A basilica for the capital

As accidentally announced on twitter yesterday, the news may now be revealed properly. Amsterdam’s “cathedral on the IJ” – the strikingly domed St. Nicholas church that greets visitors arriving in the nation’s capital as they exit the central train station – has been elevated to the status of basilica minor. The actual elevation is set for Vespers on the eve of 9 December, the day on which the festivities marking the 125th anniversary of the new basilica’s dedication will be rounded off. Archbishop André Dupuy, the apostolic nuncio will then read the official document in which the decision is outlined.

Haarlem-Amsterdam’s Bishop, Msgr. Jos Punt, together with the parish council of Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas parish, made the official request to the Congregation for Divine Worship in July. This congregation motivates her decision to grant the request with two arguments: the veneration of Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of the city of Amsterdam; and the devotion to the Miracle of Amsterdam, which is still remembered annually by a night-time silent procession through the city’s heart.

Bishop Jan van Burgsteden, the retired auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam who is responsible for the pastoral care in the parish, said: “This is the witness of a inspirational and missionary parish community. We hope that the Church and community may grow and flourish further in the years to come.” He referred to the many volunteers who kept the St. Nicholas alive and  thriving, even when secularisation forced the closure of many churches.

The elevation of the St. Nicholas raises the number of Dutch basilicas to 24, of which three are in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. The Archdiocese of Utrecht has eight, the Diocese of Breda three, Roermond six, Rotterdam one, and ‘s Hertogenbosch three. In the Caribbean Netherlands, the Diocese of Willemstad has one basilica.

The title of minor basilica is an honourific, a recognition of the import of a church building and of its value for the Catholic value using it. It also means that the church in question plays an exemplary role when it comes to pastoral care and liturgy.

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The dean stands firm, but carnival Masses will continue in Eindhoven

In a welcome decision, Father René Wilmink, the dean of Eindhoven in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, took a stand against the ridiculisation of the Holy Mass. In discussion with the local carnival federation, Fr. Wilmink insisted that future carnival Masses – which are usually accompanied by priests dressed up, no sense of worthy reception of Holy Communion, and a general party atmosphere in the church – can only continue in his church of St. Catherine if they stay close to the heart of the faith.

A representative of the carnival club said: “In his case that means that we will no longer have a say about the liturgy and that there can’t  be any carnivalesque forms of expression on or around the altar or sanctuary”.

Is this guy for real? First of all, the liturgy belongs to the Church, not to a club of partygoers, and secondly, Fr. Wilmink doesn’t go his own way here, but that of the Church. In the celebration of the Mass, no one has any business in the sanctuary, unless they have a task to perform in the liturgy. And no, a clown, a juggler or a lector dressed up as a sailor have no business in the liturgy whatsoever. The Mass has a rather different focus and meaning.

Sadly, the Augustin fathers do welcome the carnival Mass in their church, which belongs to the Mariënhage monastery and as such falls outside the jurisdiction of the dean or the diocese (although, while the church in question remains the property of the Augustines, all pastoral care was handed to the city parish of Eindhoven some five years ago). The Augustine fathers are more than happy to “work with” the carnival federation “to preserve the carnival Mass for Eindhoven”.

Photo credit: [2] Image of the 2010 carnival Mass, Niels van Rooij

“Cathedral on the IJ” to be honoured tomorrow

Amsterdam’s iconic church of St. Nicholas – a striking landmark for anyone exiting the capital’s central train station – will be especially honoured tomorrow. Some news was accidentally announced earlier this afternoon via the parish’s Twitter account, but soon retracted, as it was not intended to be released until tomorrow, when an official announcement will be made. More details will follow at that time, then.

An exact handful for new cardinal titles

With the six-cardinal consistory of 24 November approaching, it is once again a good time to take a look at the available title churches or deaconries that the new cardinals will be receiving.

As of today, there are ten titles available, and only five cardinals awaiting one. Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï will not be receiving a title Church in Rome since he is not part of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, his own Maronite patriarchate of Antioch will also be his title. In a way, this reflects the fact that, in his Maronite Catholic Church, he holds a position similar to the pope in the Roman Catholic Church. He is the first bishop among equals, but the pope has further duties, rights and position that makes it possibly for the patriarch to be made a cardinal of the Church by the pope.

Cardinal-designate Raï position as patriarch will, however, mean that he will be a cardinal with the rank of Cardinal-Bishop. Upon his creation, there will be ten of these.

This leaves five cardinals who will be given a  title church. One of these, being a curial prelate,will be made a cardinal-deacon. He is Archbishop James Harvey, currently the prefect of the Papal Household, but after his creation he will become archpriest of the papal basilica of St. Paul-Ouside-the-Walls. There are five vacant cardinal deaconries, which could be given to him. The one with the longest pedigree is the ancient Santa Maria in Cosmedin (pictured at right), vacant since 1967. Also possible are two deaconries which only recently became vacant: Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino, last held by Cardinal Baldelli until his death in September; and San Pio V a Villa Carpegna, vacant since the passing of Cardinal Sánchez in March.

