The protective hand of the mother – Dutch dioceses consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart

On Saturday afternoon the Dutch bishops consecrated their dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, coinciding with the centenary of the first apparition of Mary in Fatima and the tail-end of Pope Francis’ visit to that pilgrimage site in Portugal. The bishops did so at the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady in Maastricht. All the active Dutch ordinaries and auxiliary bishops were present, as was Cardinal Ad Simonis, archbishop emeritus of Utrecht. From Groningen-Leeuwarden, which is expecting their new bishop on 3 June, diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen was present.

Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht and metropolitan of the Dutch Church province, led the consecration during a Vespers, and gave the following homily:

“After the downfall of the Portuguese royal house as the result of a revolution in 1910, a very anticlerical government came to power in which freemasons dictated the tone. This government issued various measures against the Church: the wearing of priestly clothing was forbidden, as was taking religious vows; monasteries and religious orders and congregation were abolished by law and their possessions confiscated; Jesuits were forced to renounce their Portuguese citizenship; religious education in schools was abolished and the government gave themselves the right to appoint professors to seminaries. The brain behind these measures, Alfonso Costa, had the goal of eradicating Catholicism in Portugal in two generations.

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He did not succeed in this for various reasons. The faith of the Portuguese people was too strong en the Holy See resisted successfully. But a very important factor was the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. These apparitions greatly impacted Portugal, as well as, by the way, the rest of the Catholic world. After an angel appeared to them in 1916, Mary first appeared to them om 13 May 1917. She would do so six times in the period between 1 May and 13 October 2017.

The apparitions of Mary at Fatima are part of a string of important Marian apparitions: in La Salette in 1946, Lourdes in 1858 and Castepetroso in 1888. At all these apparitions, Mary’s message was that we should return to Christ, the Son of God and her son, do penance to gain forgiveness for our own sins and those of others and devote ourselves intensively to prayer, especially the Rosary. But of all these apparitions, those at Fatima were the most prophetic.

This had to do with the content of the three secrets that Mary entrusted there to the shepherd children. The first concerned a vision of hell and a call to prayer, conversion and penance to save souls and bring them to eternal salvation. The existence of hell was (and is) denied by many Christians and is not or barely mentioned by Christian preachers and catechists. The solemn warning of Mary must, however, be taken serious.

The second secret was an announcement of the end of the First World War, but also of the Second World War if people would not stop insulting God. Mary called for prayer and penance to implore God to bring peace. She also asked to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart to prevent atheistic communism to spread from Russia to other countries. Various popes, beginning with Pius XII in a radio message on 31 October 1942, have responded to this. It is significant that communism in Russia fell in 1989.

The third secret was a vision of a bishop in white, the pope, being persecuted, falling down as if dead under the sound of gunshots amid the bodies of bishops, priests, religious and lay people, fallen like martyrs for the faith under communism and fascism. It is an image of the way of the cross that the Church, led by the popes, has gone. On 13 May 2000, Cardinal Sodano announced, during a visit of Pope John Paul II to Fatima, that this vision referred the attack on the pope in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on 13 May 1981.

How should we now look at Mary’s messages in Fatima, and what do they add to our faith in Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer? The revelation of Holy Scripture, the public revelation to all of humanity, has been completed with Jesus Christ. Nothing can be added to that.

Mary’s messages to the shepherd children in Fatima are private revelations. Private revelations do not add anything to the deposit of faith as a whole:  “It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (art. 67). The messages of Mary at Fatima helped to better understand what the faith in Christ required to hold onto under the serious threats to the Church in the twentieth century.

A specific guidance from Mary at Fatima was her call to consecrate Russia, but also other countries or persons, to her Immaculate Heart. The heart represent the interior of the person here, and also the conscience, where the heart of man’s relationship with God lies. We call Mary’s heart immaculate because God safeguarded her from the original sin from the moment of her birth, and also because she remained free from sin in the rest of her life.

