Looking behind

As the year of Our Lord 2011 draws to a close, I happily join the ranks of the countless media channels creating overviews of the years past. And both for this blog, as well as the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and abroad, it has been a tumultuous year, both positive and negative. Taking this blog as the goggles we use to look back, blog, Church and wider world become unavoidably intertwined, but, in a way, that is how it should be.

In January, we saw the announcement of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the resignation of Rotterdam’s Bishop Ad van Luyn being accepted, and the launch of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s Twitter adventure.

February was the month of interesting considerations by Bishop Schneider about Vatican II, shocking new developments in the abuse crisis, the announcement of a undeservedly short-lived experiment with the Extraordinary Form in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the first signs that all is not well in Belgium, but also three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, and the vacancy of Berlin.

March brought us disturbing news about Bishop Cor Schilder, an extensive message for Lent from the Dutch bishops, disaster in Japan, the announcement of a great ecumenical media project for Easter, and the annual Stille Omgang in Amsterdam.

April: the month of the consecration of Bishops Kockerols, Lemmens and Hudsyn, the first EF Mass in Groningen’s cathedral, further attempts at repressing religious freedom in the Netherlands, the bishops of Belgium uniting in shock to further improprieties from Roger Vangheluwe, the pope’s birthday, further personal attacks against Archbishop Eijk and the first preparations for Madrid.

In May we saw and read about the death of Bin Laden, the beatification of John Paul II, the first Vatican blogmeet, the appointment of Bishop van den Hende to Rotterdam, the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, a prayer answered, a papal visit to Venice, enraging comments from the Salesian superior in the Netherlands, and subsequent press releases from the Salesian Order.

June was the month of papal comments about new evangelisation and sacred music, the end of EF Masses in Groningen, the pope visiting Croatia, a new bishop in Görlitz, Bishop van Luyn’s farewell to Rotterdam, advice on financial compensation for abuse victims, Archbishop Eijk taking over as president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, and the death of Cardinal Sterzinsky.

In July, Bishop Rainer Woelki went to Berlin, there was more preparation for Madrid, Bishop van den Hende was installed as bishop of Rotterdam, the pope visited San Marino, Luxembourg received a new archbishop, Bootcamp 2011 took place, Bishop Liesen appeared on EWTN, Blessed Titus Brandsma ended his Twitter adventure, and the crimes of Anders Breivik hit home for Dutch Catholics.

August was a big month because of the World Youth Days in Madrid, but we also learned about Archbishop Dolan’s explanation of the Vatican, freedom of conscience being curtailed, the 100,000th visitor of this blog, and the Liempde affair exploding in the media.

In September, the official website of the Dutch Church got a make-over, Archbishop Eijk wrote a thankyou note to the participants of the WYD, The Dutch bishops’ conference shuffled their responsibilities, and Pope Benedict visited Germany and delivered an important address to the Bundestag.

October, then, saw a successful reunion of the WYD troupe, Bishop Mutsaerts’ intervention in the ultra-liberal San Salvator parish, the bishops declining a proposal to Protestantise the Church, the consecration of Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the publication of Porta Fidei and the announcement of a Year of Faith, the appointment of a new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, the appointment of Msgr. Hendriks as auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the first Night of Mary, and Assisi 2011.

In November, Cardinal Burke came to Amsterdam, the bishops accept and put into action a plan for financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse, the Peijnenburg affair made headlines, the pope went to Benin and heartwarmingly spoke to children, priests in Belgium tempted excommunication, Cardinal Simonis turned 80, Bishop Liesen became the new bishop of Breda, and a fifty-year-old letter showed that congregations new about abuse happening in their ranks.

This final month of December, then, saw the first fifty victims of sexual abuse being able to claim financial compensation, the presentation of plans for Metropolis 2012, Nuncio Bacqué’s retirement, the consecration of Bishop Jan Hendriks, pain and horror in Liège, the appointment of Archbishop André Dupuy as new Nuncio, and the publication of the Deetman report unleashing emotional reactions everywhere.

