A bit of history as a second titular see appears in the Netherlands

At about the same time that the titular diocese of Maastricht was occupied again, another titular see in the Netherlands was established, it turns out. The list of changes to the Annuario Pontificio 2017, which collects the statistical information of the Church, published on 28 February, includes 10 newly established titular dioceses (one of which is occupied, by the newly appointed apostolic nuncio to Korea and Mongolia, Msgr. Alfed Xuereb). Among these ten is the titular diocese of Middelburg.

Today Middelburg is the capital of the province of Zeeland, in the southwest of the Netherlands, and is part of the territory of the Diocese of Breda. From 1559 to 1603, however, it was one of the new dioceses established in part as a response to the rise of Protestantism.

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^A map of what is now the Netherlands shows the new dioceses established in 1559. Middelburg is located to the southwest of its metropolitan, the Archdiocese of Utrecht.

In the 44 years of its existence, Middelburg had three bishops. The first was Nicolaas van der Borcht from 1561 until his death in 1573. He was succeeded by Jan van Strijen from 1581 until his death in 1594. The last bishop of Middelburg was Karel-Filips de Rodoan from 1600 to 1603. He was transferred to Bruges when Middelburg was suppressed. The last two of these were never able to reside in their diocese because of the ongoing war between the Dutch Protestants and Spanish Catholics. The Diocese of Middelburg, naturally, chose the Spanish side. When Bishop van der Borcht died of dysentery in 1573, Middelburg was one year into a siege and it fell in 1574. The Catholic clergy fled to Antwerp. Although Bishop van Strijen was appointed to Middelburg, he never visited his diocese and died in Louvain. Bishop de Rodoan’s appointment was a theoretical one, and although he was duly consecrated a bishop, but the archduke of the southern Netherlands quickly went to find another see for him, and this was found in Bruges.

Middelburg was officially suppressed in 1603, only to reappear in January of this year as a titular diocese. In theory, it can be granted to a non-resident bishop (an auxiliary bishop or a bishop working in the curia in Rome or in the diplomatic service of the Holy See), but there is no reason to expect this to happen anytime soon.  There are more than 1,900 titular dioceses (and that’s not counting the titular archdioceses), of which some 800 are currently vacant. Makes you wonder why the Holy See saw the need to create 10 more in the first place…

Image credit: A cropped version of the original made by Hans Erren for Wikipedia, found here.

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A rapid appointment – Franz Jung comes to Würzburg

dr.-franz-jung---pressestelle-bistum-speyerMsgr. Franz Jung has been appointed as Bishop of Würzburg after a relatively short vacancy of only five months. The vicar general of Speyer succeeds Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, who retired in September, as the 89th bishop of the northern Bavarian diocese.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in Würzburg St. Kilian’s cathedral by the diocesan administrator, auxiliary bishop Ulrich Boom. Bishop-elect Jung’s election came surprisingly soon considering that it is subject to the Bavarian Concordat, which means that the cathedral chapters of all Bavarian dioceses, as well as that of Speyer, must create a terna of three candidates to be sent to Rome. The Pope then selects the new bishop, and then the government of the federal state(s) in which the diocese lies must also be asked if there are no objections to the chosen bishop. Only then can the new bishop be officially announced.

Bishop-elect Jung comes from a family of teachers and has three sisters. He attended seminary in Munich and Rome, where he studied philosophy and Catholic theology. In 1992 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Franz Kamphaus, of Limburg, in Rome. After several years working in parishes in Pirmasens near the French border and in Speyer, he also worked as the personal secretary of Bishop Anton Schlembach (bishop of Seyer from 1983 to 2007). He is a scholar of the early Church Fathers and early Church history. He has been a member of the cathedral chapter of Speyer since 2008 and vicar general since 2009.

The announcement of the new bishop was made in the presence of some 800 people, even though the news had only broken earlier that morning. Following the announcement, Bishop emeritus Hofmann declared that he believed Msgr. Jung to be the right man in the right place. “I am happy that the appointment came so soon,” he said, adding jokingly, “We are faster than Hildesheim. That also speaks for the Diocese of Würzburg.” Hildesheim, now the only remaining vacant diocese in Germany*, has also seen its previous bishop, Norbert Trelle, retire in September of last year.

