In Roermond, an experienced native son takes the seat

After a ten-month vacancy (another fairly lengthy one, which unavoidably gave rise to theories of episcopal disagreements reaching as far as the Vatican itself), the Diocese of Roermond has a bishop again. Stepping into the shoes  of Frans Wiertz, who led the diocese for 24 years is Father Harrie Smeets, 57, until now the dean of Venray.

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^The cathedral chapter of Roermond upon the appointment of Dean Smeets to that body in 2015. The new bishop of Roermond can be seen to the right of then-Bishop Frans Wiertz.

BisdomRoermondLocatieThe Diocese of Roermond coincides with the province of Limburg and is located in the south-east of the Netherlands, wedged in between Belgium and Germany, bordering the Dutch (arch)dioceses of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Utrecht, Hasselt and Liège in Belgium and Aachen and Münster in Germany. It shares much of its history with its neighbours, as it was first established in 1559 from territories belonging to Cologne and Liège. It was suppressed under Napoleon and re-established in 1840, again from Cologne and Liège. it has been a full diocese since 1853. The  Catholic history, however, goes far further back, as the diocese also includes the city of Maastricht, which was the seat of a diocese as far back as 530.

The new bishop will be assisted in his work by the longest-seated auxiliary bishop in the Netehrlands, Msgr. Everard de Jong currently in Rome to participate in the Synod of Bishops.

Bishop-elect Smeets will be the tenth bishop of Roermond since 1853. He has served as area dean of Venray, tbe northernmost of Roermond’s thirteen deaneries, since 2004. He has been a priest for more than 25 years and a member of the cathedral chapter since 2015. As such played a part in his own appointment, although one may wonder if the office of bishops is something that any good priest willingly seeks. Until 2011, Bishop-elect Smeets offered televised Masses, which were broadcast on national television live, 14 times. Leo Fijen, TV presenter and head of religious/spiritual programming for broadcaster KRO/NCRV, knows Fr. Smeets well and describes him thus:

“A priest from Limburg, a man of these times, a teacher who speaks the language of the young, a manager willing to make decisions, but also a man seeking God and doing what this pope considers important: opening the doors of the church and seeking out Christ in the neighbours outside the church.”

The exact time and date of Bishop Smeets’ consecration remains to be announced.

Photo credit: Bisdom Roermond

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Faith on the telly

Participants in the discussion: former prime minister Ruud Lubbers, Bishop Frans Wiertz, network manager Ton van Dijk and theologian Erik Borgman (photo: Joost Goes)

A symposium was held today about the role of religion on Dutch national television. Not surprisingly, the openly religious networks play a marginal role on tv, and that was one of the main reasons for this symposium. Catholic tv head Leo Fijen’s proposal of forming a single front in the struggle to bring religious programs back in the heart of national tv was met with general approval. He also suggested that religious programs should be aimed at as large an audience as possible and not solely to the regular viewers. If taken up, that suggestion would be a major change for the networks, who up till now have only catered to their own small world.

Former prime minster Ruud Lubbers made some pointed comments about the relations between the networks and politics. He said that politicians are often behind the facts, so religions should not sit back and wait for them to catch up, but take actions themselves. That is very important, I believe. Go out into the streets, present your programs to the world, and don’t hide in your comfort zone merely because your programs are of a religious nature. As Bishop Wiertz said, Christianity especially has a character of witnessing of the faith.

The goals expressed (at least those I’ve heard about now) are lofty, of course. But I can’t help but think they’re still quite sedate and general. When a bishop speaks about the general elements of witnessing and ‘giving meaning’ to life, and about the role that Christianity played in shaping our culture, that is not enough. It’s all fine to speak of those things, but people find sense and meaning in all kinds of things, or so they sometimes think. An attitude like that, while not incorrect, won’t sway Joe TV-Watcher. He’ll also take the past role of Christianity as read and do exactly nothing with it.

General suggestions are not enough. We need detailed plans, input and changes. Today’s symposium works, but only as a prelude to more extensive developments and changes. Let’s hope and pray that that may be the case.

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St Boniface Day 2010

This week I read the first announcement for the St. Boniface Day of 2010, to be held on 13 June. And the best news is that the optional walk (pilgrimage is too big a word for it…) will follow the route of my first St. Boniface Day in 2006 (I think, might have been 2007): from the village of Nes along the coast and then south towards Dokkum. If the weather’s good it’s a great route to walk.

The annual St. Boniface Day is a day where, basically, everyone in the diocese can gather in Dokkum – the place where St. Boniface, the patron saint of our diocese, was martyred. There’ll be a procession and Mass, workshops (Leo Fijen will speak at one of these) and special events for people of all ages. It’s basically a lot of fun.

So I’m looking forward to that. Here are some impressions of last year’s Day:

The Frisian landscape in the early morning is pretty
A stained glass window of St. Boniface in the chapel named for him.
One of the workshops: make your own rosary
Reinstated only a few years ago, a procession from the parish church to the chapel
Four seminarians carry some of the relics of St. Boniface
Mass in the chapel
Consecration

TV Masses new style

The tower of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden

Tomorrow I will be attending Mass in another church: With some friends I am going to St. Boniface’s in Leeuwarden for two reasons.

The first is the fact that this Mass will be first Mass organised by my diocese for live television broadcast. A bit of an event, especially since, starting this year, the dioceses have taken the responsibility of the televised Masses in their own hands. The Masses rotate through the dioceses, so that each organises seven TV Masses per year. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, they have chosen for the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden, with Father Albert Buter as celebrating priest.

Leo Fijen, head of the Religion & Culture department of the KRO, the network responsible for the TV broadcast, says that the new arrangement shows “the diversity and vitality of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands”. What I’ve seen of the Masses broadcast up till now is that the quality is actually quite good. Of course, there is always room for improvement: priests should use proper missals instead of binders, ugly glass ‘altar tables’ and choirs in the sanctuary have to go, but in general, the impression is positive.

Let’s hope that tomorrow’s Mass will fit in that trend. I’ve never attended a Mass by Father Albert, but the church will be impressive enough. St. Boniface is a massive building, larger than the cathedral here in Groningen.

The Mass will be broadcast live on Nederland 2, starting at 10:00, and will be preceded by an interview with Fr. Albert starting at 9:35.

After the Mass I intend to stick around at a diocesan youth platform event to mark the start of Lent. A nice occasion to see some people I haven’t seen in a while.