The consecration to her Immaculate Heart means two things specifically. Firstly, this consecration means that we want to follow Mary in the choice that she made in her heart of hearts, when the angel asked her to be the mother of God’s Son. She expressed her yes to God with the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Like Mary, we want to achieve a complete consecration of ourselves to Christ.

We realise, however, that we can’t do so on our own and need God’s grace. And this brings us to the second important meaning of the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: it also expresses that we consecrate ourselves to her motherly care. In other words, that we entrust ourselves to her intercession with God.

Mary’s concrete message at Fatima especially concerned the critical situation of the Church in the previous century. But the message is still current. The situation of the Church has certainly not improved in our century. Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Additionally, there is not only persecution from outside, but also from within.

Pope John Paul II said this his life was saved on 13 May 1981 because Mary deflected the trajectory of the bullet that could have killed him. That bullet is now incorporated in the crown of the statue of Mary in Fatima. To that protecting hand of Mary, through her intercession, the Dutch bishops entrust their dioceses in this Vespers. We pray that Mary places the path of the Church and our personal lives in the protective hands of the Risen Lord, through her constant intercession. Amen.”

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The bishops were joined by numerous priests, religious, seminarians and lay faithful, filling the medieval basilica. Following the consecration, representatives of various groups lit candles at the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

As 13 May was also the feast day of St Servatius, the first bishop in what is now the Netherlands, several bishops briefly visited the crypt where his remains lie, in the Basilica of St. Servatius, also in Maastricht. While some 130 altar servers from Germany celebrated Mass in the church above, the bishops prayed at the tomb.

 Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

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Small miracles – In Lourdes, Bishop Wiertz gets personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.”

Photo credit: Organisatie Limburgse Bedevaarten

Comings and goings – two dioceses prepare for a new bishop

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In preparation for Saturday’s installation, Bishop Gerard de Korte’s (redesigned) coat of arms is placed above the cathedra in the cathedral basilica of St. John the Evangelist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

In a couple more days, ‘s-Hertogenbosch will have its new bishop while Groningen-Leeuwarden will welcome its temporary diocesan administrator. This administrator, most likely vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, is to manage current affairs in the diocese until the new bishop arrives. The next step of the selection of that new bishop now lies with the Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The cathedral chapter of Groningen-Leeuwarden has sent him their list of three candidates, the so-called terna, and it is the Nuncio’s task to collect information on the men on it, as well as collecting the advice and suggestions of the others bishops in the country. The list and information will then be sent to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, after which Pope Francis will make the final choice. For now, I expect one of the auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, Herman Woorts or Theodorus Hoogenboom, to come to Groningen-Leeuwarden. Yes, that is slight change in previous ideas on my part.

Whoever it will be, his appointment will probably take place after the summer, which means that the diocese’s major annual event, the St. Boniface Days in Dokkum on 10 to 12 June, will happen without a resident bishop. Under Bishop de Korte, this event has seen a significant development, and this year it will for the first time expand beyond Catholic boundaries, containing a significant ecumenical element in the participation of local Protestant churches. Bishop de Korte will attend and offer the Mass at the procession park in Dokkum on the final day. He may also participate in the preceding procession, but an episcopal presence is at least assured in the person of Bishop Karlheinz Diez, auxiliary of Fulda. Both Groningen-Leeuwarden and Fulda have events dedicated to St. Boniface, being the places where he was respectively killed and lies buried, and Bishop de Korte has previously attended the Fulda festivities.

Groningen-Leeuwarden, in the mean time, has taken every opportunity in bidding their beloved bishop farewell, not least during the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes earlier this month, as well as in a special edition of the diocesan magazine.

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Photo credit [1] Ramon Mangold, [2] Marlies Bosch

Proclaiming the faith, not building churches

eijk lourdesIn an interview during the final day of the archdiocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, Cardinal Wim Eijk once again said what the need to close church buildings should actualy lead to: not anger and protest, but renewed communities of faith. RKK reports.

