WYD destinations – Madrid

Cardinal Rouco Varela, seen her presenting the WYD backpack to the pope, will be hosting the WYD for the second time

When we leave Zaragoza for Madrid on 15 August, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, archbishop in the Spanish capital, will be receiving the youth of the world for the second time in his career as bishop. When the World Youth Days of 1989 were held in Santiago de Compostela, he was archbishop there. In 1994 he was moved to Madrid, where, from 16 to 21 August, the 2011 edition of the WYD will take place.

The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Madrid lies in the Spanish heartland. It is one of the smaller dioceses in size, but not in population, since it contains the urban sprawl of the Spanish capital. There are an estimated 3.5 million Catholics  (about 90% of the total population) living in the archdiocese. As a diocese, Madrid is not very old. Only in 1885 was it split off from the Archdiocese of Toledo. In 1964 it became an Archdiocese, but it took until 1991 for two suffragan dioceses, Alcalá de Henares and Getafe, to be split off from Madrid., and it to become a Metropolitan see. The map below shows the location of the triangular Province of Madrid, with the archdiocese in dark green.

Map showing the location of the Archdiocese of Madrid

The current episcopal hierarchy of Madrid consists of the aforementioned Cardinal Rouco Varela and three auxiliary bishops – Msgr. César Franco Martínez, Msgr. Fidel Herráez Vegas and Msgr. Juan Martínez Camino.

The cathedral of the archdiocese if the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena – the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena – located on the western edge of Madrid’s old centre. It is also a fairly new cathedral, only consecrated by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1993.

It is not known yet if the cathedral will be playing a part in our own travel plans. While in Madrid, there will be daily Masses as well as catechesis session, but the latter will be taking place in the Basílica de Nuestro Padre Jesús de Medinaceli, located only a few hundred meters from the location where Pope Benedict XVI will be welcomed into the city on 18 August. The basilica is built around a statue of Jesus the Nazarene, which has gained a solid devotion over the course of centuries. It is said to play a part in the Stations of the Cross on 19 August.

The interior of the Basilica of Our Father Jesus of Medinaceli

The wide reach of Anders Breivik

Observant readers may have noticed that  I have not yet written about the horrible murders that hit Norway a week ago today. There is a reason for that, and that is that I try to stick to a fairly narrow field of interest in this blog – Catholic news from the Netherlands and the countries around it. But I also don’t want to pretend that Catholic news is segregated from other news. So attention to the gruesome events that left 77 people dead does seem warranted. After all, I did so as well when other types of disasters – natural ones – hit Haiti, Japan and New Zealand. But there is one obstacle with two sides that kept me from writing: the fact that I know not nearly enough about the political leanings of the murderer, which do play a major part in the story, and that other writers have written about it much better than I can.

Flowers on the shore of Utøya, where 68 people where murdered

But one part of the entire story did present itself to me these past few days, and I think that that is well-suited to be discussed here. It’s the effect that the perpetrator of the attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, had on Catholic media and Catholic blogs over here and abroad.

The first example of Breivik’s twisted thoughts and acts affecting a fellow blogger came to me a few days ago. Father Dwight Longenecker discovered that Breivik read his blog, via a link from a Norwegian website that the killer contributed to. The comments that Breivik made about a post by Fr. Longenecker were

“nothing extreme or weird in itself.

Nevertheless, to think that my blog is out there as part of this new global publishing phenomenon and that anybody at all can read it is always amazing. To think that this madman read at least one post on my blog was disturbing at first. Naturally I wondered if I had written anything to prompt such hatred and violence.

I don’t think I have.” [Blog post Creepy and Disturbing]

Fr. Longenecker concludes that all we can do is “be silent and pray”. Which is a bit harder when the link between the murderer and you becomes even more personal, which happened to Catholica editor Tom Zwitser and contributor Erik van Goor. The politically conservative and Catholic orthodox writers both received the 1,600-page manifesto that Breivik had e-mailed to what he assumed were ‘kindred spirits’. Zwitser seemingly shrugged it off, although he does conclude that Breivik consciously tried to harm him and other conservative authors and politicians, since the list of recipients consisted of people Breivik did not know personally, but who are now linked to the criminal acts of 22 July. On 27 July, Zwitser wrote on Twitter:

My email address is public. Breivik, who has never read a word from me, thought that I would have any interest in his twisted ideas. Should I now start tweeting and blogging in Norwegian that I have more in common with a proper Muslim than with a dangerous liberal/neocon like him?

