God is inexhaustible love – Bishop de Korte’s letter for the Holy Year of Mercy

Perhaps in lieu of (or, as it may turn out, in addition to) his customary letter for Advent, Bishop Gerard de Korte has written a letter about the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy to the faithful of his diocese. In it, he writes about the importance of mercy as it is a fundamental element of the identity of God. He identifies two kinds of mercy – moral and social, and further divides the latter in three constituent elements or expressions: in our own lives, in the Church and in society. He concludes his letter by underlining the message of Pope Francis, as expressed in his encyclical Laudato Si’: that, by living mercy in these three contexts, we should work with others to build a society of mercy.

Read my translation below:

korte

“Brothers and sisters,

On 8 December, a Marian feast and also the date of the end of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, the Year of Mercy will begin in our Church. It is an invitation to look critically at how our parishes function, but also at our own existence. How merciful and mild do we treat one another? Do we mostly see what’s alien and strange in the other and do we mindlessly ignore the good? Do I give someone who has done wrong a new chance? Am I really willing to help when someone is in need?

Shortly after his election as bishop of Rome, Pope Francis gave an interview that was published in a number of magazines of the Jesuit Order. The Pope called himself a sinner called by the Lord. He referred to a painting by Caravaggio, depicting the calling of Matthew. Apparently our Pope recognises himself strongly in Matthew. As a tax collector, a despised collaborator of the Roman occupiers, he is invited to experience forgiveness and a new start. Christ meets him with merciful love and calls him to follow Him. Pope Francis lives from this some merciful love of Christ.

Office holders in the Church are especially invited to take a look in the mirror. Pope Francis recently quoted from an address by Church father Ambrose: “Where there is mercy, there is Christ; where there is rigidity, there are only officials”. This is an incisive word which everyone with a pastoral assignment in our faith community must consider seriously. In this context I would like to refer to the book Patience with God by the Czech priest Tomas Halik. A great number of people, within and without our Church, are like Zacchaeus in the tree from the Gospel. They are curious but also like to keep a distance. To get in touch with them requires pastoral prudence and mildness on the part of our officials.

In this letter I would like to zoom in on the word mercy, which for many of our contemporaries is probably somewhat old-fashioned and outdated. What is mercy actually? Maybe the Latin word for mercy, misericordia, can help us. A person with misericordia has a heart (‘cor‘)  for people in distress (‘miseri‘):  sinner, the poor, the grieving, the sink and lonely people. The Hebrew word for mercy is not so much concerned with the heart, but with the intestines. A person with mercy is touched to the depths of his belly by the needs of the other.

God is a merciful God

In Holy Scripture we often hear about the mercy of God. Even until today the Exodus, the departure from slavery in Egypt and the arrival in the promised land, is for the Jewish people a central topic of faith.

God has seen the misery of His people in Egypt and had compassion with His people (Exodus 3). Elsewhere in the book of Exodus we read, “God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy” (cf. Exodus 34,6). For Israel the Lord is supportive mercy, making life possible.

The history of ancient Israel is a history of loyalty and infidelity. The decline of the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century and of Judah and Jerusalem in the 6th century BC has been interpreted by the Jewish people as punishment for sins. The people as bride have been unfaithful to the divine bridegroom. But punishment is never God’s final word. The prophet Hosea writes that God does not come in anger (cf. Hosea 11). In God, mercy is victorious over His justice[*]. Ultimately there is forgiveness and a merciful approach.

In the letter in which he announces the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls Christ the face of God’s mercy (‘misericordiae vultus‘). In Him God’s great love for man (‘humanitas dei‘) (Titus 3:4) has become visible. The great Protestant theologian Oepke Noordmans published a beautiful collection in 1946, with the title “Sinner and beggar”. In it, Noordmans touches upon the two most important dimensions of God’s mercy. Not only moral mercy but also social mercy. In Christ, God is full of merciful love for both sinners and beggars.

Moral and social mercy

God’s moral mercy is depicted most impressively, as far as I can see, in the parable of the Prodigal Son. A son demands his inheritance from his father, who yet lives, and wastes the money on all sorts of things that God has forbidden, In the end he literally ends up among the pigs. To Jewish ears this is even more dramatic than to us, since in Judaism pigs are, after all, unclean animals. In this situation, there occurs a reversal. The son memorises a confession of guilt and returns to his father. In the parable we read that the father is already looking for his son and, even before the confession has been spoken, he embraces him. Here we find what Saint Paul calls the justification of the Godless man. God is as “foolish” as the father in the parable. It is the foolishness of merciful love. God is inexhaustible love and gives his son a new chance, even when he has turned away from Him (cf. Luke 5:11 etc).

