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Bishop Joannes Gijsen, who passed away at the age of 80 today, has left a mark on the Church in the Netherlands. Virtually all elements of his service led to comments, criticism, questions and, also, admiration and support. From his appointment in 1972 to his sudden retirement in 1993, his troubled time as ordinary of Roermond and his efforts to maintain a form of Catholic education in the Netherlands, his surprise appointment to Reykjavik and the comparisons between life there and back home (which often saw the Dutch situation in a bad light); Bishop Gijsen made his share of ripples in the pond of the Church.
But in the very first place, Bishop Gijsen must be understood as a man of faith, Asked if he ever experienced any doubt about his faith, he said in an interview in 2007: “True doubt? No, never! I am convinced that the Roman Catholic faith holds the fullness of all knowledge of God and man.”
He lived his life as a bishop that way, as he illustrated in that same interview:
“We’re all priests of the Catholic Church, and especially a bishop has responsibility for the entire Church. You must be able to be deployed anywhere. Of course, it is something else if you can’t because of health or something. But if you’re healthy, you can never say “no”.”
“If, somewhere in northern Iceland, there are a few Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith, you must be able to offer it to them. Our Lord didn’t say: I want to convert the entire world in one go. He went to backward little Palestine and walked around there for three years, if not less. He reached only a few people. But that nonetheless became the foundation of the faith that reached the entire world.”
Joannes Baptist Matthijs Gijsen was born on 7 October 1937 in Oeffelt, a village in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, just on the border with the Diocese of Roermond. He was ordained for that latter diocese in 1957, by Bishop Joseph Lemmens. Although he spent some time in the parish, he was mainly a teacher at the seminaries in Kerkrade and Maastricht, and a student of theology and Church history in Münster and Bonn. In 1972, he was appointed as the 22nd bishop of Roermond, a move that was quite controversial, as the new bishop was known as conservative and his appointment as one imposed from Rome. Reflecting the latter, Bishop Gijsen was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in Rome, with the archbishops of Utrecht and Armagh serving as co-consecrators. Cardinal Alfrink, the archbishop of Utrecht, would have preferred a consecration in Roermond as a first step towards reconciliation, but was evidently overruled. Bishop Gijsen was installed at St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond on 4 March 1972.
As bishop, he modernised the diocese in the line of the Second Vatican Council,determined as he was to put the Council’s documents into practice. In that sense, Bishop Gijsen was not so much a man of the “spirit of Vatican II”, but of the true Council. As a former teacher himself, he worked to maintain some form of true Catholic education in his diocese, with mixed results.
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, today describes Bishop Gijsen as follows:
“He was a bishop with a vision, not conservative in the sense that he wanted to return to the time before the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, with heart and soul he wanted to be a bishop who stood in and for that council and wanted to put it into practice. He wanted to be loyal to the Pope and the Church. He wanted “to prepare the way for the Lord”, as his motto was. That moved him, among others, to start a seminary at Rolduc, which has formed some 175 priests, including five of today’s bishops (among them Msgr. J. Punt and myself). As Pope Paul VI hoped and expressed, that little plant has borne fruit for the entire country.”
Above: Bishop Gijsen, third from left, pictured with Bishops Punt (second from right) and Hendriks (far right) and several other priests educated at Rolduc, photographed in May of this year.
In January of 1993, Bishop Gijsen suddenly and unexpectedly retired as bishop of Roermond. He moved to Austria to become the rector of a convent. Although rumours abounded about the reasons, the bishop would later explain:
“I have never had Crohn’s Disease, and I have always enjoyed the support of the Vatican. I can deny rumours of that nature without a doubt. I left because the doctor told me: “If you stay for one more year, you’ll either have a stomach perforation or an intestinal disease from which you will not recover, or you’ll have an aneurysm or a stroke. There is no way you’ll be able to keep this up. You must stop now!” That was the reason why I quit so suddenly. It was sudden for me as well. Agreed, the danger of a collapse was also caused by the developments and the experiences of those twenty years [as bishop in Roermond]. But it was mostly exhaustion.”
Three years of recovery followed, after which Bishop Gijsen relayed his renewed availability to Rome. At that time, the Diocese of Reykjavik in Iceland had been vacant for more than two years, so Bishop Gijsen was sent to the see where his great uncle Bishop Meulenberg had served in the 1930s. He was initially sent to be Apostolic Administrator, but in 1996 he was appointment as diocesan bishop.
