Euro 2012 is gearing up, and Father Vlaar is at it again

As Dutch fans are getting ready for the first match of their national team at the Euro 2012 football championship tonight, Father Paul Vlaar, formerly of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam and currently of the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, announces his plans to organise once again a ‘football Mass’, this time on 17 June, and again in Obdam, where he still assists on the weekends. The choir will be dressed in orange, the colour of the Dutch football team, and parishioners are also asked to come in ‘appropriate dress´, which will, undoubtedly, be totally inappropriate for a celebration of Mass.

The last time Fr. Vlaar did something similar, during the 2010 World Cup, he was temporarily relieved of his duties in the parish and sent on a retreat to reflect. Now, it seems, he has learned preciously little.

Bishop Jos Punt has said that he is aware of the plans, but wants to collect some more information before issuing a response. The bishop is also apostolic administrator of the military ordinariate and as such remains Fr. Vlaar’s bishop. Thursday last he installed Fr. Vlaar in the ordinariate, at which occasion the bishop was not informed about any plans for an ‘orange Mass’.

Fr. Vlaar remains silent, apparently as part of an agreement with the Ministry of Defence to observe a media silence.

Holy Mass is the celebration and memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the moment when He comes nearest to us. It is dictated by the Lord Himself, as a reflection of the divine liturgy as reflected in the rich liturgical tradition of the Church, and not by the priorities of people. The celebration of a football competition has other suitable times and places. Our Lord’s sacrifice can not be made subservient to something trivial like this. If it is, Mass becomes a celebration of nothing more than people and community, of how nice it is to be together, to cheer our team on and have a jolly good time.

Fr. Paul Vlaar to leave diocese to join the navy

Father Paul Vlaar – in the news during the World Football Championships of 2010 because he celebrated a football-themed all-orange Mass (which led to a two-month suspension) – will be leaving the parish of Saint Victor in Obdam. He asked permission from Bishop Jos Punt to join the Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands and work as a chaplain for the Royal Dutch Navy. The bishop, who is also Apostolic Administrator of the Ordinariate, granted that permission this week, the diocese reports.

It would seem that the initiative to take this step after more than 8 years at St. Victor was taken by Fr. Vlaar himself. He says that he is looking forward to a new challenge.

The Military Ordinariate of the Netherlands, ministering to Catholics in the Navy, Army and Air Force, was created as a vicariate in 1957 and elevated to an ordinariate in 1986. Cardinals Alfrink (1957-1975 and Willebrands (1975-1982) were the first two military vicars of the Netherlands, after which Bishop Ronald Bär (from 1986 as military ordinary) took over in 1982. The ordinariate was vacant from 1993 to 1995, after which Bishop was appointed as apostolic administrator.There does not seem to be a website for the ordinariate, but Catholic Hierarchy tells us that in 2003 there were a total of 6 priests and 11 permanent deacons incardinated in it.

Photo credit: Noordhollands Dagblad

The footballing bishop’s Christmas address

Sometimes speeches or homilies are simply good; somehow they work, their separate parts come together to form one whole that manges to reach its audience. Let that be the very subject that Bishop Rob Mutsaerts spoke about in his address during the Christmas concert at the cathedral of St. John on Monday.

Bishop Mutsaerts is a good homilist – his appointment and consecration is mere months ago, but his voice is a clear one for those who want to listen. Especially now that he replaced Bishop Hurkmans, the ordinary, who is on sick leave.

In this address, the bishop focusses on the hope that Christmas brings, especially in how it always manages to work: how things come together. He likens this to the ‘goal moments’ in football (real football, also called soccer). Bishop Mutsaerts is a football trainer himself.

An English translation is, naturally, available.

Faith on the football field

Nu.nl announces that Wesley Sneijder, man of the match in both of the games the Dutch team has played in the World Cup, has recently become Catholic, while English team captain Wayne Rooney was blocked from answering a question about the cross and rosary he habitually wears.

Apparently, faith and football go well together, but it is still reason for a slightly amazed tone in media reports: wow, normal people can be Catholic too. The perceived amazement is not very surprising. One rarely sees the Catholic identity of people so clearly, unless the person in question is a priest or bishop, for example. The fact that Sneijder openly mentions that he was introduced to the Church, and Rooney’s rosary and cross (which he wears outside training, of course), are both subtle but potent witnesses of faith.

The bishop’s conference of South Africa, which also includes the bishops of Botswana and Swaziland, have created a website called Church on the Ball, for all news surrounding the World Cup and its meaning for South Africans and the Church. One specific initiative that I am quite sympathetic to is the so-called Peace Cup, a tournament of African teams organised by the Church. It takes place in the Atteridgeville township in Pretoria, and sees 26 teams from all over Africa competing. Notable is the fact that the teams who reach the semifinals and the finals will consist of multiple nationalities. As Father Kees Thönissen, OFM Cap, said:

Peace is built on inner values such as mutual respect and appreciation of difference. A football Peace Cup is a modest attempt to bring about value change through the immediate experience of the ‘other’ as a human being with unique qualities and skills. Large scale social transformation is arrived at through small scale relationships. It is our prayer that the ties of unity and understanding built up in the teams of this Peace Cup will spread as a leaven into South Africa’s burgeoning multi-ethnic society so in need for real examples of peacefulness.