Social mercy is depicted sublimely in the parable on the Good Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers and lies on the side of the road, half dead. Several people from the temple pass by, but they do not help. Then a stranger passes, a Samaritan who many Jews look upon with a certain amount of negative feelings. But this distrusted person acts. He becomes a neighbour to the person lying on the side of the road. He treats his wounds and lets him recover in an inn, on his costs. The Church fathers, theologians from the early Church, have seen Christ himself in the person of the Samaritan. He comes with His merciful love to everyone lying at the side of the road of life. Christ has gone the way  of mercy until the end. He lives for His Father and His neighbour until the cross. In this way, Christ shows that He has a heart for people in misery: the poor, sinners, people dedicated to death (cf. Luke 10:25 etc).

Is God merciful to all?

We are all temporary people. None of us here on earth has eternal life. Sooner or later death will come and take life away. In that context we could wonder what we can hope for. Are we like rockets burning up in space or can we look forward to returning home? Over the course of Church history this has been discussed both carefully and generously. Not the most insignificant theologians, such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, were in the more careful camp, with the Scripture passage in mind which says that “many are called, but few are chosen”. There was also another sound in the early Church. The theologian Origen was so filled with God’s love that he could not imagine that anyone could be lost. The Church, however, based on the witness of Scripture, has denied this vision. There are too many passages in Holy Scripture which leave open the possibility of being definitively lost.

In our time, however, our Church is generally  optimistic regarding salvation. God’s  desire to save does not exclude, but include human freedom. God’s hand is and remains extended to all. Only God knows who takes this hand. Not without reason do we pray, in one of our Eucharistic prayer, for those “whose faith only You have known.” God’s mercy maintains its primacy. Christ has, after all, died for all men. God is loyal and the cross and resurrection of Christ can be a source of hope for us all. In other words: God takes our responsibility seriously, but I hope that He takes His love even more seriously.

Culture of mercy

God’s mercy requires a human answer, a culture of mercy. Here we can discern at least three dimensions: personal, ecclesiastical and social. In our personal life we are called to love God and our neighbour. But we know that cracks continue to develop in relationships. People insult and hurt each other. The Gospel then calls us to forgiveness.  Scripture even suggests we should postpone our worship when there are fractures in how we relate to our fellows (cf. Matthew 5:24).  Forgiveness can always be unilateral. But both parties involved in a conflict are necessary for reconciliation. Christ does not only ask us for merciful love for our loved ones, but also for our enemies. We realise that this can only be realised in the power of God’s  Spirit, and even then often by trial and error.

Merciful faith community

In one of our prefaces the Church is called the mirror of God’s kindness. In our time we notice a crisis in the Church. Many contemporaries have become individualists because of higher education and prosperity. This individualism also has an effect in the attitude towards the Church. Many people do believe, but in an individualistic way and think they do not need the faith community. Added to that is the fact that the Church suffers from a negative image. More thana  few see the Church as institute that restricts freedom. Many think that the Church demands much and allows nothing.

As people of the Church we should not immediately get defensive. Criticism on our faith community invites us to critical reflection of ourselves. Do we really live the truth in love? Do we really care for and serve each other? A Christian community will not restrict people but promote their development into free children of God (cf. Romans 8:21).

We can see the Eucharist as the ultimate sacrament of God’s merciful love. Time and again the outpouring love of Christ is actualised and made present in the Eucharist. About Communion, Pope Francis has said words which are cause to think. According to him, Communion is not a reward for the a holy life, but a medicine to heal wounded people. The mercy of the Church also becomes visible in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, or confession. For many reasons this sacrament has almost been forgotten in our country. At the same time I hear that in some parishes especially young people are rediscovering this sacrament. I hope that the Year of Mercy can make a contribution to a further rediscovery of the sacrament of God’s  merciful love for people who fail.

Ecclesiastical mercy is of course also visible in all form of charity. Everywhere where Christians visit sick and prisoners, help people who are hungry or thirsty, cloth the naked or take in strangers, the ‘works of mercy’ become visible (cf. Matthew 25:31 etc).

Merciful society

After the Second World War Catholics took part in the rebuilding of a solid welfare state. After the crisis years of the 1930s and the horrors of the war, there was a broad desire among our people for the realisation of a security of existence. Catholic social thought, with the core notions of human dignity, solidarity, public good and subsidiarity, has inspired many in our Church to get to work enthusiastically. After all, although the Church is not of the world, it is for the world.