Where Roermond represented a time of struggle and management, Reykjavik was by far the more enjoyable of Bishop Gijsen’s appointments. In 2006, he spoke in an interview about his appreciation for the country and the Icelandic people:
“I encountered much understanding. Seen from Rome, Iceland, land of the Vikings, seems a barren and terrifying place. But it most certainly is not. Consider, for one, the weather: here in the city, in the shadow of the mountains, the temperature rarely drops below -5°C. [...] From the very start I liked it here. I am very pleased with this place. Life at 66 degrees north is not that different from life in he Netherlands, at 53 degrees. But life is much more organised.”
In 2007, Bishop Gijsen returned home to the Diocese of Roermond and to his family. He moved in with one of his sisters in Sittard, and took on the pastoral care of a small convent. He shunned the media since then, devoting himself, no doubt, to his books and whoever came for a visit.
Looking back on his own life, something he was not too keen to do, Bishop Gijsen said, in the same 2007 interview quoted above:
“I have always tried to simply think along the same line as the Church. I have mainly tried to act on the basis of the Second Vatican Council, because that was our duty, especially for a bishop. I have done so with my abilities and with my inabilities and with the abilities of the people around me, and with their inabilities. We shouldn’t want to judge the result of that this soon. I think we should wait a while. I think you should never want to be your own judge, so I am not going to judge my own life; I’ll leave that to history.”
Today, many priests and bishops have been influenced in one way or another by Bishop Gijsen. As Bishop Hendriks said above, some 175 priests were educated at the seminary he started, but Bishop Gijsen also ordained and consecrated several bishops. In 1983, he ordained the future bishop Everard de Jong, and in 1985, the future Cardinal Wim Eijk. He also consecrated his own auxiliary bishops, Alphons Castermans in 1982, and Joannes ter Schure in 1984. The latter would become bishop of the neighbouring Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch almost exactly two months later.
Of course, Bishop Gijsen suffered his share of criticism, and he was not afraid to offer it himself. Shortly before his appointment as bishop of Roermond, he accused the Dutch bishops of having “set the faithful adrift” following the disastrous pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout. He went his own way, and this in part was reason for Blessed Pope John Paul II to call a Special Synod on the Netherlands in 1980.
^Bishop Gijsen, right, with Pope John Paul II, during the latter’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985.
Most serious in his later years were several accusations that surfaced regarding sexual abuse, both in Roermond and in Reykjavik. While no accusations were deemed inadmissible in court, they do point towards serious mismanagement on the part of Bishop Gijsen.
Bishop Joannes Gijsen was not perfect. He had his flaws, but he was driven by an honest desire to be of service and to do what was needed. For that, especially during the 1970s and 80s, we should laud him.
The funeral is planned for 29 June, at 10:30 in the morning, from St. Christopher’s Cathedral in Roermond. On the eve of the funeral, there will be a vigil Mass for the late bishop at the Carmelite convent chapel in Sittard.
Photo credit:  Bisdom Roermond,  arsacal.nl,  Dagblad De Limburger
A week from now, the Catholic Church will gain 21 or 22* new cardinals, and they in turn will each get a cardinal title or a cardinal deaconry. In an earlier blog I explained that cardinals who are ordinaries of a diocese will usually be made cardinal priests with a title church, while cardinals in the curia will be cardinal deacons with a deaconry. But we won’t know which cardinal will receive which title or deaconry until the actual consistory, when they’ll receive them together with the ring and the red biretta.
But all of the above certainly does not mean we can’t guess, of course…
Ten of the new cardinals will be cardinal priests. They are the heads of major (arch)dioceses and, in one case, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Cardinals-designate Santos Abril y Castelló, George Alencherry, Thomas Collins, Dominik Duka, Wim Eijk, Giuseppe Betori, Timothy Dolan, Rainer Woelki, John Tong Hon and Lucian Muresan will receive one of the following 13 title churches, listed in the order in which they became vacant.
- Sant’ Atanasio. Entrusted since 1872 to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, a fact that may well be reflected in the choice of cardinal-protector. Cardinals-designates Alencherry and Muresan seem likely, as they are both archbishop in a non-Roman rite Church. Saint’ Atanasio has been vacant since 1984.
- San Callisto. Vacant since 2003, but with a long history as a titular church. Past cardinal-protectors came mainly from Italy, but also included cardinals from other European countries.
- Nostra Signora di Guadalupe a Monte Mario has been vacant since 2008. Named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the Americas, a future cardinal-protector may come from either North or South America. Likely, then, are Archbishops Collins or Dolan.
- San Felice da Cantalice e Centocello was only held as a title once before, by South Korean Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, who died in early 2009.