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In his native Speyer, Msgr. Jung is seen as a hands-on prelate. He has been responsible for the diocesan reform process which saw the merger of parishes and an overhaul of the pastoral care provided by the diocese. He has also overseen major events such as the 950th anniversary of the consecration of the imperial cathedral, the beatification of Paul Josef Nardini and the funeral of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But the new bishop of Würzburg is also deeply spiritual notes Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, whose vicar general Franz Jung has been for almost 9 years: “In his person, he combines outstanding talents for theology, pastoral care and church administration. These allow him to build bridges between people working in different parts of the Church.”

Bishop Ulrich Boom, who led the diocese as diocesan administrator in the five months between bishops, is equally pleased. He said, “The new bishop is a very level-headed person who can make decisions and can also be cheerful. As he is still very young, we have a bishop who will stay with us for more than 20 years. He will bring his theological expertise, his pastoral and administrative experience. In the diocese, both administration and proclamation must be in order.”

*Albeit not for long. Bishop Heinz-Josef Algermissen of Fulda reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on 15 February, so his resignation will probably be accepted soon.

Photo credit: [1] Pressestelle Bistum Speyer, [2] Klaus Landry

 

An archbishop for Maastricht

While the actual diocese it is a part of remains vacant, the southern Dutch city of Maastricht had an archbishop appointed yesterday. Maastricht was among the first cities in what would later become the Netherlands to have a resident bishop, when it was established as a diocese in 530 (before that it had been a part of the Diocese of Tongres and Maastricht since the early 4th century). For almost two centuries it was the heart of the Catholic Church in the Limburg area, until it was suppressed in 720, its territory then falling under Liège. In 1971, Maastricht was re-established, but as a titular see, a diocese in name only, held by a bishop who was elsewhere active as an auxiliary bishop somewhere, in the Holy See diplomatic service or in the Roman Curia.

Ks_Sommertag_WSDNow, for the first time, the new titular bishop is an archbishop. He is the newly-appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Msgr. Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. He is appointed after a six-year vacancy of the titular see. His predecessors were Marcos Pérez Caicedo (2006-2010), now the archbishop of Cuenca in Ecuador; Bishop Joannes Gijsen (1993-1996), who was the titular bishop of Maastricht after retiring from Roermond and before being appointed to Reykjavik; and Bishop Petrus Moors (1970-1980), who became the titular bishop upon retiring as bishop of Roermond (a practice since abolished: retiring bishops of a diocese are no longer appointed to a titular see, simply being styled the bishop emeritus of their erstwhile diocese).

Archbishop-elect Sommertag is 50 years old and was born in Wiecbork, Poland. A priest of the Diocese of Pelplin, he has been in the diplomatic service of the Holy See since 2000, having served in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Palestine and Cyprus as well as in the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State. As Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua he will naturally work in that middle-American country, and he is bishop of Maastricht in name only, without any rights or duties in our country.

The Diocese of Maastricht is usually traced back to St. Servatius, whose remains are still buried in the city. The first historical source referring to the diocese dates from 535. It is unknown how far the influence of the bishops of Maastricht reached, but the diocesan borders may have somewhat coincided with those of the later Diocese of Liège, which means that it stretched from the Luxembourg Ardennes to northwestern Brabant, amking it equal to the later Diocese of Utrecht in the northern Netherlands. The cathedral of the diocese was one of the two ancient churches that still stand in Maastricht: the basilica of St. Servatius and the basilica of Our Lady.

Photo credit: Krzysztof Mania/KFP

On Schiermonnikoog, the Cistercians have come home – for real, this time

Wonderful news from the Cistercian monks on Schiermonnikoog:

“We have found a home. Looking for a location to establish a monastery on Schiermonnikoog we came across the Rijsbergen inn, a centuries-old building on the edge of the village. We were shown around and were impressed. Of all the locations on the island the inn gradually presented itself as the place for us.

And so our years-long search for a monastery culminated in Rijsbergen inn, a wonderful opportunity with which we are very happy.

The inn will remain as such until 15 January 2019, after which we hope to move in quickly. Its name will simply by ‘Schiermonnikoog monastery’. After the building has been furnished, also with its own chapel, we hope to open our doors for candidate monks, guests seeking solitude in the guest house and visitors of our services.

We are very grateful for the success of our search, and we wish to thank everyone who has supported us in any way.

Brothers Alberic, Jelke, Paulus, Vincentius and Jos.”

