Small miracles – In Lourdes, Bishop Wiertz gets personal

Visiting Lourdes with faithful from his diocese last week, Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz related a personal story about his deteriorating eyesight. The 73-year-old bishop, the most senior of the active bishops in the Netherlands, has been suffering from an increasing loss of his sight for a while now. And, as he puts it, “it will not get better”.

Perhaps Lourdes was the perfect place to share such a personal experience of a physical ailment. Here, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, thousands of pilgrims come every year to seek healing from what ails them, and the diocesan pilgrimage led by Bishop Wiertz (together with Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, recently retired from ‘s-Hertogenbosch) was no different.

Bishop Wiertz gives no indication that it prevents him from doing his duties as bishop. As he explains, it forces him to focus more on listening instead of watching, and each word he reads requires more time, so perhaps he has to take things a little bit slower. But he has an auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Everard de Jong, at his side to lead the Diocese of Roermond with its 1 million faithful. For now, we need not expect yet another round of bishop appointments.

The full text of Bishop Wiertz’s homily follows below:

“You may have noticed this week that I always read my text with a little light. That is because I can no longer see very well. I will turn 74 this year and even bishops are not safe from all sort of old age ailments. But you need not feel sorry for me: I am in good health for my age. Except for those eyes. Sight is failing. And it will not get better.

IMG_9527

A while ago this bothered me, as I have to read, and read out, much. And in my free time I like to read books: novels, history, theology. I manage with those lights, but I’m not as fast as I used to be. That is no disaster, but it is a nuisance. Until I discovered something a few months ago. Since I have to read more slowly, I also read with more attention. Every word becomes clearer, so to speak. It sticks more and I reflect on its meaning more.

Walking around here in Lourdes, I wonder if this eye problem does not also have a deeper meaning. I may see a little less, but I also got something in return. A more intense awareness of the meaning of words. And in conversation listening becomes more important than looking.

God lets us have new experiences before we realise it ourselves. I do not mean to say that all illnesses or physical defects are a good thing. Not at all. Over the course of the years I have spoken to more than enough people who really suffer. My ailment is like nothing in comparison. But I have also learned from these sick and handicapped people – here in Lourdes, but also in the parishes where I have worked – that there is only one way to overcome suffering: by going through it. And at the same time look for support with God.

Luckily, nowadays doctors can do a lot to cure people are make physical suffering more bearable. But the best way to learn and accept your situation is through prayer. “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray,” we heard in the first reading. It doesn’t make you better in the literal sense of the word, but it can help you feel better.

God heals in a different way. He helps you discover things in your illness of handicap, things you weren’t aware of before. Call them small miracles who help you every day to handle life.

Many people know Lourdes because of the great miracles. But in all the years that I have been coming here I have never seen those. I did witness many small miracles. People who can handle things again after a pilgrimage. People who find out, here in Lourdes, that they can still do a lot of things themselves. Like me with my more intense readings and more intensive listening. A small miracle. It is nothing compared to the miracle Jesus performs for the royal official in the Gospel. His son lives again even before he realises it himself. And why? What did he do? Nothing more than taking Jesus’ word for it. We can have faith in Jesus, that all that we experience in our lives has meaning. Even when we do not see it ourselves.

That is why we can look for the small positive things that cheer us up. Small things which help us through the day, who make us able able to handle things for a while. The smile of someone we know. A kind word. The good care of volunteers. The fact that we are making such a beautiful trip together. These are small miracles that God gives us. Winks from heaven, which He uses to show us that He thinks of us and grants everyone healing in His very own way.

You will shortly recieve the laying on of hands. You may experience that as a sign that God is with you, that He gives you strength and helps you. Perhaps in a way that you haven’t thought of yourself. Let us always be open to God, who walks His own paths in healing, but never leaves us.

Amen.”

Photo credit: Organisatie Limburgse Bedevaarten

A desperate situation – mother leaves newborn child in ‘foundling room’

For the first time since its establishment in 2014, a so-called ‘foundling room’ run by the Stichting Beschermde Wieg (protected cradle foundation) was used in the city of Groningen last week. The foundation aims to assist mothers who, for whatever reason, can’t take care of their child and do not want, or are afraid or unable to contact official institutions, to safely leave their child in the hands of a volunteer and ultimately a foster family. There are foundling rooms in four cities in the Netherlands. They are small rooms with a bed, chair and information on a wall poster, and the one in Groningen was the first to be used. A volunteer is available within minutes for any assistance the mother may need or want. This volunteer is with the baby soon after the mother has left. After leaving her child, the mother can reclaim her child within six months if she changes her mind or the situation she is in.

