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As accidentally announced on twitter yesterday, the news may now be revealed properly. Amsterdam’s “cathedral on the IJ” – the strikingly domed St. Nicholas church that greets visitors arriving in the nation’s capital as they exit the central train station – has been elevated to the status of basilica minor. The actual elevation is set for Vespers on the eve of 9 December, the day on which the festivities marking the 125th anniversary of the new basilica’s dedication will be rounded off. Archbishop André Dupuy, the apostolic nuncio will then read the official document in which the decision is outlined.
Haarlem-Amsterdam’s Bishop, Msgr. Jos Punt, together with the parish council of Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas parish, made the official request to the Congregation for Divine Worship in July. This congregation motivates her decision to grant the request with two arguments: the veneration of Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of the city of Amsterdam; and the devotion to the Miracle of Amsterdam, which is still remembered annually by a night-time silent procession through the city’s heart.
Bishop Jan van Burgsteden, the retired auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam who is responsible for the pastoral care in the parish, said: “This is the witness of a inspirational and missionary parish community. We hope that the Church and community may grow and flourish further in the years to come.” He referred to the many volunteers who kept the St. Nicholas alive and thriving, even when secularisation forced the closure of many churches.
The elevation of the St. Nicholas raises the number of Dutch basilicas to 24, of which three are in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. The Archdiocese of Utrecht has eight, the Diocese of Breda three, Roermond six, Rotterdam one, and ‘s Hertogenbosch three. In the Caribbean Netherlands, the Diocese of Willemstad has one basilica.
The title of minor basilica is an honourific, a recognition of the import of a church building and of its value for the Catholic value using it. It also means that the church in question plays an exemplary role when it comes to pastoral care and liturgy.
With Lent having begun this month, the top 10 of most-read posts has a distinct Lenten taste. Last year’s post about the Stations of the Cross is, fittingly for this time of year, at number 1. Japan ranks understandably also high, as do messages for Lent, and a post about Ash Wednesday.
The number of visitors for March was 4,939, the second-highest number since I began this blog. The total number of visitors is now 76,943.
1: The Stations of the Cross 247
2: A surprise to no one, a Dutch politician in favour of rampant secularisation 137
3: Pray for Japan 94
4: To rub or not to rub 93
5: Boodschap voor de Vastentijd 2011 64
6: Bootcamp program unfolds 53
7: Stille Omgang 2011, Dutch missionary bishop in the dock 52
8: Dutch bishops’ encouragement for Lent 49
9: Papal message for Lent 43
10: St. John the Baptist in Bulgaria? 40
The experience of participating in the annual Stille Omgang – a night time silent march through Amsterdam, in memory of the 1345 Eucharistic miracle that took place there – is different every year. For me, it was unexpectedly different than previous years.
This year, me and a group of friends travelled down to the Dutch capital on our own. That was different in itself, since we normally joined other people from our diocese. Sadly, this year nothing was organised from Groningen-Leeuwarden (although, oddly enough, the diocesan youth worker was present in Amsterdam), so we took it upon ourselves to go.
In Amsterdam, we took part in the youth program in the church of Moses and Aaron, a building no longer used for regular religious celebrations. After a performance by sand artist Gert van der Vijver, Father Michel Remery held an introduction about the Eucharist. After his initial remarks, he presented a number of questions about why we need the Eucharist, what the Eucharist is and the role of priests in the Eucharist to the audience. People were invited to respond to these questions and their replies were frankly shocking. The vast majority of them were tainted by rampant individualism (“if it feels good to me to attend a prayer service instead of Mass, it must be right”) and Protestantism (“the Eucharist is not necessary to meet Christ, and is comparable to the Protestant Lord’s Supper” and “We should not judge others and accept the different opinions”). As if the Eucharist, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and His presence among us, is a matter of opinion and feeling. At the root here lies an idea that there is no truth, only that which we make ourselves. This makes God, who is Truth, subject to human whims.
Luckily, Fr. Remery generally responded well, and there were also some audience members who gave good responses (and even got some applause for it). But seriously: the level of Catholic education in this country is atrocious. I knew it was bad, but it seems that we need to rebuild it from the ground up.
That need for further elucidation and explanation was seemingly also felt by Bishop Jos Punt, who was the main celebrant at Mass, and who adapted his homily to include some personal experiences regarding the Eucharist. I have always considered the bishop to generally be a good homilist, both in delivery and in content, and he proved it here again. As for the effect of his comments, those will remain to be seen.
What struck me in the march itself, which had some 7,000 participants, was the enormous contrast between it and the streets it passed through. Filled with bars, coffee shops, drunk people and the stench of drugs, they are nothing more than hell holes. That depressed me, all those people who had no idea what on earth they (or we) were doing. I’m not against enjoying oneself with a few drinks and some partying, but this was quite simply excess.
So there you have it, a march through secular Amsterdam on its worst, while the mind is full of thoughts about the Eucharist and concern for the Catholic education in the Netherlands. It can get depressing, but, as I said a man I met just before Mass, we have to keep hoping.