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It’s barely November, but two potential Christmas gifts came to my attention today.
Father Robert Barron’s series on the Catholic faith, Catholicism, is set for release in the Netherlands, with Dutch subtitles. Originally released in the United States several years ago, the series appears to be a wonderful tool for catechesis, but also an interesting look at the great variety of our worldwide Church, as well as the heart of the faith.
The 500-minute DVD series is available for the price of €39,90 from the Catholic Alpha Centre and Publisher Betsaida, which is connected to the St. John’s Centre seminary of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Also from ‘s Hertogenbosch comes the second book, this time for adults, from the pen of Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of that diocese (and at the moment filling in for ordinary Bishop Antoon Hurkmans who is taking his rest for medical reasons – prayers for him). In it, the bishop aims to correct all sorts of misconceptions about the Church and her faith. He writes:
“This is no scientific book. I don’t pretend to be a theologian, I’m no cultural sociologist or scientist. In order to explain things to non-experts, a pragmatic and sober approach by someone who knows the topic well is often more effective than a highly scientific approach.”
The book, titled Gewoon over Geloof (a play on words which means both “simply about faith” and “acting or talking normally about faith”), aims to correct an image of the Church in modern secular society, which consider the Catholic faith to be “backwards, irrational, medieval, illiberal, unreasonable, misogynistic, homophobic and brainwashed”.
Bishop Mutsaerts has one previous book on his name, a children’s book titled Jezus kan niet voetballen (“Jesus can’t play football”).
Everywhere the summer holidays are over, and that means that the seminaries are staring their new academic years as well. Notable among them is the Ariëns Institute of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, which opens its doors for the first time. After several years outside the archdiocese, the seminarians have returned to the city of Utrecht to live in the newly refurbished house and to study at the University of Tilburg in Utrecht or the Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Yesterday Cardinal Wim Eijk opened and blessed the house, which is home to six seminarians. A further two are studying parttime at Bovendonk seminary in the Diocese of Breda, one is spending a pastoral year in a parish, and four Colombian members of the Misioneros de Cristo Maestro live nearby, in their own communal house. The cardinal blessed that house a day earlier.
^The seminarians for the Archdiocese of Utrecht, posing in front of the seminary house with their families and Cardinal Eijk and auxiliary bishop Hoogenboom and Woorts.
At the aforementioned Bovendonk, 21 students for the priesthood or the diaconate (re)started their studies and formation. They come from the Dutch dioceses of Breda, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the Belgian (Arch)dioceses of Breda, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as the Belgian (Arch)dioceses of Antwerp and Mechelen-Brussels. Two seminarians from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden also live, not at Bovendonk, but in the Diocese of Breda, studying at the University of Tilburg.
The eight men preparing at Bovendonk for service as permanent deacons.
The Vronesteyn centre in the Diocese of Rotterdam coordinates the formation of seminarians for that diocese. It has six men studying in the Dioceses of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Breda, as well as Eichstätt in Germany.
The seminaries of the Tiltenberg (Haarlem-Amsterdam), Rolduc (Roermond) and the St. John’s Centre (‘s Hertogenbosch) have not (yet) made statements about their numbers of seminarians this year.
Photo credit:  Ariënsinstituut,  R. Mangold
The old debate about the number of seminaries in the Netherlands was restarted this week as the rectors of two of them – Fathers Jan Vries of Rolduc (Diocese of Roermond) and Gerard Bruggink (pictured at right) of the Tiltenberg (D. of Haarlem-Amsterdam) – both suggested that the Church in this country would be better served by having a single seminary for the entire Province, instead of the six that exist now.
Every Dutch diocese, except for Groningen-Leeuwarden, maintains its own seminary, although there is cooperation to a certain extent: professors and teachers often work at more than one seminary, and the one in the Diocese of Breda, Bovendonk, is specifically geared towards seminarians who begin their studies and formation later in life, next to a job. Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam send their seminarians, for their entire study or part of it, to Haarlem-Amsterdan, Utrecht or Bovendonk. In addition to this, the Neocatechumenal Way maintains two seminaries in the Netherlands and sends its students for several courses to either Rolduc or the Tiltenberg.
All in all, there are 76 fulltime seminarians studying at the several seminaries in the Netherlands, of whom 49 come from abroad. They are generally part of the Neocatechumenal Way. There are also another 11 parttime seminarians, who study next to their day job.
