Archbishop Eijk’s catechesis in Madrid

Archbishop Eijk during his catechesis

During the week of the World Youth Days, three mornings were devoted to catechesis by bishops of the various language groups. Fore the Dutch pilgrims, Archbishop Eijk and Bishops van den Hende and De Jong spoke about topics associated with the theme of the World Youth Days in Madrid: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith”, taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. Only the catechesis by Archbishop Eijk has made its way online in text form, so I am now able to share an English translation of the same.

The talk was the same that the archbishop held during the Palm Sunday event in Zutphen, which I also attended. That in itself was a bit disappointing, but the talk is good enough to be heard twice. Archbishop Eijk takes the faith community of Colosse, to whom St. Paul’s letter was directed, and compares it to our own. Their are many parallels in both pluralistic societies which are not necessary open to the Christian message. How can we, in such a society, still remain firm in the faith? The archbishop offers some pointers.


Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden

Following the recent retirement of the vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Father Leo van Ulden, the diocese announces that he will be succeeded by two new vicars general. Perhaps this is a reflection of the workload that has lain upon the shoulders of Fr. van Ulden in the past 11 years.

Vicar general Johan te Velde

The basic hierarchy of the diocese used to consist of four men: the bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte; the vicar general, Fr. van Ulden; and two regional vicars, Fathers Johan te Velde and Peter Wellen. And it is these latter two men who have been appointed to the position of vicars general.

In a statement announcing the appointments, the diocese explains: “In this way no priest needs to be removed from the parishes. At the same time this construction allows for cuts in the diocesan budget.”

Fr. te Velde will be responsible for liturgical tasks (not surprising in the least), while Fr. Wellen will be focussing on ecumenical contacts.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of a bishop in the running of the diocese, and while it is rare for any of the relatively small Dutch dioceses to have two vicars general, it is allowed. A bishop is free in appointing and removing them, although their term as such expires when the bishop dies or is appointed to another diocese.

Calling in the bishop

In the ongoing saga around Father Norbert van der Sluis, which I wrote about recently, things keep developing. Yesterday, the news broke that the priest, now persona non grata in his parish in the town of Liempde, has been put on two weeks’ leave by the diocese, to let the emotions settle for a bit, as the official reason is.

With the parish council having declared publically hat they no longer wish to work with Fr. van der Sluis, the diocese is sending auxiliary Bishop Robert Mutsaerts to Liempde to engage the parish in conversation.

The bishop, ever a voice for orthodoxy and common sense, will be one of the clergymen taking over from Fr. van der Sluis during his absence. On 3 September, he will offer the evening Mass, after which the meeting with council and parishioners is planned.

It is right to take time for the emotions to settle and force both sides in the conflict to come with reasoned arguments. A parish priest has final authority in a parish. The parish council has an advisory and assisting role. While a priest will usually follow the plans laid out in cooperation with the council, he has no obligation to do so. He makes the final decision. Father van der Sluis has done that, in following his own conscience and Catholic teaching.  That the parish council does not like that, is understandable, but that they now think they have the power or right to enforce the appointment of a new priest in the parish, they are sorely mistaken.

Let’s hope that Bishop Mutsaerts is able to get this across to them, and that both parties can come to a mutual understanding, which will eventually allow Fr. van der Sluis to return to active ministry.

A pilgrim’s progress – the WYD experience

I am finding it really hard to condense my thoughts, memories and feelings about the World Youth Days into a coherent blog post. Maybe it’s still too early to do so. I’ve only been home for less than three days, after all. I can say one thing, though, the experience sticks. Looking back at my and other’s photos and reading their thoughts in blog posts and tweets, the WYD mood is still with me. My attitude to the daily things is different. I am certain that feeling will wane as time progresses, but for now I treasure it.

In the bus to Spain

There are many things that contribute to that feeling, which is ever so hard to put into words. There’s the company of fellow young Catholics and a bunch of priests in two buses on the long road to Zaragoza and later Madrid, buses in which the atmosphere and camaraderie was just fantastic. On the road through Belgium, France, around the Pyrenees and into Spain, this laid the groundwork for a group of almost 100 pilgrims who were there for each other and with each other. Another aspect was the accommodation, primitive as it may have been. We slept in sports centres, first with a group of some 60 pilgrims from Italy, later with almost all Dutch pilgrims (some 1,000, I would estimate). Comfortable it was not, sanitary facilities were mediocre at best, breakfast was laughable, but still… we were in it together, not for our individual selves, but for each other, for the Church, for Christ. There was the fatigue, with nights of, at most, five hours of sleep, and days filled with city tours, catechesis, Mass and cultural activities. There were also the physical discomfort, the injuries of foot and leg that a fair number of pilgrims suffered (myself included).

