Bishops speak out against racism

“Bishop Gerard de Korte lets it be known that he ate couscous today.” As far as tweets from official diocesan accounts go, this must be one of the oddest. But it is not without reason, as it is a jocular comment in the debate that has erupted following the latest racist comments from politician Geert Wilders’ followers. Following the municipal elections on Wednesday, Wilders asked his audience whether they wanted more or less Morrocans in the Netherlands, to which they shouted, “Less, less!” Wilders’ party, the PVV, already lost several members of parliament over the incident, and more than a few bishops have been uncharacteristically vocal in their opposition to this expression of overt racism.

Bishop Jan Hendriks was the first, when he posted a short entry in his blog, titled “‘The Morrocans’ do not exist”. He wrote:

“if the crime rate among Morrocans in the Netherlands is high, the reason is not their being Morrocan; in Morocco crime levels are far behind that of western countries. There are therefore background to that high crime rate which have nothing to do with ethnicity per se. For the sake of a safe society those crime statistics are analysed for social causes and backgrounds. In any case, the solution is not the criminalisation of a given people as such.”

As the Council of Churches announced an upcoming ecumenical service to emphasise that they are for “more”, not “less”, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands also stated they would send representatives, Bishop de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Father van der Helm of the Diocese of Rotterdam, to that service.

The bishop also declared that among Christians “there can be no room for racism and discrimination”.

‘Dew-stepping’ – in The Hague, unity in procession

While closer cooperation between, or even the merger of, parishes is a hot topic in many dioceses these days (including in my home Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden), the four parishes of The Hague will celebrate their unity this Ascension (17 May) by reviving an old tradition.

‘Dew-stepping’ is my translation of the seemingly unique Dutch verb ‘dauwtrappen’, which refers to early-morning processions, usually on Ascension Day, although they need not be of a religious nature. And although this tradition was mostly practised in the east of the country and the province of North Holland, it is in the western Diocese of Rotterdam, in the Deanery of The Hague to be exact, that a thoroughly religious ‘dew-stepping’ procession is revived to invigorate the unity of The Hague’s parishes.

Starting from four different parish churches between 5:30 and 6:15 am, four separate processions will meet up and form one single gathering at Oud Eijk en Duinen, today a cemetery that contains the ruins of a thirteenth-century chapel (pictured) built by Count William II of Holland, which will be circled by the procession in song and prayer. At this ruined chapel, where the traditional devotion to the Holy Cross was reinstated in 1998, Father Ad van der Helm, Dean of The Hague, will offer a Mass at 7:15am.

Too often mergers and other parish politics are treated like the politics of any larger or smaller company. The identity of a parish as a community of faithful within the Church is too often ignored when these matters are discussed. But, in my opinion, if the unity of faithful, be they of one parish or another, is expressed in devotion, prayer, song and the celebration of the Eucharist, it has truly fertile ground to grow in.

Photo credit: Hans Erren/Wikipedia

Of lords and ladies

Today I witnessed something fairly unique, certainly for a Catholic in the north of the Netherlands: the investiture of new members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which took place at the cathedral of Sts. Joseph and Martin in Groningen. The choice of location was no doubt influenced by Bishop Gerard de Korte’s membership of the order.

The investiture and Mass took well over two hours. Concelebrating the Mass were Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, the Grand Prior of the Order in the Netherlands, Bishop Gerard de Korte, the ordinary of the host diocese, Bishop Ad van Luyn, emeritus of Rotterdam, and Archbishop André Dupuy, our new Nuncio. Among the new members of the Order were a handful of priests, including Father Antoine Bodar and Father Ad van der Helm, the dean of The Hague.

The whole affair also turned out to be a nice opportunity for networking, as I met photographer Ramon Mangold and, with two friends, had an animated talk with Fr. Michel Remery.

Some photographic impressions of Catholic nobility:

The flag of the Order on the cathedral
Knights, ladies and members of the Order on their way to the cathedral
Acolytes, priests and bishops, ready to join the members of the Order as they enter the cathedral
Several well-known faces among the candidate members: Fathers Antoine Bodar, Ad van der Helm and Tjeerd Visser, among others

Bishops Ad van Luyn and Gerard de Korte
Bishop Hurkmans gives the homily
Bishop van Luyn and several priests
A new knight receives his mantle

Concelebrating Bishops Van Luyn, de Korte and Hurkmans, with Archbishop Dupuy at right
Attending in choir, Cardinal Simonis during the procession out of the cathedral

Fifth bishop of Rotterdam to be announced at noon tomorrow

Via Twitter (the social media network once again proving its value as a news disseminator) I am reading announcements that the Vatican Congregation for Bishops will announce the name of the new bishop of Rotterdam tomorrow at noon. The as yet unknown person will succeed Msgr. Ad van Luyn, S.D.B., currently serving as Apostolic Administrator of Rotterdam, as the fifth bishop of the southwestern Dutch diocese.

Sadly, I’ll be working at the time the announcement is made, but I expect to be able to draft a serviceable blog post about the appointment in the evening. The upcoming appointment will be the first one of a new diocesan ordinary since Bishop Gerard de Korte was appointed to Groningen-Leeuwarden in 2008.

Since the retirement of Bishop van Luyn in January, very few names of possible successors have been thrown about, although there are a fair number of possibilities. Of the current ordinaries, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Breda has been mentioned to move one diocese over; an option which I consider unlikely. Msgr. van den Hende has been in Breda for less than five years (including one year as Coadjutor Bishop), and still has enough work to do there.

Another name is that of the auxiliary bishop of Roermond, Msgr. Everard de Jong. A rumoured close runner for Groninger-Leeuwarden in 2008, he is conceivable ready for his own diocese after more than 12 years as auxiliary. Of the other Dutch auxiliaries, none seem to be likely choices: Msgr. van Burgsteden of Haarlem-Amsterdam is beyond the age of retirement himself. The two auxiliaries each of Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch have only recently been appointed; moving them now will most likely be too destabilising for the diocesan curia they leave behind, let alone themselves (but it will not be entirely unprecedented).

Of course, the new bishop may come from the clergy of the Diocese of Rotterdam itself. The first one to come into my mind, as mentioned here before, is Fr. Jan Hendriks, currently the rector of the Tiltenberg seminary, which belongs to the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, although Fr. Hendriks is a priest of Rotterdam. Another name is that of Fr. Ad van der Helm, the dean of The Hague and professor in canon law at Louvain and Bovendonk. If appointed, he would be the first true twittering bishop of the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s vicar general, Father Dick Verbakel, is an option as well, but a remote one, I think.

But in the end, Rome may still surprise us. Will there be a third Bishop Adrianus* in Rotterdam, or not? Wait and see.

Fr. Ad van der Helm (right), pictured here with Msgr. van Luyn (left) and the Nuncio, Abp. Bacqué, may be the new bishop

*The first was Bishop Adrianus Simonis, later archbishop of Utrecht and cardinal; the second Bishop Adrianus van Luyn.

Photo credit: Peter van Mulken