Network of love – Bishop van den Hende on what makes a diocese

Last month, the Dioceses of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam marked the 60th anniversary of their foundation. A week ago, the website of the latter diocese published the text of the Bishop Hans van den Hende’s homily for the festive Mass on 6 February. In it, the bishop puts the sixty years that the diocese has existed in perspective, and goes on the describe the diocese not as a territory, but as a part of the people of God, as the Second Vatican Council calls it in the decree Christus Dominus. Following Blessed Pope Paul VI, Bishop van den Hende explains that a diocese is a network of love. following the commandment of Jesus to remain in His love. This network starts in the hearts of people and as such it contributes to building a society of love and mercy.

20160206_Rotterdam_60JaarBisdom_WEB_©RamonMangold_08_348pix“Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the sixtieth year of the existence of the Diocese of Rotterdam. “Sixty years, is that worth celebrating?”, some initially wondered. “We celebrated fifty years in a major way. One hundred years would be something.”

In the history of the Church, sixty years is not a long period of time. But sixty years is a long time when you consider it in relation to a human life. Many people do not reach the age of sixty because of hunger and thirst, war and violence. There are major areas where there hasn’t been peace for sixty years. Sixty years is long enough to contain a First and a Second World War.

Every year that the Lord gives us has its ups and downs, can have disappointments, great sorrow and joy. Sixty years we began as a diocese. In 1955, Pope Pius XII had announced that there would be two new dioceses in the Netherlands. The north of the country received the Diocese of Groningen. And here the Diocese of Rotterdam was created from the Diocese of Haarlem.

In 1956, on 2 February, both dioceses began. The new bishops came later. The bishops of the older dioceses of Utrecht and Haarlem initially were the administrators of the new dioceses. But in May of 1956 the first shepherds of the two new dioceses were consecrated (the consecration of Msgr. Jansen as bishop of Rotterdam was on 8 May 1956).

Describing the division of dioceses in provinces and areas, I could give you the impression that a diocese is in the first place a territory that can be pointed out geographically. But a diocese is not primarily a firmly defined area or a specific culture. The Second Vatican Council describes a diocese in the first place as a part of the people of God: “portio populi Dei” (CD, 11). The Vatican Council avoids here the word “pars”, that is to say, a physical piece.

A diocese is a part of the people of God. And that automatically makes a diocese a network of people united in faith around the one Lord. A network in the heart of society, connected to people that they may travel with. Pope Paul VI characterised the Church as a “network of love”, with the mission to contribute to a society of love in the entire world.

A network of love in unity with Jesus, who tells His disciples in the Gospel (John 15: 9-17), “Remain in my love”. Now that we are marking sixty years, we must recognise that things can go wrong in those sixty years, that there are things which do not witness to the love of Christ. How we treat each other, how parishes sometimes compete with each other, and also the sin of sexual abuse of minors and how we deal with that, these are part of our history.

Should we then say that this network of love is too difficult a goal to achieve? If we think that, we should remember what St. Paul says in the first reading (1 Cor. 1:3-9). He says: the network of love does not just belong to people, but is united with Jesus Christ, who helps us persevere until the end. Jesus is God’s only Son who has lived love to the fullest, who died on the cross, who rose from the dead and who made no reproaches but said, “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:21).

The network of love is inspired by the Holy Spirit whose efficacy becomes visible where there is unity, where forgiveness is achieved, where people can bow to each other and serve one another.

To be a network of love is a duty that we must accept ever anew as a mission from the Lord. We are a diocese according to God’s heart, insofar as the witness to Christ has taken root in us (1 Cor. 1:5-6). When we do not consider the disposition of His heart we do not go His way. And when we do not store and keep His life in our hearts (cf. Luke 2:51), we are not able to proclaim His word and remain in His love.

As a diocese (as a local Church around the bishop) we are not just a part of the worldwide Church of Christ, but a part in which everything can happen which makes us Church in the power of the Holy Spirit: in the first place the celebration of the Eucharist as source and summit, and the other sacraments: liturgy. Communicating the faith in the proclamation of the Gospel: kerygma, which – in catechesis, for example – must be coupled with solidarity between the generations. And thirdly, that we, as a network of love, show our faith in acts of love: charity (cf. Deus caritas est, n. 23).

