The Vatican website re”design”

So the vatican redesigned its website. Reshuffled it, more likely.

vatican website

Still, at least they got rid of the unnecessary “choose your language” page which would then lead you to the homepage in your language of choice.

But, contrary to appearance, I am not bothered by how the website looks. It has a certain charm, and while intuition is not enough to find what you are looking for, it is there (and if it isn’t, there are countless websites which do – among them the Vatican’s own News.va, the website of Vatican Radio, Zenit, and so on).

My only wish would be proper websites for the Curial departments, with easy access to what they publish.

Holy Popes

With today’s canonisation of Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, the Church now recognises 80 out of 266 Popes as saints. Some think this is too many, and that Popes are being made saints too quickly or too automatically. Whatever the truth in that matter is, the history is interesting.

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Of the first 58 Popes, from St. Peter to St. Silverius, almost none escaped canonisation, although the process as we know it today did not exist yet. In general, the Church simply recognised an existing cult for a deceased Pope, making him known as a saint. The only exceptions in this five-century period are Pope Liberius (352-366), Pope Anastasius II (496-498), Pope Boniface II (530-532) and Pope John II (532-535).

In the following five centuries there are fewer saints among the Popes, as the process became more formalised, but still quite a lot: 19. Their frequency does decrease sharply towards the end: not a single ninth century Pope was canonised, while the previous century still had four.

For the second millennium, after the Holy See became the sole authority in the area of canonisation, it is actually very possible, without making this post excessively long, to list all papal saints:

  • St. Leo IX (1049-1054)
  • St. Gregory VII (1073-1085)
  • St. Celestine V (1294)
  • St. Pius V (1566-1572)
  • St. Pius  X (1903-1914)
  • St. John XXIII (1958-1963)
  • St. John Paul II (1978-2005)

The number of three canonised saints among the 20th century Popes is striking. The last time the Church had so many papal saints so close together in time was in the eighth century. But is it excessively much? Compared to the first 500 years of the papacy: absolutely not. Nor is it much when we compare it to the total number of people canonised by the nine Popes since 1900: 1501. Less then two-tenths of a percent of these were Popes. In the end, it’s all relative.

The final hours… some impressions

Not being there it is not possible to get a true sense of the anticipation in Rome for tomorrow’s historic event, but I find that the various people I follow via Twitter allow me to get at least some taste. Sharing just some examples that appeared in my timeline in the past hours:

Streams of pilgrims from Germany making their way through the Roman subway, which runs all through the night. Photo courtesy of Fr. George Mabura:

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Dutch journalist Stijn Fens shares this photo of people queueing to get onto St. Peter’s Square, five hours before it opens:

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People asleep in Santo Spirito Church, again courtesy of Fr. Mabura:

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Stijn Fens reports that the general atmosphere is similar to when Pope John Paul II died.

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Journalist Peter Smith shares this photo of seminarian Tom Schluep and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, ready for the canonisations:

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Salt + Light offers another look at pilgrims waiting in the Via Della Conciliazione as night falls over Rome:

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The streets were no less crowded earlier in the day, as this photo by Michael Kelly shows:

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A refuge for rainsoaked people, the Church of the Frisians, in this photo by Fr. Michel Remery:

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An empty St. Peter’s Square, cleared for the final preparations, in this photo by Fr. Manuel Dorantes:

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Also, make sure to follow Father Roderick’s Youtube channel for short videos from Rome in the last days before the canonisations, and Fr. Robert Barron’s Word From Rome videos.

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Confidentiality – protecting the guilty?

There are media who make much of the fact that the Church does not automatically and immediately come forward about abuse cases, especially when a bishop is involved, but only when asked about it. It is seen as an attempt of hiding the facts, something that the Church has indeed been guilty of in decades past. This conclusion is understandable, but not accurate, however. From the start of the abuse crisis, the issue of confidentiality has played an important part in the question of how to deal with accusations, victims and perpetrators. On the one hand, it was out of the question that proven abuse be hidden or even denied. On the other, there was the obligation that both victim and accused be protected from unwanted attention. Until proven guilty, the accused is, obviously, considered innocent. The victim often deals with intensely personal and very emotional and painful experiences that he or she often only wants to share with the world when they deem it necessary or helpful, if at all.