The child, which was left behind last Thursday night and whose details remain confidential, has been checked up in a hospital and is now in the care of a foster family. The mother has left her information in a sealed enveloppe in the care of a notary, so that the child, once he or she has reached the age of 16, can know and perhaps contact his or her biological mother.

The foundation’s foundling rooms are illegal under Dutch law, and the police have the matter under investigation. In 2014, when the room was opened, a Groningen city councillor criticised it, stating that all efforts of the city are directed at preventing the abandonment of newborn children. Laudable as that is, the foundation’s website makes it clear that there are cases (usually extremely painful ones) in which a mother is not able to go to a hospital or another official institution to be taken care of, because of psychological issues, abuse or the threat of physical violence to herself or the child. In the Netherlands, some six newborn children are found every year in dumpsters, public toilets, shopping bags or other places. Only two of these six are generally found alive. While foundling rooms are not perfect, they ensure the safety of the child and hopefully also the mother (through the information provided to her there). In many cases in other countries, the foundation claims, this information, and the possibility for personal contact with a volunteer, results in the mother coming back on her decision to leave her child.

In a society where abortion is perceived as just a medical procedure and even a human right, the work of this foundation can only be lauded. Yes, leaving a newborn child is not to be taken lightly. But in situations in which a mother is unable to take care of her child, it is always to be preferred over leaving it somewhere in the cold or, even worse, killing the child through abortion.

One day until number 10 – New bishop of ‘s -Hertogenbosch to be announced tomorrow

359px-Wapen_van_bisdom_Den_Bosch_svgThe rumours now strong enough that several media outlets have also announced it, we can welcome the new bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch at 11am tomorrow. The official announcement from the Vatican will follow at noon.

 Retiring Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who announced his stepping back for health reasons in September, will either retire immediately, or stay on as administrator of the diocese he led for almost 18 years. If he retires immediately, it is conceivable that Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts will be appointed as administrator, although the cathedral chapter may also appoint another priest from their number. Bishop Mutsaerts, however, already took over a significant number of the duties of Bishop Hurkmans when the latter was taking it slower because of his health.

Bishop Mutsaerts is also the most likely candidate to become the new ordinary, judging from various polls and expert opinions. Other names mentioned are those of Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary of Utrecht; Msgr. Ron van Hout, vicar general of ‘s Hertogenbosch; Bishop Jan Liesen of neighbouring Breda (and former auxiliary bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch); and even Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden (although this, in my opinion, is more reflective of his general popularity than anything else). Or it may be someone else completely, of course.

Whoever the new ordinary may be, he will be the first Dutch appointment for Pope Francis (not counting his appointment of Dutch Archbishop Bert van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan and Eritrea) and also the first that Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, Nuncio to the Netherlands since March of last year, worked on. This first Franciscan appointment in the Netherlands will be interesting in light of the continuity (or lack thereof) with the appointments made under Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope emeritus is responsible for the vast majority of Dutch bishops being appointed. One of the exceptions was Bishop Hurkmans himself.

266px-BisdomshertogenboschLocatie
Location of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is the largest Dutch diocese in number of Catholics: 1.1 million in 2014, which is roughly half of the diocese’s entire population. It can trace its history back to 1559, when it was created out of territory belonging to the Diocese of Liège. In 1629 it vanished again, to be re-established as an Apostolic Vicariate in 1648. In the following centuries it lost territory to Breda and gained it from the Diocese of Antwerp and the smaller Apostolic Vicariates of Grave-Nijmegen and Ravenstein-Megen. In 1853, as the Catholic hierarchy was re-established in the Netherlands, ‘s-Hertogenbosch became a diocese again. The new bishop will be the tenth ordinary since then.

