The influence of blogs

A combination of several things I read today made me think about how influential blogs are, especially Catholic blogs.

Father Z writes this blog post about priest bloggers and the issue of influence is discussed further in the comments. A certain Dutch blogger seems to think she is important enough to have caused the temporary closure of the website of the diocese of Rotterdam. Schoppenkoning concluded a month ago that we bloggers are really not as important and influential as we would like to think. In his Message for World Communications Day Pope Benedict XVI encourages priests to make use of modern media, including blogs.

These are just four points to consider. The Internet is big, very big. So is the Catholic Church. Certain Catholic blogs are also quite well-read, but is that enough? Are size and influence, so to speak, balanced?

A look at the situation in the Netherlands: When there are few Catholic bloggers, it takes little effort for them to be heard over their fellow Catholics, and therefore seem influential. But when we look at the raw numbers, as Schoppenkoning did, this is all very relative. My blog had some 3,500 views this month, from an international audience. 3,500 is not even 2% of the population of Groningen. That is not influential, and I don’t pretend it is, although to me the numbers very gratifying. I hazard to guess that the numbers are higher for other Dutch Catholic blogs, but not in the order of ten to twenty times as high. There are more than 4 million Catholics in the Netherlands. I would assume that Catholic blogs reach significantly less than 10% of them.

Blogging and other social media are important, and should be encouraged. It is a very easy way to reach people and relay information to them. No, more than just relaying information, communicating on a deeper level than is possible via radio or TV. Looking at the audience reached by Father Roderick, and their feedback, would support that.

It is easy to look at your blog and conclude it does well, and that you have done all you could. But there is still an entire world out there, even – no, especially – within the borders of the Netherlands. And there is a lot to gain if we want to make our voices be heard again – a necessity in our mute and inward-looking parishes and communities.

A blog, a podcast, any other means to reach out to people, is a great start. It is not necessarily an achievement if we want to reach out. Blogs by themselves very rarely work that way, unless you are one of a handful of very popular bloggers and podcasters, like Father Z or Fr Roderick, for example. But these men have the great advantage of having a large national or international audience (in both cases very much an American audience). Reaching the relatively small Dutch Catholic population is a different game altogether.

I don’t have the answers, though. But I think it is something to be aware off. A few thousand page views is great, but they are not a measure of influence. I even wonder if solitary Internet activities alone can ever be influential enough…

Still, Catholics: get active, reach out to others, be visible. It’s a good start, if not the be-all and end-all.

This quote by Saint Francis is also valid here: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Stats for January 2010

One month in, and my new blog has had a fair share of views.  Looking at the most popular posts, the dominant topics have been the two archbishops, Msgr. Eijk and Msgr. Léonard. The translation of the interview with the latter is far in the lead, thanks to links to it from such well-read blogs as Fr. Tim Finigan’s The Hermeneutic of Continuity and New Liturgical Movement.

I am also quite pleased to see that my translation of Msgr. Marini’s address has now reached 120 views. It has also been published at Catholica (although it seems to have vanished from their website now) and I have also received a request from the Latin Liturgy Society to use an edited version of the translation in the Easter edition of their bulletin. This is exactly what I had hoped to achieve with this blog: that important documents, interviews, speeches and what have you be available – and read! – in Dutch.

This is the top ten as of today:

1: ”The Belgian Church has been too passive” 858 views

2: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie 120 views

3: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 103 views

4: Support the archbishop 52 views

5: Mass and snow 34 views

6: A poignant photo 31 views

7: Msgr. Léonard new archbishop of Brussels 31 views

8: ’A courageous bishop 29 views

9: Help Haiti 27 views

10: Cardinals, a game of numbers 26 views

In total the blog had 3,484 views this month.

Fr Tim and the New Liturgical Movement are also the main websites through which people find my blog. Dutch blogging priest Schoppenkoning is also among them, with well over 150 referrals. Like Fr. John Boyle, he lists me in his blogroll, with visible results. Lastly, regular links on Twitter and Facebook also help.

A fun statistic to take a look at are the search terms people use to end up on my blog. The title of the blog is the best way to do so, but the name of Pieter Delanoy, the Belgian priest who doesn’t really get it, was also popular. So were things related to the College of Cardinals, Medjugorje, the pope’s new year address, Msgr. Léonard, Rector Schnell of the Bovendonk seminary, Father George Paimpilil, Haiti, Cardinal Danneels and the pope’s visit to the Rome synagogue. One person found this blog by accident, it seems: he searched from 25-year-old Inge from Amsterdam…

A headscratcher

Earth, not 6,000 years young

A weird story from the Dutch Bible belt today. A study of the archeology of the Dutch municipality Staphorst has caused discussion in the town’s council. One of the conclusions in the report was that the area of Staphorst was likely already inhabited more than 6,000 years ago, and that is a bit of a problem. Council member Klaas Hanke of the Christian Union: “Estimates of the age of the Earth vary in Christian circles between six and twelve thousand years.” Mr. Hanke is seemingly in favour of the most recent of these dates.

For ‘Christian circles’, please read ‘certain Protestant circles’.

