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.

From the island and the desert, a new Nuncio to the Netherlands

Pope Francis today appointed the new Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, the successor to Archbishop Andre Dupuy, who is now retiring. The new Nuncio is Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, an experienced diplomat who has been a Nuncio since 1997.

cavalliArchbishop Aldo Cavalli was born in 1946 in northern Italy and became a priest of the Diocese of Bergamo in 1971. Before enrolling in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s “diplomacy school”, in 1975, he taught literature at the minor seminary of Bergamo and studied political and social sciences. In Rome he added canon law and theology to his studies. Subsequently he worked at the Holy See’s diplomatic mission in Burundi and at the Secretariat of State, before being appointed as Apostolic Delegate to Angola and Apostolic Nuncio to São Tomé and Principe in 1996. A year later, he became a full Nuncio to Angola. In 2001 he was transferred to Chile, in 2007 to Colombia and in 2013 he came to Malta, in what was once of the last appointments made by Pope Benedict XVI before the latter’s  retirement. Like his predecessors, Archbishop Cavalli also became Nuncio to Libya a few months later, in addition to his appointment in Malta.

Archbishop Cavalli is the tenth Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands since 1967, the year that the diplomatic mission became a full nunciature. Since the archbishop is 68, he is about seven years away from his retirement, and we may assume that this will be his final posting.

The Apostolic Nuncio is not only the ambassador of the Holy See to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the liaison between the Dutch Church and Rome, but also plays a role in the appointment of new bishops. The previous Nuncio, Archbishop Dupuy, never had the opportunity to play his role in that field, but Archbishop Cavalli will. In the coming seven years three Dutch bishops will reach the age of retirement: Bishop Frans Wiertz in December 2017, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans in August of 2019 and Bishop Jos Punt in January of 2021. Archbishop Cavalli will oversee the appointments of new bishops for the two diocese with the largest number of Catholics (Roermond and ‘s Hertogenbosch) as well as the one containing the Dutch capital (Haarlem-Amsterdam). In Malta he was involved in the appointment of Archbishop Charles Scicluna, which is a comforting precedence.

Charlie Hebdo – Bishops react

Like almost every public authority figure, the Dutch bishops have also released an official response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in paris, two days ago. It is a perfunctory statement, short and quite standard:

Logo Bisschoppenconferentie“The Dutch Bishops’ Conference is shocked and stunned by the reports about the violent attack on the offices of a magazine in Paris, in which twelve people were killed.

The bishops strongly reject the use of any form of violence to impose opinions or religious convictions. They also reject any form of violence aimed at denying people their right to express their own opinions.

The bishops’ sympathies go to the relatives of the deceased victims and also to the injured and their families. “We pray for consolation for them, but also for wisdom for the French authorities in approaching violence because of religious and philosophical opinions.

Furthermore, the bishops’ conference fully endorses Pope Francis’ reaction to the attack.”

More interesting are the reactions of individual bishops.

Bishop Jos Punt, of Haarlem-Amsterdam, sent an open letter to the editors of the major Dutch newspapers and, in extension, to all who work in the free press. In it, he writes:

kn_705396_punt“My thoughts are with your colleagues who have died and with their families, relatives and friends. But my thoughts are also with you and all your coworkers, who are used to be able to bring world news in freedom and rightly consider this a great good in the democratic principles we all cherish. That freedom is now again challenged and that makes you feel unsafe.

As bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam I know that religions and their spiritual leaders, but also ministers, politicians and many others in public office or functions are sometimes targets for satire. That can go very far and cause protests.

But in the context of freedom of speech it must be possible to do so respectfully and must never lead to brutal murder, like yesterday in Paris.”

Bishop Punt also underlines the importance of dialogue between religions with mutual respect and good will, to foster peace and harmony in the world, and reminded that the forces of good are always stronger than the forces of evil. He closes his letter as follows:

“I wish you and your coworkers much wisdom and courage in the decisions you have to make now, perhaps forced by circumstances, in bringing news. But now you are supported by many who have shown their horror at this attack and sympathise strongly with you.”

mgr_hendriks2014_200Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, shares the letter as well, and adds:

“The terrorist action which happened in Paris must be strongly condemned by every sane person. I hope that this will not lead to further violence, but to more attention for the importance of an honest and open dialogue to achieve peace and reconciliation.”

Bishop Gerard de Korte, of Groningen-Leeuwarden, gives advice on how to respond to the attack and its aftermath.

korte“The time for naivety is over. A small number of fanatics can seriously disrupt our society. Our governments have the task of eliminiating terrorists as much as possible before they can strike. But guaranteeing one hundred percent security is of course an illusion.