The view from 'Camp Holland' at Cuatro Vientos airbase

And then… there were the massive gatherings of people for the closing Mass in Zaragoza, the arrival of the pope, the beautiful Via Crucis and the closing Mass in Madrid. The latter especially, with the vigil, the storm, the baking heat and the distant pope, will indeed remain in my memory as he high point of the World Youth Days. We relied on each other, carrying only the things we could carry in our back pack, while we staked out our own ‘Camp Holland’ in section E8 on the Cuatro Vientos airbase. Temperatures soared to the high 30s, the Madrid fire department worked all day to keep people cool (and they deserve every commendation for their work), and then, as the Holy Father joined us, we were united in the downpour.

In the end, after the Mass the next morning, we smelled, we were tired, and all we could think of was cooling off in the pool around the corner, but we were blessed. Truly blessed. Sometimes it takes a while to notice this, but I firmly believe that the experience – all two weeks – changed us. And that belief, that faith, is what I want to keep as ‘normal life’ starts again.

The Holy Spirit in one of the domes of the Basilica or Nuestra Señora del Pilar

You notice that it is hard to put into words how my pilgrimage has been, and that is something I keep noticing especially when talking about it with family and friends who stayed at home. Of course, they have seen the news items on TV and Internet, seen the photos and heard the stories, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. A pilgrimage is more than a string of events. It is, so to speak, a full experience of body and mind, and that doesn’t translate well into words. It needs to be experienced to be understood. I’ve certainly learned that: the stories of friends who went to the World Youth Days in Sydney and Cologne do not compare to the real thing. And in that sense I was not prepared for what I got myself into. But sometimes it’s good not to be too prepared…

And now? I will continue to remember the past two weeks fondly and with gratitude, cultivate the friendships that were created and maintain the new vigour in my faith life. More practically, I’ll be reading what Pope Benedict XVI actually had to say to us; since I don’t speak Spanish, I couldn’t follow his homilies and addresses as they happened. I’ll be sharing the important sound bytes soon.

In closing I want to share some of the more than 300 photos I shot over the course of the Days in the Diocese and the actual World Youth Days. There are many more, by me and m fellow pilgrims as well as countless professional media outlets, but these will give you the smallest of impressions of what it was like.

On our way to the dinner location, with much song and flag waving
Pilgrims from all over the world, like these Japanese sisters in the chapel of St. John the Baptist, visited the Basilica in Zaragoza
Firemen bring deliverance from the heat at Cuatro Vientos
The sun sets over the Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza
Zaragozan streetview
A pilgrim's dinner in Zaragoza
A great group of fellow pilgrims
En route to Spain, a Mass at the French shrine of Our Lady of Garaison
Early in the morning, crowds already fill the metro stations to Cuatro Vientos
Our spot in a small park, awaiting the arrival of the pope
Before departure, pilgrims arrive at Utrecht's St Catherine's cathedral
Sunrise over Cuatro Vientos
Sleeping arrangements in Zaragoza
The Basilica of Nuestra Señora del PIlar as seen from across the River Ebro
Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam gives the second catechesis talk
Watching the pilgrims and their flags return from the opening Mass in Madrid
Clear blue skies over the second day of our trip to Spain, at Notre Dam de Garaison

A priest never walks alone

…or acts alone, for that matter. With that I mean to say that the actions of a priest should always be considered within the larger framework of the Church. Of course, priests have responsibilities for which they themselves are accountable, but they perform their work as shepherds of God’s people as men ordained to do so through Christ Himself. They are not managers of a CEO, democratic representatives of a parish (they are sent to parishes, not chosen from among its members), but shepherds tasked to lead the faithful closer to God.

In the last week of my absence, a parish priest from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Father Norbert van der Sluis, has made headlines because he refused to offer a funeral Mass for a man who died because of euthanasia. The parish council demanded apologies from him, which he refuses to give. And I think he is right in not budging to the demands, which come from a seriously warped understanding of what a priest is and how he functions within the parish and Church.

One of the duties of a priest is to teach. He does so through catechesis and conversations, but also through his actions. In situations which are at odds with Catholic teaching, such as cases of euthanasia, a priest must clearly and charitably (the latter being just as important as the former) advance Catholic teaching. It seems that Father van der Sluis is doing just that, however hard it must be in the onslaught of media attack and phone calls from angry parishioners.

Of course, this whole affair is not about the man whose life was ended through euthanasia. May he rest in peace and  forever live in the light of God. Instead, this is about the grave sin of murder, about the fifth commandment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes paragraphs 2276 to 2279 to the topic of euthanasia. In short: euthanasia, the active killing of a person with the intent of doing so, is morally unacceptable. It is murder. The acceptance of inevitable death, by not giving disproportionate treatment – treatment that aims to keep someone alive through all kinds of extraordinary means -, is acceptable. In the latter case, death is not the intended outcome, but the relief of suffering is.