For Erik van Goor, the link between Breivik and him was even more of a surprise, and the consequences go farther. As he writes in an announcement, when the attacks happened, Van Goor was on vacation, and only upon coming home did he hear that his name was among those to whom the manifesto was sent. He writes:

“Even though many people, among them numerous friends, have assured me that I don carry any blame (my email address appeared and appears to be circulating freely on the Internet), this whole affair is to me a continuous stone which does not simply go away. The association between my name and the events in Norway may be reasoned away, but emotionally it makes me sick.”

With the ensuing flood of media attention for him, Van Goor decides to step back for now as contributor to Catholica and focus on his duties as husband and father until this storm abates.

And so, on an unprecedented large scale, Catholic bloggers and writers are hit by the backlash of one man’s gruesome actions. I don’t know why Breivik selected Fr. Longenecker, Tom Zwitser, Erik van Goor and all those others to be inspired by or to drag into his ‘project’ (for it does seem to be a well-planned socio-political endeavour), but it does make them into victims, especially since more than a few people now do exactly what Breivik wanted: linking them recipients of his manifesto to the horrible murders committed by him, as if to show that a certain school of thought automatically leads to murder.

I agree with Fr. Longenecker when he says that all we can do is be silent and pray. But while we, as Catholics, as bloggers, as people who made a small corner of the Internet their own, do that, we can take a lesson from all this. Our writings are out there for the world to read. And sometimes they are read – even commented on and written about – by people who do stupid and terrible things. But as long as we take the following words by Pope Benedict XVI to heart, I don’t think we need to worry about that too much.

It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). [Message for the 45th World Day of Communications].

But all the same, such events do affect us personally. We may be able to reason much of it away, but they are a small cross we nonetheless bear, at least temporarily.

As Norway mourns and buries her dead, and as Anders Breivik goes to meet his earthly judgement, may all those unwillingly linked to horror and death be given the time and chance to process all of this.

Photo credit: [1] Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

A colourful nuncio for a colourful nation

With sadness I read the news of the passing of the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, after complications following lung surgery. Although I have never written about or ben involved with the archbishop, either personally or through the medium of this blog, from other writers I get the unmistakable impression that he was a colourful character, a perfect fit for such a large and dynamic nation as the United States, and he will be sorely missed.

Whispers has a full report with all the details, including the great quote below, given by Archbishop Sambi in 2007 at an education convention:

[A] young man, 22 years old, once took a piece of marble and sculpted in  it two of the most deep human sentiments: suffering accepted from the  hand of God does not diminish the beauty of the human person but  increases it, and — second sentiment — even in death, a son continues  to have full confidence in his mother.

This is the Pietá of Michelangelo, that you can see everytime you enter in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome.

Michelangelo, the author of the Pietá, is considered one of the greatest artists in the world. I don’t believe it! The greatest artists are the educators — are you– because you try to sculpt the best of yourselves, of who you are and  what you know, not in a piece of marble, but in living, breathing human  beings, who are the glory of God.

Also be sure to read the touching words written by Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Even a cursory glance at the rota of bishop appointments overt he ast few years will reveal the good that Archbishop Sambi has done. Even in the final weeks, his work led to the appointment of Archbishop Charles Chaput to Philadelphia: a sign of promise and hope for the future, and an indication of the nuncio’s good nose for prelatial transfers.

WYD destinations – Zaragoza

On 10 August I, and some 100 other young people, will depart Utrecht to head south to Spain. Our destination: the World Youth Days in Madrid. Along the way to the ultimate celebration of faith, hope and love that is the vigil and Mass with people from all over the globe and united with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, we will stop at various places. The first is the Archdiocese of Zaragoza, where we will take part in the so-called Days in the Diocese as preparation for the actual WYD, which starts on 16 August.

The Archdiocese of Zaragoza is indicated in dark green on this map

The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Zaragoza is one of Spain’s 71 dioceses, archdioceses and other circumscriptions. It is an ancient diocese, tracing its history back to the 5th century, when it was named for Caesar Augustus. In 1318 it became an archdiocese.

As a metropolitan archdiocese it has four suffragan dioceses, indicated in light green on the map to the left: Barbastro-Monzón, Huesca, Tarazona and Teruel y Albarracín.

The city of Zaragoza, from which the archdiocese takes its name, is located on the Ebro river, and so is the cathedral church, the Catedral de El Salvador de la Seo. Zaragoza also has a co-cathedral, the Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, located just a few hundred meters upriver from the cathedral. This Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is built on the site where the Apostle St. James the Great saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin in the year 40, even before her assumption into heaven. Subsequently, the place, tradition has it, became the site for the first church in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Centrepiece of the basilica is the small wooden statue of the Virgin, given to the Apostle with the instruction to build a church in her honour.