I think it is sensible to keep our heads cool. It is completely counterproductive to outcry ourselves in anger and fear. Now we especially need a strong and controlled reaction by society. Hysterics and blind hatred towards Muslims must now be avoided. Even in hectic times it is important to keep finding nuances. Citizens in our pluralistic society must seek out that which connects. As creatures of God we people belong fundamentally together, after all.

Bishop de Korte also warns that as Christians we must avoid taking the moral high ground in this matter:

“As Christians we should be humble.  For centuries Christians despised, hated and killed others. After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, Christians have often wanted to violently enforce their vision of the truth. As far as I can see, we have left that unholy way only fairly recently. For our Church the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) also led to a breakthrough on this point. It’s no longer the right of the truth that is in the centre, but the dignity of every human. Christ is the truth in person and every man has the duty to find this truth. But that is only possible in full freedom and without any coercion or violence. We can not make holy God an instrument for our violent actions.”

Prayer and the authentic image of God – Bishop Punt’s letter for Advent

In his message for Advent, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam addresses the distortion of religion in the world, and presents a two-fold solution:

Punt“The world is in chaos, but there is hope. Humanity isn’t completely left to its own devices. 2000 years ago the heavens were broken open. Shepherds saw a great light. Angels showed them the way. The Messiah was born. God’s Son become man. Since then His Spirit comes down on this world. But the Evil is also making tracks. In the end, good shall be victorious. That is a divine promise. The Lord knows His time.

Distorted images of God

If that perspective of God, hope and eternity no longer exists, everything changes. Existing norms and values, the sense of humanity, everything loses its foundation. We have seen it in the last century, dominated by atheist ideologies and an unprecedented contempt of humanity. But religion in itself is no guarantee for peace and humanity either.

Distorted images of God and eternity can equally lead to cruelty. That is something we see especially in our time. In the extremism of the so-called Islamic State religion has taken on inhuman forms. No one seems to have an answer ready. Not the moderate and authentic Islam, and even less the western politicians and military. How to fight people who do not fear death, since they see it as a quick road to Paradise, even if they have to drag innocent people along with them. How to deal with people who think they can please God by cutting the throats of “unbelievers”. Nothing can stand up to that. Politicians and soldiers are powerless.

A father looks for his child

This is mostly a moral and spiritual question. It concerns closing the sources of hate, and denying the distorted images of God and eternity. Extremists draw their strength and fanaticism from them. For decades their hatred against the west has grown, partly because of western neocolonial politics.

What can we do now? I think two things: presenting an authentic image of God, and prayer. Recently I saw a documentary about a father looking for his son. There had been a fight at home, the boy had been unjust to his parents, went out into the world and had gone missing. His father then resigned from his job, sold everything he owned and went looking for his child. For years he travelled, across half the globe, until he had found his son and was able to embrace him again. All the fighting and accusations were completely forgotten.

There is no more beautiful image of who and how God is. You don’t need to look for him. He is looking for you. You only need to allow yourself to be found, by being open for His existence and His love, by the willingness to direct your life towards truth and justice, and by praying, even as a heart’s sigh. No prayer is lost.

Saved by prayer

Centuries before Christ the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, advances on Jerusalem with an enormous army. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, refuses to surrender the city. Sennacherib writes him a  letter and taunts him, “Who do you think you are? You have seen how Assyria has defeated all peoples. How would Jerusalem be saved? Do not be fooled by the God you trust, He will not be able to save you from my hands.” Hezekiah goes to the Temple and places the letter on the altar of the Lord, and prays, “Lord, you alone are God over all kingdoms of the earth. Hear how Sennacherib taunts you, the living God. Save us from his grasp, so that all people of the earth will see that You alone are God”.

That night, Scripture informs us, the angel of the Lord brought down death and confusion on the camp of Assyria. Sennacherib struck camp and returned in humiliation to Assyria, where he died.

Whether it concerns our personal life or the situation in the world, the Lord waits for our prayer and confidence to bring salvation. Let us place our prayer and good deeds, but also our needs and sins, before the Child of Bethlehem, like the shepherds and the wise men did. He will give us peace and a solution, although perhaps along very different roads than we would expect. In that sense, I wish you a blessed Christmas.”

+ Msgr. dr. Jozef M. Punt
Bishop of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam

In the light of MH17: “…”

Of course the world is full of violence and death these days, from Gaza to the Central African Republic, and from Syria to the Ukraine, but sometimes it all hits particularly close to home. 285 innocent people were killed yesterday, and at least 189 of them were Dutch. The reason for their death? They flew over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, at an altitude of 10 kilometers. Someone somewhere launched a surface-to-air missile at the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, apparently mistaking it for a military transport plane.


^No photos of wreckage here, but a shot of the Boeing as it left Schiphol Airport yesterday.