The four future cardinal-priest have a choice between ten vacant title churches. Among them are the late Cardinal Martini’s Santa Cecilia and Cardinal Shan Kuo-Hsi’s San Crisogono, which has been held by cardinals from South-America, Africa and Asia in succession, so it may well be given again this time around, to either Archbishops Onaiyekan, Salazar Gómez or Tagle.

Any guesses, with such as mall group of new cardinals, including the first Syro-Malankar cardinal, are just guesses. Of course, a new Roman church may be elevated to a cardinal title as well. There are a fair number of title churches which have relatively recently been made so, with only previous cardinal-protector. Guesswork. We’ll all find out on the 24th…

Photo credit: Lamré, Wikipedia

Synod closing with the joy of God’s marvels

And so ends the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, or the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, as it is referred to in a rather handier fashion. A closing Mass yesterday wrapped up the three weeks of deliberations that, for now, resulted in a Message (available in Dutch as well) as composed by the commission chaired by Cardinal Betori and Cardinal-designate Tagle, and a set of 58 propositions to the Holy Father, which the latter will craft into a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will probably see the light of day in a year or more. This will the final and concluding document of the Synod Assembly, but of course there is no reason before waiting to reflect on what has already been said and proposed, or to put some of it in practice. Because words are all fine, but if they don’t become reality, there is little point to them.

Reflecting, like I did in my previous blog post, on blind Bartimaeus, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily, referred to what St. Augustine said about this Biblical character, that he was a man fallen from prosperity into  misfortune:

“This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think.  It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here.  From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives.  These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence.  They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path.  It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization.  This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.”

 And, I can’t help but thinking, is the Holy Father perhaps thinking along similar lines as the late Cardinal Martini, when he speaks about “smouldering cinders”, under ashes or not?

Pope Benedict mentions three pastoral themes that apparently struck him during the Synod’s proceedings (and the Holy Father himself was perhaps one of the most active participants, taking copious notes during the interventions and being far more than just a presiding pope): the importance of the sacraments of initiation; the Missio ad gentes; and the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. All are important themes for the new evangelisation.

And perhaps Bartimaeus, although never canonised – in fact, nothing is known of him beyond his appearance in the Gospel of Mark – can still be something of a patron for the new evangelisation, for as the Holy Father says:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Bartimaeus, on regaining his sight from Jesus, joined the crowd of disciples, which must certainly have included others like him, who had been healed by the Master. New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ. And characteristic of them all is a joyful heart that cries out with the Psalmist: “What marvels the Lord worked for us: indeed we were glad” (Ps 125:3).”

Seeing Christ, as shown by a blind man

They reached Jericho; and as he left Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus – that is, the son of Timaeus – a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and cry out, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man over. ‘Courage,’ they said, ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘Rabbuni, let me see again.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And at once his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

Yesterday we heard this simple and powerful Gospel passage (Mark 10:46-52) in the celebration of Mass. The blind beggar Bartimaeus happens to be in the right place at the right time. Or is he?

In his homily Cardinal Eijk, who offered Mass at our cathedral for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of its dedication, told us that that wasn’t the case. It was not a matter of chance that Bartimaeus happened to be sitting in the street through which Jesus passed on His way out of Jericho. For Jesus passes us every day. It is up to us to see and recognise Him, something that Bartimaeus, despite being blind, managed to do.

He saw with the eyes of faith, thus recognising Jesus. The next step that he took, and which has to be a step we all should take, is to call out, to confirm the recognition to ourselves, to Christ and to everyone around us. Bartimaeus did so in a very simple form: “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”. But it is deceptively simple. Bartimaeus words were a short but very effective prayer, one that we could do worse than use every now and then.

Bartimaeus shows us that we can see and recognise Jesus every day, and we should not hesitate to speak to Him, in prayer. And prayer can be very short and simple without losing any of its intent and power.

Some that are blind can see clearly, and some that have their sight are blinded by vision.

Art credit: Bartimaeus, by Harold Copping

Two fathers

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the pilgrims from the  Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden during last Wednesday’s audience. Standing next to him is our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte. About the enthusiasm of the younger pilgrims, who chanted his name and tried to sing for him – were it not for an orchestra that decided to start performing at the same time – the Holy Father said, “They are a bit noisy, aren’t they?” He then blessed them. He also stated that the Netherlands is a nation with friendly Catholics. Well, if the pope says so, we must surely try to be.

Two spiritual fathers, one’s own bishop and the shepherd of the entire Church: too rare not to share.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch