Cardinal Erdö – “Europe needs Christ!”

Cardinal Péter Erdö, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest in Hungary, Relator General of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, but today in the first place president of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) had some choice words to say in order to describe the need for Christ in Europe. The full text of his greeting to Pope Francis is available here.

péter erdöHoly Father, Europe needs Christ! Today when a lot is said about the economic crisis, we know that even before Europe was suffering a crisis of humanity and the lack of hope and a perspective on life, which only God can give.

Our very aged society, which focuses more on individualism than on the family, which looks to the world just with the eyes of the economy, reducing everything to profit and usefulness, which has difficulty in welcoming nascent life, the elderly or the disabled, this our European society studded with so many existential margins and disorientated in the search for what is good, true and beautiful, needs Jesus. Our compatriots, even when they are not aware of this, need to find the living and vibrant Jesus Christ in the life of the Church, His Body and His Family.

How many times is the Church really the only reality which remains present and close to the poor, to the elderly, to the pregnant and abandoned mothers, to the young people who are perhaps seeking, but without great hope, meaning for their lives? And we want to be more present! But if faith is lacking, on what will our presence be based?  (Cfr. Matt 5:13-14)”

In the run-up to the Synod, the presidents of the European bishops’ conferences are in Rome for their plenary meeting, which has “the family and the future of Europe” as its theme. Most conference presidents were present, although some had sent delegates. For some reason Cardinal Wim Eijk did not attend, nor was a delegate of his listed among the participants. Cardinal Eijk will, however, be in Rome for the Synod. But a permanent Dutch presence in the CCEE is assured by its Vice Secretary General, Father Michel Remery, a priest of the Diocese of Rotterdam.

The final hours… some impressions

Not being there it is not possible to get a true sense of the anticipation in Rome for tomorrow’s historic event, but I find that the various people I follow via Twitter allow me to get at least some taste. Sharing just some examples that appeared in my timeline in the past hours:

Streams of pilgrims from Germany making their way through the Roman subway, which runs all through the night. Photo courtesy of Fr. George Mabura:

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Dutch journalist Stijn Fens shares this photo of people queueing to get onto St. Peter’s Square, five hours before it opens:

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People asleep in Santo Spirito Church, again courtesy of Fr. Mabura:

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Stijn Fens reports that the general atmosphere is similar to when Pope John Paul II died.

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Journalist Peter Smith shares this photo of seminarian Tom Schluep and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, ready for the canonisations:

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Salt + Light offers another look at pilgrims waiting in the Via Della Conciliazione as night falls over Rome:

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The streets were no less crowded earlier in the day, as this photo by Michael Kelly shows:

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A refuge for rainsoaked people, the Church of the Frisians, in this photo by Fr. Michel Remery:

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An empty St. Peter’s Square, cleared for the final preparations, in this photo by Fr. Manuel Dorantes:

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Also, make sure to follow Father Roderick’s Youtube channel for short videos from Rome in the last days before the canonisations, and Fr. Robert Barron’s Word From Rome videos.

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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

Goodbye, we’ll keep in touch (via social media)

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Rotterdam bid farewell to family and friends, just before boarding the bus to Spain.

Departures continue, today in the Diocese of Rotterdam (despite initial reports that they would leave yesterday…), whose pilgrims are joined with youth from the Diocese of Paramaribo (who arrived on the 4th in the Netherlands). Meanwhile, with my leaving coming rapidly closer (two more days…), I continue packing. On Wednesday, we’ll start our trip to Zaragoza with a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Catherine in Utrecht, offered by Archbishop Wim Eijk. after which we’ll be sent off with a pilgrim’s blessing. At 4pm we’ll start our journey, with an estimated arrival time in Zaragoza at 2pm the next day. Somewhere along the route, probably within sight of the Pyrenees, we’ll stop to celebrate Mass.