We celebrate this anniversary in a year of mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis. It is a holy year of mercy. Mercy means on the one hand to continue trusting in God’s love, asking for forgiveness for what’s not right, for what is a sin. Allowing Him into our hearts. On the other hand it means that we make mercy a mission in our lives and show it in our service to our neighbours, in acts of love, in works of mercy. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus summarises this for us: I was thristy and you gave me to drink, I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked, I was homeless and alone. Did you care for me? Jesus does not isolate people in need, but identifies Himself with them: You help me when you approach a person in need (vg. Matt. 25:40).

Characterising the diocese and the entire Church as a network of love is not a recent invention from our first bishop, Msgr. Jansen, but is an answer to Christ’s own mission for His Church. And many saints went before us on that path with that mission. Saint Lawrence was a deacon in third-century Rome (225-258), who helped the people where he could. And when the emperor wanted to take all the Church’s treasure, which wasn’t even in the form of church buildings, as the Christians did not have those yet, Lawrence did not come to him with the riches, but with the people in need. And he said, “These are the treasures of the Church”. These treasures don’t take the form of bank accounts or the wax candles the emperor loved so much, but people, who are images of God. Jesus looking into our hearts also asks us to see in the hearts of people. In this way we continue to celebrate Lawrence and his witness.

And what about Saint Elisabeth (1207-1231) who went out to give bread to people and help the sick? She was of noble birth and was expected not to do this, but she went out from her castle and helped people in need. In this way she was a face of God’s mercy. And consider Blessed Mother Teresa (1910-1997), of whom there is a statue in this church. She saw people collapsing in misery, lying in the gutter, and she saw in their hearts. And also in our city of Rotterdam we are happy to have sisters of Mother Teresa realising mercy in our time.

A network of love and building a society of love. What more can we do in love and mercy? Marking sixty years of our diocese, it is a good time to ask ourselves: has the witness of Christ, has His love properly entered our hearts? And then we should say, and I am answering on behalf of all of us: we could do better. We need mercy and are to communicate God’s merciful love. In this city and elsewhere we are to contribute to a civilisation of love, contribute to a community which builds up instead of tearing down. It is clear that neither the Kingdom of God nor a diocese can be found on a map, because it starts in the hearts of people.

I pray that we celebrate this anniversary today in the knowledge that God’s mercy accompanies us and that we may accept his mission of solicitude, compassion and mercy. This is more than enough work for us, but it is only possible when it fills our hearts. Amen.”

For Groningen and Rotterdam, 60th birthdays

60 years ago today, the Dutch dioceses of Groningen and Rotterdam were officially established. This was the most recent major change in the composition of the Dutch Church province (in 2005 and 2008 respectively, Groningen and Haarlem changed their names to Groningen-Leeuwarden and Haarlem-Amsterdam, but those changes did not include any territorial modifications). In addition to the establishment of two new dioceses, which brought the total number to seven, parts of dioceses were also exchanged: Haarlem received some territory from Utrecht, and Breda was expanded with areas previously belonging to Haarlem and ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

groningenrotterdam

^Maps showing the location of the Dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden. Rotterdam was formed out of territory belonging to Haarlem, located to the north and south, while Groningen was taken from Utrecht to its south.

The creation of Rotterdam and Groningen was initiated by Pope Pius XII, who entrusted the practical matters to the Internuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop Paolo Giobbe, who went to work immediately and issued a decree on the 25th of January of the following year, coming into effect a week later, on 2 February. The Apostolic Letter commanding the changes was titled Dioecesium Imutationes, Changes in Dioceses, a rather unimaginative title which describes the purpose rather well. There is a PDF file of a Dutch translation of this Letter available here.

Below I present an English translation of the relevant text describing the new dioceses, as well as the other territorial changes. It is a translation of the Dutch translation, which was written in rather official words which may even seem archaic to modern ears. But my translation will hopefully get the message across.

“From the territory of the Archdiocese of Utrecht we separate that part containing those areas which are commonly called Groningen, Friesland and Drente, plus the Noordoostpolder, and we will make that territory a new diocese which we will name the Diocese of Groningen, after the city of Groningen, which will be the head and seat of the new diocese. In this city the bishop will reside and have his seat, namely in the church of the Holy Bishop and Confessor Martin, which we will therefore elevate to the dignity of cathedral.

