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simonis romeOn the first Sunday of the sede vacante the two Dutch cardinals were already in Rome for several days, and both offered Mass in the eternal city. Cardinal Eijk did so in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where he gave his homily in Italian about the day’s Gospel reading.

Cardinal Simonis (pictured) was at the Santa Maria dell’Anima, where the only Dutch Pope’s mortal remains lie. Utrecht-born Adrian VI was Pope from 1522 to 1523. At that church, Cardinal Simonis was accepted into the Guild of the same name, which is tasked with the pastoral care of the German-speaking pilgrims in Rome as well as the Pontifical Institute of the same name and the German Pontifical College. Cardinal Simonis follows in the footsteps of Dutch priest Fr. Antoine Bodar and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, among others. The Guild’s rector, Fr. Franz Xaver Brandmayr, gave the homily, while Cardinal Simonis concelebrated.

Today, both Dutch cardinals are expected to take part in the first and second General Congregations that will lead up to the conclave. The assembled cardinals may decide upon a start date for the conclave, although there are many who have expressed the desire for more time to get to know each other. As South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said, although cardinals have een seeing each other more often during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, “[t]hat doesn’t mean I still don’t have to look up on Google” who is who. It is said that the vast majority of cardinals electors are already in Rome, with the remainder mostly arriving this week. Of the 115 electors, 65, including Cardinal Eijk, will be participating in their first conclave. That is a marked difference with the 2005 conclave, when only two cardinals, Baum and Ratzinger, had participated in a conclave before.

Photo credit: Christian van der Heijden

In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:

dekorte2“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and  without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”

I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.

roderick vonhögenEvery now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a  tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.

The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.

And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana  few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.

And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.

eijkIn an interview published today in Trouw, Cardinal Eijk says that he doesn’t think bishops should appear on television very much. Although he doesn’t shy away from personal contacts with people, he prefers that these contacts remain private and do not run via the media. The chief reason for this, the cardinal says, is that restraint is needed on the part of the bishops in the wake of the many reports of sexual abuse by clergy in past decades.

While I think the cardinal is right that this crisis does merit restraint, and while I also think that the bishops are not media personalities or spokesmen for the Church per se, I don’t believe that it is now a good time to stay completely out of the public eye, or even the Catholic eye for that matter.

It is good that the bishops do not go on the defensive in the abuse crisis. They accept the responsibilities they have inherited from their predecessors, and do their best to act accordingly. Mistakes are still made in that process, certainly, as it is a learning process, but I do not have the impression that the bishops of the Netherlands are simply looking out for their own best interests.

But a media blackout can also have adverse effects. The bishops take responsibility, which is a good thing, but they also remain shepherds of the faithful in this country. And some of those faithful, priests and laity alike, appear on television and in other media to explain or defend the Church on whatever topic has caught the public eye. Cardinal Eijk is fully behind that. About one of these ‘media Catholics’, Father Antoine Bodar, he says: “I think that many people do know what Bodar’s role is. He speaks about the contents, and not about policy. That is the bishops’ responsibility.”

Very true, but policy is not the only thing that bishops concern themselves with. The reason behind the policy, the content of the faith, is also very much their responsibility. By being more visible in the media and the public eye, I think that the bishops can much more effectively perform their role of shepherds and teachers, not least in support of those Catholic faithful who go out to explain and defend the faith and the Church they are part of and love.

It’s a balance between reflecting the responsibility they assume for the abuse crisis, and continuing to do their other duties as bishops. A precarious balancing act at times, to be sure. But I want to know my bishop behind me, and I want him to explain, teach and shepherd, both for me and those I encounter.

The Church in the Netherlands needs an openness towards the world, and the media is an important part of that. It is, after all, the channel through which most people relate to the wider world.

So, bishops, do continue to interact with your faithful in the parishes as you do, but do not forget the work done by those Catholics in the media, or the many people who try to understand the world through that same media. Communication is more than just being on tv a lot, more than saying a lot of words, but we do need it. We need you to help us.

