In deep shame, remembering what is good – Bishop de Korte urges “joyful faith” in “days of crisis”

downloadFollowing his earlier comments on the latest revelations about past abuse in the Catholic Church, and in light of the impact this has had on Catholics, also in the Netherlands, Bishop Gerard de Korte has written a letter to the faithful of his diocese. But its message is just as pertinent for Catholics in other dioceses and even other countries.

Without wanting to diminish the suffering of the victims – the bishop describes how he has personally been in touch with a number of them – the letter reminds the reader of what is being done today to fight abuse, despite the failures of the past, and asks to remember of the good the Church still offers. It is good to remember, in my opinion, that there is no distinction between ‘the Church’ and the faithful in the pews. They – we – are the Church, and Bishop de Korte’s letter must be read in that light, so that it does not become a bishop’s call to not leave him and his priests, but an invitation to work together as God’s Church in the world.

“Brothers and sisters,

In the past weeks our Church has frequently been negatively in the news. There was the news about sexual abuse of minors in the United States. And on the highest level of our Church our good pope is accused of not having responded adequately to signs of abuse.

Altogether, the recent news reports are for many cause for pain and sadness. Several victims of sexual abuse who have I have spoken with in the past, have contacted me and told me that their pain is resurfacing because of the news. More than a few faithful in the parish are experiencing sadness with so many negative reports.

In recent history, religious, priests and bishops have been unfaithful to their vocation. They have committed crimes and seriously damaged the lives of people. Their behaviour did not bring people to God, but, in many cases, tested or even extinguished the faith in the hearts of people. This is a reason for deep shame.

In the Netherlands, the sexual abuse of minors was revealed in 2010. From that moment on, the Dutch bishops have been intensively involved in ding justice to the victims of the abuse. They have done their utmost, and will continue to do so, to purify and renew the Church.

All the recommendations of the Deetman commission, which investigated the sexual abuse of minors in our Church, have been followed. A great number of measures have been taken recognise victims and, at the same time, to prevent new victims being made. Of course, constant vigilance is needed, but I am strongly convinced that our Church in the Netherlands is a safer place than it was in the past, especially also for children and young people.

In these days of crisis our bond with the Church is being tested. May I ask you, especially now that it is difficult, to remain faithful? Now that we are going through an exceptionally difficult time for the Church, no one can be missed.

There are countless good things happening in the faith communities of our parishes. Things that can give us courage and hope. I think of celebrating God’s love together, as made visible in Jesus Christ. I’ll also mention all kinds of activities in the fields of communicating the faith and catechesis. And in the last place I gladly emphasise all sorts of charity and other forms of service, within and without the parishes. I think not only of the care for the elderly and the lonely, but also of efforts towards peace, justice and the maintenance of God’s creation.

The Church of our country and most especially of our own Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch only has a future if many take the faith of their baptism seriously.

In these dark days, let us stay close to Christ and His Gospel, also by being close to all who are struggling. In these times we need Catholics who, despite everything, live their faith joyfully.

Thank you to all the faithful, priests, deacons, pastoral workers and all other baptised who form their faith in loyal perseverance.

Let us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, make our friendship with Christ visible in today’s world.

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”
Photo credit: ANP / Ramon Mangold
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Class V – Classic Francis for the new cardinal intake

Every year a new class of cardinals, that seems to be the tradition under Pope Francis. For this year, he calls in fourteen new members of the College, eleven of whom are able to vote in a conclave to elect his successor. This would bring the total number of electors up to 126, were it not for the ageing out of Cardinal Angelo Amato three weeks before the consistory, scheduled for 29 June. Still, the number of electors will be 5 above the maximum number established by soon-to-be Saint Paul VI, but, as noted before, this is a flexible rule that popes are free to break. Barring any deaths, the maximum number of 120 cardinal electors will again be reached by 31 July 2019.

The 2018 class of cardinals, as said, consists of 14 members from 11 different countries, all of which have had cardinals before. This may make the list less exotic than previous editions, although some of the new cardinals come from dioceses or curial departments which have never had red hats before.