The company who did the soil studies is willing to include a paragraph in the final report that acknowledges the existence of different opinions, but they will not go so far as to say that the age of the Earth may be only 6,000 years. Different opinions are one thing, changing facts is something else altogether.

Science secretary Ronald Plasterk asserted that the Earth’s age of some 5 billion years is sadly non-negotiable.

Facts and faith sometimes do bump into each other, but in my experience rarely as blatantly as this. It’s almost like saying that the sky is green because you read that somewhere, despite all evidence to the contrary. But I suppose that this is the risk you run if you own one book, the Bible, and treat it like a science book.

Or if you let politicians dabble in science, for that matter.


“I don’t consider myself a victim. Not at all.”

Populist newspaper De Telegraaf published an extensive interview with Archbishop Wim Eijk today. Sadly, it’s not available online, but excerpts have been quoted on various websites and blogs. Obviously, the standard questions were asked: Ariënskonvikt, financial situation of the archdiocese, the criticism against his person and actions…  

Some interesting tidbits from the interview:  

On losing church buildings and their future functions:  

“In the next decade we will close 1000 churches: 600 of the PKN (Protestant Church in the Netherlands) and 400 on the Catholic side. The coming ten years will be years of truth.”  

“The bishops prefer these churches to be demolished. But in some cases that is not possible since they are monuments.”  

“As Bishops’ Conference, we decided in the 1990s that churches can’t be used as mosques. It is a fact that, from the point of view of some Muslims, the use of a church as a mosque can be seen in the light of the mission people have, to convert everyone to Islam.”  

“The church can get another function, but it must be a worthy function. […] I can think of roles in health care or culture.”  

“If a Catholic church gets a new function as a church, we prefer it to be used by a Christian community.”  

About his decisions and his personal role:  

“I think that we should continue on this way, quietly and decisive. Jesus said that the servant is not above the master. That means that you won’t be more comfortable than Jesus. You must dare to invest something in the preaching of the Gospel.”  

“I am simply orthodox and I represent and preach the faith that the Church has preached for the past two thousand years, and I want to remain faithful to that. […] In the 1960s and 70s there was a diminished sense of religiosity in society [To put it mildly]. We now see a reconsideration. In general, young people are more open to tradition. If they still go to church, they generally want to celebrate the liturgy according to Roman custom. They look for authentic Christian faith. I see myself as a representative of that younger generation. I may have become a bit more visible because of certain policy decisions I had to make as archbishop. But I don’t consider myself a victim. Not at all.”  

About the future:  

“I am bishop for all Catholics. I go everywhere and try to be open for contacts with everyone. I am pointing out a more general trend. At the moment, some 16 percent of the Dutch population is still Catholic, but that will drop to 10% in 2020 [All the more need for us to become more visible, I would say]. The Catholics who practice their faith now are looking for the authentic faith.”  

“Our goal is to bring people into contact with God via Jesus. The preaching of the Gospel is not dependant on enormous financial means. Jesus and the apostles also started out with nothing. In the end it comes down to God’s mercy and power. He gives the fruits. We are asked to sow, but the Lord must reap. So sometimes you simply have to go on sowing and see where it will flower.”  

“The Church looks for dialogue. Dialogue is only worthwhile if it comes from the heart. […] If you don’t agree with something you can voice that disagreement, but you should do it on a basis of reasonable arguments and knowledge of your own opinions and those of others. Well, there is a lot lacking on both sides, I think.”  

About the trend to push anything religious out of the public sphere:  

“That is also a form of dictatorship, which leads me to think that that is not the way to go.” 

A priesthood choice

Had my plans worked out, I would have left for a few days’ retreat today. Sadly, things didn’t work out, but I have no doubt the future will hold ample opportunity to go.

I would have travelled south to the Franciscans in the town of Megen. The retreat would have been a simple one, aimed at exploring vocations. At the moment, I am quite ready for any kind of retreat, but this one specifically appealed to me, because of a question that any (future) seminarian or priest may ask himself: will I be a secular or religious priest?

The term ‘secular priest’ may seem like a paradox, but it simply indicates a priest who lives ‘in the world’, ie. works in a parish among the people. ‘Religious priests’ have made vows, are monks or friars, and usually live in communities. Of course, it’s not always as clear-cut as this. Religious priests may also work in parishes, and secular priests may live in communities. But essentially the difference is in the religious vows.

Either option is, I believe, one that requires a conscious choice. The secular priesthood may be the default form, at least in the Netherlands, but it need not be.

Discerning any vocation includes an analysis of who you are and what makes you tick, and what your relation to God is. If done well – there’s no guarantee – you will get a clearer idea of what your vocation is; is it to the pastoral care of parishioners and administring the sacraments, to increase people’s faith in size and depth? Or is it a contemplative life of prayer and study, or manual labour and education, or any combination of these and more, underpinned by the sacraments received and passed on?

A visit to a community of religious priests (although not all the brothers at Megen are priests) is, in my opinion, an essential addition to this discernment. Thinking and praying is all well and good, but a hands-on experience of the subject, however fleeting, would certainly do no harm.

