid bankruptcy.

As in other countries, the Church in the Netherlands also has to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors by workers in the Church. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious closely cooperated in having this issue investigated by an independent committee, with an institution were such cases can be reported, a commission to investigate them, a committee for recompense and a platform for psychological support of the victims. We are determined to recognise the problems of the victims, compensate the damage done and help them heal as much as possible. Regular meetings between the chairmen of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Dutch religious and a top down organisation of victims has led to increased mutual confidence. Together they determined the final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of sexual abuse by deceased person and abuse that is under the statute of limitations. We urge everyone to present evidence, insofar as it can support the claims of victims, and help them report the claims, as far as possible, so that the Church can make a fresh start in this area, in the victims’ interest.

Our report is realistic but not pessimistic. We notice that the practicing Catholics which remain are taking their faith increasingly serious, are more positive towards the Church and have an increasingly close personal relationship with Christ. We hope to be able to maintain a number of churches which can then serve as centres of  communities of faith with a living faith, which is visible in the liturgy, the catechesis of children, youth and adults and diaconal activity, which is so important in our modern society. These faithful will support the Church in the Netherlands and be the leavening of the coming Kingdom of God.

We are very much delighted to be able to meet with you today, and we want to say that we feel deeply united with you. Yu may be assured of our prayer for you, that God may richly bless you for your task to lead the Church in the world in this time. From our side, we ask you to pray for us and grant us your Apostolic Blessing.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

Images speak louder than words, and this is no exception…

ppope francis saint peter

Pope Francis, the 266th bishop of Rome, cradles the relics of the first Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter. With this display of continuity from the time of Christ to today, the Year of Faith was closed yesterday. Looking back, we must also look forward, as we, being Christians, are ever called to do.

As Pope Francis said in his homily:

“Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!”

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

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A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

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Latest translations added:

IN PROGRESS

[Dutch] Internationale Theologencommissie - Sensus Fidei in het Leven van de Kerk.

30 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor het Katholieke Jongerenfestival.

19 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Interview in La Vanguardia.

18 May: [English] Pietro Cardinal Parolin - Homily at the consecration of Archbishop van Megen.

15 May: [English] Ane Hähnig - Interview with Michael Triegel.

3 May: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor de Wereldgebedsdag voor Roepingen 2014.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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