A great heart goes home – Bishop Lemmens passes away

This morning brought the sad news of the death of Bishop Leon Lemmens, auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, after a struggle with leukemia. The bishop had laid down his duties towards the end of last year and was admitted to hospital in October of 2016, which is where, at the university hospital in Louvain, he passed away last night.

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Bishop Lemmens was an auxiliary bishop of the sole Belgian archdiocese since 2011, when he was appointed as such together with Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn and Jean Kockerols. He was appointed for the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen, and wuithin the bishops’ conference he was responsible for the pastoral care to prisoners, contacts with the other Christian churches and  contacts with the Muslim community. The late bishop was also member of the Community of St. Egidio. Speaking on behalf of that community, historian and member Jan De Volder characterises the bishop as follows:

“Leon Lemmens was an extraordinarily cultivated man, a polyglot, who left an impression because of his stature and sincere cordiality, also on the young people he met. He possessed a robust faith and a great heart, especially for the poor, the homeless, the refugees.”

The titular bishop of Municipa was a priest of the Diocese of Hasselt since his ordination in 1977. He studied moral theology in Rome, after which he served as parish priest in Genk in the early 1980s. A professor at the diocesan seminary since 1984, he rose to its leadership in 1997. In 1998 he was appointed as vicar general of Hasselt. In 2004, Msgr. Lemmens went to Rome, to serve as rector of the Romanian College, and in 2005 he also started working at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. In 2011, he was one of three priests called to serve as auxiliary bishops under the then recently-appointed Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels. In 2015, shortly before being forced to relinquish his duties, Bishop Lemmens accompanied Bishop Guy Harpigny and the later Cardinal Jozef De Kesel on a solidarity mission to northern Iraq.

Aboput his final months and weeks, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt, Bishop Lemmens’ home diocese, says:

“We knew that he was ill and we visited him regularly. I spoke with him over the phone only last week. He bore his illness in full faithful surrender.”

The funeral Mass for Bishop Lemmens will take place on Saturday 10 June, in the Cathedral of St. Rombald in Mechelen.

Quoting the wish from the vicariate of Flemish Brabant and Mechelen: “Let’s remain united in prayer with him, and ask the Lord to embrace him with great affection and grant him eternal life.”

Photo credit: Philippe Keulemans

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For Hasselt and the Blessed Virgin, a papal blessing

Pope Francis has sent a letter and apostolic blessing to Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt on the occasion of the 18th Coronation Feasts in Tongres, which are to be held from 3 to 10 July. The feasts include  Belgium’s largest processions and has been recognised as an immaterial world heritage.

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Bishop Hoogmartens personally asked the Holy Father for his blessing:

“Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy, is after all the patron saint of the Diocese of Hasselt, which celebrated its 50th anniversary next year. The runup to this anniversary starts with the Coronation Feasts and ends in the summer of 2017, after the Virga Jesse feasts in Hasselt. In my meeting with the Pope I told him this and asked for his blessing. I then repeated my request in writing to the nunciature. I am very happy that, through the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, he has granted his papal blessing to all of the 3,000 participants, the parishes of Tongres and, in extension, the faithful of the Diocese of Hasselt. But also to the people who will come to watch the Coronation Feasts, and who will participate in the celebrations surrounding Mary, Cause of Our Joy.”

The tradition of the Coronation Feasts goes back to 1890 when the statue of the Blessed Virgin in Tongres was crowned. Georges Willemaers, chairman of the organising committee, explains, “The entire Gospel is made manifest through the life of Mary. This takes place in four processions through the centre of the city, and a similar number of evening plays before the tower of the basilica.”

In his letter, Pope Francis asks the Blessed Virgin “to guide all towards the mildness of her face, so that everyone may redisover the joy of God’s tenderness.” The letter will be read out in all parishes of the diocese in this weekend.

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^A Passion play depicting the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi, during an earlier edition of the Coronation Feasts. More photos may be viewed here.

Tongres, located roughly halfway between Liège and Hasselt, is one of western Europe’s oldest Catholic centres. It became the seat of a bishop in 344, although it soon had to share this honour with Maastricht, which then became the sole residence of the bishop in the 6th century. Today, Tongres’ history is reflected in it being a titular diocese, which has been held by Bishop Pierre Warin, auxiliary bishop of Namur, since 2004. The Diocese of Hasselt, of which Tongres is a part, was established in 1967 out of the Dutch-speaking part of the Diocese of Líège. It corresponds with the Belgian province of Limburg. Bishop Hoogmartens, in office since 2004, is its third bishop.

‘Embracing’ mercy – Bishop Hoogmartens’ message for Lent

Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens’ message for Lent, like many others, revolves around the special signifigance of Lent in the Holy Year of Mercy. He describes the Holy Year as an opportunity to become “better and more joyful Christians”, and mentions some of the means to do so in his own Diocese of Hasselt – the Holy Door, the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of confession at the cathedral and the preparation for the diocese’s 50th anniversary in 2017.

While treading carefully around such ‘hot button’ topics (or so some seem to perceive them) as personal prayer and sin, Bishop Hoogmartens joins Pope Francis in inviting his readers to make the mercy we receive from God an integral part of our lives, penetrating down into everything we say and do and into eveyr interacting with other people.

11-Mgr-Hoogmartens“Dear brothers and sisters,
Good friends,

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent: a time to prepare ourselves in order to fully experience Easter. This year, Lent is very special because of the Jubilee of Mercy which Pope Francis opened in early December in Rome.

