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.


No refusal allowed for civil servants in Groningen

Three civil servants in the city of Groningen, the city on whose edge I live and where I go to Church, have been in the news lately for their refusal to marry same-sex couples. The city council has decided that all civil servants who are able to perform civilian weddings should do so for both same-sex and different-sex couples. The three aforementioned people are unable to do so in good conscience. The city will now allow them to continue until the end of their contract in 2014, but then they will not be retaining them.

In essence this story is pretty straightforward. If an employee in any job does not perform as expected, they most likely will not be kept on. But in this case there is more to it.

The news story breaks about a month after Groningen hosted Pink Saturday, a gay pride event, and mere days before Amsterdam’s big Gay pride event. COC, a gay interest club, has been protesting via posters against government policy to not immediately fire civil servants who refuse to marry same-sex couples. There is therefore a strong lobby against the legal and human rights of people to act according to their conscience.

A matter of contracts and job performance has now become a much larger issue of freedom of conscience.

My personal opinion about the case may be quite clear. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman (including the civilian one, since that flows directly from true sacramental marriage), so I agree with the three civil servants who will have to find other work in three years time. That is not an expression of hate or intolerance, but mere fact. Just as I will never be able to fly by flapping my arms up and down, two people of the same sex can not marry. It is an impossibility.

But that’s as may be… Even if you don’t agree with the above statement, this case should still be worrying. We live in a society which prides itself on freedom and liberty, and that includes freedom of conscience, religion and speech. Increasingly, various lobby groups, of which the pro-gay lifestyle lobby group is one of the strongest, are willing to deny these freedoms for anyone who does not agree with their own freedoms*. This, I believe is an example of that.

The opinion that same-sex marriage is supported by everyone, and that therefore these three civil servants are the exception, is not true, I believe. But it is used as a reason to suppress any and all contrary opinion. Our free and liberal society should be open to all opinions, except those that are politically incorrect. That is something we see more and more, and that should worry us.

In Groningen, there is now no choice between who will be marrying you. Everyone believes in all things, and so essentially, no one believes in anything anymore.

* And that’s not a strictly Dutch problem, either. In Brazil, a proposed Hetero Pride parade has been attacked by pro-gay groups as ‘discriminatory’… I too think it’s nonsense, but I also think that of all pride parades. We don’t pick our own sexual orientation, so where’s the achievement to be proud of?