The complaints commission established by the Church to collect and resolve all complaints of sexual abuse explains that confidentiality is import for three reasons:

It lowers the threshold

Victims seek recognition and compensation, but to tell their story after an often long period of silence is very difficult and confrontational. Confidentiality makes this easier. Likewise, it allows perpetrators to sooner admit their guilt and persons in authority to recognise the abuse.

Plausibility comes first

The complaints procedure deals with recognition and compensation for the victim. Public indictment or punishment for the victim are beyond its scope. The accusation must be plausible and certain facts need to be correct, mostly about the accused, the place where the abuse took place and the year. This plausibility is considered enough to recognise the victims and the abuse.

The accused are generally deceased

Most accused parties can not defend themselves. That is why their rights, nor the feelings of fellow members of religious orders, fellow priests and family members, can not be ignored.

To ensure this confidentiality, certain measures are taken:

Procedures take place out of the public eye

This allows maximum opportunities for both parties to come to a solution.

All advice is published anonymously

No names are mentioned on the website of the Meldpunt Seksueel Misbruik RKK. This allows openness about the cases dealt with, the criteria used and the reasoning for allowing financial compensation. The abuse is made completely public, but the identity of all parties involved is protected.

All employees of and persons involved with the commission are bound to secrecy

It is clear that not everyone agrees with this. Many would welcome full  openness with names, dates and locations. However, in a society that protects the rights of individuals, especially those who can not defend themselves, this is not an option. The victims, whose needs always come first in these procedures, may at some point reveal more details. But that is theirs to decide, and many will not want to. We should never demand they tell all about what happened to them, unless they decide to do so. And if they don’t, we must respect that choice.

And as for the perpetrators: if they are dead, there is not much more that can be done. A dead man can’t be put on trial. If he still lives, but his crimes are subject to the statures of limitations, the law is powerless. The Church should not be, however, and once a priest, bishop or other worker in the Church is proven guilty, there must be a form of punishment. However, no punishment will please everyone…

If the perpetrator lives and the crime took place recently enough, the police must be informed and this person must be tried. This is something the Church does now, but the fact remains that these cases are a small minority. Most abuse took place decades ago, and many perpetrators are no longer alive.

Another bishop falls

niënhausI guess we could have waited for it. But to find the likely truth is nonetheless painful. Following the plausibility of accusations of sexual abuse by the late Bishop Joannes Gijsen, another deceased Dutch bishop has accusations against him determined to be plausible.

Bishop Jan Niënhaus, who died in 2000, is deemed to likely be guilty of four cases of sexual abuse which took place before he was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht in 1982. Cardinal Wim Eijk, the current archbishop, followed the advice of the complaints commission to declare the accusations plausible. The archdiocese issued the following statement:

“Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, took notice of four advisory statements from the complaints commission for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to declare plausible these complaints regarding sexual abuse by Msgr. Niënhaus (1929-2000), auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Utrecht.

The complaints commission determined that it is likely that Msgr. Niënhaus was guilty of sexual abuse in these cases, which took place in the period before he became auxiliary bishop. Cardinal Eijk adopted the advice of the complaints commission regarding the plausibility of these complaints. Cardinal Eijk is sad that this abuse took place and hopes that their determination of plausibility may help in the process of healing for the victims.”

Adding insult to injury for the victims, once he was appointment as bishop, Msgr. Niënhaus held the portfolios for education & catechesis, as well as youth (!), in addition to others. The bishop retired for health reasons in 1999 and died the next year at the age of 71.