Our Lady of the Pillar

Together with young pilgrims from Poland and Italy, we will be the guests of the clergy and faithful of the city and archdiocese. There will be cultural and spiritual events, in and around the city and in the co-cathedral. Just before our departure for Madrid, Archbishop Manuel Ureña Pastor is expected to offer Mass for us all, quite likely in concelebration with clergy from the archdiocese and from our own groups.

Archbishop Manuel Ureña Pastor, 66, who came to the see of Zaragoza in 2005 after having headed three other dioceses - Ibiza, Alcalá de Henares and Cartagena - since his consecration in 1988

The five Days in the Diocese will be neatly divided in events for smaller and larger groups, as well as major events for all pilgrims. Among the latter will be a Christian art festival on the next to last day. The archdiocese offers a word of welcome and a schedule.

Blessed Titus’s final tweet

69 years ago today, Blessed Titus Brandsma breathed his last breath in concentration camp Dachau. The exact circumstances in which this holy priest died are not known, but it is certain that he was murdered, both through exhaustion, hard labour, physical violence, as through lethal injection. And with today’s remembering of his birth into heaven, Blessed Titus also stops tweeting.

“In paradisum deducant te angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem” was the text of the final tweet, taken from the Requiem Mass.

For more than seven months, Twitter users were able to follow the final months of the life of the Carmelite priest in both English and Dutch. The accounts gathered 170 and 1,363 followers respectively. Katholiek Nederland announces this milestone here, and promises to continue with “ways in which we can allow this In Memoriam show an extra stage on social media”, but sadly won’t continue to do so in English. A shame, since the project that ended today,was duly noted by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in February. I wonder what could have been achieved in the future if dual-language projects were to continue.

Through which ordeals of conscience, of character, of the heart, did a follower of Christ who kept His words about loving the enemy in mind, have to go! To not answer hate with hate, but with love. Perhaps that s one of the greatest ordeals of the moral strengths of man.

Titus Brandsma emerged victorious from this ordeal. Where hate ruled, he managed to love; even his guards: “They too are children of the good Lord,”  he said, “and perhaps something will stick in them…”


And today the face of Father Titus Brandsma also appears before us and on it we see his radiant smile in God’s glory. He speaks to the faithful of his country, the Netherlands, and to all the faithful of the world to once again confirm what has been the conviction of all his life: “Even though the new paganism does no longer want love… love will once again let us gain the hearts of the pagans… the reality of life will always let her be a force which is victorious in and captures the hearts of people.”

– Blessed Pope John Paul II, Homily at the beatification of Titus Brandsma, 3 November 1985.

The busy-ness of daily life

I’ve been unable to spend enough time on my blog lately, due to all sorts of real-life commitments. Of course, the various major news items – the horrific attacks in Norway, the diplomatic crisis between Ireland and the Holy See, to name but two –  have not gone unnoticed, but in the Netherlands, the Catholic news stream has been fairly quiet. Although the weather would have us believe otherwise, it is summer, and things simply are a bit quieter.

Of course, when things happen, I will write about it, sometimes simply reporting, at other times with my opinion and thoughts attached. For now, though, things are a bit quieter than usual, but I expect that the weeks of August and after will compensate for that. I’ll be gone for two weeks then, to participate in the World Youth Days in Madrid, which will undoubtedly lead to plenty of food for blogging.

Bishop Liesen on EWTN

An unexpected peak in my blog stats appeared these past two days, coupled with a sudden interest in Bishop Jan Liesen, auxiliary of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The reason? His appearance on EWTN, where he gave the homily in a televised Mass.

Watch it below. The bishop’s homily starts at about 6:40.

The video’s title, as well as the captions on EWTN consistently identify Msgr. Liesen as bishop of Tunnuna, his titular diocese.

Archdiocese of Utrecht on the map

More than once, I lamented the fact that the Dutch dioceses offer virtually nothing in the way of maps of their areas of jurisdiction. Whereas dioceses, and even parishes, abroad sometimes have appealing and useful maps of their territory, in the Netherlands we have to make do with the vaguest of indications of what diocese begins and ends where – a bit of this province, a part of that.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht now makes a start in filling that gap. On this map we find the borders of the archdiocese and of the 49 parishes – the result of mergers and consolidation. Also indicated are the locations of churches and parish offices.

