Positive remarks from Rome rabbi

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni welcomes the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Rome’s main synagogue as a sign of the commitment of Jews and Catholics to respectful dialogue. He does admit, however, that there is a storm every now and then.

These storms are things such as the Holocaust-denial of Bishop Williamson, or the veneration of Pope Pius XII, but the key problem, according to Rabbi Di Segni, are the mixed signals about the religious significance of Judaism he preceives from the Church.

“From a strictly religious point of view, the question is the significance of Judaism. Has its role ended? Must we all convert?”

These mixed signals are the insistence on the ongoing role of the Jewish people in salvation history, while also emphasising the importance of recognition of the Messiah.

But the rabbi says that the gestures of this pope and his predecessor have been vital for the mutual respect between Jews and Catholics. “We experience this each day, even though there may be scattered pockets of resistance or fundamentalist attitudes or even hostility”.

About the upcoming visit, he said that it is “a symbolic continuation of the gesture made by John Paul II, who was the first pope to set foot in a synagogue in 19 centuries. There is precedence, though.” The precedence being St. Peter, obviously not unfamiliar with synagogues.

“Times have changed,” the rabbi said. “Many things have been achieved; other things still need to be done. The path, the Jewish-Catholic encounter, is terribly complicated. It is not a smooth road leading onward, but it is one continually filled with stumbling blocks. The visit of a pope to the synagogue should demonstrate that beyond the stumbling blocks there is a substantial desire to communicate with each other and resolve problems.”

While the obstacles are acknowledged, I get the impression that this visit will not be as problem-ridden as some people feared earlier.

Source

Msgr. Léonard new archbishop of Brussels?

Various Catholic news sites bring the news from Andrea Tornielli that Rome will announce the new archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels within the next few days. And it will be André-Mutien Léonard, currently bishop of Namur. If true it would bode very well for the Church in Belgium. Msgr. Léonard is an orthodox and practical man, firmly in line with Rome. The only slightly problematic thing would be his age: he is 69 years old, and will tender his resignation in six years. That would perhaps not be long enough to have the truly significant impact that the Belgian Church needs.

We’ll see, though. It sounds like good news, but it is still a rumour.

Support the archbishop

Yesterday I received a request from Father Roderick, a friend and priest in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, to show some support for his archbishop, Msgr. Wim Eijk. As I’ve reported earlier, and as other Dutch Catholic blogs and media are reporting, he is being attacked for the decisions he makes from left, right and center. While he keeps his feelings and private responses to himself, I am assured that this is not an easy time for him.

After the request I sat down and wrote a one-page email of support to him. This morning I received a reply from the secretary of the diocese, thanking me for the email and assuring me that it will be sent on to the archbishop. Inge send him a card with similar sentiments yesterday afternoon.

Reading the blog of the lawyer of one of the archbishop’s attackers once again made me angry. She manages to accuse him of making personal attacks. That is simply more evidence that she lives in a world of anger and frustration of her own making, which has little to do with the real world where ethical behaviour and civilised discussion should be the norm. Sadly, that is true for a fair number of other people too, bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

So, in light of that and of the fact that supporters of the archbishop are simply less vocal than the attackers, I’d like to ask the Dutch readers of my blog to take a few minutes and write a short note or a card of support to Msgr. Eijk. It can be a simple assurance of you remembering him in prayer or appreciation for his work.

Bishops are our shepherds, ordained and consecrated to lead us on the path of Holy Mother Church, especially when we’ve strayed, as so many in the Dutch Church province have done in the past. Shepherding people and the institutes that come with a diocese is not necessary great fun, despite its pastoral image. For the good of the flock, hard decisions are sometimes required, because the soft approach takes too much time or is just not effective.

E-mails may be sent to the secretariat of the archdiocese, which can be found here.

Altar change

Yesterday at Mass at the cathedral, I noticed something different on the high altar. Mass took place at the St. Joseph altar to the side, so I was looking at the high altar from a bit of a distance and at an angle, but at first it simply seemed as if the veil in front of the tabernacle had somehow fallen down halfway. I looked again, and then noticed it was the middle of three altar cards!