But in our days there is much talk of converting the welfare state into a participation state. Of course it is important that people are stimulated optimally to contribute to the building of society. But at the same time government should maintain special attention for the needs of the margins of society. Not without reason does Christian social thought call government a “shield for the weak”.

In June Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato Si’. Here, the Pope ask attention for our earth as our common home. Catholics are asked to cooperate with other Christians, people of other faiths and all “people of good will”. The Pope urges us to join our religious and ethical forces to realise a more just and sustainable world. With a reference to St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun our Pope pleads for a new ecological spirituality in which our connection with the Creator not only leads to a mild and merciful relation with our fellow men, but also with other creatures.

In closing

We all live from the inexhaustible merciful love of our God, as has become visible in Jesus Christ. Let us in our turn, in the power of God’s Spirit, give form to this love in our relationships with each other, in our faith communities and in our society. In this way we can make an important contribution to the building of a “culture of mercy”.

Groningen, 22 November 2015
Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard De Korte
Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden”

*As an aside, not to distract from the overall message of the bishop’s letter: I am sorry to see this line here in such a way, as if there is a conflict between mercy and justice, in which one should be victorious over the other. Mercy without justice is no mercy at all, as it is deceitful. How can be kind and merciful to others if we keep the truth from them? The truth and its consequences must be acknowledged and accepted in mercy, so that we can help others living in that truth, even if they sometimes fail (as we eventually all do).

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Archbishop Koch’s first pastoral letter to Berlin – ecumenism and construction

In his first pastoral letter to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Berlin, Archbishop Heiner Koch takes an ecumenical approach, not unexpected for such a scattered Catholic community among people of all kinds of different backgrounds, cultures and creeds.

csm_2015-06-09_EB-Koch_081n_dfeea5060f“My first year in Berlin will be the year that Pope Francis has declared as a Holy Year of Mercy. Behind our lives and the lives of all people stands the good Lord, who holds us in His heart and from whose love we will not fall away, in life nor in death. What joyful news for all people! It encourages us to discover God’s presence, also with the people who do not or not yet share our faith. I look forward to the encounter with them, the unbaptised. Perhaps we will find, with others on our way, that we are not only looking for God, but that God has already been looking for us. We are probably much closer to each other than we imagine.

I look forward with full confidence to the encounters with our ecumenical sisters and brothers .It is good that we are travelling together, an enrichment for each other, and so help one another to fulfill the God-given mission for the sake of God and people. I happily greet the Jewish congregations, the Muslim communities and all with whom we are united in interreligious dialogue.”

What is the Catholic presence in such a varied society? Archbishop Koch looks towards Berlin’s cathedral for anwers:

Berlin,_Mitte,_Bebelplatz,_Hedwigskathedrale_02“A few weeks ago, in Leipzig, I consecrated the main church in the heart of the city. Our cathedral of St. Hedwig is located likewise in the heart of the city. Its renovation is pending, due to reflections regarding its transormation. Perhaps this is a sign for the even greater task before us: to give God honour together and to be an open and inviting Church for the people in our society. I hope that we can share the experience with them that God lives right among us and goes with us along the road of our lives. It is my heart’s desire that the time of architectural renewal may also be a time of spiritual and social construction.”

Photo credit: [1] Walter Wetzler, [2] Beek100, Wikimedia Commons

“Never again” the bishops warn in the wake of rising antisemitism

Anne%20FrankFollowing recent and fairly sudden signs of increasing antisemitism in both the Netherlands and other western countries, the Dutch bishops have issued a statement condemning any hate against Jewish and other people.

“Both in and beyond our Dutch society there is – as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas – an increase in displays of hatred against Jews. The Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, categorically denouncing hatred against Jews, feel obliged to once again strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism.”

This clearly refers to that shining moment in World War II, when the Dutch bishops stood up against the Nazi treatment of the Jewish inhabitants of the Netherlands. This in turn led , among other things, to the death of Blessed Titus Brandsma (whose feast day we marked last Sunday) in Dachau concentration camp. The bishops continue:

“It cannot be that people who (for many centuries) have been an inalienable part of our society now feel unsafe and unwanted. The incomprehensible and appalling tragedy of the Holocaust in the Second World War has made it more than clear what hate against Jews can lead to.

For us Christians the fact also matters that the Jews are our older brothers and sisters in the faith in the one God, Father and Creator of all men. Our Church’s bond with the Jews and Judaism is unbreakable and can’t be given up. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew and we Christians come forth from the Jewish people. Pope Francis recently said, not without reason, “You can’t be a true Christian without acknowledging your Jewish roots” (interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia).

