For Groningen-Leeuwarden, a new religious community

holy ghost fathers logoSurprising and inspiring news yesterday, when the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden announced that it would entrust the parish of Saints Peter and Paul in south-central Friesland, which includes the city of Heerenveen, to the Holy Ghost Fathers. Three priests from this religious congregation will take care of the pastoral needs of the faithful there, with the first, Father Charles Eba’a C.S.Sp, arriving to succeed Father Anton de Vries as parish priest. The latter is currently recovering from heart surgery and retiring on age and health grounds. Fr. Eba’a, 43, will be joined on short notice by 70-year-old Father Leo Gottenbos C.SS.Sp. A third Holy Ghost Father, possibly also of African decent, will arrive in 2016, although no one has been named yet.

The Holy Ghost Fathers, or in full the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, were founded in 1703 in Paris by then-seminarian Claude Poullart des Places, and barely survived the French Revolution. Today, the congregation is dedicated to spreading the Good News and working with the poor and ministering in areas and situations “where the Church has difficulty in finding ministers”. The north of the Netherlands certainly qualifies in that respect.

charles eba'aFr. Charles Eba’a, pictured at right, originally comes from Cameroon and has worked in parishes in the Diocese of Rotterdam for the past ten years, most recently as parish priest in the parish federation of St. Mary Magdalen in the Southern part of the city of Rotterdam and adjacent towns. Fr. Leo Gottenbos returned in September from 40 years’ ministry in Brazil.

The initiative for their arrival was taken by the Holy Ghost fathers two years ago, when the province contact Bishop Gerard de Korte to see if an international community of three fathers could be established somewhere in the diocese. The parish in and around Heerenveen was selected because of the upcoming retirement of the parish priest, the focus on service and the planned function of the parish house as meeting place in the city. The community will the congregation’s fifth in the Netherlands.

The Holy Ghost Fathers will be the only religious community in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, although a second one is planned: the coming of the Cistercians of Sion Abbey to Schiermonnikoog, which I wrote about before. A third religious establishment is the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, maintained by hermit Father Hugo, in Warfhuizen.

Bishops: for refugees, donate time, money, prayer and hospitality

Logo BisschoppenconferentieThe Dutch bishops, meeting last weekend, perhaps unsurprisingly, decided to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer aid to refugees. They are following the example of bishops in Germany and other countries, and a decision on this topic had been forthcoming. I already came across grumblings that the bishops as a whole were keeping rather quiet about refugees and their plight. Only Bishops Gerard de Korte and Jos Punt had shared their thoughts on the websites of their dioceses. More on that in a later post.

They urge faithful to open their hearts: “We stimulate faithful to sign up for volunteers’ work at, for example, refugee centres, where there is often a need among refugees for a Dutch “buddy”, who can help finding the way at Dutch government agencies. It can also, for example, have great value for Christian refugees to be accompanied by a Dutch Christian.” The bishops also mention that there are other ways of helping, not least by way of displays of hospitality.

When it comes to donating goods, the bishops defer to professional aid agencies in indicating what is needed. They want to enter into discussions on short notice with these organisations to map out what is needed to shelter a family or group of refugees in faith communities.

On 20 September, there will be a collection in parishes. Funds collected will go to refugee aid and shelter.

A more expansive statement on the refugee crisis and its various aspects is forthcoming. In the meantime, the bishops ask for prayer, in addition to the aforementioned donations of time, money and Christian charity.

Not just Brother anymore – a hermit ordained

Yesterday I was honoured to be present at the ordination to the priesthood of Father Hugo (until today know here on the blog and elsewhere as Brother Hugo). The two-hour ordination Mass, celebrated by Bishop Gerard de Korte in concelebration with members of the diocesan curia, two visiting bishops, the Altvater of the hermits’  association of Frauenbründl, the cathedral administrator and personal priest friends of Fr. Hugo, was attended by, at rough estimate, some 400 people. It was a celebration befitting the contemplative life that Fr. Hugo exemplifies as a hermit, with musical accompaniment from a four-man schola, who sung the set parts of the Mass in Latin, as well as the Veni Sancti Spiritus, a long Litany of the Saints (with many local saints and holy hermits asked for their intercession) and Deus ibi est. The readings were Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a; Hebrews 5:1-10; and Matthew 20:25-28.

ordination father hugo

 Bishop de Korte spoke in his homily about the three elements of Father Hugo’s pastoral care. As a hermit, Fr. Hugo will not be assigned to a parish, but remain (according to the bishop, because of his young age, for many more years to come) at the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. The three elements (perhaps inspired by Pope Francis’ tendency to highlight three main points in his homilies?) are prayer, comfort and mercy.

Fr. Hugo’s life is marked by prayer, and he prays for and on behalf of all those who can’t pray, don’t know how to pray, don’t make the time to pray.

The shrine draws many people who have experienced sorrow, or continue to do so. In his pastoral care, Fr,. Hugo offers the comfort that the Lord also offers, not least through Our Lady, who has known sorrow in her own life.

As a priest, Fr. Hugo can now offer the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation in addition to the pastoral conversation he already has with many people, faithful and otherwise. In this way, God is merciful and always gives us the chance to start anew.

