60 years a priest – Cardinal Simonis looks back and ahead

Simonis 60 jaar kardinaal Simonis klCongratulations to Cardinal Adrianus Johannes Simonis, who yesterday celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination in Utrecht’s cathedral of St. Catherine. The 85 year-old cardinal was archbishop of Utrecht from 1983 to 2007 and his successor, Cardinal Willem Eijk, invited him to mark the milestone in his former cathedral, the mother church, in a way, of the entire Dutch Church province.

The fact that Cardinal Eijk had invited Cardinal Simonis, and spoke words of praise about the jubilarian’s life and work in one of the most turbulent periods in recent history for the Church in the Netherlands, may well be seen as some evidence of reconciliation between the two prelates. Following Cardinal Eijk’s arrival in Utrecht in 2008 there had been ruffled feathers because of major changes enforced by Cardinal Eijk in the running of the archdiocese and differences in style and personality between both cardinals. Yesterday, however, Cardinal Eijk concluded his address as follows:

Simonis 60 jaar receptie toespraak kl“In all these developments you always remained true to your motto, which you also quoted in your homily in this morning’s Eucharist: “Ut cognoscant te,” “That they may know you.” The goal of your entire priestly life was and still is that people will get to know and meet Christ, the Good Shepherd, who calls himself “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Through Him we come to the Father. In imitation of Jesus you sacrificed much to bring the people entrusted to your pastoral care to the full truth in the Risen Lord. We are and remain very grateful to you for that. Now that we are celebration the 60th anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood, we pray that the Lord may bless you abundantly.”

At the start of the Mass Cardinal Simonis already referred to Cardinal Eijk’s kind words, and played them a bit down, saying:

I must, however, admit that I have been far from a perfect priest, let alone a perfect bishop in the 47 years of those 60. We are only reconciled if we ask God for forgiveness and continuously return to Him. More than even, I want to pray today for this forgiveness. God has been wonderfully merciful to me for sixty years, but I want to admit to Him and you how much I have failed in even fulfilling this grace. May God be merciful to me and may he grant that we will be together in this hour, in His Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, of love and of peace.”

In his homily, which, he says, he was advised to make more like a witness than a speech, Cardinal Simonis looked back on his life, often comparing the past with the present.

“The tragedy of my life – if I am allowed to put it like that – is the fact that [religious knowledge among the people] is extremely lacking. […] Roughly half of the Dutch population considers themselves irreligious, while the other half includes many ‘somethingists’. You often hear, “I believe there is something”. That’s it for our Good Lord! The Father and the Son reduced to ‘something’! Sadly, we live in a time of radical secularisation, which in essence means ‘getting rid of God’. There is barely room for God, let alone a personal God. Many have traded faith for indifference, despite the tireless warnings from Pope Francis at the Wednesday audiences. And if there is anything that is clear from the Gospel, from Jesus’ preaching, it is that God is a personal God. The boundless secret of God, simply described by Jesus as “Our God, who art in heaven.”

He continues on a more personal note on this topic:

“How am I under all this? Well, it is the great dark side of my life as priest and bishop. In a manner of speaking, I get up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night. The only thing I can do now is pray that the Holy Spirit perform the miracle of conversion and true religious renewal.

Isn’t all this too pessimistic? Msgr. Jansen [first bishop of Rotterdam, who Cardinal Simonis succeeded as bishop in 1970] one told me, “You are a pessimist”. I answered him, “No, monsignor, I am a realist”. Upon which he said, “That’s what all pessimists say”. Now, I must admit that the virtue of hope is not my strongest virtue. Which is a disgrace for a Christian, to be honest! That is why I pray multiple times a day for strengthening of faith, hope and love, both for myself and for the more than 400,000 faithful I was able to pass on the Spirit to.”

It being Corpus Christi, and the Eucharist being the heart of the priestly life, Cardinal Simonis unavoidably spoke about the first and foremost of sacraments.

When, in the 1960s, the focus rather one-sidedly shifted from the Eucharist as sacrifice to the Eucharist as meal, Cardinal Alfrink [Archbishop of Utrecht from 1955 to 1975] wrote an article that I have always rememberd: “The Eucharist is, in the first place, a sacrifice in the form of a meal.” That is how I still celebrate the Eucharist, primarily as a sacrfice, sacrifice of reconciliation, of adoration, of supplication and of gratitude; the sacrifice of the new covenant for the forgiveness of all sins. We no longer need to sacrifice bulls, sheep or lambs to God. The one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, of He who Paul so strikingly calls “the self-giving”, is enough for God. In Him, God’s love was fulfilled completely. That sacrifice was made one, but it is hidden in God’s eternal ‘now’, from which it is made present among us ever anew, so that we people who live some 2,000 years later, can join in that sacrifice and take part in its fruits.”

The cardinal concludes with an earnest desire for the future:

“I have no greater wish than that those who call themselves believers will sanctify the Day of the Lord again by celebrating, if possible, the Eucharist. There will be little future for the Church in the Netherlands when our faith is not continuously nourished by the proclamation of the Word of the God and the reception of the Lord Himself as nourishment for our lives.”

Simonis 60 jaar Mis kl

Concelebrating the Mass with Cardinal Simonis were Cardinal Eijk and his two auxiliary bishop, Msgrs. Hoogenboom and Woorts, as well as Bishops Gerard de Korte of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Wiertz of Roermond. From Germany came Cardinal Joachim Meisner, emeritus of Cologne, and from Rome Msgr. Karel Kasteel, former secretary of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”. Bishops de Jong and Hendriks attended the reception.

Photo credit: Archdiocese of Utrecht

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Towards the altars – the case of Dora Visser progresses

More than a year ago I wrote about the appointment of Msgr. Karel Kasteel, former secretary of “Cor Unum”, as postulator for the beatification phase of Dora Visser and Alfons Ariëns. The process of the former is now making headway.

On Monday Archbishop Wim Eijk swore in a  three-member historical commission tasked with conducting a historical investigation of the life of Servant of God Dora Visser and create a written report, which will be used to establish the vita documentata. The aim of that work is to demonstrate the virtuous life of a candidate for beatification.

The historical commission is pictured above with the archbishop (centre), Auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom (behind him) and chancellor Zuijdwijk (second from left). They are chairman  H.H.M. Jansen (left), secretary M.L.N.M Rijmers (right) and general member L.A.M. Schulte (second from right).

Auxiliary Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, the archdiocese reports, is working to create an ecclesiastical court for the beatification process which is to conduct a trial on the diocesan level about life and virtues of Dora Visser. A similar court took the first steps towards possible beatification in 2005. Msgr. Hoogenboom hopes to have the court in place before the summer.

Photo credit: Archdiocese of Utrecht

Small steps closer to beatification

Msgr. Karel Kasteel is the most senior Dutch prelate in the Vatican and works as the secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and Dean of the Apostolic Chamber. Last week he given another job, loftily called postulator of the apostolic phase in the beatification processes of Alphons Ariëns and Dora Visser. Archbishop Wim Eijk had suggested Msgr. Kasteel for that role and the Holy See agreed.

I met Msgr. Kasteel once; a very jovial man and a storyteller.

In his new function, he will have to provide evidence that the would-be beatified people heroically displayed Christian virtues, and will have to provide evidence of any miracles achieved on their intercession.

Fr. Alphons Ariëns

The process for Father Alphons Ariëns started seriously in 2005, when the Archdiocese of Utrecht invited people to come forward with testimonies. Father Ariëns (1860-1928) was a priest of the archdiocese who fought for improved workers’ conditions in the textile mills of Twente, and also combatted alcohol abuse.

Dora Visser

Dora, or Dorothea, Visser (1819-1876) was a mystic, partly paralysed from youth and suffered the stigmata since 1843. In 2005, a diocesan court judged that a man was cured in 1999 on her intercession. A vita documentata, an account of her life, is being collected to be sent on to Rome, when the final decision must be made.

The entire process of beatification is an intricate and interesting one, which sometimes can take decades. Let’s hope, at the very least for Msgr. Kasteel’s sake, that it won’t take as long in these two cases.

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Bishops consecrated tomorrow

The bishops elect

 

 Big day tomorrow in Utrecht: the consecration of two new auxiliary bishops for the archdiocese. Msgr. Herman Woorts and Msgr. Ted Hoogenboom will be consecrated by Archbishop Eijk, Bishop Hans van den Hende and Bishop Johannes de Kok o.f.m. , emeritus auxiliary of Utrecht. I’ve been trying to figure it if the Mass is going to be broadcast anywhere online, but I’ve had no luck just yet.  

The website of the archdiocese reports the attendance of all Dutch bishops, the nuntius, Cardinal Simonis and Msgr. Kareel Kasteel, secretary of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, and a number of foreign bishops. I expect one or more bishops from Belgium and perhaps from Germany (Bishop Felix Genn of Münster or Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of OsnaBrück, for example).  

I’ll try to share some photos once they become available, because bishops aren’t consecrated every day, after all.