We acknowledge the rights of both Jewish and Palestinians to live in their own state, safely and in peace. The current war between Hamas and Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict are very complex matters. We consider it necessary for a lasting peace that those Jews and Palestinians who fight each other or see each other as enemies, end combat and start working together to build up countries which can live in peace with one another, as a blessing for coming generations and the entire world. We pray for peace for the Holy Land, the Middle East and our entire world. We also pray that every person will know he is safe and wanted in both our country and all other countries. After all, we are all – Jews, Christians, Muslims and all people – God’s creatures, called to life by Him out of love, to live together as His children.

On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands:

+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk,
President of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference

+ Hermanus W. Woorts,
Chair of the Bishops’ Conference department for Church and Judaism”

Although this is an issue which, in part, specifically concerns Dutch society, equal condemnation should be given to the even stronger displays of hatred against people for their religion in all parts of the world, not least the Christians in IS-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, the warring parties in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Muslims and Christians and the Central African republic… I could go on. Where politicians drop the ball, the bishops and all members of Church and society should be ready to pick it up.

 

Easter message – Archbishop Robert Zollitsch

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Apostolic Administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau, speaks about the freedom and life that God gives at Easter, through the Resurrection of His Son.

erzbischof_zollitsch_2011_03_h“Dear sisters, dear brothers in the community of faith,

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” That is the question that the youngest member present must ask the head of the family during the Jewish feast of Pesach. And in answer, the latter describes year after year the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt, as we have just heard in the reading from the book Exodus. Of course, all who have come together for the feast known this: and yet it is valuable to hear this history anew every time. And this becomes clear to them: It is God who leads to freedom! He who entrusts himself to Him, can stand up to even superior numbers. With His strong arm he gives new courage and leads us to His goal.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” For us as Christians the focus of this question goes even further. The night of Easter is more than the feast of the one liberation from slavery of a superior people. It is about more than the experience that we can trust God in our lives. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we celebrate life having defeated death and sin once and for all. We have become “free from sin”, as we have heard in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (6:7). Jesus having risen from the dead means for us that we “should begin living a new life” (Rom. 6:4). Everything is different from one moment to the next. The event of the Resurrection of Jesus changes the view on our lives. From now on it stands under a different sign. In the end, meaningless and emptiness do not remain. Life is victorious, hope defeats all doubt and fear. Yes, for us it is this night, in wich we experience permanent freedom, in which we are given new and eternal life. It is the basic message as given in an Easter song: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.”

And yet, dear brothers and sisters, we do not find this message very easy. Can it be really true that death has lost its terror, that life has won the final victory? What we hear is almost too great. Do we really dare trust this news, even in the face of so much suffering and injustice in the world? We are at least not alone when we react hesitantly. The women, who wanted to go to the grave early in the morning to show their closeness to the deceased, find it difficult to have faith in the surprising news that jesus is risen and lives. It’s almost too bizarre: the message of the liberation of mankind from sin and death must be so strong that it works by itself . But that is not the case. In the face of the enormity of this message, the joy of the women at the empty grave is mixed with doubt. “Do not be afraid!” (Matt. 28:5, 10) – they need the encouraging words from the angel and from Jesus Himself to face the new situation and to take courage. It would have been far simpler if everything remained as it was! But perhaps we can somehow accept it. Every life ends at some point. The message of life and liberty is not so easy against this supposed realism. We much rather stay with our supposed certainties and are not so quick to let ourselves be surprised by God.

That is why this night differs from all others. It wants to encourage us. We must not be satisfied with too little. Supposed realism, which is often nothing more than pessimism in disguise, is only plausible on first glance. This night tells us: away with pessimism and all  prophets of doom! Trust freedom and life! God Himself gives it to us! Pope Francis summarises it: “Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! […] Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.” Yes, dear sisters and brothers, the call of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!” – it also applies to us! We can trust the possibilities that God grants us. We can live in the freedom into which He leads us. We have every reason to be lieve the promise that He gives us life, eternal life. Like the small light of the paschal candle that has driven the darkness out of our cathedral, to God defeat all darkness and gloom of the world with the Light of Life. There may be needs and misery, sickness and death in our daily lives: these do not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than all indifference.

This night teaches us that we are fundamentally freed by God, because do not need to be held prisoner by our concerns and needs. It shows us that we should not have any fear, since life is stronger than death. But it is not content with that. It looks for our answer. The event of this night wants our voice for life and freedom! It wants us to be carriers of hope ourselves and distributors of light. We should gather the courage that the women had; while they were still fearful, but hurried with joy to the Apostles to tell them of this nigh-unbelievable news. Yes, he who has experienced that life is victorious, can’t keep it to himself but carries the message further into the world. Whoever it is, he stands for life and freedom.