It’s been quite the year, but one with much to be thankful for. The truth sets us free seems especially apt in this final month, but can be applied to the entire year. May 2012 be equally open, honest, but also full of blessings for the Church, the people and everyone of us.

Thank you, readers, for the continued interest. That’s incentive to keep on doing what I do here.

A happy new year, and may God bless you all.


Impressions of St. Servatius

Two days ago, I visited the Basilica of St. Servatius in Maastricht, Diocese of Roermond. The current basilica minor, which houses the remains of the first bishop of the Netherlands (and also the one from whom it takes its name), dates from 1000. Here, “just for nice” are some photos.

Nativity scene

The coat of arms of Bishop Gijsen, who holds the titular see of Maastricht

The crypt containing, among others, the remains of Saint Servatius

Not in St Servatius, but the nearby Basilica of Our Lady Star of the Sea

Communication skills, or avoiding communicating the polar opposite of what we want to say.

In a recent interview for Knack.be, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny spoke about the recent initiative from hundreds of laymen and priests in Belgium to challenge such teachings as priestly celibacy and the ordination of women.  It has triggered, as may be expected, a heated debate with some reaching the conclusion that priests signing the initiative are automatically excommunicated. While I won’t go into the reasoning for that here, I will take a look at what Bishop Bonny says about it all:

“I fully understand it. The Church can not avoid the debate about the criteria for ordination. Personally, I strongly believe in the value of the unmarried priesthood and a full availability for Christ and the Church community. But I also think that the ordination of a number of married men or deacons to the priesthood can be an enrichment for the Church. In the eastern Catholic Churches married priests are more the rule than the exception. That fact is therefore not unfamiliar for the Catholic Church. The ordination of women to priests is theologically far more difficult. In the west that concern is present in broad layers of society, but worldwide the support is extremely small. But I do think that there needs to be more discussion about the place and role of the woman in the Church. Women must be allowed to take on responsible duties in the Church, on all levels.”

The bishop’s reasoning, while necessarily simplified, makes a certain amount of sense – the celibacy debate does not concern the suitability of individual married or unmarried priests, for example – but it also raises problems. For one, the way the bishop presents his points leaves the door wide open for misunderstanding. People in the know may grasp what he tries to say – or not – but those outside the Church will not. Men and women must indeed be allowed to take on duties in the Church according to their individual competencies. But what are the ‘levels’ the bishops mentions? Are those the levels of government, pastoral care, parish council duties, or even Holy Orders? Probably not the latter, considering what Bishop Bonny said earlier about the value he attaches to the unmarried priesthood and such, but many will not see it as such.

And this is indicative of the communication problem of the Church and her bishops. Their intentions may be good, their reasoning sound, but they can still inadvertently communicate the polar opposite of what they mean. We – bishops, priests, religious and laity alike – have the duty to be open, honest, but certainly also clear about what we belief, and why. A comment like the one above will only strengthen the opinion of many that married men and women should be ordained as priests. And that is not something a bishop can and should say, even if he does so inadvertently.

Photo credit: Filip Van Roe

Urbi et Orbi: Come to save us!

This Christmas’ Urbi et Orbi message to city and world has a very fitting, if totally unplanned link with the overriding theme of this blog in the week leading up to Christmas. From the last O antiphon, Pope Benedict XVI takes the call Veni ad salvandum nos! to underline our innate need for help in overcoming the difficulties and dangers of our lives.

Heralding in the new year, as his Christmas message to the Roman Curia looked back on the year past, the Holy Father calls our attention to the Child of Bethlehem as our Saviour, the one who “was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7).  This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!””

My translation is here.

Photo credit: AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano

A Christmas gift for Boxtel

Just before Christmas, Resurrection parish in Boxtel, located in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, received news of a fairly unique Christmas gift: one of it’s parish churches would be elevated to a minor basilica. The 500-year old St. Peter’s basilica is the 23rd basilica in the Netherlands, and the third in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.

The first requests to elevate this church date from 2006, and were made by the current parish priest, Father Richard Niessen.