It makes me wonder… who’s next? There are complaints against at least one more late bishop, as far as I understand… What on earth was in the water in that time for these men to do what they did? I simply can’t get my head around it…

Easter message – Bishop Heiner Koch

Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen suggests we should be like Christ on the road to Emmaus towards the people around us whose hearts do not burn at Easter.

koch“Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). That is how the disciples asked each other about their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Here in Saxony, we live in a land in which Christians find that at Easter the hearts of eighty percent of their neighbours do not burn in the least. They do not want anyone to explain the Scriptures to them. Not that they don’t value the Church and Christians. I am under the impression that they do so more than in the dioceses of former West Germany. But God? “Stay away from me with that phantom”. That makes Easter for them an unrealistic and meaningless history. There is no reason to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus or hope for our own resurrection, but the infinite love of God which leaves no one, not even in the hour of our death, alone. Infinite: even in our death it knows no boundaries. The good-hearted Lord remains true to us. That is the heart of the eve of Easter, without which it becomes crippled, a celebration of hares and hidden eggs.

How happy and grateful should we be when our heart burns at Easter, when we remember the the love of God through the fire of Easter, which does not go out for any of us!

And when we see that for so many people around, there is no spark jumping from the fire, even this Easter, which is for us so important? Than nothing remains but to do as little or as much as Jesus did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus: before he opened the Scriptures for them, he walked with them, listened to them and asked them questions, and he remained with them when they stood in sorrow. Perhaps that is the service of the pascal faith which we are called to perform, today and perhaps even longer, in the name of Jesus, also here in Saxony.

I wish you and all that are yours a happy and blessed Easter,

Yours,

+ Dr. Heiner Koch
Bishop Dresden-Meißen

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Easter message – Bishop Jozef De Kesel

Bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges has an excellent message on the topic of suffering and death in the perspective of the Resurrection.

de kesel“All that is written about us, will be fulfilled by you in these days”. Thus the opening verse of a song that Willem Barnard wrote for the start of Holy Week. Much is said in those few words. That He shared our existence to the very end. That nothing human is unknown to Him. The final days, the days of His passing. These are also the days that refer to what is impossible, but what the Church counts as her deepest conviction: that He is risen. The final days: they are the days of ‘pascha’, the passing from death to life. And in these days He fulfilled all that was written about us.

What is striking is that that also includes His death. You would think that the Resurrection makes everything in order again and that we would better forget this dying and that death. Especially considering how scandalous that dying was: condemned and executed. But that dying and death does belong to what He fulfilled in those final days. No Easter without Good Friday. Death is also part of the Pascal mystery.

The Church has never been tempted to hide or trivialise that death, let alone suppress it. Paul says with emphasis:  “We are preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor.1 :23). And when Holy Week begins with the introit of Maundy Thursday, we sing: “Let our glory be in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we have salvation, life and resurrection, through Him we are rescued and set free.”

Glory in the Cross, that is a strange and alienating thing to say. Isn’t suffering being cherished here? Isn’t it explained as something positive? That is something that the Church and Christianity is sometimes accused of. A sort of mystification of suffering. When, a few weeks, the expansion of the euthanasia bill for minors was voted on, we were confronted again with that criticism. Are faithful not aware of the suffering of people? Shouldn’t people be freed from that suffering? Is that not the ultimate at of compassion? Or is it perhaps meaningful and good that people suffer?

Suffering is something we should pursue. That would be absurd. Pain must be relieved and that is possible today. Therapeutic stubbornness can’t be justified. Christianity does not cherish suffering. Not even that of Jesus. Jesus did not seek out suffering. The Gospel informs us that Jesus, when things did indeed get dangerous for Him, retreated more and more. Now and then we read that He did not show Himself in public. In the end He even prayed that that cup could pass Him by. He tried to avoid danger as much as possible. But not at the expense of His mission. He would complete that mission to the end. And if the Cross was part of it, He would accept it. He said so to His disciples: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

But there is one question that remains. Why did God not answer the prayer of Jesus? Why couldn’t He change the minds of those who wanted to kill Jesus? Why couldn’t God arrange this differently, without that suffering and without that Cross? For faithful people the Resurrection is the ultimate answer to that question. Here, God breaks through all barriers. Indeed, what awaits is neither more nor less than a new creation. But not without that detour of suffering an death. Like the People of God once, when it left Egypt and tried to escape from a life of slavery, had to make a detour through the desert, a place of testing and suffering. Why no direct route to the promised land? Why that detour? Why Jesus’ death? There is only one answer to that question: because that detour, because suffering and death are a part of the human condition. We are not gods but human beings. About  Jesus it is also said: “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. […] and being in every way like a human being” (Phil. 2:6-7).