This becomes especially clear, dear sisters and brothers, in the Sacrament of Baptism. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). This commandment from Jesus to His disciples concludes the encounters with the Risen One. The liberating message of His Resurrection is not ours alone. It applies to all people. That is why we bless the water of Baptism, with which the Sacrament of Baptism is conferred, in every Easter vigil. At the same time it reminds us of our own Baptism. That is why I am  pleased that we will give, in this Easter night in our cathedral, new life through the water of Baptism, given to us in this special night, to Ms. Nina Shokira. And she wants to share this life with her son Yuri, who will also receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the external sign in which we experience the liberation from the trappings of sin and are called to new life in Jesus Christ. In the extent that baptism changes our lives, so important it is that we agree with from within and always remember what it means to belong to Jesus Christ and to be blessed by Him with new life. When we live from this, we feel how much this night changes our lives. Because all our days are permeated and carried by the liberating power of God. So: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.” Amen.

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Four bishops look back – the ad limina in hindsight

Four bishops have written their thoughts and feelings about last week’s ad limina visit down and shared the resulting texts on the websites of their respective dioceses. Here, in full, are my translations, reflecting the encouragement that the bishops took home from their encounter with Pope Francis and the offices of the Curia.

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden:

“What did the ad limina visit bring me as bishop of the North? I think in the first place encouragement. Our report included many statistics which cause concern. The Church, after all, continues to shrink. But the Pope and also his coworkers in the various Congregations and Pontifical Council continuously warned the bishops against a sterile pessimism. The message was always: be patient, make contact, try to connect, don’t write anyone off, don’t blow up any bridges. Every bishop should after all be a ‘pontifex’, a bridge builder. I saw these words as a confirmation of my policy. In a recent article on the future of Roman Catholicism I summarised that policy in two words: clear and cordial. The Church of tomorrow can only thrive when she stays close to Jesus. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus for every person and our entire world should be at the heart. God’s mercy should also make us merciful and mild in how we deal with one another.

At the same time that should happen in a heartfelt and inviting way. Not with a pointing finger or a frown, but with an open attitude and a smile. There are many stalls in the modern religious market. For religious searchers the choice for Christ and His Church is not always the obvious one. For many of our contemporaries, faith is a search, a process. Parishes and church communities are called to increasingly initiate people in the treasure of Christian tradition and bring them to Christ, step by step. For ultimately every person is called to live his or her life out of the friendship with the living Christ.

Encouraged by the ad limina visit I continue my work as bishop. In turn, I hope to be able to encourage Catholics and other Christians to live the life of their Baptism. Pope Francis continuously asks us to be brave and to live out of hope. Let us grab the plough, out of the joy of the Gospel!”

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkWim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht:

“The preparations for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops were preceded by numerous speculations. What would the new Pope Francis think of the Dutch bishops? Wouldn’t they be strongly chastised for their policies? In that context, many think of the mergers of parishes and the closing of churches, which the bishops would be deciding upon out of ideological motives and because of a shortage of priests. What was striking was that the approach of sexual abuse by Church workers was now getting less attention.

In my article for the November issue of the diocesan magazine Op Tocht, which was also spread to the parishes as a letter, I discussed in detail the painful necessity of parish mergers and church closings in several locations. The archdiocese does not take the initiative to close a church. That is in the first place the responsibility of the parish councils, which then request the archbishop to remove a church from service. But in the end neither the archbishop nor the parish council make the decision, but the people who decide to no longer take part in worship and no longer support the Church financially.

In the 1950s ninety percent of the Catholics attended Church on Sunday. Today that is five percent and that percentage is still dropping. Anyone can see that church closings then become unavoidable. The same goes for parish mergers. Parishes which can no longer survive alone, can join forces with other parishes and form a new thriving faith community. We must now take our responsibility for the future. Our children who still believe must have the opportunity to celebrate and share the faith. It would be irresponsible to try and maintain everything we have now and use up all available means doing so, leaving future generations empty-handed.

The Pope understands this, and so does the Roman Curia. In other parts of the world, for example in the United States, the need for parish mergers and church closings becomes apparent. Between 2000 and 2011, 121 churches in the Diocese of Essen, Germany, were removed from use and closed.