In my social media circles, there are at least two people who have lost friends or acquaintances. The outpouring of support and prayer on Facebook and Twitter struck me yesterday and today, even though the sheer scale of the death and destruction is mind numbing.

Pope Francis had a statement released via the Holy See press office today, which reads:

“The Holy Father, Pope Francis has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions. He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

The Dutch bishops also shared their grief and called for prayer:

“We ask all faithful to do everything possible to support the families and friends of victims. And we encourage all the faithful to commend the victims to the mercy of God during the services of this Sunday, and to pray for strength and courage for those left behind.”

Individual bishops als commented. Cardinal Eijk said in an official statement:

“The world heard with shock of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 near the border between Ukraine and Russia. All of the nearly 300 passengers and crew, including at least 154 Dutch, were killed. Sentiments of sorrow and frustration  dominate all aircraft disasters. According to the first reports this civilian airplane was shot down with a missile – which would make this disaster even more unbearable.

We pray for the eternal rest of the people who died in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayer are also with the family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues of the victims. For them a time of great uncertainty and mourning has begun. I ask all parishes in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to pray for the victims and their survivors in next Sunday’s services.”

The bishops of Haarlem-Amsterdam and ‘s Hertogenbosch have also called for prayers and support for the victims and their families.

But, in the end, words are words. In these cases whatever we do never feels like it is enough. We can only pray, hope and love.

Photo credit: Fred Neeleman/AFP/Getty Images

In Haarlem-Amsterdam, a downsizing

With his signature Bishop Jos Punt today finalised the sale of his residence on Haarlem’s Nieuwe Gracht. The monumental building has been the home of the bishops of Haarlem and most of the diocesan offices for more than 150 years. Bishop Punt will be moving to the rectory adjoining the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, where auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks already resides. The fate of the diocesan offices will be decided later, as the move is expected to take place in early 2015. The building will be then remodeled into a hotel.

nieuwe_gracht_80^A view of the bishop’s residence and diocesan offices from across the canal.

The building, which is a registered monument, is a complex of at least five adjoining buildings. At the heart are a residential home dating from 1734 and a neo-renaissance style building designed by noted architect Pierre Cuypers, who is responsible for many public buildings and churches throughout the country (and whose son, Jos Cuypers, designed St. Bavo’s cathedral).

The downsizing is not the first of its kind in the Netherlands. In the past the offices and the bishop’s residence of, to name but two, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden and the Archdiocese of Utrecht were also moved to a single central location. Few bishops, however, live as close to their cathedral as Bishop Punt will. A cathedral houses a bishop’s seat, so it makes sense for him to be frequently there or, at least, nearby.

The final say – Bishops write a letter about the papal visit that didn’t happen

Logo BisschoppenconferentieThe bishops today issued a letter in which they respond to the enthusiasm for a possible papal visit and the disappointment when it became clear that one was not forthcoming. This letter is certainly very welcome, especially considering all the speculations and accusations that were launched against Cardinal Eijk, who was said to have actually blocked the papal visit. But as I explained in my blog before, reality was quite different, and this letter touches upon that.

Below is my translation:

Brothers and sisters,

There is great enthusiasm among the Dutch population for a papal visit, not only in our Church, but also among many others. The bishops of the Netherlands find the fact that so many are being touched and inspired by Pope Francis, and the way in which he is a follower of Christ, heartwarming. During their ad limina visit the bishops personally experienced the Pope’s compassion and are strengthened by his encouragement and his call to maintain hope.

The option of a papal visit mobilised many. However, in January the Pope himself made it known that a visit to our country was, for the time being, not possible. That is why the bishops, in their first subsequent meeting, decided to not formally invite him. That an invitation was not forthcoming now, was a disappointment for many. But you may be assured that Cardinal Eijk and the other bishop would have gladly welcomed the Pope to the Netherlands.

A civil initiative was launched to collect signatures to try and convince the Pope to come to the Netherlands this year anyway. The bishops find this very positive. But they have to inform the parishes that a visit is sadly not possible for now. Should the opportunity arise in the future to issue an invitation, the bishops will certainly discuss this again.

In the meantime we hope that the enthusiasm for Pope Francis and his witness of the Gospel in words and action will continue to bear fruit in the Church and the world. We pray that this will lead to new and concrete choices for Christ and His commandment to love God and neighbour in word and deed.

The Roman Catholic bishops of the Netherlands

The only thing not addressed in this letter is the alleged preparation by Bishop Punt, but I wonder if that should be something, if it is true to begin with, that should be discussed publicly. The bishops are in one mind about this to the rest of the world, and any internal troubles should be, or already have been, dealt with in private.