No April Fool – 13 months in, the vacancy ends

End of a long sede vacante

It took thirteen months, an almost unprecented long time, but the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden will soon have a bishop again. The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, had already stated that the name would be known before Easter. With tomorrow being the fifth Sunday of Lent, he was cutting it a bit close. The long time between bishops gave rise to some speculation and rumours, which I wrote about here. These speculations will undoubtedly continue now that there is a new bishop. Many will choose to see the selection, which was ultimately made by Pope Francis, in political terms: the new bishop is either a man in the vein of the Holy Father, which means he is a pastoral figure with an eye for the people instead of the law; or he fits the mold of Cardinal Eijk, which means he is a dogmatic, a stickler for rules. Reality, as often, is more nuanced.

20170330_sHertogenbosch_Bisschoppen_©RamonMangold_03The new bishop

The new bishop comes from the south, and thus, in a way, makes the opposite move than his predecessor, who went from Groningen-Leeuwarden to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. From that later see comes its vicar general, Msgr. Ron van den Hout, to take over the reins of this country’s most northern diocese.

Bishop-elect Van den Hout is 52, not extraordinarily young or old when compared with his predecessors. He has been vicar general of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch since 2012. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1993, studied in Rome and Nijmegen, and most recently taught Bible studies at three seminaries, in addition to serving as temporary pastor in the Bommelerwaard region, in the north of the diocese.

The Diocese

The new bisdom inherits a diocese wich, in some ways, is a work in progress. In the eight years (from 2008 to 2016) that Msgr. de Korte was ordinary, the diocese underwent a process of change which saw the number of parish decrease from 84 to 19. While the previous bishop made it policy to maintain the old parishes as communities in the new larger parishes, it is up to the new bishop to see the process to its conclusion and his choice to keep Bishop de Korte’s vision intact or adapt it as he sees fit. With one parish, which includes the cathedral in Groningen, exempt from the mergers, only two new parishes are awaiting establishment,  while a third is already merged, but will see one more old parish join at a later date. The entire process is expected to be concluded by 1 January 2018.

In the years that Bishop de Korte led the diocese, the number of religious establishments within its boundaries tripled. A relatively large increase, in absolute numbers it is perhaps somewhat less impressive: from one to three. In addition to the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, which is under the care of hermit Father Hugo, the Holy Ghost Fathers have established themselves in Heerenveen, while the Cistercians from Sion Abbey are working to build a monastery on the island of Schiermonnikoog. Bishop de Korte actively encouraged this trend, and his successor could do worse than do likewise.

The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden is one of the two youngest in the Netherlands, having been established in 1955, it is the second largest in size, and the smallest by number of Catholics (a little over 100,000, of whom some 10% attend a Mass or celebration over the course of one weekend)*. It covers the three northern provinces of the Netherlands (Fryslân, Groningen and Drenthe) as well as the northern third of the province of Flevoland. Its population varies from traditionally left-wing in the former Communist stronghold of eastern Groningen, to traditionally Catholic along the German border from the southeastern tip of Groningen to the south of Drenthe. Major cities are few, but include the university city of Groningen, which is also home to the cathedral of St. Joseph and the diocesan offices (relocated there by then-Bishop Willem Eijk, bishop from 1999 to 2008). Catholic faithful are clustered in various places, but in general the parish, especially in the countryside, are expansive. Coupled with a relative low number of priests this means that clergy has to be able and willing to travel.

Bishop van den Hout Will be the fifth bishop of the Groningen-Leeuwarden. Two of his predecessors are still active: Cardinal Willem Eijk as archbishop of Utrecht, and Msgr. Gerard de Korte as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam is a former priest and vicar general of the diocese, and his immediate predecessor, Msgr. Ad van Luyn, was born in Groningen.

In the past eleven months, since the installation of Bishop de Korte in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the diocese has been run by diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen, vicar general under the previous bishop, and general delegate Fr. Arjen Bultsma, formerly the episcopal vicar for Fryslân and the Noordoostpolder.

Reactions

Bishop-elect van den Hout was informed about his appointment last week, and accepted it on Wednesday. His initial reaction was hesitant, but he realised that it was “something that had come his way, and I was obliged to cooperate gladly”.

20170401_104325

^The new bishop, at left, receives a welcome present from diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen.

As for the future, the new bishop sees himself as a man of the parish. “The life of the Church must be realised in the parishes,” he said. “The faithful must take their baptism seriously, while the diocesan curia serves to support this.” As yet unfamiliar with his new diocese, the bishop-elect intends to start visiting the parishes soon after his consecration, which is scheduled for 3 June. Asked about his predecessors and how he compares to them, Msgr. van den Hout said that he simply wants to be himself, to be there for the people. He hasn’t taken up a position on how the diocese should be run, as this depends on the specific  local situation. He is curious and open about the Catholic life in the parishes of his new diocese, and will make any decisions based on what he finds.