In the media debate about the expansion of the euthanasia I gradually started to ask myself this question: doesn’t all this also have to do with the fact that death is loosing its place in our secular society? That life is being arranged in such a way that it doesn’t really exist? It is being banned as much as possible from life. And when it comes and can’t be avoided, let it strike as quickly as possible. The euthanasia file is no longer about the physically unbearable suffering. It is increasingly about psychological suffering. And while the danger of a slippery slope as denied at first, the transition seems fairly obvious. Psychological suffering is real suffering, so why exclude it? And why not go further? Existential suffering also exists. Suffering because the meaning of life itself has been affected. It is striking that suicide is no longer a taboo today. Of course it is shocking in the case of young people. And that is the focus is rightfully on prevention. But the elderly? These are people that are “done” with life and so “step out of it”. That language says much. Suicide becomes a lucid and courageous act. Death is being made harmless from the start because it is no longer recognised for what it really is: a sign of radical finality. A sign that I did not decide or want my existence but was given it. A sign that I am not my own origin.

In a column in De Standaard rector Torfs rightfully notes, “life must be beautiful, and if it is not, death is an option. Suicide is today not just an escape for people who are deeply unhappy. It is equally there for someone who, after careful deliberation, decides that his happiness is not enough”. Where one no longer realises that finality and mortality, and so also death, are an essential part of what it means to be “a human being on earth”, life itself in its deepest sense becomes trivialised. Life in itself has then no meaning or value. Meaning and value depend on a presupposed quality to which it has to answer. But what is quality? The lightness with which “stepping out of life” is being discussed ultimately refers to the lightness with which life itself is being discussed.

The Christian faith in the Resurrection does not trivialise death. It belongs to our finite and mortal existence. And it is that finite existence that Christ wanted to share with us. Everything that is written about us, is fulfilled by Him. Including our death. Even if our culture tries to keep death as much as possible out of sight, death is and remains a mystery that we will never fully comprehend, let alone solve. Christian is no mysticism of suffering. But it does not deny death. But – and this is the heart of our faith – it is taken up in the even greater mystery of God’s love defeating death. That is what Christ fulfilled for us.”

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The big event, not so big in the Netherlands

prayer cards john xxiii john paul ii

An example of the 140,000 prayer cards that the Diocese of Roermond is printing and distributing for the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. While various parishes, especially named for one of the two new saints, will mark the occasion, there is no Church province-wide celebration of next Sunday’s unique event. Whereas the canonisations will be shown in a number of cinemas in neighbouring countries, no Dutch cinema chain has been approached to do so. The general impression among the bishops seems to be that there is little interest among Dutch Catholics. To which I have to wonder: if there is nothing being organised, how can interest be measured…

Anyway, the event will at least be broadcast live on television and via livestream in the Netherlands, and both the state and Church have sent representatives to Rome. The secretary of foreign affairs, Mr. Frans Timmermans will be there on behalf of the government, while the bishops have delegated Bishop Everard de Jong. Some feigned indignation was presented about Cardinal Eijk not going because of other obligations, but that has turned out to be a non-issue in the media. The Cardinal did send out the following letter to the parishes of the Archdiocese of Utrecht:

“On this Second Sunday of Easter Pope Francis will canonise two of his predecessors: the Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Two new saints who are in addition well-known persons for many faithful of today: in this case, it makes the example of saints especially powerful. The 27th of April of this year is therefore all the more a joyful day for the entire Catholic Church.