Now, it must be emphasised, as the makers of the map do, that the map is not excessively accurate. “It is a general indication. The map is not meant to indicate the borders of parishes to the centimeter.” Still, it does indicate some of the anomalies that are ever present along diocesan boundaries: stretches of empty (or not so empty) land which one would expect to belong to one diocese, actually belong to Utrecht, and vice versa.

The image at the top of this blog post also show how Catholicism is spread in this part of the Netherlands. A very strong presence in the south and east (and also west, but that is also due to the fact that that area is more heavily populated anyway), and not so much in the centre and north; areas that are traditionally very orthodox Protestant, part of the Dutch Bible belt.

A good start of the process of offering accurate map of the Catholic Netherlands, offering ample room for development and improvement.

Bootcamp 2011: The (Good) Shepherd

I am back from two days (and a bit) at the latest edition of the Credimus Bootcamp, an undeservedly shortened edition this time. Next year is the fifth edition, and this potentially week-long camp of Catholic catechesis, culture and enjoyment will hopefully have a record number of attendants then. I will certainly be there again.

This year’s speakers were a diverse bunch, even though the general theme was that of the shepherd: the Good Shepherd that is Jesus Christ, but also our every day shepherds, the bishops, the shepherd of the world Church, the pope and some of his predecessors, and the shepherd’s duty of taking care of his sheep.

Fr. Bunschoten during his lecture

There was Deacon John van Grinsven speaking about his work with the homeless and addicted; Brother Ignatius Maria of the Community of St. John, who led a Bible study on the imagery of the shepherd in the Gospel of John (and also the OT books of Ezekiel and Zechariah); Fr. Floris Bunschoten who introduced us to the bishops’ task of sanctifying their flock; and Fr. David van Dijk, our host, who took us through the popes from Blessed Pius IX to our current Holy Father. Quite a variety of topics, which were supplemented by unscheduled conversations with visiting clergy and communal dinners, prayer and Mass (in both forms of the Latin rite).

Mass in the ordinary form of the Latin rite, celebrated ad orientem

Personally, I enjoyed the two days in the parish of St. Mary Magdalene, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, as a welcome immersion in Catholic life. The rhythm of prayer, the sharing of knowledge and ideas, the enjoyment of the company of fellow faithful all made for a bootcamp that really deserves more attention, attendance and publicity. Next year is the fifth edition, so let’s hope and pray that it may turn out to be the best edition yet!

Understanding active participation

Father Z responds to a question about the prayerful invitation by the priest to the faithful to : “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” An invitation given when the gifts of bread and wine are on the altar, have been prayed over and incensed.

In relation to this point in the order of Mass, Father Z offers a great way to help our active participation, to unite the actions of the priest and the needs and prayers of the congregation:

Here is something I can recommend for your deeper active participation in this invitation by the priest.

It can help to identify ourselves with the gifts placed on the altar for consecration.

The congregation is  invited by the priest to unite their sacrifices to those he offers in his manner of offering.

We all have both burdens and reasons to rejoice.  Therefore, when the priest or deacon is preparing the chalice, when he puts drops of water (the symbol of the human) into the wine (the symbol of the divine) to be mingled – the lesser being transformed within the greater – try consciously to  place into that chalice all your cares, aspirations, sentiments of gratitude, petitions, and all that you are.  Let it all be joined, before they are stupendously transformed by God.

Active participation can sometimes be a difficult concept. It does not mean that we should all have things to do during the Mass, as so many would often have us believe. Active participation is not about our duties as acolytes, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, choir members or whatever. Rather, it hinges on the active nature of our part in what Mass is really about: the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the salvation He has brought us, and continuous to bring.

When we think about how we take part in the celebration of the Mass – because it is an act by all the faithful joined together, priest and laity alike – we should not primarily consider the duties we take upon ourselves, not the outward ‘activity’ or our own busy-ness, but our conscious – active – participation in what Christ, through the order of the Mass and the priest, asks of us. We are there “through Him and with Him and in Him”, to hijack but another line from Ordo Missae, and what better moment is there to offer all our “cares, aspirations, sentiments of gratitude, petitions, and all that [we] are” to Christ? We are in more than conversation with Him, and that requires an active attitude in ourselves. Father Z’s helpful recommendation is an example of that and, I think, a great thing to try the next time you are at Mass.

Of course, this is but one part of the entire great order of the Mass, but we have to start somewhere. Try and consciously follow what the priest says and does, and then try and see how you can actively participate in that, for the priest’s actions are those of Christ, and Christ is the one who calls us to Him.