Man of peace – Bishop Ernst passes away

“With his down-to-earth faith and his dedication to his mission, Msgr. Ernst meant a lot to many people. Since my installation in 2012 I was able to visit him more often. His health was fragile, but his mind was strong. At the 75th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, in 2016, he was barely mobile, but he very much wanted to concelebrate the Eucharist. The Franciscan sisters increasingly watched over him in the past months. He was able to entrust himself to God. He reflected on his fragility and death very soberly. During a visit last year he told me that someone had advised him to prepare for the end of his life. It was a sign of his vitality that he responded with, “Perhaps it is time to do so”.”

2016-06-07%20Breda_MgrErnst_©RamonMangold_WEB01_410Bishop Jan Liesen responds to the news of the passing of Bishop Hubertus Cornelis Antonius Ernst, emeritus bishop of Breda, six weeks after celebrating his 100th birthday. The most senior of the Dutch bishops passed away late in the evening on Friday 19 May.

Bishop Huub Ernst was the 8th bishop of Breda, from 1967 to 1992, after which he served for two more years as apostolic administrator. He lived long enough to see three bishops succeed him: the late Tiny Muskens in 1994, Hans van den Hende, now of Rotterdam, in 2007, and Jan Liesen in 2012. Bishop van den Hende, in his capacity of president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, reacted to the passing of Msgr. Ernst on behalf of the other bishops, saying:

ernst van den hende 7-11-2015“Into very old age Bishop Huub Ernst was vital and concerned with his diocese, the Church province and society as a whole. He was consecrated as a bishop almost fifty years ago. Recently, we were able to congratulate him with his 100th birthday. Bishop Ernst was our older brother in the office of bishop, possessing a great heart for charity and the work of peace.”

Generally respected as a wise and well-spoken man, Bishop Ernst nonetheless never received a university education. In some quarters he was also seen a progressive bishop, which he was to a certain extent on the classic topics like celibacy, homosexuality and women, although he failed to get along with the liberal 8 May movement after this group ignored his advice and used a ‘table prayer’ of their own making at their annual manifestation.

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Bishop Ernst in 1967

Bishop Ernst chaired Pax Christi Netherlands from 1976 to 1994, reflecting his concern with the projects of peace in the world. Under his guidance, Pax Christi and the Catholic Church in the Netherlands threw their support behind protests against the presence of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands and the world. In 1983, he spoke before 550,000 protestors in The Hague on this topic. He would later also be highly critical of the war against terrorism waged by the international coalition led by the United States. He based these positions in Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical on peace in the world.

One of Bishop Ernst lasting achievements is considered to be the establishment of Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven near Breda. At his installation in Breda, the Theological Faculty Tilburg was responsible for the formation of priests. In 1983, Bishop Ernst estaiblished Bovendonk specifically for late vocations: men are educated and formed for the permanent and transitional diaconate, as well as the priesthood, initially while also holding their day job. Graduates from Bovendonk currently work in all dioceses of the Netherlands.

The period of Bishop Ernst’s mission leading the Diocese of Breda coincided with a time of great change in Church and society. Over the course of the 1970s, he developed a program based on three observations: a decrease in the number of faithful; the presence of core group of faithful willing to carry responsibility in the Church; and a decrease in the number of priests, deacons and religious. Towards the end of his time in office he had concluded that the Church in the Netherlands was in a missionary situation and a minority in society. Bishop Ernst believed that the Church should distinguish itself through charity and displaying the contents of her faith through language, liturgy and the behaviour of faithful.

Bishop Ernst tried to find a balance between Church doctrine and respect for the conscience of individual people. As such, he participated in the Synod of Bishops meeting of marriage and family in 1980.

Following his restirement, Bishop Ernst continued to speak on topics of ethics and philosophy. In 2007, he reviewed a publication by the Dutch Dominicans calling for lay priests from among the faithful to offer the Eucharist when a real priest was unavailable. Bishop Ernst called this “incorrect, not sensible and not the right solution”.

In 2011, Bishop Ernst was called to testify in a court case against an abusive Salesian priest. The bishop’s claimed to not have been informed about the priest’s past transgressions and found it unimaginable that the Salesians withheld essential information from him when he was asked to appoint the priest in his diocese.

A short overview of the life of Bishop Ernst

  • 1917: Born as oldest child of three in a Catholic family in Breda. He attended primary school at the parish school and the Huijbergen brothers. Subsequently, he went to minor seminary in Ypelaar and then the major seminary in Bovendonk.
  • 1941: Ordained by Bishop Pieter Hopmans. He was appointed as parish assistant in Leur.
  • 1943: Appointed as conrector of the Franciscan sisters in Etten.
  • 1947: Moved to Bovendonk to teach moral theology there.
  • 1957: Appointed as chairman of the (wonderfully-named) Society of Catechists of the Eucharistic Crusade.
  • 1962: Appointed as vicar general of Breda by Bishop Gerard de Vet.
  • 1967: Following the unexpected death of Bishop de Vet, vicar general Ernst succeeds him as bishop. He is consecrated by the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Alfrink.
  • 1980: Bishop Ernst participates in the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family, representing the Dutch episcopate.
  • 1992: Bishop Ernst offers his resignation upon reaching the age of 75. Pope John Paul II appoints him as apostolic administrator pending the appointment of his successor.
  • 1994: Bishop Ernst retires as apostolic administrator upon the appointment of Bishop Tiny Muskens.

Bishop Ernst was main consecrator of his successor, Bishop Muskens, and served as co-consecrator of Bishop Johann Möller (Groningen, 1969), Jos Lescrauwaet (Haarlem, 1984), Ad van Luyn (Rotterdam, 1994) and Hans van den Hende (Breda, 2007).

Bishop Ernst was the oldest Dutch bishop alive. On his death, that mantle passes to Ronald Philippe Bär, emeritus bishop of Rotterdam, who will be 89 in July.

Phot credit: [1, 2] Ramon Mangold

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

No April Fool – 13 months in, the vacancy ends

End of a long sede vacante

It took thirteen months, an almost unprecented long time, but the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden will soon have a bishop again. The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, had already stated that the name would be known before Easter. With tomorrow being the fifth Sunday of Lent, he was cutting it a bit close. The long time between bishops gave rise to some speculation and rumours, which I wrote about here. These speculations will undoubtedly continue now that there is a new bishop. Many will choose to see the selection, which was ultimately made by Pope Francis, in political terms: the new bishop is either a man in the vein of the Holy Father, which means he is a pastoral figure with an eye for the people instead of the law; or he fits the mold of Cardinal Eijk, which means he is a dogmatic, a stickler for rules. Reality, as often, is more nuanced.

20170330_sHertogenbosch_Bisschoppen_©RamonMangold_03The new bishop

The new bishop comes from the south, and thus, in a way, makes the opposite move than his predecessor, who went from Groningen-Leeuwarden to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. From that later see comes its vicar general, Msgr. Ron van den Hout, to take over the reins of this country’s most northern diocese.

Bishop-elect Van den Hout is 52, not extraordinarily young or old when compared with his predecessors. He has been vicar general of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch since 2012. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1993, studied in Rome and Nijmegen, and most recently taught Bible studies at three seminaries, in addition to serving as temporary pastor in the Bommelerwaard region, in the north of the diocese.

The Diocese

The new bisdom inherits a diocese wich, in some ways, is a work in progress. In the eight years (from 2008 to 2016) that Msgr. de Korte was ordinary, the diocese underwent a process of change which saw the number of parish decrease from 84 to 19. While the previous bishop made it policy to maintain the old parishes as communities in the new larger parishes, it is up to the new bishop to see the process to its conclusion and his choice to keep Bishop de Korte’s vision intact or adapt it as he sees fit. With one parish, which includes the cathedral in Groningen, exempt from the mergers, only two new parishes are awaiting establishment,  while a third is already merged, but will see one more old parish join at a later date. The entire process is expected to be concluded by 1 January 2018.

In the years that Bishop de Korte led the diocese, the number of religious establishments within its boundaries tripled. A relatively large increase, in absolute numbers it is perhaps somewhat less impressive: from one to three. In addition to the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, which is under the care of hermit Father Hugo, the Holy Ghost Fathers have established themselves in Heerenveen, while the Cistercians from Sion Abbey are working to build a monastery on the island of Schiermonnikoog. Bishop de Korte actively encouraged this trend, and his successor could do worse than do likewise.

The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden is one of the two youngest in the Netherlands, having been established in 1955, it is the second largest in size, and the smallest by number of Catholics (a little over 100,000, of whom some 10% attend a Mass or celebration over the course of one weekend)*. It covers the three northern provinces of the Netherlands (Fryslân, Groningen and Drenthe) as well as the northern third of the province of Flevoland. Its population varies from traditionally left-wing in the former Communist stronghold of eastern Groningen, to traditionally Catholic along the German border from the southeastern tip of Groningen to the south of Drenthe. Major cities are few, but include the university city of Groningen, which is also home to the cathedral of St. Joseph and the diocesan offices (relocated there by then-Bishop Willem Eijk, bishop from 1999 to 2008). Catholic faithful are clustered in various places, but in general the parish, especially in the countryside, are expansive. Coupled with a relative low number of priests this means that clergy has to be able and willing to travel.

Bishop van den Hout Will be the fifth bishop of the Groningen-Leeuwarden. Two of his predecessors are still active: Cardinal Willem Eijk as archbishop of Utrecht, and Msgr. Gerard de Korte as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam is a former priest and vicar general of the diocese, and his immediate predecessor, Msgr. Ad van Luyn, was born in Groningen.

In the past eleven months, since the installation of Bishop de Korte in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the diocese has been run by diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen, vicar general under the previous bishop, and general delegate Fr. Arjen Bultsma, formerly the episcopal vicar for Fryslân and the Noordoostpolder.

Reactions

Bishop-elect van den Hout was informed about his appointment last week, and accepted it on Wednesday. His initial reaction was hesitant, but he realised that it was “something that had come his way, and I was obliged to cooperate gladly”.

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^The new bishop, at left, receives a welcome present from diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen.

As for the future, the new bishop sees himself as a man of the parish. “The life of the Church must be realised in the parishes,” he said. “The faithful must take their baptism seriously, while the diocesan curia serves to support this.” As yet unfamiliar with his new diocese, the bishop-elect intends to start visiting the parishes soon after his consecration, which is scheduled for 3 June. Asked about his predecessors and how he compares to them, Msgr. van den Hout said that he simply wants to be himself, to be there for the people. He hasn’t taken up a position on how the diocese should be run, as this depends on the specific  local situation. He is curious and open about the Catholic life in the parishes of his new diocese, and will make any decisions based on what he finds.

More to come.

*Statistics date from 2008. The expectation is that the actual and current numbers are lower).

Photo credit: [1] Ramon Mangold, [2] Mark de Vries

In response to falling numbers, Cardinal Marx calls for lay responsibility

marxCardinal Reinhard Marx is planning to introduce a way of managing parishes  in his Archdiocese of München und Freising which is, out of necessity, already being practiced elsewhere in Europe, La Croix reports.

Whil it is standard that a parish is led by a parish priest, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in his parish (or parishes, federation or parish cluster), Cardinal Marx wants to see if that responsibility could not also be held by lay faithful. This decision stems from the dwindling numbers of priests. While some dioceses, for example in parts of Germany and the Netherlands, cluster and merge parishes to make sure that there is still at least one priest per parish, Cardinal Marx does not believe that is the way forward.

An enlarged parish, created out of a cluster of smaller parishes, would require its sole priest to travel greater distances, and possibly, as financial means are stretched, churches to be closed and active parish communities to be similarly merged. A weekly Sunday Mass in every church in the new parish would no longer be a matter of course. Cardinal Marx believes that this withdrawal of the Church from her territorial roots will lead to increasing local invisibility.

By appointing lay faithful to take on the responsibility for parishes where there is no priest, at least not frequently or regularly, the local church could continue its activities and remain visible. And there is no real reason to not invest lay faithful with such responsibility. It is not as if one needs to be ordained in order to wield it. Some ordained priests, the cardinal says, are not particularly suited to lead parishes, but do wonderful things in other areas, such as pastoral care and liturgy.

There is an element of responsibility that comes with ordination, and that is the responsibility of the shepherd. Priests remain indispensible in the life of the Church, but they are also people, with their limitations. None can be in two places at the same time (barring those holy priests given the grace of bilocation) and there are practical limits to the size of a parish that one man can be responsible for in the way expected of a parish priest. Cardinal Marx’s plan includes an active role for his three auxiliary bishops and himself in selecting teams of lay leaders and reflecting on parish structures and organisation.

Cardinal Marx’ proposal is a response to a problem that many bishops in Northwestern Europe face: dwindling numbers of faithful, and subsequently diminishing financial means to allow for the upkeep of (sometimes ancient and monumental) buildings and pastoral networks. If it is the right response is for the future to reveal.

 

God and our freedom according to Jesus Sirach

Today’s first reading at Mass summarises, for me, quite clearly the esteem God has for our freedom. The text comes from the Old Testament book of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus.

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God are on those who fear him;
he understands man’s every deed.
No one does he command to act unjustly,
to none does he give license to sin.”

Sir 15:15-20

While the text does not shy away from emphasising the consequences of (not) trusting in God, it does not claim that God demands that trust. God created man as a being with full freedom, including the freedom to choose his own path: “whichever he chooses shall be given him”. This freedom also influences how we should treat other people, especially people who have made different choices than we have. We can’t force anyone to adopt our choices.

But there is a catch: refraining from imposing our choices on others does not mean  that all choices are equal or equally good for people. The passage from Sirach also reminds us that God is aware of us and knows what we need, what is best for us. He does not say that anyone is free to act unjustly or to sin. While anyone is free to be unjust or to sin, these choices are not by definition good ones. God’s wisdom and care for us should inform our process of deciding what to do.

As in many other occasions, God is like a parent to us. A good parent respects their child’s freedom, even encourages the development of their capacity to think and act for themselves. But at the same time a parent knows what is best for their child, and while their well-informed and carefully made choices must be respected, because they are the choices of free human beings, a parent will sometimes advise against them. In those cases, it is good to include our parents’ advice in our choosing.

It is no different with God. He knows us, understands why we do what we do, but His wisdom is also immense. It is good to listen to what he has to say to us about justice and sin, and take it seriously. After all, how free are we if we don’t have all the information we need?

“Seeing with the eyes of the Lord” – Christmas message from the bishops of Utrecht

In their Christmas message, the archbishop and auxiliary bishops of Utrecht look back at the Holy Year of Mercy, urging us not to let the fruits of that Year go to waste. We should always try to look at others with Jesus’ eyes, as the logo if the Holy Year shows us.

Kardinaal%20Eijk%202012%20kapel%20RGB%204%20klein“At Christmas we celebrate that our God became visibly and tangibly among us in the Child of Bethlehem, our Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Francis has said about him, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1). The Holy Father wrote these words when he announced the Holy Year of Mercy on 11 April 2015. This Holy Year began with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and subsequently with the opening of Holy Doors in all the world’s dioceses. In our Archdiocese of Utrecht, these were in Utrecht, Hengelo and Groenlo. The Holy Year is now ended, or perhaps we could say, whisked by. But we should be watchful that what the Holy Year of Mercy has brougth us, will not simply disappear. For this year has brought the Church – also in the Archdiocese of Utrecht – much that is good and encouraging.

mgr_%20hoogenboomAs bishops of the Archdiocese of Utrecht we are very grateful to the Pope for the past Holy Year of Mercy. Much has been received and shared in our parishes and establishments, in faith, hope and love. Much work has been done to make the Holy Year a reality in the liturgy, catechesis and charity. Both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy have been frequently highlighted and put into practice. People – young and old(er) – have received the sacrament of God’s mercy – the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, or Confession – and that is a source of great grace and joy.

One has confessed for the first time in his or her life, the other sometimes after many years. That confession could have taken place in the parish, during the World Youth Days in Krakow or during a pilgrimage, such as the one to Rome. As bishops we have emphasised to our priests, deacons and pastoral workers the importance of a good preparation for the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation for children, before they make their First Holy Communion.

woortsWe are very grateful to our priests, deacons, religions, pastoral workers, coworkers, catechsists and all our volunteers for all the good and blessed work they have done for the success of the Holy Year of Mercy!

A high point in this Holy Year was without a doubt the pilgrimage that we made with some 2,000 people from all dioceses of the Dutch Church province to Rome, the ´eternal city´. Among them were some 200 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Utrecht. That pilgrimage has deepened and enriched our faith and being Church. Especially noteworthy was the Eucharist celebrated on the ‘Dutch day’ (15 November) in St. Peter´s, followed by the welcome of Pope Francis and his address to the Dutch faithful. The Pope was happy and impressed by such a large and enthusiastic group of pilgrims from the Netherlands. He was moved when a Catholic refugee from Syria presented him with a booklet detailing what has been done in and by the Dutch dioceses and parishes for the reception of refugees.

As mentioned, the Holy Year is over. The Holy Doors are closed. But the door of God’s merciful love is not – that remains always open for us and all people! And from this love we Christians are and remain called to make God’s mercy tangible and visible, especially to those who are ignorant, helpless or poor. Our Lord Jesus keeps asking us to look, to see with His eyes.

logoIn the Eucharistic celebration on the Dutch day, Cardinal Eijk said, for that reason, that the logo of the Holy Year of Mercy, the logo that was especially designed in Rome for this Hole Year, should remain etched in our minds. After all, it is a striking logo that highlights so clearly that mercy is a key word for the Christian faith. This logo depicts Jesus carrying a man on his back. It is based on the parable told by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke (15:1-10). This parable speaks of the shepherd with a hundred sheep of which one gets lost. The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to search for that one lost sheep.

We could wonder: who would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness to look for that one lost sheep?! Isn’t that shepherd taking a lot of risks?! Shouldn’t he be leaving to sheep to its fate? The parable was told by Jesus in this way on purpose to show how far God will go to search for people who have strayed from His paths and save them. For that reason God became man in Christ and made Himself the sacrifice, through His suffering and the cross, that was needed to expiate our guilt and return us to God.

When we look at the logo closely the following becomes clear: Jesus has two eyes, and the person He carries on His back as well. But no matter how often we count those eyes, there are always three. The designer did this in purpose to make us think. It indicates that Jesus and the suffering person that He is carrying on His back and saves, share one eye together, so to speak. The logo expresses the following:

In the first place the logo invites us to look at our neighbours with the eyes of our Lord Jesus, that is: with His merciful and forgiving love. We shouldn;t certainly be concerned about moral shortcomings, but then especially about our own. When it comes to others who cause us harm, let us then consider them with Jesus’ eyes. Try, as it were, to share one eye with Him. This is the message of the logo of the Holy Year of Mercy: as the Lord looks at us with loving and merciful eyes, so look at your neighbours and be prepared to forgive them when they have done you wrong, and offer them new chances when they show remorse.

This is frequently the advice of a spiritual counsellor or confessor to someone who struggles with the people around him, especially because they find it difficult to forgive them their unpleasant traits and habits : “try to look at him or her with the eyes of Jesus”.

This is helpful. When we commit ourselves conscously to this and pray to the Lord to let us look at our neighbours with His eyes, He will not remain silent and comes to us with His grace.

There is a second layer to the logo, a second message. Jesus sharing one eye with that person in need shows that He looks in mercy at our need, our difficulties, our pain and our sorrow, with our eyes, as it were. He can do so with our eyes because He Himself became man and freely submitted Himself to the conditions of our lives, which – to put it mildly – are not always advantageous. He experienced this Himself too. Jesus makes our need, pain and sorrow His own and looks at it with our eyes. This means that Jesus makes our life His own and He can do so more than anyone.

Jesus making our lives His own, is something He also says in Matthew 25:

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

And there is more: in this context the logo also invites us to look at our neighbours in need with Jesus’ eyes of mercy, and the sense of compassion, and really make their lives our own.

I happily wish you, your loved ones and all people of good will a blessed Christmas and God’s blessing for the new year 2017! A new year to look at each other and others, to see with the eyes of our Lord Jesus, of whom we celebrate at Christmas that He came among us through His incarnation.

With His eyes he continues to look at us, for us with His endlessly merciful love.

Utrecht, Christmas 2016

+Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk
Archbishop of Utrecht

Msgr. Th. C. M. Hoogenboom
Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht

Msgr. H. W. Woorts
Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht

In the Vortex, empty parishes and poor priests? Some nuances

A recent episode of Michael Voris’ The Vortex about the Catholic Church in the Netherlands has led to some questions about whether it is really true that more than 1,000 parishes will close  in the coming decade and Dutch priests will have to find jobs in the secular world, or even become tenants of the few remaining faithful in a secular wasteland. Or so the tone of the piece comes across.

As ever, there is some truth in the matter, but the situation is somewhat more nuanced than suggested. In this post I want to  highlight some ofhe intricacies of the situations.

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkIt is true that the number of parishes in the Netherlands is decreasing. And it has been for some time now. But it is inaccurate to claim that parishes are shutting down. Rather, parishes are merging with their neighbours to create larger parish clusters or megaparishes. This happens in most Dutch dioceses, and it is an organisational change, virtually always triggered by financial reasons and the lack of priests. The exact form that these mergers take differs per diocese. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, where I live, the parishes are merging, but with local faith communities continuing to come together, sometimes without a church building of their own. Or so the diocese, and especially our former bishop, Msgr. de Korte, hopes. Priests are tasked to travel in their parishes to minister to the faithful. In the Archdiocese of Utrecht, the new megaparishes have socalled Eucharistic centers assigned, churches where Holy Mass is celebrated every Sunday, while other churches in the parish will host Mass less frequently. I have compared the two approaches, as promoted by Cardinal Wim Eijk (at right) and Bishop Gerard de Korte, here.

aa%20Staatsiefoto%20Mgr_%20Wiertz%201_06KLEINThe idea that priests may need to find jobs comes from a speech made by Bishop Frans Wiertz (at left) of Roermond in October. Speaking at an annual meeting of the diocese, he discussed the current state of affairs in the Church in the Netherlands, comparing it with the Church in other countries.  He also spoke about the financial side and described how the network of institutionalised social support, by the government but also by the Church, is now reaching its financial limits. While it is a good thing to support anyone who needs it, that support can not continue forever, or become a right for all. Quoting the bishop:

“A parallel development has been going on in our Church, in contrast to all those countries I have visited. Earlier this year I asked a parish priest in Sri Lanka how he managed his livelihood, who took care of it. He said, “The people here are too poor, they can’t afford it. And the bishop? How would he have to do it? He can’t pay all the priests.” So I asked him how he earned his daily rice. He said, “I just work.” He was a teacher at a school. On the side. So parish priest and at the same time teacher at a school. He did that for forty hours a week. He taught English, history and of course religion.

Dear people, this was also the situation in our country until about 1960. There was no set salary for priests then. In one prosperous parish the priest received a higher salary and in the other parish, which had nothing, he had to survive of the gifts that the people brought him. In the Middle Ages the priest had a garden and he had to grow his own vegetables, and he sometimes had some cattle as well. There are stories of parishes where the chickens flew through the church.

Of course, I do not want to return to that situation.But I do want to say that, analogous to the state, the Church introduced social arrangements: roughly the same salary for all priests. They count on that too. Parish councils take care of it. A solidarity arrangement was introduced. The diocese receives money from parishes to help other parishes, for example when rebuilding and painting is needed and there is no money for it. That all functions, as long as not everyone calls upon it. But when it has become a right, and the rich parishes also want to receive those 20 percent – I don’t know how high those percentages are – from the diocese – from other parishes – it no longer works.

I am strongly convinced that we need another form of financing in twenty years. And that priests must all be missionary then, and willing to contribute to the costs of their livelihood. If it isn’t necessary, that is fine by me. I also do not want to invoke it, but when you, as a missionary, are not willing to give something yourself, what kind of missionary are you?

This is a vision of the future. I am not saying it will be reality. I also do not say it needs to come in a hurry. We have the time. I think it will take at least 20 years… The people in the parishes will have to maintain their own church and also the priests, it can’t automatically come from somewhere else. I think that this is a future which we must at least acknowledge.”

Bishop Wiertz was speaking from his heart, as a bishop on the verge of retirement, and his speech was in many ways that of a bishop taking stock of the Church he is about to leave in the hands of another. He was certainly not painting a depressing image, or outlining some new policy. Taking inspiration from the flourishing churches he encountered on his travels abroad (Bishop Wiertz visits one of the countries where his diocese sponsors missionary and charitable activities every year), he wants to encourage the Church in the Netherlands to move forward into the future from a current situation which is, indeed, not wholly positive or even encouraging. The Michael Voris program which inspired this blog post is not wrong when it notes that there are problems. Howver, that does not mean that there are faithless wastelands where church bells once tolled, or poor priests plowing windswept fields just yet. And even if there were… we have faith, hope and love. Even a mustard seed of either can grow into something great.