Many other topics were also discussed. The Pope and his coworkers received, for example, detailed information from the Dutch bishops about the situation around the sexual abuse of minors. In the last months, fruitful cooperation has come into being between the chairmen of the Bishops’ Conference, the KNR (Conference of Dutch religious) and KLOKK, the major umbrella organisation for victims of sexual abuse. They jointly established a final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of claims of sexual abuse concerning deceased perpetrator and cases of sexual abuse that fall under the statute of limitations. Said chairmen also presented a joint report to Secretary Opstelten on 5 November of this year, the so-called base-measurement, in which the implementations of the recommendations of the Deetman Commission of 2011 were investigated. The report includes a number of solid pieces of advice to improve the approach to claims of sexual abuse. The Bishops’ Conference, the KNR, KLOKK, and the management and overview foundation for sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands have enthusiastically begun implementing this advice. The base-measurement was translated into English and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Dutch bishops and the KNR coupled the announcement of the final date with a call to all to supply supportive evidence for claims of sexual abuse where possible. We also called all to – contrary what sadly sometimes occurs elsewhere – not oppose victims in any way when they make a claim, or blame them for it, but support hem as much as possible. They suffered enough under the sexual abuse. We called all to help the Church clean her slate in the interest of the victims. The Pope encouraged us to continue on this road. At the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith we were also told that we chose a “good direction”.

The way in which Pope Francis replied to the Dutch bishops’ policies was heartwarming for them. He was visibly moved by the difficulties we face. His biggest fear was that we would become discouraged because of the problems we are struggling with, and that we would succumb to feelings of sorrow. He impressed upon us not lose hope, hope in the promises of Christ: “This hope never disappoints.” The message which he repeatedly drew our attention too was, “Do not look back, try not to keep what you once had, but look ahead.” A word that he continuously repeated was, “avanti, avanti, sempre avanti.” Keep going forward than do not look back at the past. In the past the Church may have had great buildings and structures, but we live in the present. In the present, you must take your responsibility.

As Dutch bishops we feel very much confirmed and encouraged by the Pope and his coworkers to go “avanti”, that is to say, forward on the path we are on. What we take with us from this very successful ad limina visit is that we should not Always look back nostalgically to a rich past, but that we must go “avanti”, forward, with our task to proclaim Christ and His Gospel. We must now take our responsibility and take the necessary measures, even if they are not always popular, to make sure that there are enough means and opportunities to also in the future proclaim the faith in Dutch society. If we don’t do anything now and maintain everything, we take away from our children the means to share the Gospel and celebrate the faith.

For the bishops it was also a special experience to be together for an entire week in Rome. In addition to unity with the world Church, the ad limina visit has also strengthened our mutual unity. Many concrete questions from the bishops have been answered by workers in the Roman Curia. We will get to work with the advice we received, in courage and enthusiasm.

The ad limina visit was closed with a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Mary Major. Here, at the end of the celebration, we answered Pope Francis’ call to us in the address he gave us in writing at Monday’s audience, to dedicate our Church province to Mary. This we did, and we confirmed it by praying the Hail Mary together. We asked Mary to pray for us to God to make our beautiful ad limina visit fruitful for the proclamation of the Catholic faith in the Netherlands.”

hoogenboomBishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

“What is the homework that Pope Francis gave the Dutch bishops during the ad limina visit?” I was asked in the preliminary conversation before a radio interview… My answer was that an ad limina visit, since its establishment in the 16th century, is first and foremost a pilgrimage of the bishops to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And that is how I look back on it as well: the ad limina visit was a precious week in which we, the Dutch bishops, prayed in the four great basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls), in the Church of the Frisians and in the Santa Maria dell’Anima (where Pope Adrian VI, from Utrecht, lies buried). The fact that, on 2 December, we could first celebrate Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the catacombs and shortly afterwards meet the personal successor of this Apostle on the see of Peter, Pope Francis, was for me without doubt the high point of our ad limina visit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls the Apostle Peter to strengthen his brothers, the other Apostles, in their faith. And that is exactly what Pope Francis did towards us as Dutch bishops. Aware of the situation in which the Dutch Roman Catholic Church finds herself, the Pope directed words of hope and encouragement to the bishops and all Roman Catholics in our country. In the ‘group talk’ with the Pope I could ask him, referring to Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13), how he sees the relation between liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and diakonia. Pope Francis’ answer was that the worship of God and the service to the neighbour, especially the neighbour in need, are inextricably entwined. He also mentioned practical examples from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires where he was archbishop. We can mirror the practical examples from our archdiocese to that; for example the food collection for the Food bank during the Chrism Mass in Apeldoorn.