Three of the new cardinals work in the curia, while the rest comes from dioceses (and one religious order) across the world. Three come from Italy, two from Spain, and one each from Iraq, Poland, Pakistan, Portugal, Peru, Madagascar, Japan, Mexico and Bolivia.

The list:

LouisSakoLouis Raphael I Cardinal Sako, Cardinal-Bishop, Patriach of Babylon (Chaldean), Iraq. The second Patriarch of Babylon to be made a cardinal, and also the second Iraqi prelate. 69-year-old Patriarch Sako was appointed to Babylon and the leadership of the Chaldean Church in 2013. Before that he was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kirkuk. As an eastern Patriarch, Cardinal Sako will automatically be a cardinal-bishop, but as a member of a non-Roman Catholic Church, albeit one in union with Rome, he will not be given a title church.

Prefecto_Mons._LadariaLuis Francisco Cardinal Ferrer, Cardinal-Deacon, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ever since the popes ceased to head the chief office in the curia themselves, its prefects have been made cardinals. 74-year-old Spanish Jesuit Ladaria Ferrer, formerly the second in command under Cardinal Müller, receives the red hat a year after being made prefect.

de-donatis-1024x693Angelo Cardinal de Donatis, Cardinal-Priest, Vicar General of Rome. Another almost automatic red hat, even under Pope Francis, goes to the vicar general for the vicariate of Rome. The 64-year-old is the second cardinal in the Roman archdiocese, joining Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the vicar general for Vatican City.

 

Giovanni_Angelo_Becciu_in_2013Giovanni Angelo Cardinal Becciu, Cardinal-Deacon, Substitute of the Secretariat of State. All of Cardinal-elect Becciu’s predecessors have been made cardinals, but none while serving as subsistutes in the Secretariat of State. The general expectation is that the 69-year-old Italian will also leave that office soon: he may well suceed Cardinal Angelo Amato, who will turn 80 in June, at the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

z15177603MKonrad Cardinal Krajewski, Cardinal-Deacon, Almoner of the Office of Papal Charities. Without doubt the highest-regarded curial official in Francis’ Rome, the 54-year-old Polish almoner runs the charitable initiatives on behalf of the pope in Rome. Under his responsibility, showers and barber facilities for homeless have been installed in the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square, to name but one example. Cardinal-elect Krajewski is the first papal almoner to be made a cardinal.

JosephCouttsJoseph Cardinal Coutts, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan. The second Pakistani cardinal, and the first native of that country to receive the red hat, ever. Cardinal-elect Coutts, 72,  has been in the country’s southern metropolis since 2012, following stints in the dioceses of Hyderabad and Faisalabad. His election must be seen in the first place as a sign of support for the small Catholic presence in a largely Muslim country.

antonio_santos_martoAntónio Augusto Cardinal dos Santos Marto, Cardinal-Priest, Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, Portugal. It is not the first time that Francis creates a cardinal in a country he has previously visited. The bishop of the diocese which includes the major Marian shrine of Portugal and beyond hosted the pope in May of 2017. The 71-year cardinal-elect also serves as vice-president of the Portuguese bishops’ conference and becomes that country’s second cardinal.

Arzobispo de Huancayo, Monseñor Pedro Barreto Jimeno, SJ 3Pedro Ricardo Cardinal Barreto Jimeno, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop of Huancayo, Peru. In January of this year, Pope Francis visited Peru, so that country also gets a cardinal. The 74-year-old archbishop of Huancayo joins the archbishop of the nation’s capital and is, like him, close to retirement. The cardinal-elect is the second Jesuit to be named in the current batch.

zoky dezyDésiré Cardinal Tsarahazana, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop of Toamasina, Madagascar. After eight years, Madagascar gets a cardinal again, although he is not the archbishop of the capital, Antananarivo. Instead, tnhe 63-year-old cardinal-designate comes from the coastal see of Toamasina. He is the first archbishop of that see, after is was raised to that status in 2010, and he also serves as president of the Malagassy bishops’ conference.