I received a letter yesterday, an invitation for the celebrations around the 125th anniversary, on 25 May, of the consecration of my parish church, the cathedral of Saints Joseph and Martin in Groningen . All ‘new Catholics’, people baptised or confirmed in the past ten years, received a similar invitation.

The parish website has the full schedule of events:

  • Wednesday 23 May, 8pm: Father Antoine Bodar speaks about the question of the relevancy of the Church: Should we just abolish the Church or take pride in our being Catholic. This talk is specifically aimed at students and young Catholics.
  • Friday 25 May, 2:30pm: Anniversary of the consecration of the church. For the elderly parishioners there will be a festive afternoon, and also the opening of a photo exhibit of the cathedral’s history. At 6:30pm the cathedral chapter will offer a Sung Vespers, and at 7pm there will be a High Mass during which Bishop Gerard de Korte will consecrate the new people’s altar.
  • Saturday 26 May, 2pm: An afternoon for young families, during which Ms. Carolijn van Voorst tot Voorst will speak about religious education in our time. Children will be able to go on a treasure hunt in the church.
  • Sunday 27 May, 11am: High Mass offered by Bishop de Korte and apostolic nuncio Archbishop André Dupuy. Mass will be followed by the official presentation of a memorial book of the church’s history. At 5pm there will be an ecumenical Vespers with the bishop and ministers of the various church communities in the city.
  • Friday 1 June, 5 pm: Official reception for all the volunteers of the parish.

I’m especially looking forward to Fr. Bodar’s talk, the photo exhibit, the new altar, the High Mass on Sunday and the book.

A church, especially the church where one was baptised and confirmed and received the other sacraments, is not just a building. It is a home of sorts. The home of Christ, certainly, but therefore also a home for us. With the other parishioners and the clergy attached to the church we form a family.  The cathedral in Groningen has been a home for me for more than five years now, which is nothing compared to the 125 years that it has been a home for others, but its celebration is also that of me and the parish I am a part of.

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

To properly start the new year, the visitors of this blog must’ve thought it a good idea to break the record of last October and grace the blog with no less than 6,870 visits. But there were events and topics to match such a score: the upcoming consistory, the continuing abuse crisis, the Year of Faith and the installation of Bishop Liesen all drew much attention. And so did some older posts (including one dating back to January of 2010). Without much further ado, here’s the top 10:

1: Stilte en Woord: Weg van Evangelisatie: 276
2: With apologies for being late, Pope Benedict announces 22 new cardinals: 73
3: Just because everyone does it, does not make it right – Dominican provincial writes to the archbishop: 65
4: Het Probleem Medjugorje: 52
5: Not a representative of the people – Abp. Léonard can’t catch a break: 46
6: “The Belgian Church has been too passive”: 40
7: The added value of bishops resigning: 39
8: Father Bodar returns to ‘s Hertogenbosch & Pope announces Year of Faith, issues Apostolic Letter “Porta Fidei”: 36
9: Cardinals according to John Allen: 34
10: Red Dawn Epiphany?: 33

With the departure of Bishop Liesen to the neighbouring Diocese of Breda, effective tomorrow, the curia of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch has been looking for someone to take over the duties of the erstwhile auxiliary bishop. Msgr. Liesen was responsible for the education sector, maintaining contacts between diocese, students and the universities in Nijmegen and Tilburg.

Taking over those duties is perhaps the best-known Dutch priest, at least in the media, Father Antoine Bodar. The 67-year-old priest, art historian, author, teacher and talk show host lives in Rome but will be attending meetings with the diocesan staff once a month, as he is also asked to contribute to running the general affairs of the diocese.

In 2003, Fr. Bodar also worked in the diocese, as cathedral administrator of the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist. He left there at the end of 2003, upon his own request, following tensions within the parish.