Altar cards are used in the extraordinary form of the Mass, and contain prayers which the priest prays at various points. Would this be an indication that we would be having at the very least an ordinary form Mass ad orientem in the cathedral?

I asked Ad, the sacristan, about it afterwards, and he told me the altar cards were found in the safe in the sacristy and Fr. Wagenaar decided that they belonged on the altar instead. Of course they do, these are meant to be used, not to stored away.

But sadly, placement on the altar was to be their only intended use. No ad orientem Masses, let alone extraordinary form, at the cathedral. Not yet at least, for I remain optimistic.

I later heard the cards were back in the safe, since they blocked the tabernacle. In a way, that’s better, I think. If they are not going to be used, then why bring them out?

Super priority: a bishop on vocations

Contuining the theme of the previous post, vocations, a piece from Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-Saint Joseph. A few key phrases in bold.

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In my first months as bishop of the diocese I said Vocations were a “Super Priority.” While we have had a meaningful increase in vocations to priesthood, the diaconate, and some new vocations to consecrated life, I still offer this intention for more vocations to priesthood and Consecrated Life with fervor in my daily prayer. I hope you do also.

We are reaching the midpoint of the Year for Priests, inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI last June. How proud I am of our priests who do so much for you, God’s people. Still, they need more help, particularly as the pastoral needs seem always to increase. This year, please God, we will ordain four new priests; and it remains possible that in 2012 we could celebrate the ordination of eight or nine new priests at once. I haven’t figured out how we will get everyone in the Cathedral; a pleasing dilemma!

Am I greedy to suggest that we need more priests? I believe that God is calling more men to this wonderful vocation, and we have to listen carefully and prepare well so that your sons can hear and answer that call.

What kind of life awaits the priest? To be sure, there are many joys, and also challenges. The priest is helped by God to give himself to many people. He shares in the greatest joys of people’s lives and is with them in times of hardship and sorrow. He is a pastor, a shepherd, a teacher, and spiritual father. He stands in the place of Jesus Christ, particularly in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


How does a man discern a possible vocation to priesthood? The healthy man (healthy in body, mind and soul), as he matures, wants to give himself in an honest and generous way. It is important and normal that he sees the beauty of marriage, and its central meaning and purpose in society. At the same time, he realizes he has a spiritual dimension to his life and he wants to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and follow God’s call wherever it may take him. He works hard at every task before him, and finds joy in generously reaching out to others. He studies with zeal. He prays. He establishes caring friendships, and determines to live a moral life, growing in the frequent reception of the sacraments, particularly of Confession and Holy Eucharist.

As a man experiences this spiritual depth to his life, he does not seek a vocation that makes him materially rich or famous. Instead, having realized something of the cost and demands of authentic human love, he is ready to trust God and give himself to others out of love for God. He realizes that the Father in heaven has loved him a lot, and the awareness of this love and mercy makes him want to follow God’s plan in his life. Our seminarians are responding to this vocation to the priesthood. Our priests are living this out with dedication. Keep praying for them to persevere.

The role and support of parents is very important to those who are discerning God’s call. Your sons (and daughters) look up to you for approval. They should. Your love for them is unconditional and unselfish. I do not suggest that you should urge your sons to go to seminary, but pray for them, that they do whatever God wants for them. Support them in their search. I pledge once again to our parents that if we receive their sons as our seminarians we will do all in our power to see they get good formation.

Over the course of my priesthood, I have also had occasion to meet many outstanding men and women Religious. I was taught by and have worked closely with several Orders of Religious Women. There is a real renewal taking place in these vocations today. I have established an office for Consecrated Life, and we stand ready to direct young women and men who may be drawn to Religious life as priests, sisters or brothers.

Our Vocation Director, Fr. Richard Rocha, and the Director of our Office of Consecrated Life, Sr. Connie Boulch, will be pleased to receive your call (816-756-1850) or go to our diocesan website http://www.diocese-kcsj.org and look for the Vocations tab. Let us never cease to do as Jesus urged us: “Beg the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers for His harvest.” (Lk 10:2)

Don’t forget the Support Our Seminarians (S.O.S.) Dinner Auction coming up Friday, January 29, 2010. Your participation and/or donations are greatly appreciated. For information, call the vocation office at 816-756-1850.