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^Four of the monks in front of their future monastery

The Cistercian monks have been on the island for more than two years. Five of them have been living in a house not far from the site of their future monastery. Their original plan to build a new monastery in the dunes outside the village was abandoned after they found that it led to a debate among the villagers. They decided to completely rethink their future, with the caveat that they did not wish to leave Schiermonnikoog.

This morning they signed the contract for the sale of Rijsbergen, now a hotel with 17 rooms. It advertises itself as a homely and honest hotel, humbly admitting that their double rooms are not very big and that no room comes with a television – a conscious decision.

Rijsbergen was built in 1757 as the home of the Stachouwer family, who owned the island of Schiermonnikoog. In 1858 the family sold it to lawyer John Erick Banck from The Hague, who owned the island until 1892 (he initiated land reclamation works with room for seven new farms and establised the sailors’ school). The island and house then fell into the possession of the German noble family Von Bernstorff (one of the major hotels on the island still bears their name). Following the Second World War, Rijsbergen came into the possession of the Dutch state. The building was then used as a school and inn, and its upkeep was rather neglected. Remaining of the original building are the front and the main house’s rooftop. The building has been owned by its current owners since 1992.

Photo credit: Anne Christine Girardot

 

In Message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis emphasises the importance of independence, objectivity and truthfulness in media

Yesterday’s message for the World Communications Day, in which Pope Francis focuses on the topic of fake news. A topical buzzword, understood here as ‘news’ that deceives and is not in service to the truth.

“The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Communication is part of God’s plan for us and an essential way to experience fellowship. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we are able to express and share all that is true, good, and beautiful. We are able to describe our own experiences and the world around us, and thus to create historical memory and the understanding of events. But when we yield to our own pride and selfishness, we can also distort the way we use our ability to communicate. This can be seen from the earliest times, in the biblical stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen 4:4-16; 11:1-9). The capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities. On the other hand, when we are faithful to God’s plan, communication becomes an effective expression of our responsible search for truth and our pursuit of goodness.

In today’s fast-changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as “fake news”. This calls for reflection, which is why I have decided to return in this World Communications Day Message to the issue of truth, which was raised time and time again by my predecessors, beginning with Pope Paul VI, whose 1972 Message took as its theme: “Social Communications at the Service of Truth”. In this way, I would like to contribute to our shared commitment to stemming the spread of fake news and to rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.

1. What is “fake” about fake news?

The term “fake news” has been the object of great discussion and debate. In general, it refers to the spreading of disinformationon line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is “captious”, inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage.

The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions. Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.

2. How can we recognize fake news?

None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods. This is no easy task, since disinformation is often based on deliberately evasive and subtly misleading rhetoric and at times the use of sophisticated psychological mechanisms. Praiseworthy efforts are being made to create educational programmes aimed at helping people to interpret and assess information provided by the media, and teaching them to take an active part in unmasking falsehoods, rather than unwittingly contributing to the spread of disinformation. Praiseworthy too are those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon, to say nothing of the work being done by tech and media companies in coming up with new criteria for verifying the personal identities concealed behind millions of digital profiles.

Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the “snake-tactics” used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place. This was the strategy employed by the “crafty serpent” in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation. The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies” (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.

In the account of the first sin, the tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true: “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Gen 3:1). In fact, God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat” (Gen 2:17). The woman corrects the serpent, but lets herself be taken in by his provocation: “Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death” (Gen 3:2). Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms; after listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: “You will not die!” (Gen 3:4).

The tempter’s “deconstruction” then takes on an appearance of truth: “God knows that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). God’s paternal command, meant for their good, is discredited by the seductive enticement of the enemy: “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and desirable” (Gen 3:6). This biblical episode brings to light an essential element for our reflection: there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.

What is at stake is our greed. Fake news often goes viral, spreading so fast that it is hard to stop, not because of the sense of sharing that inspires the social media, but because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings. The economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation are rooted in a thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of something much more tragic: the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our interior freedom. That is why education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.

3. “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32)

Constant contamination by deceptive language can end up darkening our interior life. Dostoevsky’s observation is illuminating: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect, they cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves.” (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 2).

So how do we defend ourselves? The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth. In Christianity, truth is not just a conceptual reality that regards how we judge things, defining them as true or false. The truth is not just bringing to light things that are concealed, “revealing reality”, as the ancient Greek term aletheia (from a-lethès, “not hidden”) might lead us to believe. Truth involves our whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root ‘aman, the source of our liturgical expression Amen. Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can liberate us: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

Freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship: these two ingredients cannot be lacking if our words and gestures are to be true, authentic, and trustworthy. To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another. Nor can we ever stop seeking the truth, because falsehood can always creep in, even when we state things that are true. An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful. We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.

