Discovering the Roman collar

priest_collarProtestant clergymen and -women in the Netherlands are discovering the merits of the Roman collar. At the annual day for preachers in Amsterdam, the Protestant Church promoted the use of the white collar that is typical for Roman Catholic, but also Old Catholic and Anglican clergy*. Those preachers who have been wearing it generally express pleasant surprise at the effect it has on others. They have become recognisable as clergy, and people know they can address them as such and sometimes even entrust them with their needs. One of the most striking stories, in my opinion, was that of preacher Rob Visser, who worked in Amersfoort in 2009 when an attack on the royal family there left several people dead and seriously injured:

“We opened the church and I also went to meetings to be with people. I continuously had to explain who I was and what I came for. My Roman Catholic colleague who wore a collar did not need to explain anything. Then I thought, “I need to be recognisable as a preacher””.

Of course, this recognisability is one of the major reasons for Catholic priests to wear the collar, in addition to it being a reflection of the fact that priesthood is not a 9-to-5 job, but an identity. The Catholic Church asks her priests to wear the collar for these reasons, something the Protestant church will not (yet) do.

From Catholic circles there is some wariness about this development. Some welcome it as a possible means for different Christian churches and church communities to come closer together, but others, perhaps rightly, see it as a source of confusion. After all, although the collar is not exclusive to Roman Catholic priests (some of whom don’t even wear it), it is considered as an identifying sign of them. Protestant clergy with a Roman collar run the risk of being seen as priests, although, it must be said, this does not show from the experiences of those who have begun wearing the collar. And some lament the apparent superficiality of the trend.

In the end, the Roman collar does not make one a priest, of course, and so can’t be claimed exclusively by priests, be they Catholic or Anglican. But it does signify a profound reality, to both the priest and those around him: the reality of his consecration, his priestly identity which does not end when office hours are over. That is more than just a marker identifying someone as Christian, even one with a certain level of responsibility.

*Clergy from other denominations in the Netherlands generally do not wear the collar, although in other countries this will be different. Lutheran, Methodist and even non-denominational preachers in some places do wear it.

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The General Report for the Ad Limina – The portfolios

Continuing with our translation of the general report that the Dutch bishops will be handing to Pope Francis in the first week of December, we arrive at the second part, in which the various portfolios within the Bishops’ Conference are described, as well as some developments within the fields they cover.

It would seem that each portfolio holder has written a short text. These are sadly not written for easy reading. They are dry texts intended to convey information, and their length prevents the inclusion of much detail.

Below, I will briefly list the main points in each text.

logo TSTVocations and Education to Church Ministry (Wim Cardinal Eijk): Mentions the intended merger between the three Catholic theological faculties in the country. The Faculty of Catholic Theology (logo pictured) of the University of Tilburg, but located in Utrecht, was the result. Two faculties participated, while the third lost the right to dispense ecclesiastical grades. No mention is made of the seminaries.

Liturgy, Church Music, Bible and Christian Art (Bishop Jan Liesen): This department tries to emphasise the fullness of liturgical life through letters and liturgical books. There is special attention for new translations of the Roman Missal and the Bible as used in the liturgy.

Catechesis (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): There are projects about First Communion and Confirmation,  a series of six catechetical magazines on topics like birth, suffering, forgiveness and education, a catechesis method for children and teenagers. New goals are new forms of evangelisation and catechesis and more investing in the volunteer force.

basisschoolEducation (Bishop Jan Hendriks): Government policy and secularisation put pressure on Catholic education. Ways are sought to improve relations between Church and schools and increase religious knowledge of teachers.

Youth (Bishop Rob Mutsaerts): Pastoral care is mostly presented in national events (Catholic Youth Day, diocesan events). The number of youth groups is slowly decreasing, but young Catholics are increasingly present on the Internet and in social media.

Communication and Media (Bishop Frans Wiertz): Little interest from secular media in Church and faith, except for the sexual abuse crisis and the election of Pope Francis. Fewer financial means to invest in communication. There seem to be new chances in new media (seriously? Seem to be?)

prisonPastoral care in Justice and Health Care (Bishop Everard de Jong): Pastoral care in prisons takes place in close cooperation with the state. Most hospitals and nursing homes are secularised, making providing pastoral care more difficult. It is being ‘professionalised’ and thus becoming more secular. There are very few priests available in this area, and the challenge is to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and dioceses, and dioceses and institutions.

Church and Society (Bishop Gerard de Korte): The bishop meets twice annually with representatives from various areas of society, including political parties and unions. The bishop tries to spread Catholic social thought via the media.

Ecumenism and Contacts with the Eastern Rites (Bishop Hans van den Hende): There are direct ecumenical contacts with the Protestant Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Oriental and Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Alliance and the Pentecostal churches. Expressions of ecumenism include a joint declaration on Baptism and a nationwide Week of Prayer for Unity.

Interreligious Dialogue (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Cooperation exists with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Deus Caritas Est and the Vatican II documents are basis for further contacts.

punt ethiopiëMission and Development (Bishop Jos Punt): There is solidarity and creativity in the parishes, often aimed at local projects. These can be integrated in national actions. There is also a decline in financial contributions to missionary projects. (At left: Bishop Punt on a missionary visit to Ethiopia)

Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) (Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom): The bishop participates in the two meetings per year of the COMECE, and subsequently reports to the bishops’ conference about it. Several COMECE projects are put into practice in the Netherlands.

Marriage and Family (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): Good marriage preparation and family amenities are promoted for the new parishes. Numerous movements assist the Church in these goals.