Following the ordination Mass there was a reception in a nearby hotel, at which Father Hugo (a name more thana  few, including the new priest himself, will have to get used to) spent most of his time shaking hands and receiving well-wishes and gifts.

On my part, I am curious to see what the future holds for Fr. Hugo and the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. If the past is any indication, any guess is bound to be overtaken by reality pretty soon.

Lastly then, some photos:

ordination father hugo

^His hands in the hands of the bishop, then-Brother Hugo promises his respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors.

ordination father hugo

^During the Litany of the Saints (long enough to take up four pages in the liturgy booklet), Brother Hugo lies flat before the sanctuary as bishops, priests and faithful pray on his behalf.
ordination father hugo

^First step of the actual ordination, the bishop lies his hands on Brother Hugo. This is followed by the other bishops and priests present doing the same, and the bishop praying the prayer of ordination.


^One of the two bishops present was Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam, himself born and raised in Groningen.

^Father Johannes Schuster leads the hermits’ association of Frauenbründl in Bavaria, of which Warfhuizen is the most distant outpost. As such, he presented Fr. Hugo for ordination and clothed him in stole and chasuble, the signs of his priesthood.

Photo credit: [1-4] Marjo Antonissen Steenvoorde, [5-6] Marlies Bosch

Bishop Gerard de Korte, Theologian Laureate

korteLast night, during the annual night of theology – during which Dutch theologians look back on and celebrate recent developments in the field – Bishop Gerard de Korte was elected as the first “theologian laureate”. The title is an unofficial one and the most recent one after the “most talked about theologian” and the “theologian of the year”.

Bishop de Korte will be an ambassador of theology for the coming year and will be commenting on current affairs from a theological point of view (much like he does in his recently-launched blog). He was one of three nominees and won with a clear majority.

It all sounds nice, of course, but in reality the bishop’s title will not make a major difference. At most it will be putting theology, the person of the bishop and the Catholic Church in the spotlight. But Bishop de Korte has been doing much of what the title asks of him for at least the past five years. In the bishops’ conference he is the go-to prelate for matters of Church and society, so he often speaks on behalf of the conference on television and radio, and he frequently contributions opinion pieces and articles to written media,the diocesan website and his aforementioned blog.

A recognition of his work, then, with the hope that it may continue and bear good fruit.

Bishops react to Laudato Si’

They’ve all received the encyclical in advance, with a personal note from Pope Francis, so more than a few bishops were ready to offer their thoughts and opinions as soon as Laudato Si’ was launched yesterday. Here are a few reactions I came across in my corner of Europe.

archbishop ludwig schickArchbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg writes: “The Biblical call to subdue the earth, can no longer be used by anyone as a justification for the plundering of nature and the wasting of resources.”

hesseFrom Hamburg, Archbishop Stefan Heße comments on the fact that Pope Francis addresses his encyclical to all people in the world: “He makes clear what urgent future issues must be solved for the entire world and for all people. That is not possible without a radical change in mentality”. And later, “Thus he underlines that the problems, which concern all, can also only be solved by all.”

101020marx250Cardinal Reinhard Marx, speaking on behalf of the bishops’ conference, said: “This encyclical is a great work of the Pope, which I gladly make my own. Today the Pope speaks to the conscience of the world and also of the Church, whether it is convenient or not. His message is not comfortable, it wakes us up and warns us to take responsibility. There is a great concern from the Pope not to separate ecological and social problems, commitment to the environment and to the poor, under any circumstances. In the sense the often used label of environmental or climate encyclical falls short. It is rather about an entanglement of the issues of environment and development.”

overbeckBishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen continues in much the same vein as Cardinal Marx: “With this text Pope Francis once again places himself in the tradition of his patron saint, as he – like Saint Francis – emphasises the interconnectedness of the world … It’s about the triad of God – Man – Creation, but also concretely about, for example, the various connections of climate change … This make the Encyclical a strong sign of the responsibility of our universal Church for the world, of which I hope, with an eye on the UN climate summit in Paris this autumn, that it does not miss its effect.”

dekorte2In the Netherlands, Bishop Gerard de Korte spoke at a press conference to present the Encyclical, and emphasised the fact that the Pope wants to address all people: “The Encyclical is a new impulse for the efforts of Catholics for a more just and sustainable world. But the words “our common home” in the Encyclical’s subtitle makes clear that the Roman Church wants to address all people. Not just other Christians and other believers, but all people of good will (par. 13). Together we are one human family (par. 52) … Addressing all people, believers and unbelievers, indicates that the best of the world religions and philosophies needs to be tapped to reach a global ethics of Creation. Mobilising the spiritual and ethical power of all people is extremely important. Christians have faith in Gods Spirit who blows where He wants and can renew people. The Spirit breaks through lethargy and despondency and gives us joy and peace (par. 222 etc).”