Most seminary rectors are in favour of merging the existing seminaries into one or two. Father Patrick Kuipers of the recently re-established Ariëns Institute (seminary building pictured at left), Archdiocese of Utrecht, says, “Personally, I am very much in favour of it. I think that the group of seminarians in the Netherlands is too small to be spread out over five or six institutes.” He thinks a group of 25 would be ideal, because that would form a true community. Father Norbert Schnell, of Bovendonk, relates that German colleagues say that 20 seminarians is the minimum required.
Fr. Bruggink wonders if it is even possible to maintain two seminarians, one according to the proper seminary model in which all education taking place in-house, and another following the convict model, in which some or all academic training takes place at a university of polytechnic. “I am very much in favour of maintaining the seminary format, if need be next to the convict form. Intellectual, pastoral and personal formation together with spiritual formation in one house, in one whole, is, I think, necessary for the future. I think that young people are attracted to that instead of the current fragmentation.”
There are practical considerations which all boil down to one thing: can the Dutch Church continue to support these five or six separate institutes into the future? The financial side of this is not the least, as the Church is not supported in any way but by the faithful. It is they who, ultimately need to support whatever structure of seminary education the bishops wish to maintain.
And, as all seminary rectors stress, it is with the bishops that the ball lies. Fr. Kuipers says, “I discussed it several times with Cardinal Eijk, who is responsible in the bishops’ conference for the seminaries. But that is all. The question is to what extent the bishops can let go of their own seminaries.” Fr. Vries of Rolduc simlarly states, “We can toss ideas about, but it’s the bishops who must hold the talks.”
Odd one out among the rectors is Fr. Filip De Rycke of the St. John’s Centre in Den Bosch. He admits that “sharing” teachers is a burden on people and that a larger group of students is better. But he also looks to Flanders, where all dioceses, apart from Bruges, joined forces. There is no outpouring of vocations there either, he states.
Deciding in favour of only one or two seminaries for the Church in the Netherlands would, in my opinion, have positive effects in several areas. It would allow for the formation of true communities which in turn would attract more prospective seminarians, and resources may be bundled: financially and in manpower (thus eliminating the concern that Fr. De Rycke mentions). Expertise is more effective when concentrated and communities form their members when they can actually be communities.
I hope that this question is picked up by the bishops, and that they are able to look at the bigger picture of the future of the Church in the Netherlands. We need priests and priests need the best formation and education on offer.
86-year-old Bishop Johannes Bluyssen - emeritus ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the sole surviving Dutch Council father – has spent the past few days in hospital, suffering from undisclosed heart problems. He has already been moved out of intensive care, where he was admitted with breathing problems and severe fatigue. Happily, the news broke today that things have quite improved, and from one of the priests of the cathedral we hear that Msgr. Bluyssen may return to his home at ‘s Hertogenbosch’s St. John’s seminary on Sunday.
In the meantime, as the third-oldest bishop of our little country is not out of the woods yet, let’s call on the intercession of St. John of God, patron saint of heart patients, for the bishop’s increasing and continuing wellbeing.
On Saturday I attended the ordination to the priesthood of Fathers Patrick Kuis and Geoffrey de Jong in the cathedral basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in ‘s Hertogenbosch. These were two of nine new priests that the Church in the Netherlands received on that day. 27-year-old Fr. Patrick is a personal friend, so the ordination was especially joyous.
Father Patrick will remain assigned to the cathedral parish in ‘s Hertogenbosch, a choice assignment in the largest diocese of the country in terms of the number of Catholics. He had already been in that parish since his ordination to the diaconate.
Father Patrick’s first Masses was celebrated in the the basilica, but he will celebrate a number of other ‘first’ Masses: in the cathedral of Sts. Joseph and Martin in Groningen, the parish church of St. James the Greater in Uithuizen and in the FSSP church of St. Agnes in Amsterdam.
This last Mass is of course of special interest to those traditionally-minded readers of this blog. Fr. Patrick will offer this Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which is quite unique for newly-ordained priest, certainly in the Netherlands. Recently, some note was made of the first Mass of a newly-ordained priest in New York who offered his first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Father Z writes about that here), and I think that this fact is no less worthy of attention.