In our cathedral too, in the ambulatory, in front at the left, a “Holy Door of Mercy” has been opened for the duration of the Holy Year of Mercy. Faithful – alone or as a group – are expected to enter through it as pilgrims, with the intention to enter into the reality that Jesus has revealed to us, the mercy of the Father. The image on the Door is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He leads us – in the Spirit – to the mercy of the Father. Further along in the ambulatory of the cathedral one can physically go this path: past Mary, the Virga Jesse which will be placed there for the entire year, via a personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, for which the presence of a confessor is assured.

For us faithful it is important to make use of the Jubilee of Mercy – wherever in the world – to become better and more joyful Christians. Lent offers rich opportunities for that. The liturgy frequently mentions God’s mercy. It also invites us to ’embrace’, which should be a part of the lifestyle of the Christian who always wants to make room in his heart for people living in poverty. It also invites us to personal prayer, each perhaps in his own rhythm and his own way, but best after the Biblical example. We are also invited to take part in the confession services which will be organised in the parish federations and deaneries. I will be leading the service in the cathedral on Monday in Holy Week.

By experiencing the Year of Mercy with many others in all its depth, we also prepare for living the glory of God’s mercy in the cathedral on the “starter evenings” on 20 and 21 September. A greater gift our diocese can not receive on the 50th anniversary of its founding.

As modern people, with so many other things on our minds, with a frequently busy life, and each with our own concerns, we perhaps wonder what this mercy means for us and the world? Pope Francis wrote a beautiful letter about it. But we ourselves also sense what it is about. We all know we are often weak, careless, focussed on ourselves, and yes, also sinful. From the mercy that we experience from God we in our turn can then be more merciful towards others, including people living in poverty. ‘Embracing’; Pope Francis calls it the key to the Gospel! The name of God is mercy, after all, as the title of his latest book says.

Would our world, with all its concerns, with so much violence, with the refugee crisis and poverty issues, not gain much when many would experience and contemplate the “mercy of the Father” as Jesus showed it to us?

When that mercy also becomes an incentive for political and economical leaders, of pedagogues and parents and of communities, the world can only become better. It is the joy of Easter which for us Christians always remains the corner stone in this context. And we can already look ahead to that Easter now.

In the meanwhile, let us practice in this Lent for a simpler life, the application of prayer and the sacraments and the love for everyone encountered, who we want to embrace out of God’s mercy.

I gladly wish you a meaningful and blessed Lent, in this Jubilee of Mercy.

+ Patrick Hoogmartens
Bishop of Hasselt”

Thanksgiving for the Pope – special Masses in the Netherlands and Flanders

benedictMarking the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, which becomes effective in the evening of 28 February, all Dutch and Flemish dioceses will be offering a thanksgiving Mass for his pontificate. With the exception of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Antwerp, all will do so on the day of abdication itself.

The two metropolitan archdioceses, Utrecht and Mechelen-Brussels, will feature the most extensive celebrations. In Utrecht, a Mass will be offered at 12:30 at St. Catherine’s cathedral, which will be followed by Holy Hour, a sung Rosary, Vespers and Benediction at 6. Whether Cardinal Eijk will attend this day is unclear. Mechelen-Brussels will offer no less than three Masses, all at 8pm: In Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, in Louvain (St. Peter’s) by auxiliary Bishop Leon Lemmens, and in Waver (St. John the Baptist) by auxiliary Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn.

The other thanksgiving Masses will take place at 6pm in Bruges (by Bishop Jozef De Kesel), at 7pm in Groningen (Bishop Gerard de Korte), Breda (Bishop Jan Liesen) and Roermond (Bishop Frans Wiertz), and at 8pm in Ghent (Bishop Luc Van Looy) and Hasselt (Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens). All Masses will be at the respective cathedrals of the dioceses, except in Breda, where the Mass will be offered at the chapel of the Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven, and Hasselt, where the Basilica of Our Lady will host the Mass

The next day, 1 March, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will offer a Mass at 7:30pm, and on 3 March, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny will offer one at 5pm.

In addition to these Masses, parishes, communities and other societies may of course also mark the abdication with Masses or prayer services.

Wish not granted – a multifunctional building instead of a real church for Lutselus

In January of last year, I wrote about Joey Wolfs, the 13-year-old altar server who started a petition to prevent a multifunctional centre replacing the church that collapsed on Christmas Eve 2010 in Lutselus, Diocese of Hasselt, Belgium. In an interview at the time, Joey said:

Lutselus needs a new church. A real one. Not one of those multifunctional things where there’s a Mass in the morning, a meeting of the elderly in the afternoon, and a youth gathering in the evening. You can’t be dancing between pulpit, baptismal font and altar, right? In a place where just before Our Lord was a guest?”

By the end of this year, the first stone for that new church could be laid, but sadly, it will not be the proper church that Joey and many others desired. Rorate reports that the new building, which is dubbed a “prayer space” instead of a church, “will be able to be changed into a multifunctional space. This will prove useful should there be a day when the church can no longer be used as such.”

The places we use for our worship have their influence on the way we worship. A church will do so differently than a meeting hall which was converted to meet the most basic needs for a community of faithful. In the secularised countries of western Europe the Church has need of proper churches for the new evangelisation. Multifunctional centres will not do that trick.

Photo credit: The church immediately after the collapse. REM