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Giuseppe Cardinal Petrocchi, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop of L’Aquila, Italy. In Italy’s mountaineous and earthquake-stricken region of L’Aquila since 2013, the 69-year-old cardinal-elect has been unavoidably involved with missions of charity and works of mercy. The first cardinal from that see, the appointment once more overlooks such ‘autmoatic’ cardinalatial sees like Venice, Turin and Milan.

1357021978Thomas Aquino Manyo Cardinal Maeda, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop of Osaka, Japan. Japan was long overdue for a cardinal, and this appointment as not as unique as may be expected. Previous Japanese cardinals came from Tokyo twice, but also one time each from Nagasaki and Osaka. The appointment of the 69-year-old archbishop, who has been in office since 2014, is once more a sign of support for a small Asian Catholic congregation.

sergiobesorivera080414.04_1.bigSergio Cardinal Obeso Rivera, Cardinal-Priest, Archbishop emeritus of Jalapa, Mexico. There’s always a Mexican among Francis’ appointments, it seems, but this time the choice has fallen on an archbishop who has retired since 2007. The 86-year-old’s election is one of honour, then, perhaps in part because of his two presidencies of the Mexican bishops’ conference.

toribio_okToribio Cardinal Ticona Porco, Cardinal-Priest, Prelate emeritus of Corocoro, Bolivia. The 81-year-old retired prelate of a small mountain mining town could be said to have truly served on the fringes of the Catholic Church. The economy in the area has been stagnant since 1985, and the new cardinal has worked here for 20 years. He is the third Bolivian cardinal and the first not to come from one of the nation’s two capitals.

aquilinoAquilino Cardinal Bocos Merino, Cardinal-Deacon, Superior General emeritus of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope Francis places great value and emphasis on religious life, so in that sense it is odd that he names only three religious cardinals this time around. Perhaps he tries to balance that with the appointment of the 80-year-old Spanish Claretian who headed his order from 1991 to 2003. The order has produced four other cardinals, two of whom are still alive. It is f

By the time of the consistory, Pope Francis will have created almost half of the electors, or active members of the College of Cardinals. He will have created 59 of them, while 47 will have been created by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and a further 19 by Pope Saint John Paul II.

With the new consistory, Italy remains over-represented in the College, with 22 electors. It is followed by the United States with 10, Spain, France and Pland with 5, and Mexico, Brazil and India with 4 electors each. All other countries are represented by 2 or less cardinal electors.

Other changes

Before yesterdays’ announcement of the upcoming consistory, another change took place in the College of Cardinals, albeit an expected one. Ten years after being created, a cardinal-deacon can opt to be elevated to the next rank of cardinal-priest. This changes nothing in their hands, but only in their precedence among the other cardinals and thus their duties at a conclave to elect a new pope.

All six cardinal-deacons who were created by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 accepted this change and became cardinal-priests, thus joining the other 11 surviving cardinal of their consistory, rising in precedence from after the most recently-created cardinal-priests of Pope Francis, to roughly the middle section of the cardinal-priests.

These six cardinals, who all kept their title churches pro hac vice (“for this time”, ie. for the duration of their being cardinals, which is usually until death) are:

  • Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute
  • Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
  • Angelo Cardinal Comastri, President of the Fabric of St. Peter, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and Vicar General for the Vatican City State
  • Raffaele Cardinal Farina, Archivist emeritus of the Vatican Secret Archives, Librarian emeritus of the Vatican Apostolic Library and President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for Works of Religion
  • Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State and President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State
  • Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major

“Gaudete et exsultate” – A summary and some reflections on Chapter 1

Pope-Francis-writing-740x493As is characteristic of Pope Francis, his latest document, the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, is not “a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification”. Instead, the Holy Father has the practicality of daily life in mind: he simply wants to repropose the call to holiness “for our own time”.

In this post I will take a look at the first chapter of this new document. I will try to add some thoughts and connections of my own, as well as provide a summary for those who haven’t gotten around to reading the whole thing yet. I haven’t either, so what you read here very much is a collection of first impressions.

The first paragraph of the exhortation emphasises that the call to holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian. Too often it seems as if Christianity is just a system of rules and regulations, but, Pope Francis reminds us, “[The Lord] wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” for He created us for true life and happiness. That is the goal of following Christ. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI in paragraph 21, Pope Francis writes, “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”

Holiness is not something to be achieved alone. On the contrary, there are countless numbers of saints that lead by example. They “may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord,” the Pope writes. In paragraph 5, he reminds us of a recent change he made to the reasons why a person can be declared to be a blessed or saint: when “a life is constantly offered for others, even until death”. The processes of beatification and canonisation recognise the heroic virtues, which people in the past, but also “our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones” consistently display to inspire and guide us on the path to holiness.

And holiness is not just a goal on the horizon, distant or otherwise. In paragraph 7, Pope Francis speaks of “the middle class of holiness”: parents, people who work hard for their loved ones, for the sick, our next-door neighbours who display God’s presence among us. It is these people who make real history.

Holiness also unites, especially when we look at the martyrs. People are persecuted or killed for their Christian faith, and the persecutors make no distinction between Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants. Theirs is a ecumenism of blood.

But these are just some factual statements, important as they may be. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis “would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Exhortation should, then, be read as a personal letter to all of us. Paragraphs 14 to 18, under the header “For you too”, are essential reading in this regard. Each has their own way of achieving holiness, and while examples are good and helpful, they are not meant to simply be copied, “for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.” We are tasked to find our own path, our own vocation in life, because that is what is attainable for us.

In paragraph 12, the Holy Father stresses the “genius of women” which is “seen in feminine styles of holiness”. While listing a number of important female saints, he returns again to the “middle class”: “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.”

Holiness, or the attempt at achieving it, is essential to the mission of a Christian in the world. That mission, which each of us has, is “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

But what is that holiness, then? Pope Francis offers a deceptively simple answer: “[H]oliness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.” We can incorporate these mysteries in our lives by contemplating them, he writes, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola.

It is important to recall that saints, which we are called to be, are not perfect human beings. After all, only God is perfect. “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect.” That is why we must look at “the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person”. We must also look at the totality of our own lives, not just dwell on individual mistakes or successes. Pope Francis encourages us to always listen to the Holy Spirit and the signs He gives us; we should ask in prayer what Jesus expects from us at every moment and for every decision we make.

Holiness requires an openness to God. “Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit,” we read in paragraph 24. If we don’t, our mission to speak the message of Jesus that God wants us to communicate to the world by our lives will fail.

Our striving for holiness is intimately connected to Christ. We must work with Him to build His Kingdom: this is thus a communal effort. We cannot seek one thing while avoiding another. “Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission,” the Pope writes in paragraph 26.

What are the sort of activities that can help us on the path to holiness, then? As each path is different, it is impossible to provide a simple list, but the Holy Father does give some directions: “Anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.” We must be committed, so that everything we do has evangelical meaning. But that “does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.” We live in a world of distractions, a world not filled with joy, but with discontent (the social media world is certainly no stranger to that). In moments of silence we are able to open ourselves to God, which, as we have read, is a prerequisite for starting on our path to holiness.

Paragraph 31 summarises the above well: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

But that path can also be scary, as it seems to take us away from what is familiar. In paragraph 32, Pope Francis echoes a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” Pope Francis writes the same about holiness: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” This, as I have written above, is the heart of being a Christian: the path to holiness leads us to becoming the fullest version of ourselves.

In this first chapter, Pope Francis establishes that this is a personal letter to each of us. It explains that holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian, and that it precludes neither the contemplative nor the active sides of life: we should never choose one over the other, but both are required. With this text he also emphasises his own focus on spirituality: Christianity is a faith with its roots in the muck of daily life. Holiness is not something high and unattainable, no, it can become visible in the most mediocre things. Holiness has a middle class of hard work which is at least as important as the first class of theology and contemplation. I found the various references to the fullness of life which God has created us for especially striking. I think it is a beautiful invitation to find our own path to holiness and follow Christ every day.

I will look at Chapter 2 in the near future.