Additionally, we seperate from the Diocese of Haarlem that province called Zuid-Holland, and make it another diocese, namely Rotterdam, to be called such after the city of the same name. This renowned city, which we will make the residence of this new diocese, where the episcopal seat will be established by the bishop in the church of the Holy Martyr Lawrence and the Holy Confessor Ignatius, self-evidently with the rights and dignities befitting a cathedral.

Lastly, we separate from the Archdiocese of Utrecht that part, which in Dutch is called the Gooiland and add it for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Haarlem.

From the Diocese of Haarlem we separate the part which includes most of the province of Zeeland, and from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch the entire strip of the deanery of St. Geertruidenberg, and we join both areas for all perpetuity to the Diocese of Breda.”

The reasons for the creation of the new dioceses are given as the growth in number and activities of the Catholics in the Netherlands, as well as the perceived need to redistribute the means and possibilities according to the needs present, to safeguard the divine truth and to promote the social environment. The size of the dioceses was also an obstacle for the bishops to conduct regular visitations to all parts of their sees. Haarlem stretched all along the western coast of the country, and by detaching Rotterdam and adding Zeeland to Breda it was roughly halved in size. The same is true for Utrecht, which stretched from the great rivers in the south to the islands of the northern coasts, and from the major cities in the west to the rural areas along the German border. The creation of the Diocese of Groningen meant that it now stretched only half as far north.

niermanFinding bishops for the new dioceses did not take overly long. Both were appointed on the same day, 10 March 1956. In Groningen,  it was the  dean of the city of Groningen, Pieter Antoon Nierman (pictured at left, in a photo from 1969). He was consecrated in May by the archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Bernard Alfrink. Fr. Jan Alferink, a retired priest of the diocese, recalls those days, when he was studying philosophy in seminary:

“There were about eight or nine students from the north. We did not go to the installation of Bishop Nierman in Groningen. We simply had classes. Today you’d go there with a bus. Bishop Nierman later came to us to get acquainted. The new diocese was a completely new experience. The Archdiocese of Utrecht was very big, of course. Those who worked in and around Groningen did regret the split, as it made their work area smaller. We did not experience it to be a disappointment.”

SFA007005231In Rotterdam the choice fell on the dean of Leyden, Martien Antoon Jansen (pictured at right in a photo from around 1960). He was consecrated on 8 May by Bishop Johannes Huibers, the bishop of Haarlem.

Since 1956, Groningen has had four bishops and Rotterdam five. Both have given an archbishop and cardinal to the Dutch Church: Wim Eijk (bishop of Groningen from 1999 to 2007, cardinal since 2012) and Adrianus Simonis (bishop of Rotterdam from 1970 to 1983, cardinal since 1985).

The bishops of Groningen:

  • Pieter Antoon Nierman, bishop from 1956 to 1969.
  • Johann Bernard Wilhelm Maria Möller, bishop from 1969 to 1999.
  • Willem Jacobus Eijk, bishop from 1999 to 2007.
  • Gerard Johannes Nicolaas de Korte, bishop since 2007.

The bishops of Rotterdam:

  • Martien Antoon Jansen, bishop from 1956 to 1970.
  • Adrianus Johannes Simonis, bishop from 1970 to 1983.
  • Ronald Philippe Bär, bishop from 1983 to 1993.
  • Adrianus Herman van Luyn, bisschop from 1993 to 2011.
  • Johannes Harmannes Jozefus van den Hende, bishop since 2011.

359px-Wapen_bisdom_Groningen-Leeuwarden_svgIn their 60 years of existence, both dioceses have struggled with the challenge of being Catholic in a secular world. Rotterdam became even more urbanised and multicultural, while Groningen had its own blend of Protestantism, atheism and even communism, with a few Catholic ‘islands’. For the northern diocese the course of choice was ecumenism and social activism, making the Church visible in society, while trying to maintain the Catholic identity where it could be found. Church attendance, while low like in the Netherlands as whole, remains the highest among the Dutch dioceses. The diocese will celebrate the anniversary today, with a Mass offered by the bishop at the cathedral, followed by a reception.