- San Patrizio. A national church of Ireland, a future cardinal-protector will very likely come from that island. It will remain vacant for a while longer, then.
- San Giacchino ai Prati di Castello. Previously held by Cardinal Alfrink, one of the mere two previous cardinal-protectors, will this title be given to Archbishop Eijk?
- San Bernardo alle Terme. Another title church with a long history as such. Its edifice and annexed monastery are maintained by the Cistercians, which is no clue to the identity of a future cardinal-protector, since there are no Cistercians in next week’s consistory. The previous cardinal-protector was Cardinal Vithayatil, so his successor as Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabarese Church, Mar George Alencherry, could conceivably be given this title as well. But then again, he may just as likely not.
- San Marcello. A long history of 63 previous cardinal-protectors from all over the world reveals nothing about the identity of its future cardinal-protector.
- San Giuseppe all’ Aurelio is a fairly recently created title church, held by only one cardinal-protector,. He was Berlin’s Cardinal Sterzinsky, so Archbishop Woelki has a decent shot at this.
- San Gerardo Maiella was the title church held only by Cardinal Swiatek, so perhaps another Slavic cardinal will succeed him, in the person of Archbishop Duka.
- “Regina Apostolorum” has been vacant since last July. It’s three past cardinal-protectors have all been Italians, but most of the older title churches have a strong Italian history when it comes to cardinals assigned them.
- Santi Marcellino e Pietro is yet another ancient title church with cardinal-protectors from various nations. It has been vacant since August.
- Santissimo Redentore e Sant’ Alfonso in Via Merulana, vacant since the death of Cardinal Bevilacqua a few weeks ago, has a New World history, having been held by two Americans and a Bolivian cardinal. Collins and Dolan again come into view.
So we can make some educated guesses, but nothing is certain when it comes to the assignment of title churches. The Holy Father is also free to create new titles churches.
The same really goes for cardinal deaconries, to be assigned to cardinal deacons. Of these, there are 11 or 12* on the list of the consistory: Fernando Filoni, Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Antonio Vegliò, Giuseppe Bertello, Francesco Coccopalmerio, João Bráz de Aviz, Edwin O’Brien, Domenico Calcagno, Giuseppe Versaldi, Julien Ries, Prosper Grech ( and possibly Karl Becker). Currently, there are 11 vacant cardinal deaconries, so if the list of names in the previous line is correct, all will be assigned (and a new one may even be created). We must also not forget that the Holy Father will decide to create one or more of the assumed cardinal deacons as cardinal priests instead, or vice versa. Anyway, whatever may happen, let’s take a look at the vacant deaconries:
- Santa Maria in Cosmedin. An ancient basilica that has been vacant since 1967. It has had no less than 64 cardinal deacons that we know of.
- San Giovanni Battista Decollato was ever only the deaconry of one Italian cardinal and has been vacant since 1988.
- San Teodoro is an ancient church which is also used, by papal permission, by the Greek Orthodox community of Rome. Maybe its future cardinal deacon, its first since 2000, will have some link with the Orthodox?
- Santissima Annunciazione della Beata Vergine Maria a Via Ardeatina vacant since 2006, has had a single Italian cardinal deacon.
- Nostra Signora di Coromoto in San Giovanni di Dio has had a single Venezuelan cardinal deacon and has been vacant since 2007.
- Sant’ Elena fuori Porta Prenestina, vacant since 200, has had two cardinal deacons, one from Ghana and one from Canada.
- Santi Vito, Modesto e Crescenzia has been a titular church since 1011, switching several times between a deaconry and a title church. Vacant since 2009, it has been assigned to 35 cardinals.
- San Ponziano is another deaconry which has had a single cardinal deacon. It has been vacant since November of 2010.
- Sacro Cuore di Gesù a Castro Pretorio is held by the Salesians and is connected to a boarding school for the arts and industries. One of its two past cardinal deacons was Belgian, so maybe Archbishop Ries will get this title.
- San Cesareo in Palatio, once the title of the future Pope John Paul II. It has been vacant since September.
- San Sebastiano al Palatino has been awaiting a new deacon since the death of Cardinal Foley in December.
The cardinal deaconries are much harder to predict than the title churches of cardinal priests. But the title churches together form a living memory of the rich history of the Church in Rome. As titular priests and deacons of these churches, the new cardinals are part of this history, which is also a history of the Church’s unity with the pope as the visible sign.
* We’ll probably have to wait and see if Fr. Karl Becker is among the new cardinals on the 18th, as reports about his health are conflicting, as is his attendance at the consistory.
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