4. Peace is the true news

The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people: people who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language. If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news. In today’s world, theirs is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission. Amid feeding frenzies and the mad rush for a scoop, they must remember that the heart of information is not the speed with which it is reported or its audience impact, but persons. Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.

I would like, then, to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace. By that, I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism. On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines. A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they are the majority in our world – who have no voice. A journalism less concentrated on breaking news than on exploring the underlying causes of conflicts, in order to promote deeper understanding and contribute to their resolution by setting in place virtuous processes. A journalism committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.

To this end, drawing inspiration from a Franciscan prayer, we might turn to the Truth in person:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Amen.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2018, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

FRANCIS

For 2018, a somewhat obscure saint

Heilige_AfraEvery year I use the Saint Name Generator to find a patron saint for my blog for the year. Whatever name the generator may come up with, I always try to see it as something of an inspiration and guide for my future endeavours here and in social media. But sometimes, that’s difficult.

This year, I was given the name of Saint Afra. She’s no only a very old saint, having died in 304, but also one of whom we know very little beyond her legend. But at least she hails from the area which I try to cover in this blog: of Cypriot origins, she led a holy life and died in Augsburg, Germany.

Her legend tells us that she was originally a pagan, possibly the daughter of the king of Cyprus, working as a prostitute (perhaps in the service of the local temple of Venus). She converted when she and her mother hid the bishop of Girona, Spain, who was fleeing the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian. Now a Christian, she was arrested when she refused to make a sacrifice to pagan idols, and was killed by being burned at the stake (although some sources say she was actually beheaded). The story of her martyrdom is by far the more reliable part of her legend.

Her patronage includes the city of Augsburg, converts, martyrs and penitent women. There, at least, we may find something to relate to as your author is himself a convert (eleven years ago coming April). Maybe Afra’s steadfastness in the face of adversity will prove to be an inspiration as well.

Sancta Afra, ora pro nobis!

First Advent – Bishop van den Hout looks ahead to Christmas and beyond

Advent is nearly upon us, which means that bishops write letters for the season to their diocese’s faithful. Over the coming days and weeks, I will share a selection of these here, and the first one is from my own bishop. It is Msgr. Ron van den Hout’s first Advent letter as bishop, as he was consecrated and installed in June of this year. As a result, his letter is a sort of look back at the first months in his new diocese and forward to the time to come. Whereas Bishop van den Hout was initially hesitant to say much about any policies he may have, he now says a few things which reveal about his focus as bishop. As Advent is a time of preparation for what the bishop calls the threefold coming of Christ, it is a fitting time to look forward to the future.

Inwijding nieuwe bisschop Groningen-Leeuwarden“Today is the start of Advent, the period of preparation before Christmas. We celebrate that the Lord has come, but also that He is the one who is coming. We speak of a double, or even triple, coming. This thought is dear to me and nourishes my faith life.

The first coming of Christ is a historical one. The birth of Jesus took place in the history as we will hear it in the gospel of the Mass of the night of Christmas: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…” and in the Gospel of Christmas day: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” These texts belong to Christmas and are recognised by everyone. Even those who do not expressly believe in God often appreciate the Church and church buildings as an important historical and cultural heritage. Many are concerned about the future of our church buildings and others concern themselves with maintaining Christian values and the sharing of stories from the Bible and the meaning of Christian iconography.

The second coming of Christ is that which takes place in our own faith life now. The becoming present of Christ can be especially experienced in the liturgy, prayer and receiving the sacraments. In order to experience this coming, personal faith and personal engagement are required. It requires more than a general religious interest: submission and openness to God’s revelation through and with the Church.

I would connect the third coming of Christ with moral life and charity. At the end of times Christ will come in His full glory. The last part of the liturgical year, when we make the transition towards Christmas, presents us with the idea that all earthly things will one day cease existing and that God will be all in all. With this in mind we are asked to lead a good and just life in this time and to be prepared to join Him when He comes. Being prepared not only means expecting Him, but also to live accordingly.

The coming of Christ is about then, about now and about later Believing is about history and what once took place, it is my faithful and moral life now, and it is about what we may hope for and look forward to, the fullfilment.