“Jesus said to proclaim to faith. He did not tell us to build churches everywhere.”

And while churches have an important function, they are not what our faith is about. We find it in the sacraments and in the community of faith, and these are not limited to buildings.

“If we continue like this, the Church will be like a Christmas tree. At some point all the needles will have fallen, and that’s it, the Church quietly passes away.”

It’s a painful necessity to close some churches, but it is a bishop’s duty to look ahead and make sure that what has been entrusted to him will also be there for future generations. Not buildings, but faith. When there is anger, conscious misrepresentations and even schism, faith withers away. We must aways keep this future in mind, even when the here and now is painful and makes us feel misunderstood. Our faith is an optimistic one, and we must have the confidence to work with what has been given to us, even if we sometimes wish we had a little more at our disposal.

Cardinal Eijk also mentions how he deals with the anger and criticism levelled against him:

“As a follower of Christ you must sometimes also be willing to make sacrifices. When you are confident in faith that this is the right way, you’ll just have to do it. You must be willing to do so. Jesus himself was also heavily criticised. I find a true support in the life of Jesus, but also the life of St. Bernadette. I consider it a source of inspiration. In order to achieve something in life, you’ll have to overcome some obstacles. But I have faith that God will give me the strength to do so, and I also pray for that.”

Call to action: Lourdes

Few will have missed that Lourdes has been hit by major flooding recently. While the sanctuary will open again to receive pilgrims, there is much damage. And while we can’t all head down to southern France to help physically, there are other means to help the premier Marian sanctuary of Europe recover.

The sanctuary’s website provides the following information, which I copy and share here:

Number to contact or phone : 0033 5 62 42 82 22

Thank you for your generosity and messages of support.

To help the Sanctuary of Lourdes to deal with the damage caused by the floods, please send your gifts to:

– By cheque made out to the Association Diocésaine de Tarbes et Lourdes at the following address:

Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes
Solidarité Inondations 2013
1, avenue Monseigneur Théas
65108 LOURDES Cedex

– by making a gift online here

– by bank transfer on the account below :

IBAN: FR7630003020510003726308089
Adresse SWIFT (code BIC): SOGEFRPP

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^ Bishop Nicolas Brouwet walks across the mud in front of the grotto.

Photo credit: Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes

The departure begins…

Today, Friday 5 August, the great exodus has begun. Or, in less dramatic words, the first diocesan group has left for the World Youth Days in Spain. It is the first of several travel initiatives from the Diocese of Roermond, and their first destination will be Lisieux. Over the course of the next five days, other groups will follow. All dioceses will have organised trips, and so have many others, such as religious communities, individual parishes and movements.

Two days from now, on 7 August, the Dioceses of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Breda will depart, the first for Lisieux, the second for Taizé. On the next day, while these dioceses are at their initial destinations, the aformentioned group from Roermond will be at St. Bernadette in Nevers, and the Dioceses of Rotterdam and Paramaribo, travelling together, will head south for a sight-seeing tour of France.

On 9 August, the Roermond group will be in Lourdes, while the young pilgrims from the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch will have a two-day prep weekend.

On 10 August, the groups from the Archdiocese of Utrecht (which includes yours truly)  and the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam will leave the Netherlands, the Breda and Groningen-Leeuwarden groups will be in Lourdes. The Haarlem-Amsterdam group will arrive in Taizé on the same day.

On the 11th, the ‘s Hertogenbosch pilgrims will have completed their preparations and travel south, while most of the other groups will be arriving in their host dioceses for the Days in the Diocese. Breda, Rotterdam and Paramaribo will be in the Diocese of Calahorra y La  Calzada Logroño, Utrecht and Groningen-Leeuwarden in the Archdiocese of Zaragoza, and Roermond in Avila.

On the 12th of August, more pilgrims from Roermond will arrive in Avila by plane. The group from Haarlem-Amsterdam will arrive in their host diocese of Urgel. They won’t be spending their Days in the Diocese in Spain, but in Andorra. The group from ‘s Hertogenbosch, then, will arrive in The Archdiocese of Toledo.