That we could start the ad limina visit with a fraternal meeting with Pope Francis, despite original plans,  is to me a gift from God’s providence. During our visits to the Congregations and Pontifical Councils we reported on the developments in the Dutch Church province since the last ad limina visit in 2004. But on those occasions we also looked ahead, and time and again we heard words which referred to the joy of the Gospel, to Christian joy and the trust in God about which Pope Francis had earlier spoken with us so warmly and inspirational. A joyful message which I continue to carry with me in my life and works as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht. It was not about getting homework assigned and which you reluctantly start, but about confirmation and encouragement in performing a joyful duty for life.”

woortsBishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

We continue encouraged, with hope and joy, amid the concerns and responsibilities. The Pope and the Curia, people with their inspiration, it has all come much nearer for me. I am grateful for having experienced this and also grateful that we are part of that one world Church, led by the Pope, above all of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Mary, Peter and Paul and all those other saints and blesseds. It has strengthened me, not least the daily Masses and prayer and sympathy of many at home. That does good.

What will also stay with me: when we left the room after the conversation with the Pope, I spoke with him about the contact with rabbis and Jewish organisations. He squeezed my arm and indicated: continue with that. He was happy about it.”

The General Report for the Ad Limina – The portfolios

Continuing with our translation of the general report that the Dutch bishops will be handing to Pope Francis in the first week of December, we arrive at the second part, in which the various portfolios within the Bishops’ Conference are described, as well as some developments within the fields they cover.

It would seem that each portfolio holder has written a short text. These are sadly not written for easy reading. They are dry texts intended to convey information, and their length prevents the inclusion of much detail.

Below, I will briefly list the main points in each text.

logo TSTVocations and Education to Church Ministry (Wim Cardinal Eijk): Mentions the intended merger between the three Catholic theological faculties in the country. The Faculty of Catholic Theology (logo pictured) of the University of Tilburg, but located in Utrecht, was the result. Two faculties participated, while the third lost the right to dispense ecclesiastical grades. No mention is made of the seminaries.

Liturgy, Church Music, Bible and Christian Art (Bishop Jan Liesen): This department tries to emphasise the fullness of liturgical life through letters and liturgical books. There is special attention for new translations of the Roman Missal and the Bible as used in the liturgy.

Catechesis (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): There are projects about First Communion and Confirmation,  a series of six catechetical magazines on topics like birth, suffering, forgiveness and education, a catechesis method for children and teenagers. New goals are new forms of evangelisation and catechesis and more investing in the volunteer force.

basisschoolEducation (Bishop Jan Hendriks): Government policy and secularisation put pressure on Catholic education. Ways are sought to improve relations between Church and schools and increase religious knowledge of teachers.

Youth (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): Pastoral care is mostly presented in national events (Catholic Youth Day, diocesan events). The number of youth groups is slowly decreasing, but young Catholics are increasingly present on the Internet and in social media.

Communication and Media (Bishop Frans Wiertz): Little interest from secular media in Church and faith, except for the sexual abuse crisis and the election of Pope Francis. Fewer financial means to invest in communication. There seem to be new chances in new media (seriously? Seem to be?)

prisonPastoral care in Justice and Health Care (Bishop Everard de Jong): Pastoral care in prisons takes place in close cooperation with the state. Most hospitals and nursing homes are secularised, making providing pastoral care more difficult. It is being ‘professionalised’ and thus becoming more secular. There are very few priests available in this area, and the challenge is to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and dioceses, and dioceses and institutions.

Church and Society (Bishop Gerard de Korte): The bishop meets twice annually with representatives from various areas of society, including political parties and unions. The bishop tries to spread Catholic social thought via the media.

Ecumenism and Contacts with the Eastern Rites (Bishop Hans van den Hende): There are direct ecumenical contacts with the Protestant Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental and Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Alliance and the Pentecostal churches. Expressions of ecumenism include a joint declaration on Baptism and a nationwide Week of Prayer for Unity.

Interreligious Dialogue (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Cooperation exists with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Deus Caritas Est and the Vatican II documents are basis for further contacts.

punt ethiopiëMission and Development (Bishop Jos Punt): There is solidarity and creativity in the parishes, often aimed at local projects. These can be integrated in national actions. There is also a decline in financial contributions to missionary projects. (At left: Bishop Punt on a missionary visit to Ethiopia)

Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) (Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom): The bishop participates in the two meetings per year of the COMECE, and subsequently reports to the bishops’ conference about it. Several COMECE projects are put into practice in the Netherlands.

Marriage and Family (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): Good marriage preparation and family amenities are promoted for the new parishes. Numerous movements assist the Church in these goals.

Handboek-katholieke-medische-ethiekMedical Ethics (Wim Cardinal Eijk): The cardinal lectures on this topic in the Netherlands and abroad, and also teaches the subject at the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and writes articles for various publications. He also maintains political contacts to emphasise the topic, and has published a handbook on medical ethics (pictured), which is currently being translated into English and Italian.

