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.