More to come.

*Statistics date from 2008. The expectation is that the actual and current numbers are lower).

Photo credit: [1] Ramon Mangold, [2] Mark de Vries

Comings and goings – two dioceses prepare for a new bishop

13064583_615019105323381_2525669281318198813_o.jpg
In preparation for Saturday’s installation, Bishop Gerard de Korte’s (redesigned) coat of arms is placed above the cathedra in the cathedral basilica of St. John the Evangelist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

In a couple more days, ‘s-Hertogenbosch will have its new bishop while Groningen-Leeuwarden will welcome its temporary diocesan administrator. This administrator, most likely vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, is to manage current affairs in the diocese until the new bishop arrives. The next step of the selection of that new bishop now lies with the Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The cathedral chapter of Groningen-Leeuwarden has sent him their list of three candidates, the so-called terna, and it is the Nuncio’s task to collect information on the men on it, as well as collecting the advice and suggestions of the others bishops in the country. The list and information will then be sent to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, after which Pope Francis will make the final choice. For now, I expect one of the auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, Herman Woorts or Theodorus Hoogenboom, to come to Groningen-Leeuwarden. Yes, that is slight change in previous ideas on my part.

Whoever it will be, his appointment will probably take place after the summer, which means that the diocese’s major annual event, the St. Boniface Days in Dokkum on 10 to 12 June, will happen without a resident bishop. Under Bishop de Korte, this event has seen a significant development, and this year it will for the first time expand beyond Catholic boundaries, containing a significant ecumenical element in the participation of local Protestant churches. Bishop de Korte will attend and offer the Mass at the procession park in Dokkum on the final day. He may also participate in the preceding procession, but an episcopal presence is at least assured in the person of Bishop Karlheinz Diez, auxiliary of Fulda. Both Groningen-Leeuwarden and Fulda have events dedicated to St. Boniface, being the places where he was respectively killed and lies buried, and Bishop de Korte has previously attended the Fulda festivities.

Groningen-Leeuwarden, in the mean time, has taken every opportunity in bidding their beloved bishop farewell, not least during the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes earlier this month, as well as in a special edition of the diocesan magazine.

bdee956e8a8145d7c49f06b55f495cfd

Photo credit [1] Ramon Mangold, [2] Marlies Bosch

The bishop and the blogger

“I am known as the ecumenical bishop, although some bloggers are none too happy about that. So be it.”

Words from Bishop Gerard de Korte in his homily on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The festive Mass, offered by the bishop in concelebration with the diocesan vicars and the cathedral administrator, and attended by the majority of the diocesan clergy and the bishops Punt, Van den Hende and Woorts, as well as Cardinal Simonis, took place on Saturday morning. Bishop de Korte looked back on the past 25 years, but also ahead to the years that are coming.

Ecumenism is  major theme for the bishop; it is, one could say, a defining characteristic. As an illustration, among the guests at the Mass were representatives of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and the Old Catholic Church, whom the bishop regards as “friends in the faith”. But this ecumenical focus has also caused some to look with wary eyes at his activities. And among these, there are some very vocal bloggers and users of other social media.

Bishop de Korte, quite possibly because of these wary – and often rather aggressive and personal – comments, has been rather critical about Catholic bloggers in the Netherlands. In the past he has written about the need for bloggers to remain charitable and be careful for what they commit to the screen, which, sadly, led to a renewed round of criticism and attacks, not only aimed at Bishop de Korte, but also at those who dared to express support, like yours truly. Accusations of slander were even leveled at me at one point. Just an illustration.

Regarding the above, Bishop de Korte’s apparent opinion of bloggers and users of social media, illustrated by the quote I shared above, can be explained. But it is sad that he has been given this impression. For not all bloggers are hostile to priests and bishops, even if they can, at times, be quite critical of their words and actions.

Should we then reply with a similar “so be it”? I don’t think so. Bloggers have things to say. Not to blow my own trumpet here, but let’s face it: you don’t  start a blog and devote time to it, sometimes for many years, without having a thing or two to say. We should then look at how we communicate. If our way of communication causes people to ignore the message and even consider bloggers to be peripheral, we are doing something wrong.

Of course we should not simply be quiet when we disagree, but neither should we resort to personal attacks and name-calling. Any possibility of a quick resolution will go straight out the window in that case. I may personally regret that my bishop chooses to focus so much on ecumenism instead of a clear Catholic teaching in our secular society, but that does not mean I’ll denounce him as a heretic or worse, as some do.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch/Bisdom Groningen-Leeuwarden

Congratulations to the new diocesan vicar

The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden announced yesterday the name of the priest who succeeds Vicar General Johan te Velde, not as vicar general, but as regional vicar. He is 35-year-old Father Arjen Bultsma.