This teaching of the Church flows from the unrestricted respect for the sanctity of life that we uphold. All Catholics – all Christians – have a duty to uphold this. Failure to do so has consequences.

In 2005, the Dutch Bishops’ Conference publish a guide about the pastoral care regarding requests for euthanasia. In it, the bishops describe several situations which may arise.

1: Request for a funeral Mass before euthanasia or assisted suicide is committed

A difficulty arises when a person makes it known that he or she will soon have their life ended on their own request, and wishes to make funeral arrangements. Such a request will be impossible to honour, since it could imply agreement with euthanasia or assisted suicide.

2: Request for a funeral Mass after euthanasia or assisted suicide has been committed

When it is revealed, after a person’s death, that he or she died through euthanasia or assisted suicide […] offering a Church funeral may hide the Christian witness about the sanctity of life. The risk of public scandal then exists, since the impression could arise that the Church agrees with euthanasia or suicide. In the aforementioned situation, assisting in providing a Church funeral is not suited, unless there is a grave reason which may not be shared due to the seal of confession.

3: Without knowledge or permission

Logically, the situation is different when the ending of a life has taken place without knowledge or without permission of the person involved.

4: Incomplete responsibility

A request for euthanasia or assistance in committing suicide may be due to the fear of death overwhelming a person. In that case there is only a partially voluntary choice, in which the person involved does not have full responsibility.

5: Traditional practices of allowing a Church funeral in cases of suicide with incomplete responsibility

Traditionally a Church funeral has been granted to people who took their own lives in a certain state of mind, this not in contradiction to the prohibition on a Church funeral for those who committed suicide. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives. [2282-2283].

The majority of people committing suicide act in a situation in which they do not have full access to normal use of reason, and are therefore not fully responsible for their act.

6: Not allowing a Church funeral in cases of a request for euthanasia with normal use of reason

For people who, because of a physical condition, request euthanasia of medical assistance with suicide, the situation is different. Because they, as a rule,have full access to normal use of reason, unless this is inhibited by medication, another consideration is applicable here. In essence, they are responsible for their request. There is for them the option of a humane death in agreement with the teachings of the Church by using satisfactory palliative care.

7. Question of a Church funeral in case of request for euthanasia in restricted freedom

Suffering from a serious, incurable, physical illness may have an influence on the psyche. Even if judgement itself is still intact, it may happen that people choose euthanasia or medical assistance with suicide, because the are captured by fear or stress. These can be factors which restrict inner freedom and therefore decrease the responsibility of those involved. If there are indications that the choice for euthanasia or assistance with suicide has not been made in full freedom, a Church funeral may be allowed, based on a prudent consideration of all factors involved – if necessary in consultation with ordinarius loci.

Regarding these instruction, the only conclusion seems to be that Father van der Sluis acted fully within his rights as a priest. The only thing that may be brought against him, and this is wholly hypothetical, is that the decision not to allow a Church funeral in this case, was made in haste. But there is no proof of that. Father van der Sluis says that he informed the family of the deceased person about the Church’s teachings regarding euthanasia and palliative care.

It is sad to see that a priest who acts fully within his rights and according to his duties – not by his own rules, but according to those he represents – is branded an ultra-conservative. Father van der Sluis deserves full support. It is not a nice decision to have to take, anyone will agree with that, but it is even worse to hide the teachings of the Church – teachings that protect the sanctity of life – in order to keep things quiet and easy.

In the meantime, the parish council of Fr. van der Sluis’ parish has declared that they no longer want to continue working with him. It is almost as if they think that the priest works for them.

Coming home to 100,000 visitors

Well, Yesterday I returned home from the World Youth Days in Madrid. It has been a pilgrimage which I could not have prepared for. Of course, the practicalities are easy to prepare, but over the course of the last two weeks there have been both physical and mental discomforts, moments of joy, emotion and new social contacts which I simply could not have taken into account before leaving. That is not to say that the journey was ill-prepared or negative – it wasn’t. But it was different, tougher, more intense than I expected.

At the moment, I am going through all the photos I took and the new social contacts I made (which translate into new Facebook friends and Twitter followers), which means that regular blogging will commence at some unspecified future time. Maybe tomorrow or, with any luck, later today.

I was happily encouraged to recommence blogging yesterday when I found that my return home coincided with the 100,000th visitor to these pages. Whoever it was, thank you for visiting. I hope that you and all those others who find their way here, find some use for what I write.