Handboek-katholieke-medische-ethiekMedical Ethics (Wim Cardinal Eijk): The cardinal lectures on this topic in the Netherlands and abroad, and also teaches the subject at the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and writes articles for various publications. He also maintains political contacts to emphasise the topic, and has published a handbook on medical ethics (pictured), which is currently being translated into English and Italian.

Relations with Judaism (Bishop Herman Woorts): Several meetings between Jewish and Christian communities take place, in relation to the remembrance of the Holocaust and several Jewish feasts. All dioceses should have their own working group for relations with Judaism.

Movements and New Communities (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): These are fourteen movements and communities recognised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Religious and Secular Institutes (Bishop Jan van Burgsteden): Three to four meetings per year have led to mutual dialogue and confidence and has brought bishops and religious closer together.

Church and the Elderly (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Two elements are important: representation and comfort on the one hand, and questions of life and death, the younger generations and hope on the other. This is achieved through celebrations and speaking engagements.

Church and Women (Bishop Gerard de Korte): Consisting mainly of contacts with the Union of Dutch Catholic Women, in two meetings per year.

Our Lady of Lourdes BasilicaPilgrimages (Bishop Herman Woorts): The bishop takes part in the annual meeting of the three official pilgrimage organisations. Important now is the creation of a new pilgrims’ book related to the publication of an interrim Missal, probably sometime in 2014. The bishop takes part in various pilgrimages and celebrations.

Pastoral Care for Workers in Carnivals, Circuses and Shipping (Bishop Antoon Hurkmans): There is a well-ordered nationwide parish for shipping workers, with its own parish priest and group of volunteers. There is an annual meeting with the bishop.

Beatifications and Canonisations (Bishop Frans Wiertz): There have been four canonisations and three beatifications in the Dutch Church province since 1998. There are three Blesseds awaiting canonisation.  There are 13 further cases, of which three have reached the stage of Venerable. Three cases have had their file sent to Rome, and two files have been handed over to dioceses abroad. Three or four more candidates are being considered to have their processes started.

The reports are very factual and while the describe intentions, plans and wishes, there is no indication of how these are to be realised, nor how effective any projects are.

Striking – and disappointing – is the conclusion from Bishop Wiertz as holder of the communications portfolio that “here seem to be new chances in new media”. These chances have been there for years, and many Catholics in the world are exploiting them. There is a world to be won on the Internet for the Church in the Netherlands, a world that is barely being explored at this time.

The bishop and the blogger

“I am known as the ecumenical bishop, although some bloggers are none too happy about that. So be it.”

Words from Bishop Gerard de Korte in his homily on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The festive Mass, offered by the bishop in concelebration with the diocesan vicars and the cathedral administrator, and attended by the majority of the diocesan clergy and the bishops Punt, Van den Hende and Woorts, as well as Cardinal Simonis, took place on Saturday morning. Bishop de Korte looked back on the past 25 years, but also ahead to the years that are coming.

Ecumenism is  major theme for the bishop; it is, one could say, a defining characteristic. As an illustration, among the guests at the Mass were representatives of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and the Old Catholic Church, whom the bishop regards as “friends in the faith”. But this ecumenical focus has also caused some to look with wary eyes at his activities. And among these, there are some very vocal bloggers and users of other social media.

Bishop de Korte, quite possibly because of these wary – and often rather aggressive and personal – comments, has been rather critical about Catholic bloggers in the Netherlands. In the past he has written about the need for bloggers to remain charitable and be careful for what they commit to the screen, which, sadly, led to a renewed round of criticism and attacks, not only aimed at Bishop de Korte, but also at those who dared to express support, like yours truly. Accusations of slander were even leveled at me at one point. Just an illustration.

Regarding the above, Bishop de Korte’s apparent opinion of bloggers and users of social media, illustrated by the quote I shared above, can be explained. But it is sad that he has been given this impression. For not all bloggers are hostile to priests and bishops, even if they can, at times, be quite critical of their words and actions.

Should we then reply with a similar “so be it”? I don’t think so. Bloggers have things to say. Not to blow my own trumpet here, but let’s face it: you don’t  start a blog and devote time to it, sometimes for many years, without having a thing or two to say. We should then look at how we communicate. If our way of communication causes people to ignore the message and even consider bloggers to be peripheral, we are doing something wrong.

Of course we should not simply be quiet when we disagree, but neither should we resort to personal attacks and name-calling. Any possibility of a quick resolution will go straight out the window in that case. I may personally regret that my bishop chooses to focus so much on ecumenism instead of a clear Catholic teaching in our secular society, but that does not mean I’ll denounce him as a heretic or worse, as some do.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch/Bisdom Groningen-Leeuwarden

In the footsteps of St. Willibrord at Echternach

Katholieknederland.nl has some nice photos of the annual dancing procession in Echternach, Luxembourg. Wherever St. Willibrord, the Anglo-Saxon who brought the faith to northwestern Europe, went, processions still exist. The one in Utrecht, the see of St. Willibrord as the first archbishop of the Frisians, was recently resuscitated, but the Echternach procession has a long history. But most of all, it is an expression of joy, as the blue sisters below show.

As a dancing procession, participants proceed in a dancing motion with slow kicks to the left and right. Begin and end of the route is the 7th century abbey church where the remains of St. Willibrord are kept.

St. Willibrord is the patron saint of the Dutch Church province and his historic mission territory includes much of what is now the Benelux, Germany and Denmark. Hence the presence today of many prelates from these countries. Among them, of course, Luxembourg’s Archbishop Fernand Franck, but also Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg (Germany) and, from the Netherlands, Cardinal Simonis, Archbishop Eijk, Bishops Wiertz, De Jong, Hoogenboom and Woorts. Also present was the Old-Catholic archbishop of Utrecht, Joris Vercammen.

Check those photos out, and get an impression of the simple, pure joy of faith.