For Advent, Bishop Bonny looks to the martyrs of Algeria

Today, nineteen martyrs of the faith will be beatified in Algeria. It’s a varied group of priests, religious sisters and a bishop and their martyrdom is not an ancient event. Rather, they were killed for being Christians in living memory, in te last decade of the 20th century.

In his Advent letter, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp presents us one of the soon-to-be Blesseds. Belgian-born White Father Charles Deckers. He, the bishop says, provides a modern face to Advent, a time of hope and expectation. These are what motivated Fr. Charles and the other martyrs in life, and these still remain.

bonny“What are we waiting for? A justifiable question. Every year it is Advent. Every year we dream about peace and reconciliation. Every years we read pages full of hope and expectation in the Prophets. Every year we construct a nativity scene with a child in the manger. Not once do we feel that those expectations are unnecessary or outdated. On the contrary, year after year current events bring new disappointments or challenges. Our greatest expectations still remain hidden as seeds in the earth, waiting for a better season.

In the middle of Advent, on 8 December, the Antwerp-born White Father Charles Deckers will be beatified in Oran, Algeria, together with eighteen other martyrs. This group of Algerian martyrs also includes a bishop, six sisters, three other White Father and seven Trappists. We know the latter from the movie Des Hommes et de Dieux.

Charles Deckers was born in Antwerp on 26 December 1924. He follows his secondary education at the college of Our Lady. During the Second World War the Jesuits implore their students to aid the needy inhabitants of the city. It marks Charles Deckers for life. After his secondary education he decides to become a missionary in Africa. He ends up in Algeria, then still a French colony. He studies Islam and learns both Arabic and Berber. In Tizi Ouzou, where he lives and works for the longest time, he has a special eye for the young. He establish a technical school where young people can learn a profession. During the Algerian War (1954-1962) he does everything to prevent young people from joining extremist or violent groups. Because the civil authorities do no appreciate his impact on Algeria’s youth, he is forced to leave the country in 1977.

He remains abroad for ten years: five years in Brussels and five years in Yemen. In Brussels he takes part in the establishment of El Kalima, a centre of encounter and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He is finally able to return to Algeria in 1987. As priest he is attached to the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique in the capital Algiers. Again, he works for encounter and dialogue, especially among the young. And again, he establishes a polytechnic.

After 1990, political tensions in Algeria steadily increase. Fundamentalist Muslim groups commit deathly attacks against anyone working for peace and reconciliation in the country. Violence against Christians also increases. Despite the threats, most priests and religious decide to remain in the country. Charles Deckers also wants to stay, out of solidarity with the persecuted Christians and his threatened Muslim friends. It is a conscious decision, supported by a deep spirituality. On 26 December 1994 he celebrates his 70th birthday in Algiers. Days later he leaves for Tizi Ouzou, to visit his brother priests. Less than half an hour after his arrival a group of armed commandos break into the building and kill the four White Fathers present, among them Charles Deckers.

Expectation is not giving in to despair or bitterness. It is continued hope for what seems impossible.

After all, humanity’s most beautiful expectations are still hidden like seeds in the earth, waiting for better seasons. When will that hidden seed be able to sprout, grow and flower? It is an open question.

This year, the martyrs of Algeria provide a modern face to Advent.

Their hope and expectations have not vanished. They lie in the earth – also among us – waiting for better times. Advent’s question is not when God will come, but when man will receive Him. It is harder to wait for man that it is to wait for God.”

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“Gaudete et exsultate” – A summary and some reflections on Chapter 1

Pope-Francis-writing-740x493As is characteristic of Pope Francis, his latest document, the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, is not “a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification”. Instead, the Holy Father has the practicality of daily life in mind: he simply wants to repropose the call to holiness “for our own time”.

In this post I will take a look at the first chapter of this new document. I will try to add some thoughts and connections of my own, as well as provide a summary for those who haven’t gotten around to reading the whole thing yet. I haven’t either, so what you read here very much is a collection of first impressions.

The first paragraph of the exhortation emphasises that the call to holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian. Too often it seems as if Christianity is just a system of rules and regulations, but, Pope Francis reminds us, “[The Lord] wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” for He created us for true life and happiness. That is the goal of following Christ. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI in paragraph 21, Pope Francis writes, “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”

Holiness is not something to be achieved alone. On the contrary, there are countless numbers of saints that lead by example. They “may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord,” the Pope writes. In paragraph 5, he reminds us of a recent change he made to the reasons why a person can be declared to be a blessed or saint: when “a life is constantly offered for others, even until death”. The processes of beatification and canonisation recognise the heroic virtues, which people in the past, but also “our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones” consistently display to inspire and guide us on the path to holiness.

And holiness is not just a goal on the horizon, distant or otherwise. In paragraph 7, Pope Francis speaks of “the middle class of holiness”: parents, people who work hard for their loved ones, for the sick, our next-door neighbours who display God’s presence among us. It is these people who make real history.

Holiness also unites, especially when we look at the martyrs. People are persecuted or killed for their Christian faith, and the persecutors make no distinction between Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants. Theirs is a ecumenism of blood.

But these are just some factual statements, important as they may be. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis “would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Exhortation should, then, be read as a personal letter to all of us. Paragraphs 14 to 18, under the header “For you too”, are essential reading in this regard. Each has their own way of achieving holiness, and while examples are good and helpful, they are not meant to simply be copied, “for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.” We are tasked to find our own path, our own vocation in life, because that is what is attainable for us.

In paragraph 12, the Holy Father stresses the “genius of women” which is “seen in feminine styles of holiness”. While listing a number of important female saints, he returns again to the “middle class”: “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.”

Holiness, or the attempt at achieving it, is essential to the mission of a Christian in the world. That mission, which each of us has, is “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

But what is that holiness, then? Pope Francis offers a deceptively simple answer: “[H]oliness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.” We can incorporate these mysteries in our lives by contemplating them, he writes, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola.

It is important to recall that saints, which we are called to be, are not perfect human beings. After all, only God is perfect. “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect.” That is why we must look at “the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person”. We must also look at the totality of our own lives, not just dwell on individual mistakes or successes. Pope Francis encourages us to always listen to the Holy Spirit and the signs He gives us; we should ask in prayer what Jesus expects from us at every moment and for every decision we make.

Holiness requires an openness to God. “Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit,” we read in paragraph 24. If we don’t, our mission to speak the message of Jesus that God wants us to communicate to the world by our lives will fail.

Our striving for holiness is intimately connected to Christ. We must work with Him to build His Kingdom: this is thus a communal effort. We cannot seek one thing while avoiding another. “Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission,” the Pope writes in paragraph 26.

What are the sort of activities that can help us on the path to holiness, then? As each path is different, it is impossible to provide a simple list, but the Holy Father does give some directions: “Anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.” We must be committed, so that everything we do has evangelical meaning. But that “does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.” We live in a world of distractions, a world not filled with joy, but with discontent (the social media world is certainly no stranger to that). In moments of silence we are able to open ourselves to God, which, as we have read, is a prerequisite for starting on our path to holiness.

Paragraph 31 summarises the above well: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

But that path can also be scary, as it seems to take us away from what is familiar. In paragraph 32, Pope Francis echoes a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” Pope Francis writes the same about holiness: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” This, as I have written above, is the heart of being a Christian: the path to holiness leads us to becoming the fullest version of ourselves.

In this first chapter, Pope Francis establishes that this is a personal letter to each of us. It explains that holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian, and that it precludes neither the contemplative nor the active sides of life: we should never choose one over the other, but both are required. With this text he also emphasises his own focus on spirituality: Christianity is a faith with its roots in the muck of daily life. Holiness is not something high and unattainable, no, it can become visible in the most mediocre things. Holiness has a middle class of hard work which is at least as important as the first class of theology and contemplation. I found the various references to the fullness of life which God has created us for especially striking. I think it is a beautiful invitation to find our own path to holiness and follow Christ every day.

I will look at Chapter 2 in the near future.


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A life of mission – Bishop Münninghoff passes away

herman_munninghoffOn Wednesday, on a hospice in Wijchen near Nijmegen, the oldest Dutch bishop passed away: Msgr. Herman Münninghoff, bishop emeritus of Jayapura in Indonesia. Aged 96, he was among the last surviving bishops who had left the Netherlands for the mission in the years following the Second World War.

In his early 20s when the war broke out, young Herman spent the final years of that conflict in hiding, attempting to avoid deportation to Germany to work there in the war industry.  A failed raid by the German secret police led him to sanctuary with the Franciscans in Megen. “That is how I escaped from the German police, but not from the net that the Lord had cast for me. In the middle of war and violence I heard His voice in Megen!”

Ordained a Franciscan priest in 1953, Fr. Münninghoff left for Indonesia to work in the mission there. Of his work, he would later say, “Of what a missionary does maybe ten or fifteen percent – I don’t know, I didn’t do the sums – is related to religion and church. The rest is all in the fields of medicine, health care, culture, what they’re not at all familiar with. I think that is one of the most important things. The development of these people must take the very first place in missionary work.”

In 1972, after a short time as parish priest and vicar general, he was appointed as bishop of Jayapura, on the northern coast of Irian Jaya, the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea. He stayed in office until his retirement in 1997, returning to the Netherlands in 2005. As bishop he stood with the Papuan people and for the well-being of all, most significantly in the 1990s, when he fought for the release of several western hostages held by Papua freedom fighters, and a black book by his hand led to the arrest of four Indonesian military officers for the murder of eleven Papuans. Bishop Münninghoff also insisted that the union of Irian Jaya with Indonesia in 1969 was a forced one, with Papuan elders coerced to vote in favour of the move.

In 2017, Bishop Münninghoff celebrated the 45th anniversary of his ordination at the care facility in Wijchen, with Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, as the main celebrant.

Photo credit: Franciscanen.nl

Last Advent – Bishop Wiertz looks back

In his final letter for Advent, Bishop Frans Wiertz, until last week bishop of Roermond, looks back on his almost 25 years at the helm of the southernmost diocese of the Netherlands. The letter will be read out in churches throughout the diocese this weekend.

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^Bishop Wiertz, front row centre, is pictured with priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Roermond at Rolduc, yesterday. In this final meeting with them, he urged them to be missionary and to listen to people.

“Brothers and sisters,

On Saturday 2 December I celebrated my 75th birthday. On that day, as requested, Pope Francis has allowed me to retire as bishop of Roermond. I bade my farewells over this weekend and entered retirement. The pope will appoint a new bishop for our diocese in some time.

You can imagine that I have been thinking a lot over the past months about the almost 25 years that I was your bishop. I especially recall the many visits to parishes, during which the confirmations have always been especially impressive. On one of those occasions a confirmand once asked me, “Do you like being a bishop?” To which I gladly answered ‘yes’.

And also now, as I am stepping back, I can say, “yes, I have gladly been your bishop”. Because you are not a bishop for yourself, but for the people in the diocese with whom you share the same faith. Saint Augustine said it as follows, “I am a Christian with you and a bishop for you.”

No one applies for being a bishop. It appears on your path. When it became clear it would also be asked of me, it was rather frightening. “Can I do this? Is there no one better?” But when Pope John Paul II indicated that he wanted to appoint me, I said ‘yes’ with all my heart.

I was confident that things would turn out fine. I took that confidence in the first place, of course, from Christ, who called me to this office. When He places something on your path, He will also help you to fulfill the mission. Did He also not help the Apostles to fulfill their mission? “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” He reminded His disciples.

But I also feel the support of a number of saints. In the first place Saint Francis de Sales, my patron saint. From him comes the quote, “God is God of the human heart”. With these simple words he drew a link between God and man. He loved people and was united to them. From an inner faith, Francis de Sales could pass on God’s love. I also tried to do so.

There are two others saints who have shown me my way as bishop: Saint Servatius and Saint Willibrord. Upon the grave of the first in Maastricht we built the Basilica of St. Servatius. This holy Armenian came to our parts in the fourth century to proclaim here the faith in the triune God. He was later followed by Willibrord, who came from Ireland.

These saints, who came from far to proclaim the faith in our country, made me aware that we belong to a world church. Within that greater body of the world church, local faith communities can help and support each other in difficult times. That is why I made mission trips to various countries. I was able to visit flourishing churches there, and I was a guest in churches who exist under the cross, but where the faithful fire of the people touched me deeply.

Just like Servatius and Willibrord came to us, I went from here to other countries. I asked for priests there, who will make sure the God’s voice does not fall silent and that the holy sacraments will continue to be celebrated in the future.

I am exceedingly grateful that, at this moment, 45 young men from various countries are studying for the priesthood at Rolduc. With our own priests from Limburg that can create the link between people and God and God and people in the future. Their enthousiasm and honest inspiration fill me with great joy.

Finally, in the years that I was your bishop, I always knew I was supported by Our Lady, who we invoke here in Limburg with the title ‘Star of the Sea’. She is connected to the Diocese of Roermond in a special way. Her statue in Maastricht draws a continuous stream of people, who light a candle before her and pray a couple of Hail Marys.

Like at the wedding at Cana, Mary has always whispered to me, “Do as Jesus tells you to.” I listened to His word every day in the liturgy and I let myself by nourished by Him every day in the holy Eucharist. I also gladly celebrated the other sacraments and so continued Jesus’ work of salvation for us.

“Do as Jesus tells you to”. That was the way I was shown at my ordination as priest and bishop. The person of Jesus and what He does for people was always the guiding principle in the difficult questions which appeared on my path.

That is why I am so saddened by the fact to so many people have given up their membership of our Church. I want to say to them, that they have not been written off and that the Church knows that, in many cases, she is party to their decision. But I also hope for many to return. The door is always open.

Mary also always inspired me to pray to the Holy Spirit, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles.When the disciples flee every which way after Good Friday, it is Mary who calls them back together and says, “Let us pray! Let us pray to the Holy Spirit!” At Pentecost the Apostles receive the courage to go out to all parts of the world. They can no longer remain silent. A missionary Church is born.

As members of that missionary Church we are in this Advent on our way to Christmas. In a few weeks we will celebrate that we were introduced, through Mary, to the Son of God. It was she who brought the world into contact with Jesus. Seen like this, Mary was the first missionary. I would like to urge you to be missionary with here and spread God’s love throughout the world.

“Do you like being a bishop”? the confirmand asked. In response I can say that I have gladly been your bishop. And also that I have been a happy bishop because of that. Through the inspiration of Jesus, His mother Mary and the other saints.

As bishop emeritus, because of my increasing physical limitations, I can no longer be active. Just like many religious become contemplative when they grow older, I will also remain united in prayer with you and the Lord, who entrusted me with the office of bishop almost 25 years ago.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for love and faith.

Roermond, 2 December 2017

+ Frans Wiertz,
bishop emeritus of Roermond”

Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

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From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

New deacons, and a few priests, for northwestern Europe [Updated 9 May]

[Edit at bottom of text]

The past few weeks have again seen a number of ordinations of new deacons and priests in the dioceses of northwestern Europe. 24 of them, in 13 (arch)dioceses, to be exact. In total, the area in question (the countries of Germany, the Netherlands, the Flemish part of Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland) is covered by 46 dioceses or similar circumscriptions, which means that 33 of them had no deacons (permanent or transitional) or priests to ordain on or around Vocations Sunday.

Of the newly ordained, 6 are permanent deacons, 14 are transitional deacons and 4 are priests. At the time of writing, all but one ordination have already taking place: only Utrecht’s Deacon Ronald den Hartog’s ordination is yet to take place, on 21 May.

While most new deacons and priests are natives of the dioceses in question, several have come from abroad. Fr. Ettien N’Guessan, ordained on 30 April in Ypres, Diocese of Bruges, comes from Côte D’Ivoire and ended up in Belgium after deciding that there was a need for priests there. Originally, he had come to study the language for a year.

Deacon Emanuele Cimbaro is an Italian member of the Neocatechumenal Way, while Deacons Lukasz Puchala and Wojciech Gofryk are both Polish.

Wijding Mauricio f klDeacon Jesús Mauricio Meneses Santiago (pictured, fourth from the left) is Colombian. He came to the Archdiocese of Utrecht as one of four religious, wanting to do something in return for the Dutch missionaries who had come to Colombia in the past. His three fellow religious returned home over the years, but Deacon Meneses Santiago decided to stay. He says: “That was not an easy choice. But I wanted to remain true to my calling. And I am happy. The Netherlands have stolen my heart and I feel at home here. My vocation is God’s initiative, I am here for a reason. I will continue this mission that God has entrusted me with.”

The full list, per diocese, of the newly ordained:

Diocese of Augsburg, ordained by Bishop Konrad Zdarsa

  • Deacon (trans.) Simon Fleischmann
  • Deacon (trans.) André Harder
  • Deacon (trans.) Tobias Seyfried

Archdiocese of Berlin, ordained by Bishop Matthias Heinrich

  • Deacon (trans.) Emanuele Cimbaro

Diocese of Bruges, ordained by Bishop Lode Aerts

  • Father Ettien Léon N’Guessan

Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, ordained by Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers

  • Deacon Lukasz Puchala
  • Deacon Jens Bulisch

Priesterweihe2017-09_74842_590dcd9eccDiocese of Eichstätt, ordained by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke

  • Father Thomas Attensberger
  • Father Kilian Schmidt
  • Father Robert Willmann

Diocese of Erfurt, ordained by Bishop Reinhard Hauke

  • Deacon (trans.) Philip Theuermann

Diocese of Essen, ordained by Bishop Wilhelm Zimmermann

  • Deacon (trans.) Fabian Lammers

Diocese of Fulda, ordained by Bishop Karlheinz Diez

  • Deacon (trans.) André Lemmer
  • Deacon Wojciech Gofryk
  • Deacon Stefan Ohnesorge
  • Deacon Ewald Vogel

Diocese of Görlitz, ordained by Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt

  • Deacon (trans.) Markus Schwitalla

Diocese of Mainz, ordained by Bishop Udo Bentz

  • Deacon (trans.) Simon Krost

diakone-5-webArchdiocese of Paderborn, ordained by Bishop Manfred Grothe

  • Deacon (trans.) Johannes Sanders
  • Deacon (trans.) Christian Schmidtke (at right with Bishop Grothe)
  • Deacon (trans.) Daniël Waschenbach

Diocese of Roermond, ordained by Bishop Everard de Jong

  • Deacon Ryan van Eijk

Archdiocese of Utrecht, ordained by Wim Cardinal Eijk

  • Deacon (trans.) Jesús Mauricio Meneses Santiago
  • Deacon (trans.) Ronald den Hartog

Edit: This post has drawn a lot of attention, which is fine. But it is perhaps good to remember that, while I do mention that a fair number of dioceses have had no ordinations in recent weeks, this does by no means mean that they will have none this year at all. Although the weeks around Vocations Sunday traditionally feature many ordinations, especially to the diaconate, there is no rule that these can’t take place at other moments in the year. The list I present here is therefore no complete list, and dioceses may announce ordinations to take place in the coming weeks and months.

With this blog post, I wanted to offer some reflection of the new priests and deacons being ordained, and although the priest shortage is real and a matter of concern, that is not what my blog post is about.

Also, the 14 transitional deacons in my list will be ordained to the priesthood later this year, joining the four priests already ordained, and those who will be ordained at other moments this year.

Photo credit: [1] Aartsbisdom Utrecht, [2], Bistum Eichstätt, [3] pdp/Thomas Throenle

“Share your faith!” – Bishop Wiertz’ letter for Lent

In what is most likely his last letter for Lent, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond not only discusses a topic he has underlined before – that we are a part of the worldwide Church which is now on the receiving end of the mission – but also urges us to speak out about our deepest convictions as Catholics. Following the urging of Pope Francis, we must share the Good News, go out into the streets, share in order to multiply.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

The invention of social media gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘sharing’. Messages, photos and videos can be ‘shared’ with others via the Internet. An increasingly large number of people can take note of the message in this way. We could say that ‘sharing’ is the new ‘multiplying’. The more a message is shared, the more people can see and read it.

Sharing stories together in this way doesn’t happen on the Internet alone, of course. Every time we speak with people about what occupies our minds, we make others sharers of our experiences. We sometimes say, “What the heart thinks, the mouth speaks”.

On the occasion of the forty-day period of preparation for Easter, we can ask ourselves the question of how full of faith our heart is. How often do we speak about it with others? In other words: what do we do to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and so make sure that the Gospel is widely spread and multiplied?

That question doesn’t come out of nowhere. Christ Himself gave us the mission to spread His Good News across the entire world. We are by definition a missionary Church, a Church that goes out and shares the message which fills her heart.

And ‘the Church’, that is not only the priests or the members of the church board. It’s everyone who is baptised. It is our common mission to share our faith. We can only do so when we experience a personal connection to Jesus Christ; when we want to be His followers and honestly want to put that into practice. Each of us can so be missionary in very different ways.

For many people, the word mission evokes the image of missionaries who travelled to distant countries to proclaim the faith and do development work there. But the times have changed. Former mission territories have grown into mature young churches. We keep supporting them materially through campains like the Vastenactie. We do so in these weeks, and that is good. But in turn we in the west can learn much from their flourishing faith. We sometimes, then, speak about a reversed mission.

We are grateful to the world church which has been coming to our aid for some time. Foreign priests, seminarians and religious have come from their own familiar surroundings to our diocese. Like several missionary families, they have answered the call to serve the Lord and help us to share His Good News. They are an example to let a new missionary impetus grow in our parishes.

Happily, much is happening in practice. There are a fair number of volunteers who support and build up the parishes in numerous areas. Together with the priests, deacons and coworkers they take care of the future of the life of the Church in Limburg. By using their hands they show that they want to respond to the grace of their baptism and confirmation in an active way.

But a missionary Church makes a serious appeal to every Christian to share his or her faith. I know that we are often uncomfortable about that, and that many people sense a great reluctance about bearing witness of their faith all too openly.

It is as if a false sense of shame holds us back. There is no need for that. Isn’t it our deepest conviction? We shouldn’t walk away from that. For each of us as baptised Christians, it should be a matter of honour to address our common faith in God in our direct surroundings. Tell you children and grandchildren, your friends, neighbours and acquaintances that you believe.

As Church, we shouldn’t be closed in on ourselves. Pope Francis keep insisting on this. In one of his frequently quoted texts he claims to prefer “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 49).

Those are clear words. The Pope invites us to go out; to literally and figuratively go out in into the street and speak or show in concrete acts what it means for us to follow Christ.

Obviously, every witness of faith must be authentic and come from the heart. In normal language, with respect for the opinions of the other and certainly not pushy. A missionary Church invites, cordially and mild.

Christ did not give us His Good News to keep it for ourselves, but to pass it on and share it with others. That is our missionary duty: sharing in order to multiply. What our heart is full off, our mouth is allowed to speak. Let us use this Lent to become conscious of that and invite others to share in that joy.

Roermond,

+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”