 

In last message, retiring Bishop Hurkmans hopes for unity

In what is likely to be one of his last – if not the last – messages to the faithful of his diocese, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans looks ahead to the upcoming appointment of his successor. He acknowledges that waiting can be a good thing – it makes us look at ourselves and our place in the Church in the diocese – but it should not take too long. The retiring bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch expresses his hope that the divisions in the diocese can be overcome, and that people will be willing to work with the new bishop, to find a greater unity and so to give a strong witness in society. These hopes are not without reason. In recent years we have seen more than a few clashes between the diocese and more liberal groups of faithful – most recently, a priest was even forcefully removed from his own church by a group who wanted to do things their own way. These divisions are a witness of strife, of anger, of closemindedness, not of faith, hope and love, nor of the joy of the Gospel. Cooperation with the new bishop should not be done “to please or praise him, but to strengthen the Church of the diocese”.

Bishop Hurkmans in the monthly newsletter from the diocese:

4ae8de7b-b9ab-4df9-938a-0a0b20ae4a22“In this newsletter I would like to catch up with you. Many people keep asking me, “How are you now?” Underneath often lies the question: how will things go with our diocese now? I can happily say that my health is a lot better. And, together with many of you, I anxiously await the appointment of the new bishop. That this needs time is to be expected. In most cases the preparations for the appointment of a bishop take about a year. But it would be good if the appointment would happen soon. An interval can be good, but it should not take too long.

What is good about an interval? Everyone marks time. We are being thrown back on ourselves a bit. What is my place in the Church? How do I contribute to the whole of the Church of the diocese? A bishop can mean a lot for his diocese when he is united in his duties with his priests, his deacons, with all who work with him in pastoral care and with the faithful. The future of the diocese depends for a major part on, let me put it like this, how we position ourselves. It would be very good if we accept the new bishop gladly and really think and work with him. Upon his appointment, let us strongly search for unity with him, in order to grow in unity with him. Not to please or praise him, but to strengthen the Church of the diocese. A strong witness to society may be expected of us in our time. This is what the Gospel asks, and so do the many people who need the richness of the faith. A divided witness is never strong. That is why I desire unity. This unity can not be restrictive, but must be built on love. The unity of a family. I pray and hope that the divisions in our diocese can be overcome. That there is an inner unity between those who stand with the people in their daily life and faith, and those who serve to maintain the larger context. After all, we all want to be Catholic and we all orient ourselves on Pope Francis. This is part of our Catholic identity.

In the context of the particular situation in our diocese it is especially beautiful that we have been given a Year of Mercy by our Church. Of course, there are initiatives. There is a Holy Door, there are prayer cards, meals are organised and I hear of parishes taking care of refugees. But it is also important that we give God’s mercy a place in our lives in a personal way. Directed at ourselves in prayer, but also directed at the people directly around us. To experience God’s mercy in prayer allows us to deal with others openly. It tears down prejudiced opinions and ideas which we can have of others.

Lastly, I would like to refer to Lent. We will soon begin our preparations for Easter. Once again, as Christians, we can become who we are. It is a good tradition to restore personal relations during Lent, to restore the relation with God and contribute to restoring good relations in the world. We can not remain indifferent to the people affected by wars, by attacks, to people who have to flee, who are persecuted for their faith, to sick people living in institutions or on the street, to people in prison, to the many lonely people in the world. Especially during Lent, we must try and find the steps to take to restore relations. As Church we have the commandment to be open to the world.”

Of conference presidents

In Belgium, the bishops, meeting at Grimbergen Abbey, have elected their new president. Unsurprisingly, it is Archbishop Jozef De Kesel. It is customary for the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels to be elected as president. In fact, since the Bishops’ Conference of Belgium was established in the late 1950s, the country’s one archbishop has aways been chosen to head the conference. As vice-president the bishops selected Bishop Guy Harpigny of Tournai and Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp. With secretary general Herman Cosijns they are the bishops’ conference’s permanent council. The conference consists of the ordinaries and auxiliary bishops of the Belgian Church province, and has eleven members.

16%2001%2026%20Permanente%20raad%20-%20Conseil%20permanent_1

^Msgr. Cosijns, Bishop Harpigny, Archbishop De Kesel and Bishop Bonny.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch bishops are also looking ahead to the election of their new president, later this year. Cardinal Wim Eijk is concluding his term, which began in June of 2011. The cardinal issued a press statement today, saying he will not be available to serve a second term. That means that, whoever the new president will be, the Dutch Bishops’ Conference will, for the second time, be headed by someone else than the archbishop of Utrecht. The first time was from 2008 to 2011, when Rotterdam’s Bishop Ad van Luyn held the office.