The Italian Pope John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) was Pope from 1958 to 1963. A period of only five years, but in that time he was able to do an achieve much. For example, he announced, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965. With it, he tried to bring the Church ‘up to date’ under the famous motto of aggiornamento. As Church, we still gratefully reap the fruits of this Council. In 2012, for example, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of this Council in the Dutch Church.

John XXII’s nickname was ‘the good Pope’, in part because of his warm personality, his evangelical humility and his great sense of humour. Many faithful still remember him fondly, but others do so as well, because he appealed “to all people of good will.”. He managed to win over many people, even important Communists at the height of the Cold War. His Encyclical Pacem in Terris – published less than two months before his death – is considered to be his most important; in it he explains that peace on earth must be rooted in truth, justice, love and freedom.

The Polish Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was Pope from 1978 to 2005. He became most known for being a great evangeliser: he travelled tirelessly across the globe to proclaim the Gospel and in 1984 he was the founder of the World Youth Days, which gather millions of young people to celebrate the faith.

His pontificate contributed to a large extent to the fall of Communist rule in the former eastern bloc, including his native Poland. He became increasingly ill in his final year, but continued holding the office of Peter. That he remained in office despite his debilitating illness and was not afraid to appear in public, is a witness to the inviolable dignity of man, which remains under all circumstances, and he so encouraged many people suffering from disease and physical handicaps. Until the end his help and support was the Blessed Virgin Mary, for whom Pope John Paul II cherished a livelong devotion. During his funerals pilgrims asked for his immediate canonisation with the cry of “Santo Subito!” – and less than ten years later that time has come.

Hopefully Pope John XIII and John Paul II can be a source of inspiration and encouragement in faith and life to even more people because of their canonisation.

Hopefully they can continue to contribute to an increasing unity of all Christians and all humanity by their words and deeds during their earthly life and also by their prayer now in heaven.

On this Second Sunday of Easter (also declared by Pope John Paul II in 2000 as Divine Mercy Sunday) united in prayer with the many pilgrims who have travelled to Rome – also from the Netherlands – for this double canonisation. We may have faith in the intercession of these two new saints, also and especially for a blessed future for the Church in our country and our entire world.”

In the meantime, in Rome, the logistics are impressive, as Vatican Radio reports. With hundreds of busses and dozens of chartered airplanes coming in from Poland alone, 2,500 volunteers are working to provide the thousands of pilgrims with four million free bottles of water, 150,000 liturgy booklets and 1,000 portable toilets. Seventeen video screens throughout the city will allow most visitors – who will be gathered from St. Peter’s Square all the way to the banks of the River Tiber – to follow the canonisation.

And one of them will be the Pope emeritus, as was confirmed today. So, two Popes being canonised by another Pope, while a fourth Pope is in attendance. Certainly, one for the history books.

Easter message – Bishop Johan Bonny

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp considers the Christian faith’s authenticity and the physicality of the Resurrection.

johan-bonny“Good friends,

How do you know if someone is sincere? How do you feel if someone is genuine? There is a simple measure: when the body confirms, or even transcends, the language of words. What use do I have for someone who says a lot about solidarity, but never shakes my hand? What use do I have for someone who has good views about the family, but is never home? What use do I have for someone who speaks about human rights, but always eats at the most expensive tables? The proof of the pudding is not in thoughts or words, but in the body. Where you go, from whom you make an effort, with whom your body wears or ages: that is the measure of authenticity. Ordinary people know this all too well.

Christians believe that God’s Word became “man” in Jesus. In the Greek and Latin it actually says that God Word became “flesh”, or took on bodily form, in Jesus. God did not limit Himself to words and promises. He did not get stuck in conversations with His people. Undoubtedly some wished He did: the continuation of a fiery discussion with God, with arguments for and against. God did not walk into that trap. He became man in Jesus, a man of flesh and blood, who embodied what He said. People looked at Jesus and saw that He was sincere: towards them and towards God.

Jesus paid a great price for that. When people could no longer stand His words, He had to go. It wasn’t so much His message that had to be fought or denied. It was God’s “becoming man” in flesh and blood that had to be blocked, if need be with brutal violence. That which made Jesus bodily present, that had to end. Silence fell around Jesus on Good Friday. Nothing had to be said any longer. His dead body on the cross surpassed the words He could have said. By the way, there was no one who wanted to hear them anymore. His body was laid in the tomb.

