Just before the weekend, Cardinal Eijk wrote a letter to the priests, deacons and pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Utrecht about what could perhaps be considered the single most divisive topic in the Dutch Church today: parish mergers and the closing of church building.
The letter is, in my opinion, one of the better written outings of a bishop in recent years. Cardinal Eijk starts out by explaining his understanding the pain of seeing one’s church closed, and the role the building plays in the lives of so many faithful.
“It is the church where they let their prayers ascend to God, where they were baptised and had their children baptised, were they were married and were they said goodbye to their loved ones. The church also which the faith community itself saved up for: stone by stone, beam by beam, roof tile by roof tile. Until the church was ready to enter service as the highest attainable purpose for a building: as a House of God and meeting place for His people. The church is the place where we may receive the Eucharist and so can come closest to Christ.”
In recent years, the project of parish mergers in several dioceses has led to communities splitting off from the diocese and choosing their own path. These communities are usually driven by their very strong sense of community which they want to preserve. About that, the cardinal writes:
“There are faith communities where the sense of community is so strong that it acts like a barrier. We must strive to also be a faith community “with the neighbours”. And while a sense of community is a great good, it can’t put up walls. Solidarity transcends the boundaries of local faith communities, because as the human body has many limbs, we are all together in Christ one body. Among us as Christians the sense of community must reach further than the direct environment. What matters is that we desire to grow in unity of brothers and sisters in Christ: not just in our own faith community, but also and especially across the boundaries of our own faith community.”
Cardinal Eijk also devotes words to how the process works: that the initiative of closing churches does not lie with him, but with the parish councils in question, and that no one enjoys such a necessary step. But needs must, as they say, and the reality of today means that we can’t stick our heads in the sand, but that we must face it head on. And that is not always enjoyable.
And at the root of all these considerations? There lies our true support: the Lord Himself. When we become dejected, lose faith and even hope when our church is forced to close, we may find ourselves in the good company of the Apostles. But in Christ there is always hope, even if our home of many years is lost. As Catholics, we have a higher home to strive for, after all.
A good letter, well worth a read. I have an English translation available here