I don’t know what I’ll be, say, ten years from now. I hope and pray that I may one day be ordained, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go right now. The rest will reveal itself in due course.

Politics and faith, courtesy of the bishops of Costa Rica

I’m not much up to date with current politics, mainly because, at best, it doesn’t really interest me and at worse the greed and stupidity depress me. That’s why I found out by chance that in March we’ll be having municipal elections. Since I do think it’s important to vote (even if it’s only to have the right to complain), I’ll have to take a good look at the myriad political parties and figure out who I can vote for.

In Costa Rica, there having presidential elections next month. The local bishops have released a statement to all Catholics in the country and told them to not leave their faith at the door of the poll booth. Elections are elections and Catholics are Catholics, so regardless of the origin, this statement also contains some good advice for Dutch voters. Some excerpts from the text, the original of which may be found here, in Spanish. Emphases mine.

“Before [the elections] the bishops want to recall the moral obligation to participate in the election.”

“In our Pastoral Exhortation Roads toward an authentic democracy, we affirmed that politics are a noble activity when it is geared towards the paths of justice, respect for human life, marriage, the family, religious freedom and the search for the common good.

“As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics” [Deus caritas est, 28].”

“We remind people who confess to the faith in Christ, especially the Catholic Christians, that our identity of disciples is not marginal and diluted in the exercise of our citizenship, and that the Christian faith has unavoidable implications in the field of political morality and public life.

“We ask all people of good will to analyze ahead of time and to attentively discern, guided by reason and ethics, the proposals set forth by candidates, in order to cast a vote that is responsible and reasoned.”

“We ask God for the gift of divine wisdom for our future rulers, with the words of the king Solomon:  “So give your servant a heart to understand how to govern your people, how to discern between good and evil” [1 Kings 3,9].

“At this time in our history, we invite the entire People of God to invoke the help of the Lord and the maternal protection of Our Lady of the Angels, so that we may once again feel her intercessory presence and she may guide us to strengthen our democracy in peace, justice and freedom.”

Cardinals, a game of numbers

A flock of cardinals

I’ve been reading up a bit on the possibility for a consistory sometime this year. A consistory is a meeting of the College of Cardinals and the pope where new members are elevated to the cardinalate. The reason that one may be called this year is the relatively large number of cardinals to reach the age of 80 this and next year. Once they reach that age they can no longer participate in a conclave to elect a new pope. In 2010, 11 cardinals will turn 80 (one of them, Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto, today actually), followed by 9 more in 2011 (among them the only Dutch cardinal, Cardinal Simonis).

This’ll bring down the number of electors to 92 at the end of 2011, unless a consistory is called before that. And that seems very likely, not least because it is more than two years since the last one. The identity of the new cardinals is anyone’s guess, but perhaps an indication may be found by taking a look at where the future octogenarians are from.

Hardest hit will be New Zealand, Lebanon, Cameroon, Latvia and the Netherlands, who will lose all their electors. Who will take their place?

  • In New Zealand, the see of Wellington has usually been occupied by a cardinal, so Archbishop John Atcherley Dew could be up for elevation there.
  • In Cameroon, any of the five archbishops seems likely. The country has a short history when it comes to cardinals, but looking at the diocesan connections of current Cardinal Tumi and the time in office of the other archbishops, we may see either Simon-Victor Tonyé-Bakot of Yaoundé or Antoine Ntalou of Garoua.
  • For the Netherlands there is really only one likely candidate, and that is Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht. Recent archbishops of Utrecht have all eventually been elevated to the cardinalate, but the relatively short time in office of Archbishop Eijk may be reason to wait for a future consistory.
  • As for Latvia and Lebanon, any guess is as good as the next. Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats is still active as archbishop of Riga and has no clear successor yet, and in Lebanon the mix of various brands of Catholicism with their respective patriarchs and bishops offers a number of options.

In Asia, the Philippines and South Korea will lose half their electors.

  • With 16 archbishops, there are numerous options in the Philippines. Cebu Archbishop Vidal will turn 80 but is still active, and he has two auxiliaries, one of whom may succeed him.
  • The same goes for South Korean Cardinal Cheong Jin-Suk, who is still working as archbishop of Seoul. The country only has three archbishops, so the choices are more limited. Daegu is currently vacant, so maybe Archbishop Andreas Choi Chang-mou of Kwangju will be elevated.

Canada, France and Spain will each lose one-third of their electors, and Italy and the United States a little more than one-fifth. Any guess is as good as any with this approach, due to the sheer size and Catholic population of the countries.

Why is it important to keep the number of cardinals somewhat steady? Well, perhaps to maintain a relative decent representation of the world Church. That is the reason why, over the course of the past centuries, the maximum size of the College has been increased to 120 now (which is a relatively loose limit anyway). Small Church provinces, like the Netherlands, may be represented by a single cardinal, larger countries by more. The title of cardinal – it’s not an ordination or consecration –  is also given as a sign of office: high members of the curia in Rome may be elevated, or bishops of important dioceses. In fact, the title of cardinal is not limited to bishops, although in practice it usually is. When a priest is elevated to the cardinalate, he is usually also consecrated to bishop.