As reasons for his ineligibility, Cardinal Eijk gives two reasons. The first is that he has been suffering from a painful joint disorder, which sometimes causes him to have trouble walking. This is not the first time that health issues have plagued the cardinal. Shortly after his appointment as bishop of Groningen in 1999, a nervous condition affecting his face had him in recovery for several months. The second reason given in the statement is the cardinal’s desire to be able to spend more time in and for the Archdiocese of Utrecht, especially pastorally. The challenges of continuing secularisation are specifically cited as something that Cardinal Eijk wants to give as much attention to as possible. The press statement further hints at a further reason: the stress of the  past five years, when the sexual abuse crisis especially demanded much time and attention.

This is not the first time that Cardinal Eijk, as archbishop of Utrecht, is not up for election. It also happened in 2008, when he was just appointed as archbishop and wanted to spend the time on familiarising himself with his new duties.

img

^The Dutch Bishops’ Conference in its current composition, photographed in Rome during their Ad Limina visit in 2013.

Photo credit: [1] IPID, [2] RKKerk.nl

Disgraced second Bishop of Trondheim passes away

georg müllerAlmost a week ago, on Sunday 25 October, the second bishop of the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim, in Norway, passed away. Bishop Georg Müller was 64 and retired since 2009. He had lived in the community of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Picpus Fathers, in Münster since 2012. He had entered that order in 1971 and was ordained for it in 1978, while studying at their college in Simpelveld, the Netherlands.

It was his own choice to serve the Church in Norway, where he arrived following the completion of his studies at the University of Münster in 1981. He was given immediate responsibility in 1983, when Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer was transferred to Oslo but stayed on as Apostolic Administrator of Trondheim until 1988. Fr. Muller became vicar general in 1984, cathedral administrator in 1986 and in 1988 he took over as Apostolic Administrator. In 1989 he was the host of Pope Saint John Paul II as the pontiff visited the Nordic countries. It took until 1997 for Msgr. Müller to be appointed as Bishop of Trondheim, an office he held until his retirement in 2009. Like most other Nordic dioceses, Trondheim experienced a period of growth at that time, mainly because of immigration, a trend that still continues. In his time as ordinary, Bishop Müller invited a number of religious orders to come to his prelature: Birgittine sisters in Trondheim, Cistercian sisters in Tautra, Missionary Servants of the Holy Trinity, a Filipine community, in Molde, and Cistercians monks from France in Munkeby.

Bishop Müller retired for unspecified reasons in 2009. A year later it became clear that he had resigned because of accusations of sexual abuse of a minor, about which Bishop Müller admitted his guilt when confronted about the matter by Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm. The victim, at the time of the bishop’s retirement a man in his 30s, received the compensation he wished from the Church, and Bishop Müller was removed from all official duties in the Church. Prosecution in a court of law was not possible because of the statute of limitations on the crime. The year-long silence after Bishop Müller’s retirement was per the wish of the victim.

Bishop Müller underwent  therapy in Germany, and subsequently lived in his order’s general government in Rome. He moved to Münster in 2012. He suffered from unspecified health issues until his death.

Bishop Müller led the Church in Norway in the place where it once begun. It was once the Archdiocese of Nidaros, before the Reformation struck and the Church in Norway did not return in the public eye until 1843 and the once great archdiocese was resurrected as the mission “sui juris” of Central Norway. Only shortly before Father Müller’s arrival in the country, in 1979, did Central Norway become the Territorial Prelature of Trondheim. Bishop Müller is, for now at least, the last bishop of Trondheim. Upon his retirement in 2009, the bishop of Oslo, Msgr. Bernt Eidsvig, became Apostolic Administrator, and remains so until this day.

The funeral Mass for Bishop Müller will be offered on 4 November at the parish church in Werne, south of Münster, where he will also be buried. Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen will be the celebrant.