Bischof-Norbert-Trelle-Foto-Bernward-MedienHildesheim’s Bishop Norbert Trelle starts with the criticism of Pope Francis against modern economic systems: “These exclude a large number of people alive today, does not take future generations sufficiently into account and creates a throwaway culture, which exploits resources without concern for the people or the environment and accepts with open eyes the changes in the climate. Opposite that, the Pope places the worth of individual people, his relationship with Creation and with the Creator in the heart of it. He connects these theological statements with an invitation to fundamental economical change and concrete action of individuals …

BischofGenn_Klauser_05-2009Bishop Felix Genn of Münster emphasises that the Encyclical is not just an environmental tract: “Certainly environmental problems are at the heart of Laudato Si’, but it is much more than an ‘environmental Encyclical’. It concerns the common home of Creation. In essence, Pope Francis answers the question which each of us should also ask: “What kind of world do we want to leave for those that come after us, the children who are now growing up?” This then leads to us asking about the reason for our existence and about the values that form the basis of our coexistence: “Why do we got through this world, what do we work and tire ourselves out for, what does this earth need us for?” Only when we ask ourselves these questions, so Pope Francis thinks, in my view quite rightly, the care for the environment will produce effective results.”

bode_purpur_240Lastly, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, one of the German delegates to the Synod of Bishops, connects the Encyclical with the theme of the Synod’s upcoming meeting: “And so the Synod in October about the questions of marriage and family should not supersede the concerns for the human family and its home, Creation. Marriage and family are, after all, an essential component of an integrated ecology.”

My bishop has a blog

bloggingSo, my bishop now has a blog. As well as a spiffy new design of the diocesan website to host it on. This makes Bishop Gerard de Korte only the second Dutch blogging bishop, after Bishop Jan Hendriks, who blogs on his own website. It’s a small group, that’s true, but at least it’s there. I am very much in favour of bishops maintaining a blog which is more than just the monthly columns on diocesan websites (which I don’t deny have their value).

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop de Korte is no stranger to writing, as he contributes regularly to newspapers and other media about current affairs. His blog can add a new level to these writings, as it can also be used for more personal reflections. And the bishop has realised that, since in his second post he not only mentions his taking part in a pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Order of Malta, but also expresses his pleasant surprise at being nominated for the title of “national theologian”. Topics like these, which not only give factual accounts of things that happen, but also add a more personal reflection of the bishop, can be very useful in communicating what he stands for and what the Church has to say. That is certainly true for his blogging colleague, Bishop Hendriks, who regularly shares homilies and photos of Masses, pilgrimages and other things he takes part in and finds useful to write about. Via these personal notes people are exposed in an accessible way to the greater wealth of Catholic life and faith.

So, welcome to the world of blogging, bishop! I hope it’s a good experience and I’m looking forward to future posts.

For Lent, the cardinal once more on church closings

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkIn his letter for Lent, Cardinal Eijk once again broaches the subject of church closings, the topic for which he has been criticised so strongly in recent months. Even now, there is a petition on its way to Rome to ask the Pope to stop the cardinal from closing all those churches – something which he is pertinently not doing: his prediction of hundreds of churches closing in the coming years is just that, a prediction and not policy.

In the letter, the cardinal writes:

“The secularisation I mentioned above is also becoming increasingly visible in our own Archdiocese of Utrecht, in part because many parish council are forced, because of greatly decreasing attendance and structural financial shortage, to close church buildings. Among the directly involved that is cause for deep emotions of sorrow. But also for me: every time I receive a parish council’s request to secularise a church building, I do so with a heavy heart.”

Like I and others have said time and again, it is not the cardinal deciding to close specific churches, but the parish councils who are responsible for those buildings. Despite this, various groups, including retired priests and pastoral workers in the archdiocese, continue in their accusations that the cardinal is wilfully closing churches and purging the archdiocese of all those who are critical of him. The difference between these groups and the cardinal is that the former are solely motivated by emotion, while Cardinal Eijk does acknowledge that emotion, but does not consider it the deciding factor in solving the existing problems. He continues:

“This has been cause for confusion and anger in more than a few people. But it is important not to persist in that anger. There is a danger than anger turns into bitterness,and bitterness is like a dungeon in which no light penetrates. It is important to remain open, to God and to fellow parishioners with whom we are the Church. That goes for churches that remain open for the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and also for villages and city suburbs which no longer have a church building. As Catholics we can come together there at other times, to be near to each other and deepen our faith through prayer, Scripture, catechesis. When a church building disappears, our faith and being Church in a village or suburb does not.”

This sound like an echo of what Bishop Gerard de Korte wrote earlier: living communities, even in places where there is no church building. The critical parties often make the mistake of limiting the Church to the celebration of Mass or the possession of a building of their own. But while Holy Mass is the most important treasure the Church has, it is by no means the only one. And the Church has never been confined to walls. No church in the world, not even Saint Peter’s in Rome, is the deciding factor in the continued existence of the Catholic Church.

Yes, closing churches is painful and emotional for all involved. But it should not be reason for accusations, but for renewed vigour in our faith life. If we want our communities to be alive and with a future, we must do our best to make sure they are. We don’t have the luxury of sitting and waiting for the bishop to fix things for our communities. As Catholics we must be active instead of passive, knowledgeable and open, charitable and willing to step over boundaries and look beyond our human limitations.