Emeritus Bär of Rotterdam admitted to hospital

A short message on the website of the Diocese of Rotterdam announces that Msgr. Philippe Bär OSB, emeritus bishop of Rotterdam, has been admitted to hospital because of heart problems “which require surgical attention”. It does not seem to be too urgent, since the surgery is set to take place “one of these days”, but a long period of recovery “is expected”. The bishop is said to appreciate any prayer for his recuperation.

82-year-old Bishop Bär lives in the Benedictine monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium. He was auxiliary bishop of Rotterdam from 1982 to 1983 and bishop of the same diocese from 1983 to 1993. During that time he was also military vicar, and later military ordinary, of the Netherlands.

Well wishes may be sent to:

Monastère Bénédictin
Rue du monastère 65
B – 5590 – Chevetogne


A new shepherd for the Ukrainians

On the day that the new patriarch of the Maronite Catholics was enthroned, another major church in full communion with Rome receives a new head as well. After is election on Thursday, the name of the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč and President of the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was revealed today. And it is the name of the fourth-youngest bishop in the whole of the Catholic Church: almost 40-year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The Ukrainian Byzantine Church has at least 4 million members in 18 dioceses, 5 archdioceses and 6 exarchates spread across the Ukraine, the United States, Canada, Poland, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom. Until February of this year, the helm of this Byzantine fold of the Catholic Church was in the hands of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who held the post since 2004. New Archbishop Shevchuk was  auxiliary bishop of the Argentine diocese from 2009 to early 2010, after which he oversaw that same diocese as apostolic administrator until his election to Kyiv-Halyč.

So another new player enters the field and, considering his young age, will continue to have an influence for decades to come.

EDIT: Two days after his enthronement, Archbishop Shevchuk said that he would ask Pope Benedict XVI to elevate the Ukrainain Church to a patriarchate, saying that “each developing church [becomes] a patriarchate, because a patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church.” If the pope will grant this, remains to be seen. Possible opposition from the Orthodox Church is said to have been a reason for Pope John Paul II to not yet grant this wish, which was also expressed by Cardinal Husar.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

‘The Lord will give you a sign’

‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)

Yahweh spoke to Ahaz again and said: ‘Ask Yahweh your God for a sign, either in the depths of Sheol or in the heights above.’
But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask. I will not put Yahweh to the test.’
He then said: ‘Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying human patience that you should try my God’s patience too? The Lord will give you a sign in any case: It is this: the young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.’

Isaiah 7:10-14

Magnificat anima mea Dominum
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillæ suæ: ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo, dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes,
Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiæ suæ,
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in sæcula.

Towards the altars – the case of Dora Visser progresses

More than a year ago I wrote about the appointment of Msgr. Karel Kasteel, former secretary of “Cor Unum”, as postulator for the beatification phase of Dora Visser and Alfons Ariëns. The process of the former is now making headway.

On Monday Archbishop Wim Eijk swore in a  three-member historical commission tasked with conducting a historical investigation of the life of Servant of God Dora Visser and create a written report, which will be used to establish the vita documentata. The aim of that work is to demonstrate the virtuous life of a candidate for beatification.

The historical commission is pictured above with the archbishop (centre), Auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom (behind him) and chancellor Zuijdwijk (second from left). They are chairman  H.H.M. Jansen (left), secretary M.L.N.M Rijmers (right) and general member L.A.M. Schulte (second from right).

Auxiliary Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, the archdiocese reports, is working to create an ecclesiastical court for the beatification process which is to conduct a trial on the diocesan level about life and virtues of Dora Visser. A similar court took the first steps towards possible beatification in 2005. Msgr. Hoogenboom hopes to have the court in place before the summer.

Photo credit: Archdiocese of Utrecht

Stille Omgang 2011

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.

The church of Moses and Aaron

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.

Fr. Remery

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.