Relations with Judaism (Bishop Herman Woorts): Several meetings between Jewish and Christian communities take place, in relation to the remembrance of the Holocaust and several Jewish feasts. All dioceses should have their own working group for relations with Judaism.

Movements and New Communities (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): These are fourteen movements and communities recognised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Religious and Secular Institutes (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Three to four meetings per year have led to mutual dialogue and confidence and has brought bishops and religious closer together.

Church and the Elderly (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Two elements are important: representation and comfort on the one hand, and questions of life and death, the younger generations and hope on the other. This is achieved through celebrations and speaking engagements.

Church and Women (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Consisting mainly of contacts with the Union of Dutch Catholic Women, in two meetings per year.

Our Lady of Lourdes BasilicaPilgrimages (Bishop Herman Woorts): The bishop takes part in the annual meeting of the three official pilgrimage organisations. Important now is the creation of a new pilgrims’ book related to the publication of an interrim Missal, probably sometime in 2014. The bishop takes part in various pilgrimages and celebrations.

Pastoral Care for Workers in Carnivals, Circuses and Shipping (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): There is a well-ordered nationwide parish for shipping workers, with its own parish priest and group of volunteers. There is an annual meeting with the bishop.

Beatifications and Canonisations (Bishop Frans Wiertz): There have been four canonisations and three beatifications in the Dutch Church province since 1998. There are three Blesseds awaiting canonisation.  There are 13 further cases, of which three have reached the stage of Venerable. Three cases have had their file sent to Rome, and two files have been handed over to dioceses abroad. Three or four more candidates are being considered to have their processes started.

The reports are very factual and while the describe intentions, plans and wishes, there is no indication of how these are to be realised, nor how effective any projects are.

Striking – and disappointing – is the conclusion from Bishop Wiertz as holder of the communications portfolio that “here seem to be new chances in new media”. These chances have been there for years, and many Catholics in the world are exploiting them. There is a world to be won on the Internet for the Church in the Netherlands, a world that is barely being explored at this time.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Kasper turns 80

kasperWhereas a cardinal’s 80th birthday usually represent a pretty definite point beyond which he can no longer vote in a conclave, this is not so for Walter Cardinal Kasper. His 80th birthday, yesterday, fell in the sede vacante, and that means that he can still vote in the upcoming conclave. Only cardinals who mark their 80th before the See of Peter falls vacant lose that right.

Born in the heart of southern Germany, Walter Kasper became a priest of the Diocese of Rottenburg in 1957. He started his priestly ministry as a parish priest in Stuttgart, but soon returned to studying. In 1958 he earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the University of Tübbingen, where he also became a faculty member until 1961. Among other things, he was an assistant to Hans Küng. His academic career soon took flight, and included  a teaching post in dogmatic theology in Münster and the job of dean of the theological faculty both there and in Tübbingen. In 1983, Father Kasper was a visiting professor at the Catholic University of America.

In 1989, returned to his native diocese, which by that time had been renamed as Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and he did as bishop. He would helm that diocese for ten years, and in 1994 he became co-chair of the International Commission for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, an appointment paving the way for his future.

Bishop Kasper was called to Rome in 1999 to become the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He became an archbishop then and in 2001 he was created a cardinal, with Ognissanti in Via Appia Nuova as his deanery. Today that church is his title church, as he was elevated to the ranks of the cardinal-priests in 2011. Upon his creation, Cardinal Kasper took over the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In 2010, Cardinal Kasper laid down his duties as president and retired, although he remained a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura until the sede vacante began last week.

Over the years, Cardinal Kasper has been one of the more visible curial cardinals, not least because of his critical approach to certain events and development, both within and without the Church. In 1993 he was one of the bishops who signed a letter allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. He also criticised the 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, claiming it was offensive to the Jews. In both cases, he was in an opposite position to Cardinal Ratzinger. On the other hand, his role in ecumenism also led to criticism from the more conservative wings of the Church. His ecumenical efforts were mainly aimed at the Orthodox Churches, and he led multiple Catholic delegations eastward. He also worked much towards mutual understanding between Catholic and Jews.

Most recently, he frankly spoke of miscommunications and mismanagement within the Curia, concerning the lifting of the excommunication of four St. Pius X Society bishops. Leading up to the papal visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, Cardinal Kasper perhaps too frankly about the secularism in that country, and in the end did not join the Pope on his visit.

With Cardinal Kasper’s 80th birthday the number of electors remains at 117. Only after the conclave does he become a non-elector.