A church may be given the title of minor basilica (major basilicas are the four main churches of Rome)  for reasons of outstanding beauty, age or size, although in this case one of the reasons may be the presence in the church of a 14th century piece of cloth which contains bloodstains from spilled consecrated wine. A procession to commemorate this Blood Miracle is held every year in Boxtel.

Photo credit: parish website

Fifty years ago, Vatican II was announced – Humanae Salutis

“After having listened to Their Eminences the Cardinals, We announce,

We determine and We convene, on the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and our own authority, for the coming year 1962 the second Ecumenical and general Council of the Vatican, which will be held in the Vatican Basilica on the days that the Divine Providence will inspire us to determine.

We also desire and command that at this Ecumenical Council determined by Us, Our Beloved Sons Their Eminences the Cardinals, Our Honourable Brothers the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops, both resident and titular, from all parts of the world are present and likewise all those of the Church who have the right and the duty to be present at the Ecumenical Council.”

Words from Blessed Pope John XXIII’s  Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, announcing the Second Vatican Council on Christmas Day, 1961. It is fifty years later today, and, whether we are rabidly against it or adhere to a ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ which is not present in any of the Conciliar documents (or hold any position in between), the Council is unbelievably important in the Church’s recent history. The Council itself, which lasted until the end of 1965, and its fallout have changed the Catholic landscape in many ways. As we are slowly leaving the first five tumultuous decades following its closing, now is a good time to look back and devote some time on the facts of the Council and its content. What did the Council really say?, to make a pun on the title of a beloved fellow blogger’s writings.

There are many important writings and documents produced by the Council, and if not infallible, they are certainly very valuable for our Catholic life, identity and celebration. As the fiftieth anniversary of each one comes closer, and if the time is given me here in my little corner of the web, I intend to write blog posts about each of them. I intend to give a summary, analyses of  their content and whatever else may be of interest and worth knowing. My intention is to help, in whatever small way I can, furthering knowledge of the actual Second Vatican Council, as opposed to what so many people think it was and said.

I’m in for the long haul, that much is certain. The anniversary of the Council’s first session won’t be until the end of next year, for example. But good things deserve the time doing them.

As for now, light a candle for Good Pope John this blessed Christmas, and stay safe.

“Now beginning, and always”, a Christmas wish

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art Holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and always,
Now begin, on Christmas day.

With these words from priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, I wish every reader, regular visitor and random passer-by, a most blessed Christmas. May the birth of our Saviour open the doors to your every desire and mark a new beginning.

This blog will return to business on Tuesday or Wednesday, just in time to close off the old year. In the new year, we will start with renewed vigour and possibly some cosmetic and internal changes to the blog. So keep your eyes peeled, stay safe, enjoy family and friendship, certainly not least with Our Lord Jesus Christ, and most of all, enjoy what will be given all of us.

“Nativity” , by Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

O Emmanuel!

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

[O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.]

May our expectation be fulfilled with the coming of God-with-us at Christmas. May the darkness of our sorrow be turned to the light of joy, so that our life may be fulfilled in the glory of our God.

The O antiphons, which I have shared here over the past seven days, are more familiar than many would expect, as they form the basis of the well-known Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.


Pope Benedict’s Christmas wishes

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Roman Curia and looked back on the year behind him and us. He devotes a significant amount of words to the August’s World Youth Days, but also considers the faith crisis, a “faith fatigue”, in the west, which he endeavours to counter in various ways.

Read my translation of the address here.

Christmas is rapidly approaching. Let’s pray that it may herald a new beginning, not least here in the Netherlands, as Catholics everywhere try to deal with the horribly recent history of abuse. These words from our Holy Father may be read as encouragement and invitation to rediscover one of the five important points the pope makes: the joy of our faith, which is ultimately the joy of being unconditionally accepted, so that we can not only accept others around us, but most certainly also ourselves.

Photo credit: Claudio Peri/AFP/Getty Images

O Rex Gentium!

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

[O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.]

May our coming King, by His incarnation and sacrifice, unite all in Him. Through Him we may overcome division and strife.