On the Solemnity of Saint Joseph

Detail of St. Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour, 1642

In the readings of today, we hear about the pedigree of Christ and the covenant between God and the people Israel, represented by King David. This kinship between God and His people is most immediately visible in Saint Joseph. The foster father of Our Lord was a descendant of David, and so Christ’s humanity, raised in Jewish society by “an upright man” (Matt. 1:19), is related to that of David and the chosen people of God.

Today we celebrate this great saint, the patron of the universal Church, and example for all, especially men, who care for children and everyone who puts their faith in God, despite limitations on their part.

Holy Saint Joseph, pray for us who wish to follow in the footsteps of your foster son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
That we may keep faith, hope and love in the face of doubt, adversity and misunderstanding;
Watch over the love in families, between parents and children, and between those who desire to be married and become parents;
Also, especially, pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and all who have taken your name at their baptism,
That you may be an example and foster father to them throughout their lives,
As you are for Him to Whom we entrust all our being,
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Off the deep end

Dutch Europarliamentarian Sophie in ‘t Veld – who appeared in this blog before, displaying her ignorance about the separation of church and state – now goes off the deep end in British newspaper The Guardian. In her article, she attacks any religious influence on public life, and makes  the claim that the European Union and her parliament are the only arbiters of right and wrong.

Let’s analyse:

Europe is generally regarded as the most secularised continent in the world. But in few EU member states is there a complete separation between church and state. The old interweaving of religious and worldly authority still makes itself felt in many countries today.

In England, the head of state is also titular governor of the church and bishops are members of the House of Lords. Finland and Denmark still have an official state religion (a formality, jut like the English royals must be Anglican and the Dutch ones must be Dutch reformed), and in Greece up until recently, the Orthodox church was in charge of the public civil status register. Everywhere, churches maintain a firm grasp on education, the care and medical sectors (the Catholic Church still is responsible for much of the care for sufferers of AIDS in the Third World, for example. Hardly a bad thing), and the media. Churches have formal and informal positions of exception by law, which are sometimes used to refuse public services such as abortion or same-sex marriage, or to evade secular authority in cases of child abuse (Can you tell where this is going?).

Europeans may take a sceptical view of political leaders who are too quick to express religious faith in public (while in the US an atheist president is virtually inconceivable), yet churches have a greater influence on politics than many people realise. The Vatican has a special position due to the highly centralised organisation and its status as a state.

Worryingly (?), religion is also increasingly making its presence felt in the corridors of the European Union – even though the EU was designed as a strictly secular project (by whom? Not the populace of Europe). The treaty of Lisbon includes article 17 on the dialogue of the EU institutions with churches and non-confessional organisations. This forms the basis for an annual summit of religious leaders with the leaders of the EU institutions. Secular organisations are largely ignored (Yet the EU consists of secular organisations. You can say that it speaks for them, while religious groups are dialogue partners outside it).

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, have special high-level cabinet officials whose job it is to maintain relations with churches. The EU has official diplomatic relations with the Vatican (of course, as Vatican City is a state). The Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the most powerful lobby groups in Brussels (Good to hear).

Other religions also have representatives in Brussels, but they are less influential than the Roman Catholic church (This is not about religion or faith in public, is it? it’s about the Catholic Church and Catholics in politics). Their collective influence is not to be underestimated, however. In addition, religions have influence from the pulpit, if necessary by threatening excommunication if politicians adopt standpoints that are at odds with official doctrine (Sure. Same goes for political parties and any other institition. if you don’t abide by the rules, there must be consequences).

We are witnessing the emergence of the European equivalent to the “religious right” in the US (Just the religious presence, more like). Areas affected by this rise include women’s rights, gay rights and sexual and reproductive health rights as well as healthcare (such as contraception, abortion, condoms and IVF) (Yawn. Hello, 1960s). Freedom of expression is also affected, generally in the form of laws against blasphemy (Blasphemy and insult is now freedom?). Freedom of religion is often conceived as a collective right of religion to exempt itself from the law, particularly the EU fundamental rights (No. It is a right to live one’s faith without fear of persecution or repression, which Ms. In ‘t Veld seems to be advocating).