Late answer to early vocation

A vocation story from Steven de Koning, deacon in the diocese of Breda, who will be ordained later this month. To quote Fr. Dwight: Chust for nice. 

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Steven de Koning's ordination to the diaconate

On 23 January 2010 Bishop van den Hende will ordain Steven de Koning to the priesthood. Steven de Koning looks back at his vocation as a late answer to an early vocation. 

As priest he wants to be a mediator of faith and faith experiences and be near to people with questions on their path through life. He clarifies: “In our time many people have lost their awe for Holiness. Throughs, through sacraments, conversation and also silence I want to give room to the Holy in their life, let it speak. In silence we can experience that questions are not always answered and that can hurt. The pain and the unanswered questions invite us to be part of life.” Steven de Koning also experienced that pain and those questions in his own life. “My youngest brother has become a widower twice. Both his first and second wife died young. That makes you ask why.” 

Vocation 

My work as a lawyer for the government assumed a makeable world, but in moments like that you find that we don’t know so much, that life is a mystery. I see life more as a gift from God. Life is filled with God’s presence and He invites us to enter into a relationship with Him. That awreness has become more profound throughout my life and has led to my late answer. I have long wondered if I had a vocation. Wasn’t it just a psychological urge? At a certain point I dared to trust that presence of God and His calling.” 

Postponed choice 

Steven comes from a Catholic family from Breda. He ws born in 1953. At twelve years of age he had his first experience of a vocation. “My father’s family included several religious, among them a Marist father. At twelve I had a certain interest for the priesthood. An ‘ambassador’ from the Marists came to visit, and it turned out I was to go to the seminary in Lievelde. That scared me away.” In that time too, society had many questions about mandatory celibacy and the future of the priesthood. That made the choice for priesthood more difficult. He postponed the decision and postponement turned into cancellation. Steven de Koning went to studt law and had a good career as a lawyer with the Departments of Culture, Recreation and Social Work, as well as Justice. 

Dormant desire 

Steven de Koning always felt close to the Church. He freely admits that, as a student, he didn’t go to Church weekly. In The Hague, the self-evidence of the Catholic faith was broken. “I came in contact with Protestants and andere religions. The urge for development in my own faith grew because of that. I became a volunteer in my own parish, took part in catechetical groups, first as participant, later as group leader. In the mid-1990s my employer gave me a chance to reorient myself, because of internal reorganisations. That awake the dormant desire to be a priest. Around 2000 I had various indications that God really did call me. 

God still calls 

A Protestant friend gave me a novena candle. I lit it at Ascension. In my parish at Pentecost that year, I picked up a copy of the diocesan magazine of Rotterdam, which had an article entitled God still calls. It was about men who were called to be priests at a later age. That deeply touched me. I went to find out the origins of the novena candle and ended up in the Vredeskerk in Amsterdam. The priest of that parish invited me to take part in a discussion group about vocations, which he had just created. That was for me a safe place, far away from The Hague, to think about my answer,” Steven smiles. “After a year I decided to study theology at the Catholic Theological University in Utrecht. I had a great time studying there and still have many friends from there.” 

Coming to Breda 

In 2002 Steven de Koning left The Hague and moved to Nijmegen. His youngest brother had become a widower and Steven would be taking care for his three young children. Steven continued his studies and became actief in the Heilig Landstichting parish. The priest there heard of his vocation and encouraged him to get in touch with Bishop Muskens. A meeting with the bishop led to a “heartfelt welcome as seminarian for the diocese”.  Steven contacts then-recot Ham. He was admitted to the seminary Bovendonk where he continued his studies in 2005. 

Bovendonk 

Steven felt at home at Bovendonk and speaks with much appreciation about Rector Ham and the other teachers. “They and Rector Ham especially made it clear to me that studying theology is not the some as becoming a priest. A re-experienced my vocation and strengthened my answer. I increasignyl experience it as a surrender and want to witness more to my faith.” 

Steven de Koning works in the region of Oost-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. After his ordination he’ll continue to the first responsible for Clinge, Graauw and Nieuw-Namen. On 24 January 2010, at 10:30, he will celebrate his first Holy Mass in the basilica of St. Willibrord in Hulst.