Congratulations to Fathers Patrick and Geoffrey, as well as the other new priests in the Dioceses of Roermond and Haarlem-Amsterdam, as well as to all the faithful they will serve in the many years to come!
The website of the seminary as an extensive photo gallery of the ordination here.
Photo credit:  Wim Koopman,  my own
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.
In an attempt to stem the development of DIY Church communities in Belgium, Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels has welcomed the initiative by Father Andy Penne to see if it is possible to return to his native land. Father Penne is one of fifteen Belgian priest incardinated in the Dutch Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The reasons for their presence in the Netherlands are varied; Fr. Penne works here simply because he felt most at home in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch St. John’s seminary; others chose to be educated and formed here because they considered the Belgain seminaries too liberal. And for years the general attitude among the Belgian episcopate has been that once in a foreign diocese, the priests had best stay there.
But when Archbishop Léonard came to Brussels, the mood has changed. In a newspaper interview, Fr. Penne reports that he will be leaving his current parish in the Netherlands to work in the Belgian archdiocese, near the town where he grew up. Officially, he is ‘on loan’ from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but the change from the past is striking.
The Belgian priests in the Netherlands are generally considered to be more orthodox, or true to the Catholic faith, than many of their brother priests and pastoral workers in Belgium. That is why their possible future return is no reason for joy for many. They fear the spectres of orthodoxy and conservatism which will threaten their lukewarm version of Catholicism. The opposing party’s feelings sound rather spiteful; “once chosen for the Netherlands, they’d better stay there,” and “Some of these priests were not good enough for Belgian seminaries.” But on the other hand, a poll among lay faithful in Mechelen-Brussels also revealed another sound. A catechist from Mechelen said, “There is a shortage of priests here. We should be thankful to the Lord if Flemish priests from the Netherland want to come and help us out here.” And a prayer group leader, “People call them conservative but they merely proclaim what the Church says. We shouldn’t all be making our own little churches.”
For Archbishop Léonard these priests may turn out to be valuable coworkers in the vineyard.
And, finally, the parishes left behind by Father Penne will be the new home for another Belgian priest who made headlines early last year: Father Luc Buyens.
With an estimated 80 people attending, Fr. Gero P. Weishaupt offered the first Mass in the extraordinary form at the cathedral of St. Joseph of Groningen last night. Estimated attendance was initially some 20 to 30 people and, accordingly, the smaller altar of St. Joseph was prepared for use for this Mass. But yesterday afternoon the decision was made to move to the high altar.
Two seminarians from St. John’s in Den Bosch served as acolytes, and two other acolytes, among them a good friend of mine, from the cathedral parish did this for the first time. A small scola was also set up, led by diocesan hermit Brother Hugo. The congregation consisted of people of all ages and several nationalities. I noticed people who attend both the regular Sunday Masses as well as the English-language Mass on Saturday evening. A number of seminarians from our and other dioceses had travelled up from the Tiltenberg seminary to join the congregation.
The Catholic life in the parish of St. Martin and, due to it taking place in the cathedral, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, is enriched by having this form of the Mass as well as the ordinary form.
Photo credit: Margré Meulman
Driven by curiosity, I perused the websites of the Dutch dioceses, as well as the social media at my disposal, to see how Pope Benedict XVI’s request that the bishops of the world hold a prayer vigil for “all nascent life” on the 27th of November is received in the Netherlands. The result is pretty meagre, to be honest.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht and the dioceses of Breda and Roermond present scheduled prayer vigils, as well as the FSSP-run church of St. Agnes. Individual parishes here and there are also organising, but it’s not as much as could have been.
EDIT 2: Frederick reports that the St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch is also organising a vigil.
EDIT 3: Happy news during the announcements at Mass in my parish today: all Dutch cathedrals will host prayer vigils on the 27th, even those who have yet failed to advertise it.
So, bishops, priest, laity (yes, every Catholic is called by the pope to pray for life): get to it! There is still time to organise something.
Father Z muses about the meaning of the word ‘nascent’ in the pope’s call:
“I like the use of the word “nascent”. The very form, from the Latin deponent verb “nascor… to be born” suggests ongoing action. The -sc- element is inchoative: ongoing, beginning, not yet complete. That is to say, from the moment of conception the newly conceived person begins the process of being born. Sure, we identify different stages of development and birth. But from this other point of view, which I hear in “nascent human life”, every abortion would be a partial birth abortion.”