Further on up the road – the German Synod fathers look back and ahead

They continue to be the subject of much criticism. Some claim their views have been victorious at the Synod, others say they have not. Some say they are manipulating the media, relishing in their rebelliousness… Well, that’s all fine to write lengthy articles, opinion pieces and blogs about, but I continue detesting conspiracy theories, and rather take people at face value and at their word (which does not mean I agree with them on all matters). On that note, here is my translation of the message of the German bishops who participated in the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, at the conclusion of said meeting:

Dt Synodenteilnehmer

^The German participants in the Synod: Aloys and Petra Buch, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Archabbot Jeremias Schröder OSB

“We conclude the Synod of Bishops in Rome with gratitude. For three weeks we have debated and struggled intensively and encouragingly, controversially and honestly with representatives from all over the world, dug into theological questions and addressed the realities of life of the family. Above all, these weeks were a spiritual wealth: in the celebration of the Eucharist, in common prayer and fraternal conversation we have sought ways in which the mission of the family in Church and world can succeed.

At the basis of our deliberations, next to Holy Scripture and Tradition, were the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et spes, 1). In this spirit we grappled theologically and practically with the needs of the family.

The Synod of Bishops took seriously the situation of families as they are: open, honestly, differentiated globally, but similar in many ways. Across all cultural divides, marriage and family are a constant value of human coexistence. We are therefore grateful to Pope Francis that he followed the synodal way on this topic. It began with the worldwide questionnaire of the Vatican and the Synod of last year. The current conclusion is not the end, but a colon. We must continue on this road for and with the family. No other global institution undertakes such a global contemplation with worldwide participation on the topic of the family.

The Synod has shown the great importance that the Church attaches to marriage and family. There was already a great consensus on this question during the deliberations. The Church encourages people to live marriage and family and the make an effort to continue faithfully on this way and endure difficulties. The Synod emphasised that the normal everyday life of the family is a witness. At the same time we are called to find ways to strengthen and accompany the family. This can happen, for example, by advocating in favour of the family in social policies, especially also for large families or single parents, using state legislation to promote the family and recognising its value for society. This must also and especially happen within the Church, for example through the corresponding training of pastoral workers to accompany families, through better marriage preparation and guidance, especially in the first years of marriage, but also through counselling services and facilities.

It became clear during the Synod that Church guidance is required, especially during times of hardship, for example when raising children is difficult, when family members are ill or disabled, requiring much care and attention, when spouses are fighting, when people are separated and remarry. Here it is important to recognise not only what the Church does, but also to say honestly where we have failed as Church: misconceived efforts to uphold Church teachings have repeatedly led to harsh and merciless attitudes, which caused people pain, especially single mothers and children born outside of marriage, people living together before or in place of marriage, people with homosexual orientation and divorced and remarried people. As bishops we ask these people for forgiveness, as we formulated in our working group.

We are grateful that the Synod has expressed  an appreciation for interfaith marriages and underlined the character of the path of life in marriage and family, while a more positive view of the path before marriage was also discussed. On the topic of divorced and remarried people the necessary distinctions of situations were addressed in the text. It was attempted to avoid generalisations. The Synod is clear that every situation in life must be considered individually. In hindsight we would have wished for more courage to deal with the realities more intensively and recognise them as signs of the times in which God wants to tell us something, but we also recognise that we have learned to go along with other cultures and experiences.

The Synod of Bishops advises the Pope. We will accompany the way forward with our prayers. Pope Francis now has the task to use the wealth of results for the Church. The Holy Father can only take decisions for the entire Church, where he always stand for the unity of the Church and the further synodal path, as he said himself in his historic speech last week.

What was considered in the Synod, we will develop and make concrete at home. As Church we accompany and live with the people, the spouses, the families, especially also with the oppressed, with their joys and hopes, sorrows and fears. Questions which occupy us now are these: How do we open, and not close, the way towards Christ? How do we fully integrate people in the Church? How do we become a Church with open doors? And how do we relate to families in the most difficult situations, such as refugee families, to make a life in dignity possible for them, as the Gospel shows? How can we encourage a new spring in the pastoral care of families in general?

The final text of the Synod of Bishops opens perspectives for action and gives impulses for further theological thought. That will also be incorporated in the message of the German bishops about marriage and family, which we are currently working on. What is important is this: the synodal path of the Church continues. Perhaps it has only just begun. The Church stays on the path and with the people, also in the questions of marriage and family. We, as Church in Germany, want to continue on this road with Pope Francis. Encouraged and strengthened we return to our dioceses.”

Photo credit: KNA