Fr. Bodar makes frequent appearances on television and in other media, and is also an often-invited speaker about all manner of Church-related issues. An erudite voice for the teachings of the Church, let’s hope that his new work in ‘s Hertogenbosch will last a bit longer than the last time he was there.

Just for a laugh, recently-ordained Deacon Pascal Huiting and Bishop Gerard de Korte at the start of the procession to the chapel of St. Boniface, at this year’s St. Boniface Day in Dokkum.

Despite the rain, it seems that a good time was had by at least two people. More photos, showing impressions of the procession,  the address by Fr. Antoine Bodar, the workshops and the bishop blessing people and things are available here.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch

Well-known Dutch priest Fr. Antoine Bodar will be lending his name to and performing editorial duties for a glossy magazine that will be published on 16 January 2011. Of course, why the creation of a magazine must take more than six months is anyone’s guess, but that’s just a detail.

The publishers of ‘Antoine’ state that their magazine will offer “entertainment, in-depth interviews, reflections, travel reports, meaningfulness [...] the things that matter.” They’ll even offer recipes and liturgical fashion (something of a contradictio in terminis, surely?).

It may be clear that I am quite possibly not the intended audience of this magazine. (indeed, the target reader is typified as “a woman around 40 years of age, married with two children, living in a medium-sized green town. She likes quality. She cycles, likes nature, would like to read more, but also spends time on family and society.” Not me, in other words.

A glossy… Isn’t the time that any semi-famous person attached his or her name to a publication mostly over now? Fr. Bodar himself is hardly unknown of course, having been on TV several times in the wake of the abuse crisis and he also remains a prolific author. I have no doubt that the magazine will have his characteristic blend of religion and culture and a slightly aloof tone: the man is educated and not afraid to show it in his vocabulary, for example.

‘Antoine’ presents itself as wanting to answer the inherent fascination that people have for religion. Providing a authentic Catholic answer to the search for general spirituality is a necessity, especially in the Netherlands, where the Church is still too quiet. A one-time glossy can be a step in that direction, but I wonder if it’s not too little, too late.

Father Wagenaar blesses the new fire

Both Anna Arco and Father John Boyle write that Church attendance seems to have been up this Easter. I can certainly say the same when I look back at the Easter Vigil here in Groningen. The number of baptisms and confirmations was at a steady nine this year (although Pentecost will see some more, especially confirmations), but the cathedral especially was well filled. Some people stayed at home because of the rain, but they made up for it by making Mass on the Sunday morning well-attended.  

Of course, this year Easter has been overshadowed by the crisis the Church finds herself in, a fact not ignored in the various homilies I heard. I am happy to see, though, that the media does not always succeed in its attacks on the Church or the pope (at least those that try). The letter composed by Eric van den Berg and Frank Bosman has reached over 1,000 signatures now, local parishioners interviewed outside the cathedral remained supportive of the pope and the Church, a short article in a local newspaper echoed the same, and last night Fr. Antoine Bodar offered a well-spoken defence of the pope on television. 

Of course, some media got in a huff about the fact that the pope did not mention or apologise for the abuse during his Urbi et Orbi speech. Apparently, some believe that the pope must make renewed apologies at every public appearance. But at the same time they refuse to acknowledge the apologies he and others already have made. It’s a no-win situation and one best not given too much attention.  

It’s a crazy Easter, but one that is not even close to being overwhelmed. The resurrection of Christ, His defeat of death, continues to shine brightly in our lives even if, as my bishop said, the Cross of Good Friday is still firmly present in the Church and in our hearts.  

Below are a few more impressions of the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen.  

Darkness in the cathedral

A fire burns brightly

The lights in the sanctuary slowly come on as Fr. Wagenaar incenses the paschal candle

The credence table

The twelve consecration crosses are also illuminated

The elevation of the Blood of Christ

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

Copyright

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Netherlands License.

The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

Blog and media

Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

20 April: [English] Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki - Easter message.

15 April: [English] Bishop Frans Wiertz - Homily on sexual abuse.

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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