Also in these final days before departure, two new Twitter accounts have popped up, which are welcome additions in the social media landscape of the Dutch Church. Fr. Michel Remery is travelling with the youth from Rotterdam and Paramaribo and keeps a running account of their journey’s progress. WJD Madrid is the account of the RKK, Catholic broadcast and communications organ of the bishops. They’ve been providing a steady and enthusiastic stream of tweets a well. Maybe that will be one of the fruits of the World Youth Days, a n increase in social communications among Dutch Catholics… One can hope.

Photo credit: Peter van Mulken

Beatification information

What with the celebration of Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands and the assorted social engagements that accompany it, I find little time to write something substantial about tomorrow’s big event: the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom we may from then on call Blessed John Paul II. Luckily, several other bloggers and reporters are in Rome to share the amazing atmosphere in the eternal city with their readers. I happily link to them.

Father Roderick and Steve Nelson are in Rome for SQPN. They give a foretaste of the excitement and the crowds here. Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald shares her first Roman blog post to give an excellent overview of the events of today, including the closure of St. Peter’s Square at 1 this afternoon until 5:30 tomorrow. Finally, Rocco Palmo, of the excellent Whispers in the Loggia, offers several detailed posts about the preparations as well.

I will spend tomorrow morning in front of the tv. Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK will start live coverage at 10 in the morning.

Fr. Michel Remery celebrated Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in Rome's church of the Frisians today

Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK

Stille Omgang 2011

The experience of participating in the annual Stille Omgang – a night time silent march through Amsterdam, in memory of the 1345 Eucharistic miracle that took place there – is different every year. For me, it was unexpectedly different than previous years.

This year, me and a group of friends travelled down to the Dutch capital on our own. That was different in itself, since we normally joined other people from our diocese. Sadly, this year nothing was organised from Groningen-Leeuwarden (although, oddly enough, the diocesan youth worker was present in Amsterdam), so we took it upon ourselves to go.

The church of Moses and Aaron

In Amsterdam, we took part in the youth program in the church of Moses and Aaron, a building no longer used for regular religious celebrations. After a performance by sand artist Gert van der Vijver, Father Michel Remery held an introduction about the Eucharist. After his initial remarks, he presented a number of questions about why we need the Eucharist, what the Eucharist is and the role of priests in the Eucharist to the audience. People were invited to respond to these questions and their replies were frankly shocking. The vast majority of them were tainted by rampant individualism (“if it feels good to me to attend a prayer service instead of Mass, it must be right”) and Protestantism (“the Eucharist is not necessary to meet Christ, and is comparable to the Protestant Lord’s Supper” and “We should not judge others and accept the different opinions”). As if the Eucharist, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and His presence among us, is a matter of opinion and feeling. At the root here lies an idea that there is no truth, only that which we make ourselves. This makes God, who is Truth, subject to human whims.

Fr. Remery

Luckily, Fr. Remery generally responded well, and there were also some audience members who gave good responses (and even got some applause for it). But seriously: the level of Catholic education in this country is atrocious. I knew it was bad, but it seems that we need to rebuild it from the ground up.

That need for further elucidation and explanation was seemingly also felt by Bishop Jos Punt, who was the main celebrant at Mass, and who adapted his homily to include some personal experiences regarding the Eucharist. I have always considered the bishop to generally be a good homilist, both in delivery and in content, and he proved it here again. As for the effect of his comments, those will remain to be seen.

What struck me in the march itself, which had some 7,000 participants, was the enormous contrast between it and the streets it passed through. Filled with bars, coffee shops, drunk people and the stench of drugs, they are nothing more than hell holes. That depressed me, all those people who had no idea what on earth they (or we) were doing. I’m not against enjoying oneself with a few drinks and some partying, but this was quite simply excess.

So there you have it, a march through secular Amsterdam on its worst, while the mind is full of thoughts about the Eucharist and concern for the Catholic education in the Netherlands. It can get depressing, but, as I said a man I met just before Mass, we have to keep hoping.