Blog shutting down. Temporarily, that is.

From now until no earlier than Tuesday 23 August, this blog will be closed.

I will be in Spain for the World Youth Day, spending a few days in Zaragoza and later in Madrid. Although this edition of the WYD is well-covered in social media, I made the decision to go silent for the duration. The reason for that is twofold. One, I simply lack the equipment necessary to continue blogging, tweeting and facebooking while not at home. And two, there are a few things I want to focus on while in Spain. I want to listen and learn, to be quiet and pray, to celebrate my faith, and to do so with the people I am with, not least among them my girlfriend. This is going to be our celebration, contemplation, adventure.

Perhaps I’ll meet some of you in Spain (don’t hesitate to come over and say hi), but in the mean time, stay safe.

God bless.

Goodbye, we’ll keep in touch (via social media)

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Rotterdam bid farewell to family and friends, just before boarding the bus to Spain.

Departures continue, today in the Diocese of Rotterdam (despite initial reports that they would leave yesterday…), whose pilgrims are joined with youth from the Diocese of Paramaribo (who arrived on the 4th in the Netherlands). Meanwhile, with my leaving coming rapidly closer (two more days…), I continue packing. On Wednesday, we’ll start our trip to Zaragoza with a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Catherine in Utrecht, offered by Archbishop Wim Eijk. after which we’ll be sent off with a pilgrim’s blessing. At 4pm we’ll start our journey, with an estimated arrival time in Zaragoza at 2pm the next day. Somewhere along the route, probably within sight of the Pyrenees, we’ll stop to celebrate Mass.

Also in these final days before departure, two new Twitter accounts have popped up, which are welcome additions in the social media landscape of the Dutch Church. Fr. Michel Remery is travelling with the youth from Rotterdam and Paramaribo and keeps a running account of their journey’s progress. WJD Madrid is the account of the RKK, Catholic broadcast and communications organ of the bishops. They’ve been providing a steady and enthusiastic stream of tweets a well. Maybe that will be one of the fruits of the World Youth Days, a n increase in social communications among Dutch Catholics… One can hope.

Photo credit: Peter van Mulken

Oddie continues where Dolan stopped

Published on the Translations page yesterday, a translation of this article by William Oddie of the Catholic Herald. I made the translation on the request of Ronald Marks, co-author of Marks & Marks Blogspot.

Odie takes Archbishop Dolan’s recent blog post on the ‘policies’ of the Vatican as a starting point and explores the issue further. He finds that there is an important question that Catholics have yet barely begun to ask themselves: are we able to bridge the gap of understanding between us and the secular world? An important issue, not least in the Netherlands.

The departure begins…

Today, Friday 5 August, the great exodus has begun. Or, in less dramatic words, the first diocesan group has left for the World Youth Days in Spain. It is the first of several travel initiatives from the Diocese of Roermond, and their first destination will be Lisieux. Over the course of the next five days, other groups will follow. All dioceses will have organised trips, and so have many others, such as religious communities, individual parishes and movements.

Two days from now, on 7 August, the Dioceses of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Breda will depart, the first for Lisieux, the second for Taizé. On the next day, while these dioceses are at their initial destinations, the aformentioned group from Roermond will be at St. Bernadette in Nevers, and the Dioceses of Rotterdam and Paramaribo, travelling together, will head south for a sight-seeing tour of France.

On 9 August, the Roermond group will be in Lourdes, while the young pilgrims from the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch will have a two-day prep weekend.

On 10 August, the groups from the Archdiocese of Utrecht (which includes yours truly)  and the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam will leave the Netherlands, the Breda and Groningen-Leeuwarden groups will be in Lourdes. The Haarlem-Amsterdam group will arrive in Taizé on the same day.

On the 11th, the ‘s Hertogenbosch pilgrims will have completed their preparations and travel south, while most of the other groups will be arriving in their host dioceses for the Days in the Diocese. Breda, Rotterdam and Paramaribo will be in the Diocese of Calahorra y La  Calzada Logroño, Utrecht and Groningen-Leeuwarden in the Archdiocese of Zaragoza, and Roermond in Avila.

On the 12th of August, more pilgrims from Roermond will arrive in Avila by plane. The group from Haarlem-Amsterdam will arrive in their host diocese of Urgel. They won’t be spending their Days in the Diocese in Spain, but in Andorra. The group from ‘s Hertogenbosch, then, will arrive in The Archdiocese of Toledo.

On the 15th all groups will head towards Madrid, arriving on the same day. They’ll join in with other travellers from all over the world until the closing Mass of the World Youth Days 2011. Some will head home on that last day, others will stay in Madrid a day longer or even visit other destinations in Spain before heading home.