At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In the Creed we will solemnly sing that we believe in “the Resurrection of the body”. That is indeed what Easter is about: about our faith in the resurrection of the body. Jesus is risen completely and forever. Everything in Him has been brought to completion and glory by the Father. Nothing was left behind, least of all the body with which He had confirmed His words and completed His sacrifice. After Easter Jesus carried in His hands and sides the scars from the Cross. Thomas could put his fingers in them. That completed the wonder and joy of the disciples. In Jesus, the Father most certainly made a man of flesh and blood rise from death!

The power of the Resurrection does not hover like  cloud above the earth. It enters this world and our loves, into the core of our humanity. And especially: it enters the language of the body. Places where the Resurrection breaks through have everything to do with the proof of the pudding, which has to come from the body. Where strangers shake hands, where a volunteer pushes a wheelchair, where a child is born, where an ill person struggles with pain, where partners remain loyal, where the gun is put down, where a kiss is genuine, where food aid is being distributed, where gossip falls silent, where solidarity can come from gut feeling: that is where the power of the Resurrection breaks through. Where the body can put the signature of God, that is where the world has a future.

I wholeheartedly wish you a happy Easter!”

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A heart for Mary

On behalf of the hermitage and shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, a unique place of prayer and spiritual care, I am sharing the following message that the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed placed on its Facebook page today It would be fantastic if even one reader of this blog would be able and willing to contribute to the sole contemplative religious establishment in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. There is no place where the motherly care of the Mother of God does not read, not even what Brother Hugo, the hermit of the place, calls “the North Pole”.

heart warfhuizen

“We ask your attention for the following. Our Lady of Warfhuizen still lacks the heart with seven swords which is so characteristic … for a “Mother of Sorrows.”

As confraternity we think that is unacceptable, but we are a penniless organisation, so simply ordering one is something we can’t do. Now, in Naples we found one which would be ideal. It costs €430 [$595 – MV], an amount of money that we think should be possible to collect if all loyal devotees of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed would contribute a small amount.

Hence this call: help us give Mary a heart and donate a contribution on bank account NL45TRIO0198535724, in the name of “Broederschap O.L.V. vd Besloten Tuin in Glimmen, the Netherlands, quoting HART VOOR MARIA.”

If it is easier, donations may also be made via my PayPal account in the left sidebar. Do state with your donation that it is intended for the heart of Mary. I will make sure your donation is passed on to the confraternity.

For more information on Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, the shrine, pilgrimages, the confraternity and what makes it unique, go here. The website is available in Dutch, French and English, and in the near future, additional languages will be added.

Some may wonder, why spend such a large amount of money on what is a piece of decoration? An answer to that question would have to include the fact that we spend money on what and who we love, and that nothing in the shrine is simply an object (from the lights on the ceiling to the brooms in the cupboard, everything has a function). The heart pierced with seven swords reflects the essence of who Mary is as the Mother of Sorrows. In the first place it refers to the passage from the Gospel of Luke:

“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.'” (2:34-35)

Tradition later expanded this piercing of Mary’s soul into the seven sorrows:

  • The prophecy of Simeon quoted above
  • The flight into Egypt
  • The loss of the Child Jesus at the Temple
  • Mary meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary
  • Jesus’ death on the Cross
  • The piercing of Jesus’ side, and Mary receiving His body in her lap
  • The body of Jesus being placed in the tomb

These experiences, terrible for any mother, show us how Our Lady of Sorrows can be a comfort and example to people who suffer, as she does at Warfhuizen. The heart with seven swords shows us who she is for us, an identity given her because of her unique role in salvation history and Jesus’ life on earth.

The shrine at Warfhuizen continues to attract increasing numbers of pilgrims from all over the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and beyond. It is a small and intimate place, but rich in symbolism, comfort and prayer. You can help complete it further.