Msgr. te Velde recently announced that he would lay down his function as one of the diocese’s two vicars general in order to become a Benedictine monk. Msgr. Peter Wellen remains as the single vicar general, and is also a regional vicar for the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. Fr. Bultsma will be regional vicar for the province of Friesland and the Noordoostpolder, basically the western half of the diocese. He also remains in fucntion as parish priest in four parishes in western Friesland.

Despite his young age, the new vicar accepted the assignment after a few days’ consideration, and says he sees it as a vote of confidence from the bishop. As a focal point for his work as regional vicar, Fr. Bultsma mentions a serious understanding of the lessons of Vatican II, especially the baptismal or common priesthood of all the faithful:

“Who are they, how and where do they live and what are their talents. And then: what is needed to keep building up the Church and proclaim the Gospel with that. This approach brings the people in the church together, laity and clergy, in a necessarily communicative, but also mutually reinforcing way.”

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch

Stats for August 2011

Despite my two-week absence from the blogosphere, the past month managed to see 3,779 page views. It’s the lowest total since December, sure, but it goes to show that I can be away from the blog for a while without numbers plummeting completely into the single digits. In the top 10 of most popular posts we’ll see which topics are responsible for the continuing interest.

Another high point this month was the crossing of the 100,000 threshold. In fact, on the same day that I returned from Spain, 23 August, the 100,000th visitor since January 2010 popped by. It’s only numbers, but it still makes me pleased.

One to the top 10!

1: A priest never walks alone 72
2: Het probleem Medjugorje 61
3: Calling in the bishop 38
4: Blog shutting down. Temporarily, that is & Seculiere deskundigen willen dat de paus zijn beleid aanpast. Hoe kunnen we uitleggen dat hij dat niet kan? 27
5: Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden & WYD destinations – Zaragoza & Goodbye, we’ll keep in touch (via social media) 26
6: No refusal allowed for civil servants in Groningen 25
7: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 24
8: World Youth Days on TV, and my personal blogging plans & Oddie continues where Dolan stopped & The departure begins… 23
9: Congratulations to a Philippine bishop 20
10: Archbishop Dolan explains the Vatican 19

Double duty: two vicars general for Groningen-Leeuwarden

Following the recent retirement of the vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Father Leo van Ulden, the diocese announces that he will be succeeded by two new vicars general. Perhaps this is a reflection of the workload that has lain upon the shoulders of Fr. van Ulden in the past 11 years.

Vicar general Johan te Velde

The basic hierarchy of the diocese used to consist of four men: the bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte; the vicar general, Fr. van Ulden; and two regional vicars, Fathers Johan te Velde and Peter Wellen. And it is these latter two men who have been appointed to the position of vicars general.

In a statement announcing the appointments, the diocese explains: “In this way no priest needs to be removed from the parishes. At the same time this construction allows for cuts in the diocesan budget.”

Fr. te Velde will be responsible for liturgical tasks (not surprising in the least), while Fr. Wellen will be focussing on ecumenical contacts.

A vicar general is the principal deputy of a bishop in the running of the diocese, and while it is rare for any of the relatively small Dutch dioceses to have two vicars general, it is allowed. A bishop is free in appointing and removing them, although their term as such expires when the bishop dies or is appointed to another diocese.

Joy in photographs

Ordination season seems to be bearing proper fruit worldwide this year, and the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, in its own small way, joyfully participated in that as well. With the ordination of Father Tjitze Tjepkema and Deacons Pascal Huiting and Maurits Damsté our diocese gains three spiritual, intelligent and socially-minded men, if the words of Father Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar, are anything to go by. Bishop Gerard de Korte ordained the three men in a two-hour-plus Mass attended by some 400 people. The two new deacons are transitional deacons, and will be ordained to the priesthood on 29 October. Sadly, it was not allowed to take photos during the Mass, so I didn’t snap any inside the cathedral. Still, the photo to the left may give an indication of the gold-and-white flying against the clear blue sky of a lovely spring morning outside the cathedral of Saint Joseph in Groningen.

Speaking about photos, two galleries have appeared on Flickr of the annual Guild procession to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. I participated in that and wrote about it on the blog before. The first gallery, courtesy of Mr. Geert van Duinen, may be viewed here, and the second, by Marjo Antonissen, is here. Images of devotion, prayer, and also hard labour, because those banners don’t get themselves to Warfhuizen, certainly not when the strong wind of the Hogeland does its best to blow them all the other way. Carrying a banner depicting Saint Ludgerus, I can safely admit that I offered up my efforts of pushing the saint to the hermitage.

Showcasing the unique mix of devotion and levity, is below photo of a common sight in Warfhuizen: Brother Hugo when he needs to get somewhere reasonably fast, relying on his trusty scooter.