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Against Limburg bishop, Catholic conservatives aim, shoot and completely miss the mark

csm_Portrait-Bischof-Baetzing-im-Bischofsgarten_int_20f2d8ef34Flyers, an online petition, a banner in front of his residence, security measures at Mass… What has Bishop Georg Bätzing done to warrant such an outpouring of protest? Well, according to reports by Katholisch.de he has done nothing more than correct a mistake made by a local parish community.

In November, the community of Hochtaunus in the Diocese of Limburg  was revealed to feature a PDF-file of contact addresses for ‘people in need’ on their website. Among these was a Lutheran charity which assists people in the first bureaucratic steps towards procuring an abortion.

Following this revelation, the diocese had the address removed immediately from the list, as abortion is, of course, completely incompatible with the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, Bishop Bätzing is now being accused of directly promoting the murder of children in the womb. Diocesan spokesman Stephan Schnelle rightly condemns this accusation as “nonsense” and “perfidious”. The diocese is now taking legal action against web portal Katholische.info, which has set up the online petition against the bishop* and continues making the accusations against him, as well as to others who can be held accountable for the aforementioned protests (it is, for example, as yet unclear who actually erected the banner in front of Msgr. Bätzing’s home).

Obviously, katholisches.info was right in pointing out that the charity on the Hochtaunus list provided services which are incompatible with Catholic teachings regarding the dignity of life. While one can wonder how it ever ended up on that list, the diocese acted appropriately in removing it immediately. Asked for a comment, spokesman Schnelle stated back in November, “The protection of life is of the highest priority for the bishop and the diocese”.

The actions against Bishop Bätzing and the Diocese of Limburg are grossly disproportionate. In fact, it does more harm than good to the goal of defending human life, not just to the persons undertaking these actions, but to all who think that killing unborn children is no solution to anything.

*The petition calls for legal action against bishop and diocese. According to German law, the dissemination of advertisements for abortions “for financial benefit or in a grossly offensive manner” is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years or a fine.

A little prayer for Christmas

prayerA little prayer I whipped up this morning for my wife to use in her school’s Christmas celebration. As it was to be prayed before (and, it is hoped, with) an audience of teens who are generally only vaguely familiar with the act of prayer and the Christian faith as a whole, I chose to focus mostly on human kindness and charity instead of more difficult theological concepts such as the Incarnation. Still, Christmas can’t exist without God, the Light of the world, the Word become flesh, so even when celebrating with people unfamiliar with such things, it is no good to be so general as to ignore that world-changing event.

And, yes, there are traces of the well-known prayer of St. Francis in there.

“Lord God,

We celebrate Christmas. In the darkest time of the year we celebrate that it became Light. That Light enlightens our world and ourselves.

We see that there is much that is wrong, that people do things that harm others and the world. We, too, sometimes make mistakes.

We celebrate Christmas. A new beginning. The child in the manger shows us that beginning. Now, at the start of the Christmas holidays, in which we will also begin a whole new year, we want to ask You to keep lighting our way. So that we can bring peace where there are fights and arguments, joy where there is sorrow, hope where people no longer know where to go, light in the darkness.

And when we may find ourselves in darkness, may we also encounter people of light.

We celebrate Christmas.

Amen.”

First Advent – Bishop van den Hout looks ahead to Christmas and beyond

Advent is nearly upon us, which means that bishops write letters for the season to their diocese’s faithful. Over the coming days and weeks, I will share a selection of these here, and the first one is from my own bishop. It is Msgr. Ron van den Hout’s first Advent letter as bishop, as he was consecrated and installed in June of this year. As a result, his letter is a sort of look back at the first months in his new diocese and forward to the time to come. Whereas Bishop van den Hout was initially hesitant to say much about any policies he may have, he now says a few things which reveal about his focus as bishop. As Advent is a time of preparation for what the bishop calls the threefold coming of Christ, it is a fitting time to look forward to the future.

Inwijding nieuwe bisschop Groningen-Leeuwarden“Today is the start of Advent, the period of preparation before Christmas. We celebrate that the Lord has come, but also that He is the one who is coming. We speak of a double, or even triple, coming. This thought is dear to me and nourishes my faith life.