On the 15th all groups will head towards Madrid, arriving on the same day. They’ll join in with other travellers from all over the world until the closing Mass of the World Youth Days 2011. Some will head home on that last day, others will stay in Madrid a day longer or even visit other destinations in Spain before heading home.

The Lady of All Nations – A diocese celebrates, but serious questions remain

On 12 June a day of prayer in honour of the Lady of All Nations will take place in Amsterdam, under the auspices and with the participation of Bishop Jos Punt of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. Lady of All Nations refers to the Blessed Virgin and specifically the alleged apparitions of her in Amsterdam between 1945 and 1959. These apparitions, like others across the world, caused much debate and also much enthusiasm. The debate still remains, and is fueled by a distinct lack of clarity.

At the root of this lie two things that the Blessed Virgin is alleged to have communicated during these apparitions; the first is a prayer that refers to her as she “who once was Mary”, and the second the wish that a fifth Marian dogma be declared, which would make her coredemptrix, saviour next to Jesus Christ. The image created from the apparitions, pictured to the left, also shows Mary in front of the Cross, taking the place of Christ.

Both these elements, the prayer and the dogma, constitute a rupture with all we know of the Blessed Virgin and her role in salvation history, and all that she has communicated in apparitions and miracles. And that, in short, is why the veneration of the Lady of All Nations is so problematic.

During his pontificate, Venerable Pope Pius XII acted against the title of ‘coredemptrix’, and had it removed from documents. The Second Vatican Council expressed exceeding caution in using the term, and even used the word mediatrix sparingly. A 1997 conference on the subject in Czestochowa also decided against the proposed dogma, citing the rupture with the Mariological beacons set forth by the Council (and, I might add, the whole of salvation history).

Much debate in the world Church, then. But things also developed on the diocesan level. According to canon law, a diocesan bishop has full authority to judge the validity of such supernatural phenomena. It is part of what he received at his consecration to the episcopate. Over the decades, at least two bishops of the Diocese of Haarlem, Msgr. Huibers and Zwartkruis, had investigations into the alleged apparitions conducted which led to the veneration of the Lady of All Nations being forbidden within the diocese. In 1996, only weeks before his death, Bishop Henny Bomers declared that he no longer had any qualms about the cultus that had developed and in 2002 Bishop Jos Punt declared the phenomena that occurred between 1945 and 1959 to be authentic. That meant that, with to the authority vested in a diocesan bishop, the veneration was allowed worldwide.

Here we have an interesting contrast; whereas the higher Church authorities, manifesting their duty and ability of guiding the faith of the Church, expressed caution in the interpretation and consequences of the alleged apparitions and messages, the local curia on the diocesan level came to the conclusion that such caution is not warranted. Some blame that latter development on Bishop Punt with his strong personal devotion to the Lady of All Nations, but the case has kept basically all bishops in Haarlem of the last 60 years busy. Twice a serious investigation was called, and at least two bishops came to the personal conclusion that everything was authentic (Bishop Huibers probably came to the same conclusion in 1955, but abided to the ruling of a committee he had established to investigate the apparitions).

That is the situation as it is now, but what tends to be overlooked are the judgements of Pope Pius XII, the Second Vatican Council and modern prelates such as Cardinal Amato, who all speak against the full authenticity. And I tend to agree with their serious reservations. I am not denying Bishop Punt’s authority, but neither am I (or any Catholic) obliged to believe in whatever apparition, be it Amsterdam, Lourdes, Medjugorje or Fatima.  And if we believe, we must do so with heart and mind. The heart may be there, but the mind has its questions which deserve answers.

And that is why I doubt the wisdom is such large-scale events like the day of prayer on 12 June. The Lady of All Nations, and the contents of the Virgin’s alleged messages, of her as coredemptrix and as something else than the human Mary, are presented as accepted elements of the faith, when they are not.