Yesterday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the bishop of Almenara in Brazil. Bishop Hugo van Steekelenburg reached the retirement age of 75 in October of last year, and was one of four Dutch bishops serving in foreign dioceses*.
Bishop van Steekelenburg was born near The Hague and come to Brazil in 1964, as a Franciscan missionary. Of this time he recalled in a 2011 interview:
“Most of us came to Brazil as missionaries. Almost all left for the interior. They worked there on the request of the local bishop and took on every task. I remember I felt like a real missionary. Electricity was still unknown and the roads were impassable. Almost everything had to be done by horse. There were already many Franciscans active in the area where I am now a bishop. No missionaries came from the Netherlands after about 1968. An increasing number of parishes were transferred to local clergy.”
The same interview mentions that virtually no retired missionaries choose to return to their native Netherlands. After 49 years in Brazil, and 14 as a bishop, “Dom Hugo” may decide to stay as well, in the country and among the people that he took on as his own.
In the final months before his retirement, Bishop Hugo (pictured above at left during a November 5 meeting with Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz) and the Diocese of Almenara were looking forward to the arrival of a group of Dutch pilgrims who will spend a week there, before travelling to Brazil for the World Youth Day. In the style of the retired bishop, the pilgrims will be participating in a “missionary week”, visiting several diocesan projects – schools, land reclamation projects, care centres and hospitals – and cultural events. Bishop emeritus van Steekelenburg will most likely still participate in the scheduled meeting with the pilgrims, as his successor, Dom José Carlos Brandão Cabral, will probably not have been consecrated before then.
*The remaining three are Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, Suriname; Bishop Joseph Oudeman, auxiliary bishop of Brisbane, Australia; and Bishop Theo van Ruijven, Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte, Ethiopia.