Since my consecration as bishop of our Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden I have been through an intensive period of introductions. The first impressions I have made of a for me new area. The visits to the parishes were informative for me, but also relaxing. At home in the bishop’s house I have spoken one on one with various people, and I was introduced to the various parts of and in the diocese. The introduction will continue for a while longer.

If I may be allowed to give a first impression of what struck me. The different parts and areas are markedly different. The historical, cultural and social developments of Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe and the Noordoostpolder have been very diverse. That makes our diocese interesting. In a demographical context, the remark was made a few times that there are more than a few shrinkage areas. The diocese contains many small communities: none of the merged parishes have a nominal number of Catholics larger than 10,000. The communities are far apart. There are old Catholic enclaves with beautiful old churches, but there are also young parishes which developed in the 19th and 20th centuries from an influx of Catholics from other parts of the Netherlands and even from Germany. This process of establishment continued into the 1960s. The number of pastoral ministers is, compared to other dioceses, relatively large, but absolutely speaking their number is small. The mutual relationships are generally good. There are also many and intensive contacts with other Christians.

The development of cooperation which began decades age has now resulted in a nineteen processes of merger. I think it is a good thing that a single clear model was chosen for the parishes and parochial charity institutions. During my visits there was some mention of the shrinkage that exists in our parishes. Everyone is well aware of that. We will not be able to turn this development around. The question is what we must do and where we should best invest our valuable energy. The cooperation between the different locations in a parish will increase in the coming years; I would like to encourage that process. Seek out each other’s strong points, dare to trust on the strength of the other and embark on new activities together.\

Formulating a new policy is not an issue in this first year. But I am able to indicate a few things. Development of one’s own Catholic identity is, I think, important. Clarity of one’s own mission is necessary in order to play a part in the relationship with other Christians and in society. From one’s own identity, one can enter into conversations and can a  conversation prove to be fruitful. Interior development of one’s own religion seems to me to be indispensable.

Beginning with the substantive interests for the faith we could ask ourselves a few questions which could play a guiding role in organising pastoral care:

  • What does it mean that I believe?
  • Why do I do that with others?
  • What do we need to do so together?
  • What should a pastoral team offer and organise, in cooperation with the parishioners?
  • How can a parish council facilitate this?

We never start anything from nothing and we can only build on what our ancestors provided as foundations. Yet the time has come to rethink parish life and to look at how to adjust to the new circumstances. The priests, deacons and pastoral workers can no longer provide the ‘service’ they used to. The parishioners are asked for more efficacy and more willingness to look for new ways themselves; all this of course within the normal and familiar framework of our Church and in unity with the diocese and the world church. Pastoral care will have to be organised more soberly. And we will have to make choices and bring together and concentrate activities.

Concerning liturgy and the sacraments I would like to one again draw attention to the celebration of the Sunday with the Eucharist. Within the given circumstances everyone will work towards that as far as possible. I would like to ask each of you to pray for vocations to the priesthood and for a climate in which vocations in general can be recognised and responded to. The Church needs priests. There are the close cooperators of the bishop and put their lives completely to the service of the Church, through their celibate state of life.

In the official visits to the parishes I experienced much positivity and willingness to work for people. I admire the energy that I have seen and the enthousiasm for the work. I have also seen, in a number of parishes, what charity work is being done. It is once again time for us as Church to take up our role in society, to be there for the poor, the needy, migrants et cetera. The examples that I have seen have strengthened me in the conviction that it is possible. We also become more Church when we show our charitable face.

As Church we have a social position that we must try to maintain. We carry a culture with us that has defined Europe, which was and is good. We also have moral convictions – for example about life and death – which must continue to be heard, especially in this time. Additionally, as Church we have a responsibility towards ourselves and our fellow faithful, that we are nourished and strengthened and become more convinced of the working of God’s Spirit in our lives.

May I end this letter with a prayer? As a parish priest prays for his parishioners, a bishop prays for the faithful of his diocese.

“God, the time of Advent begins and we prepare for the coming of Christ and the celebration of His birth, At the start of this powerful and expectant time I want to pray for the part of your people entrusted to me, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. That everyone, personally and with others, may take part in the Kingdom of God, that You bring near to us in your Son.”

I wish you all a good time of preparation or Christmas.

+ Dr. Cornelis F.M. van den Hout, Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Photo credit: ANP