The first coming of Christ is a historical one. The birth of Jesus took place in the history as we will hear it in the gospel of the Mass of the night of Christmas: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…” and in the Gospel of Christmas day: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” These texts belong to Christmas and are recognised by everyone. Even those who do not expressly believe in God often appreciate the Church and church buildings as an important historical and cultural heritage. Many are concerned about the future of our church buildings and others concern themselves with maintaining Christian values and the sharing of stories from the Bible and the meaning of Christian iconography.

The second coming of Christ is that which takes place in our own faith life now. The becoming present of Christ can be especially experienced in the liturgy, prayer and receiving the sacraments. In order to experience this coming, personal faith and personal engagement are required. It requires more than a general religious interest: submission and openness to God’s revelation through and with the Church.

I would connect the third coming of Christ with moral life and charity. At the end of times Christ will come in His full glory. The last part of the liturgical year, when we make the transition towards Christmas, presents us with the idea that all earthly things will one day cease existing and that God will be all in all. With this in mind we are asked to lead a good and just life in this time and to be prepared to join Him when He comes. Being prepared not only means expecting Him, but also to live accordingly.

The coming of Christ is about then, about now and about later Believing is about history and what once took place, it is my faithful and moral life now, and it is about what we may hope for and look forward to, the fullfilment.

Since my consecration as bishop of our Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden I have been through an intensive period of introductions. The first impressions I have made of a for me new area. The visits to the parishes were informative for me, but also relaxing. At home in the bishop’s house I have spoken one on one with various people, and I was introduced to the various parts of and in the diocese. The introduction will continue for a while longer.

If I may be allowed to give a first impression of what struck me. The different parts and areas are markedly different. The historical, cultural and social developments of Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe and the Noordoostpolder have been very diverse. That makes our diocese interesting. In a demographical context, the remark was made a few times that there are more than a few shrinkage areas. The diocese contains many small communities: none of the merged parishes have a nominal number of Catholics larger than 10,000. The communities are far apart. There are old Catholic enclaves with beautiful old churches, but there are also young parishes which developed in the 19th and 20th centuries from an influx of Catholics from other parts of the Netherlands and even from Germany. This process of establishment continued into the 1960s. The number of pastoral ministers is, compared to other dioceses, relatively large, but absolutely speaking their number is small. The mutual relationships are generally good. There are also many and intensive contacts with other Christians.

The development of cooperation which began decades age has now resulted in a nineteen processes of merger. I think it is a good thing that a single clear model was chosen for the parishes and parochial charity institutions. During my visits there was some mention of the shrinkage that exists in our parishes. Everyone is well aware of that. We will not be able to turn this development around. The question is what we must do and where we should best invest our valuable energy. The cooperation between the different locations in a parish will increase in the coming years; I would like to encourage that process. Seek out each other’s strong points, dare to trust on the strength of the other and embark on new activities together.\

Formulating a new policy is not an issue in this first year. But I am able to indicate a few things. Development of one’s own Catholic identity is, I think, important. Clarity of one’s own mission is necessary in order to play a part in the relationship with other Christians and in society. From one’s own identity, one can enter into conversations and can a  conversation prove to be fruitful. Interior development of one’s own religion seems to me to be indispensable.

Beginning with the substantive interests for the faith we could ask ourselves a few questions which could play a guiding role in organising pastoral care:

  • What does it mean that I believe?
  • Why do I do that with others?
  • What do we need to do so together?
  • What should a pastoral team offer and organise, in cooperation with the parishioners?
  • How can a parish council facilitate this?

We never start anything from nothing and we can only build on what our ancestors provided as foundations. Yet the time has come to rethink parish life and to look at how to adjust to the new circumstances. The priests, deacons and pastoral workers can no longer provide the ‘service’ they used to. The parishioners are asked for more efficacy and more willingness to look for new ways themselves; all this of course within the normal and familiar framework of our Church and in unity with the diocese and the world church. Pastoral care will have to be organised more soberly. And we will have to make choices and bring together and concentrate activities.

Concerning liturgy and the sacraments I would like to one again draw attention to the celebration of the Sunday with the Eucharist. Within the given circumstances everyone will work towards that as far as possible. I would like to ask each of you to pray for vocations to the priesthood and for a climate in which vocations in general can be recognised and responded to. The Church needs priests. There are the close cooperators of the bishop and put their lives completely to the service of the Church, through their celibate state of life.