Wapen_bisdom_Rotterdam_svgThe Diocese of Rotterdam also has a taste of Groningen, as its current bishop hails from that province and was vicar general of Groningen-Leeuwarden before he became a bishop (first of Breda and in 2011 of Rotterdam). His predecessor, Bishop van Luyn, was also born in Groningen. Ecumenism and an international outlook have marked the diocese, as well as its proximity to the world of politics. The royal family lives within its boundaries, parliament is located there, as are many diplomatic missions, including that of the Holy See in the form of Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. The 60th birthday of the diocese will be marked on 6 February, with a Mass at the cathedral.

For 2016, St. Maria Goretti

Every year, I use Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint’s Name Generator to find a saint to whose intercession I entrust my blogging efforts for that year. Yes, there’s is a degree of randomness in this method, but with the added ingredient of prayer before clicking, I am more than willing to accept whoever the program selects for me, and ask that person for special guidance and inspiration as I do my blogging.

st_maria_goretti_photographThis time around, I got Saint Maria Goretti. In 1902, at the age of 12, she was raped and stabbed to death, but her witness of the concern for not her own wellbeing but that of her rapist’s soul, as well as her forgiveness of him, ultimately led to the latter’s conversion, and her own canonisation by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

She protects against various things, including poverty and the death of parents, and she is also a patron of children, poor people and martyrs. Suffice it to say that more than a few of these are significant to me personally at this time in my life.

For the blog, and in my life as a Catholic, perhaps I can take the example of St. Maria Goretti of how to act in the face of adversity.

Anyway, for this year: Sancta Maria Goretti, ora pro nobis!

Be a priest and see the world

burasPriests usually go where they are called, but in the case of Father Dariusz Buras that is a bit further than most. The Polish priest of the Diocese of Tarnów was appointed as Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau in Kazakhstan on Friday, but this is just another new home away from home for him.

Most recently working as a priest in Oslo, Norway, Fr. Buras was ordained and worked in the Diocese of Tarnów, but after two years he relocated to Ternopil in Ukraine to work as a missionary priest. In 2006 he headed further east, to Atyrau in western Kazakhstan. In the academic year 2006-2007 he was spiritual counselor for the seminary of the Diocese of Karaganda, also in Kazakhstan. He then returned to Poland to fulfill the same duties in the missionary formation centre in Warsaw, at which time he also earned a licentiate in spiritual theology at Warsaw’s Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. In 2010 he went to Oslo, where he was attached to the cathedral parish and was responsible for the permanent formation of priests from Tarnów working in Norway. Later this month, he returns to Atyrau, to take on the duties of a bishop without actually being one. The mostly Muslim area is home to 2,000 Catholics and seven priests.

Fr. Buras’ missionary work stems from Pope Pius XII’s 1957 Encyclical Fidei Donum, which urged bishops to make priests available to mission territories. These priests remained incardinated in their home dioceses and would often return after several years. A local example of such a priest is Bishop Jan de Brie, retired auxiliary bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, who did mission work in Brazil in the 1970s.

The priest and the Pope – a link with the past

I came across this photo tonight, of a priest in a crowd of people, looking up at the figure of Pope Pius XII. The faces of the people and the priest express concern, shock and sorrow, and with good reason. The scene of the photo is the district of San Lorenzo in July 1943, in the aftermath of the only Allied bombing of Rome.

angelini

The priest is Fr. Fiorenzo Angelini, ordained in 1940, and many years he would recall this moment:

“Among the living and the dead, in the midst of the rubble, that is how I found him for the first time. There he was. The Holy Father approached and I admired immediately the greatness of his character, the greatness of his spirit, of a pastor not only endeared, but tied to the souls of the entire world, but in that moment present to his Roman faithful.”

Pope Pius XII had come out to the stricken city to comfort the citizens, even before the sirens had gone quiet, and from that moment on, the priest formed a bond with the pontiff which would last well past the death of the Pope in 1958. In 1956 Father Angelini was made a bishop for his work promoting health care in the Italian capital and in 1977 he was made an auxiliary bishop of Rome. It was only a matter of time before his work was expanded to include the entire Church, and in 1985 he headed the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers until his retirement in 1996. In 1991 he was made a cardinal.

Today, at the age of 98, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini passed away, the second-oldest cardinal of the Church, and a 74-year bond with the wartime pontiff ended, at least in this world.

Cardinal day – the facts and what they mean

conistoryAnd so, here it is, the first red dawn of Francis’ pontificate, increasing the College of Cardinals to 218 members, with 122 on active duty. The batch of new cardinals (pictured at left, during yesterday’s proceedings) has widely been reported as a conscious break away from the west. Although there still are eight prelates from Europe or North America (including five Italians), they are not a  majority. Among them, we find only the second cardinal from Nicaragua (Brenes Solórzano) and Burkina Faso (Ouédraogo), and the very first from Saint Lucia (and the lesser Caribbean as a whole) (Felix) and Haïti (Langlois). They are all archbishops, with the sole exception of Cardinal-designate Chibly Langlois, who has been a bishop for less then ten years.

Age-wise, there are also some interesting shifts. Not only has Pope Francis chosen to create the oldest cardinal at the time of creation (and at this moment the oldest member of the College at large), 98-year-old Loris Capovilla, but also a  few of the youngest. While 54-year-old Cardinal Baselios Thottunkal remains the youngest member, he is followed by two new cardinals: 55-year-old Chibly Langlois and 56-year-old Gérald Lacroix. At number 6 of the youngest cardinals is the highest ranking member of the latest batch: 59-year-old Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the youngest in this function since Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, in 1930.

After today the College of Cardinals will have 2 members created by Pope Paul VI, 116 by Blessed Pope John Paul II, 81 by Pope Benedict XVI and 19 by Pope Francis. It is still dominated by the appointments of one of the longest-reigning Popes, but this is a status quo this will change fairly rapidly over the coming years. Only 39 of the cardinals created by John Paul II are still under the age of 80, which equals to about 34%. Of the ‘Benedictine’ cardinals, 75 remain active, which is some 93%. Of Francis’  appointments, 84% will be under the age of, so in a sense this is all relative. But it does point out the slow but sure change happening in the composition of the College of Cardinals.

Today’s consistory should be seen in the greater context of Pope Francis intended and gradual overhaul of the institution of the Church. Loving pastoral care in the field must have first place over managerial concerns. Today’s new cardinals, especially once they’ve taken their place in the Curia, are chosen with that in mind.

Parolin takes the reins

Making the rounds in the rumour mill for a while now, it has been announced today: succeeding 78-year-old Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State is 58-year-old Archbishop Pietro Parolin. Who is this new number two in the Vatican?

parolinPietro Parolin has been working in Rome for the better part of his priesthood, although his ‘official’ diplomatic career is relatively short. From 2002 to 2009 he was Undersecretary for the relations with States in the Secretariat of State, and since 2009 he has been the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. With that function came the title of archbishop, and Parolin was consecrated as such by Pope Benedict XVI. He holds the titular see of Acquapendente.

The summary given here gives an indication of Parolin’s role and influence behind the scenes, even before he was named to the Secretariat in 2002. Pope Francis clearly chooses for experience, but whether the position of the Secretary of State will continue in much the same lines as it did under the last two papacies remains to be seen. The Franciscan reforms are still to gain their momentum, but whatever they will constitute, Archbishop Pietro Parolin will play his part in them.

The Secretary of State runs the entire apparatus of the political and diplomatic duties of the Holy See. He is Always a cardinal, and as Archbishop Parolin is not, he will officially be the Pro-Secretary of State until he is made a cardinal in Pope Francis’ first consistory.

Archbishop Parolin is the youngest Secretary of State since Eugenio Pacelli, the later Pope Pius XII, was appointed at the age of 53 in 1930.

Archbishop Parolin will officially take on his new duties on 15 October.

With this appointment, Pope Francis has also confirmed other members of the Secretariat of State in their functions. As some will recall, the Pope retained the members of the Curia in their functions for the time being after his election. Earlier, he confirmed the vicar-general of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and now he is joined by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for the Relations with States; Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs; and Msgr. Peter Wells, the Assessor for General Affairs.

Also confirmed was the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. This should lay to rest the persistent rumours that the close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI somehow did not get along with the new pope, a sort of clash between the old and the new. Archbishop Gánswein of course said as much already during a visit to Germany, earlier in August.

From 2:15: “When I am with Pope Francis, I have to read in the Bayernischen Zeitung that the chemistry between him and me does not work, or that I have a culture shock because he is an Argentinean and I am not, because I come from a Benedictine background and he from a Jesuit background… All nonsense.”

More as it comes in.

Photo credit: Reuters