Religious lobbies are, for example, highly active against the broad European anti-discrimination directive that is in the works. Under intense pressure from religious lobbies, the European commission was initially reluctant to table a directive by which discrimination against gay people could be combated (Discrimination is bad, but its opposite is not mindless acceptance of any actions one can think of).

Invoking religious freedom, the lobbies are negotiating exceptions to the ban on discrimination, including discrimination against gay people, or for the right of confessional schools to discriminate (Again, not discrimination, but defense of values and teaching, of freedom of religion). In this way, discriminatory practices are effectively being written in stone, while the principle of equality is one of the explicit pillars of European unification Again, equality is not the same as mindless acceptance of every possible thing).

The European commission scarcely dares to take action when member states invoke religious freedom to disregard EU-fundamental rights. For example, in the case of Lithuania, when a law was passed that bans the “promotion of homosexuality”, effectively rendering gay people invisible (Who passes that law? Churches? I think not).

The controversial Hungarian media law also includes a paragraph of this type, which states that the media must show respect for marriage and the institution of family, whereby the government aims to constitutionally enshrine the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman (Which it is. A matter of natural law). The new Hungarian media supervisor has already qualified public expressions of homosexuality as in conflict with these standards (naturally), and therefore potentially punishable under the new law. Discrimination of this type is clearly in conflict with the ban on discrimination in the EU treaties (People are not being discriminated against. Weird redefinitions of marriage are).

In the asylum and immigration legislation, religious lobbies are advocating for a conservative definition of “family” for purposes of “family reunification”, or against the recognition of homosexuality as grounds for seeking asylum (Well, politicians in Europe have hardly a right to speak up for immigrants… And homosexuality by itself is no ground for seeking asylum. Persecution is.).

The fight against HIV/Aids and the reduction of maternal mortality also form targets for the religious lobbies, which are attempting to impose their own sexual morals such as a ban on condoms (more than morals, scientifically defendable theories).

This is abuse of freedom of religion (wrong), which was intended to protect the individual against oppression and coercion on the part of the regime (which is exactly what happens if the tenets of a faith are compromised upon the insistence of regimes). Religious organisations do not determine where the boundaries of fundamental rights should be set (Yes, they do). The EU fundamental rights are currently in the process of finding increasing expression in legislation. It is unacceptable for this legislation to be biased according to a strict religious morality (Instead, it must be based on the whims of politicians and the electorate?). It is high time for the secular nature of the European project to be re-emphasised. Europe doesn’t do God (tell that to the millions of Christians in your treasured EU, ms. In ‘t Veld. You are curtailing their freedom).

Perhaps it is time to replace “freedom of religion” by freedom of beliefs or conscience, an individual right that can be claimed by 500 million Europeans in all of their diversity (Ah, in the end, here is the core of modern society: individualism above all else. Well, in that case. I choose to make up my own mind. Ms. In ‘t Veld doesn’t need to do that for me).

Wikipedia tells us that Europe is home to more than 280 million Catholics. Something to keep in mind when denying rights in the name of liberalism.

A new chief shepherd for the Maronites

Across the world the one Catholic Church is present in various cultures and societies in different ways. Especially in the Middle East we find various Churches which are styled Catholic. Examples are the Armenian Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church and the topic of this blog post, the Maronite Church. These are not separate churches, but churches in ‘full communion’ with Rome. This means what I wrote in my first sentences: rather than different churches assembled under the banner of Rome, they are embodiments of the one Catholic Church in various countries.

These churches, while being Catholic and thus part of the pope’s patrimony, are often led by patriarchs (although the exact title may differ per church). For almost 25 years the Maronite Church was led by Cardinal-Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir. Although Maronite patriarchs usually stay on until death, 90-year-old Patriarch Sfeir’s resignation was accepted in late February.

In a conclave that is strikingly similar to the election of a new pope, the Maronite bishops came together in the Maronite heartland of Bkerké, Lebanon and, after five days, they elected Bishop Béchara Raï  of Jbeil as the new patriarch. Patriarch Raï will be formally enthroned on 25 March.