In the official visits to the parishes I experienced much positivity and willingness to work for people. I admire the energy that I have seen and the enthousiasm for the work. I have also seen, in a number of parishes, what charity work is being done. It is once again time for us as Church to take up our role in society, to be there for the poor, the needy, migrants et cetera. The examples that I have seen have strengthened me in the conviction that it is possible. We also become more Church when we show our charitable face.

As Church we have a social position that we must try to maintain. We carry a culture with us that has defined Europe, which was and is good. We also have moral convictions – for example about life and death – which must continue to be heard, especially in this time. Additionally, as Church we have a responsibility towards ourselves and our fellow faithful, that we are nourished and strengthened and become more convinced of the working of God’s Spirit in our lives.

May I end this letter with a prayer? As a parish priest prays for his parishioners, a bishop prays for the faithful of his diocese.

“God, the time of Advent begins and we prepare for the coming of Christ and the celebration of His birth, At the start of this powerful and expectant time I want to pray for the part of your people entrusted to me, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. That everyone, personally and with others, may take part in the Kingdom of God, that You bring near to us in your Son.”

I wish you all a good time of preparation or Christmas.

+ Dr. Cornelis F.M. van den Hout, Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Photo credit: ANP

Another inside impression – Bishop Aerts on ‘baby bishops’ school’.

As a follow-up on my blog post of 15 September, Bishop Lode Aerts, appointed to the Diocese of Bruges in October of last year, looks back with enthusiasm on his participation in the “baby bishops’ school”.

A colourful company

They were eight busy days in Rome for the 120 new bishops. And what colourful company! Imagine: the new bishop of Gibraltar [Carmelo Zammit] works for 25,000 Catholics, the new auxiliary bishop of Toronto [Robert Kasun]  for 2 million. In Peru, the new bishop of Caravelí [Reinhold Nann] works with 15 generally young priests. In German Munich his new colleague [auxiliary Rupert Graf zu Stolberg] has more than 400 in active service. Some bishops have been sent to very rural dioceses. The expansive French Diocese of Limoges [Pierre-Antoine Bozo], for example, has not a single urban centre. Elsewhere, the bishops reside in great cities such a New York or the Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, [auxiliaries Heriberto Pérez and Oscar Tamez Villareal] with 4 million inhabitants. There are also worlds of difference in the area of caritas. The Polish [Arch]diocese of Czestochowa [auxiliary Andrzej Przybylski] receives throngs of pilgrims, but has no immigrants at all. The Latin bishop of Beirut [Cesar Essayan], with his small community of Catholics, tries to do something for the two million Syrian refugees and the one million Palestinians in the camps, while the population of Lebanon numbers barely 4 million!

Regardless of how different the situations are, the challenges seems to be the same everywhere: how to become Christians in our modern culture?\

Among the many conferences, this was best expressed by the witness of Cardinal Cardozo from Venezuela [the archbishop of Mérida]. He quoted abundantly from the homilies and writings of his former colleague and friend, the then-Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. How to be a Christian? How to be a good bishop? Long before he became Pope Francis, the answer often resounded in his homilies; “This is how you become a Christian or bishop: through the joy of the Gospel.” Or: “By descending into the needs of yourself and of the other. By being touched by the other.” And… “through the authenticity of your way of life.”

2017.09 met paus Franciscus 2

Cordial and relaxed

That idea about way of living was not limited to words. It was tangible during the course. The atmosphere was especially cordial and relaxed, even though the program was often very full. We started at 7:30 in the morning and did not stop until 10:30 in the evening. The participation of Secretary of State Parolin and many other cardinals did not detract from the simplicity and fraternity. On the contrary, there was always a great sense of solidarity in the conference hall and in the refectory, in the chapel and in the garden, in the transfers by bus and the discussions in language groups. Some called it a Francis effect. All the same, the cordial reception by the pope on the final day was in that line.

Completely himself and with a joke, Pope Francis bade us farewell:

“God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone.”