The Maronite Church traces its foundation to Saint John Maron, who established the Christian community at Bkerké in the 7th century. Today, the Maronite Church claims between 3 and 3.5 million faithful across the globe. It has 8 archdioceses, 15 dioceses and 2 patriarchal exarchates in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Jordan.

So history and numbers come together to assure the importance of this new appointment. Patriarch Raï is 71 and not unfamiliar with his patriarchal see of Antioch; he was auxiliary bishop there between 1986 and 1990 before being appointed to Jbeil. In Lebanon, the historic heartland of the Maronites, the patriarch is an important political player, although he is not involved in any local or national government himself, of course. Patriarch Raï is considered to be a moderate with good connections with all political players.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Blogging from the scene

New on the blog roll: Bishop Isao’s Memo, the blog of Msgr. Isao Kikuchi, bishop of Niigata, one of the dioceses hit by last week’s earthquake and tsunami. Bishop Kikuchi appeared on my blog before, with a quote about the Japanese Church’s intention to do their part in the relief of the stricken areas.

He blogs about the aftermath of the disaster in heavily-hit Sendai and the adjacent areas, and about his work with Caritas Japan and other Catholic relief agencies in the area. Interesting and current stuff!

Bishop Kikuchi is 52, and a member of the Society of the Divine Word, a missionary society founded in 1875 by St. Arnold Janssen in Steyl, the Netherlands. He made his vows in 1985 and was ordained a priest for the missionaries in 1986. In 2004 he became the third bishop of Niigata.

A Dutch Passion

It’s still five weeks away, but in Gouda (d. of Rotterdam) preparations are underway for a re-enactment of the story of Easter. Following the example of the similar event held in Manchester, UK (video), The Passion is promised to be a multi-media spectacle centered around the 15th-century city hall and market square. In it, the story of the Passion of Jesus is told through modern pop music. The Passion is an ecumenical project, but according to Bishop Everard de Jong, who represented the bishops’ conference at a press conference on 10 March, it has a distinct Catholic flavour:

“The Protestant tradition doesn’t know imagery. It is all about the Word. This is a representation, a Catholic approach. Of course you can never express who Jesus is, who God is, in images. Perhaps we Catholics are a bit more relaxed in that regard, but saying that images can refer to God.”

In an interview with Kruispunt Radio, the bishop explained the importance of the project.

“With modern music, with the language of today, you well link to the language of Jesus Himself. Jesus spoke the language of His time, and also participated in festivities: he turned 600 litres of water in 600 litres of wine. He was also incultured. The intention of this project is to let Jesus enter the streets of Gouda and so the streets of the Netherlands, and ultimately the hearts of people.”

At the aforementioned press conference, the organisers made public the names of the people to perform to roles of Jesus and Mary. Jesus will be portrayed by singer Syb van der Ploeg (pictured below) who, at the very least, looks the part somewhat. The role of His mother, the Blessed Virgin, is performed by singer Dominique Rijpma van Hulst, better known as Do (pictured above). While Van der Ploeg has a fairly respectable career as a musician and actor under his belt, and is therefore a pretty good choice for such a project, I question the choice for Do as Mary. Her musical talents may be fine, but selecting a former Playboy model for such a  role is hardly wise. Not if you want to not only teach people about what Easter is (the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, on their site, claims that 75% of young people between 12 and 18 have no clue), but also want to do so in a way that is consistent with the teachings and example of Christ.(which I believe is a safe conclusion to draw from statements from the organisers, who see this as a missionary project). That extends, in my opinion, to the choice of music, setting and also actors and singers you involve in such an endeavour.

But despite these reservations, I am looking forward to The Passion, which is one of the largest media projects undertaken by Catholic broadcasters in recent years.

The Passion is project of broadcast companies EO and RKK, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the Catholic Church, the Dutch Bible Society and the municipality of Gouda. It will be broadcast live on television, radio and Internet on Maundy Thursday, with a  repeat on Holy Saturday.