Papal soundbytes – Croatia

As usual, here is my selection of words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI during his papal visit to Croatia last weekend. You can read all the texts in various languages here. My soundbytes are just that: a choice selection of passages to reflect upon.

Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with the pilot who flew him to Zagreb

Convinced witness and active dynamism in Europe

In the face of the challenges posed by today’s culture – marked as it is by social differentiation and instability, and by an individualism that gives rise to a vision of life without obligations and a constant search for “private space” – there is a need for convinced witness and active dynamism aimed at promoting the fundamental moral values that underpin social living and the identity of the old Continent. (Welcoming ceremony, Pleso International Airport, Zagreb, 4 June)

Hope for the future

Truly, the great achievements of the modern age – the recognition and guarantee of freedom of conscience, of human rights, of the freedom of science and hence of a free society – should be confirmed and developed while keeping reason and freedom open to their transcendent foundation, so as to ensure that these achievements are not undone, as unfortunately happens in not a few cases. The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this “critical” point – conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed. If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself. If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings – in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny – then there is hope for the future. (Meeting with representatives of civil society, political, cultural and business world, diplomatic corps and religious leaders, National Croatian Theatre, Zagreb, 4 June)

Msgr. Georg Gänswein and the Holy Father during the meeting at the National Theatre.

Conscience at the root of society

It is by forming consciences that the Church makes her most specific and valuable contribution to society. It is a contribution that begins in the family and is strongly reinforced in the parish, where infants, children and young people learn to deepen their knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, the “great codex” of European culture; at the same time they learn what it means for a community to be built upon gift, not upon economic interests or ideology, but upon love, “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity” (Caritas in Veritate, 1). This logic of gratuitousness, learnt in infancy and adolescence, is then lived out in every area of life, in games, in sport, in interpersonal relations, in art, in voluntary service to the poor and the suffering, and once it has been assimilated it can be applied to the most complex areas of political and economic life so as to build up a polis that is welcoming and hospitable, but at the same time not empty, not falsely neutral, but rich in humanity, with a strongly ethical dimension. It is here that the lay faithful are called to give generously of the formation they have received, guided by the principles of the Church’s Social Doctrine, for the sake of authentic secularism, social justice, the defence of life and of the family, freedom of religion and education. (idem)

Jesus speaks to you!

In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks his disciples: “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38). Young friends, these words, this question reaches beyond time and space, it challenges every man and woman who is open to life and in search of the right path… And, startlingly, the voice of Jesus also says to you: “what are you looking for?” Jesus speaks to you today, through the Gospel and his Holy Spirit. He is your contemporary! He seeks you even before you seek him! While fully respecting your freedom, he approaches each one of you and offers himself as the authentic and decisive response to the longing deep within your hearts, to your desire for a life worth living. Let him take you by the hand! Let him become more and more your friend and companion along life’s journey. Put your trust in him and he will never disappoint you! (Prayer vigil with Croatian youth, Bano Josip Jelačič Square, Zagreb, 4 June)

The Holy Spirit comes first

Sometimes it is thought that missionary efficacy depends primarily upon careful planning and its intelligent implementation by means of specific action. Certainly, the Lord asks for our cooperation, but his initiative has to come first, before any response from us: his Spirit is the true protagonist of the Church, to be invoked and welcomed. (Holy Mass on the occasion of the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families, Zagreb Hippodrome, 5 June)

The Christian family in modern society

In today’s society the presence of exemplary Christian families is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a secularization which leads to the exclusion of God from life and the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in Europe. Freedom without commitment to the truth is made into an absolute, and individual well-being through the consumption of material goods and transient experiences is cultivated as an ideal, obscuring the quality of interpersonal relations and deeper human values; love is reduced to sentimental emotion and to the gratification of instinctive impulses, without a commitment to build lasting bonds of reciprocal belonging and without openness to life. We are called to oppose such a mentality! (Idem)

Encouragement to priests

Dear priests – especially those of you in charge of parishes – I know the importance and the variety of your tasks in an age when the scarcity of priests is beginning to make itself felt strongly. I urge you not to lose heart, to remain vigilant in prayer and in your spiritual lives, in order to perform your ministry fruitfully: to teach, to sanctify and to guide all those who are entrusted to your care. Welcome with magnanimity those who knock at the door of your heart, offering to each one the gifts that divine goodness has entrusted to you. Persevere in communion with your Bishops and in mutual cooperation. Nourish your commitment at the life-giving waters of Scripture, the Sacraments, the constant praise of God, always open and docile to the actions of the Holy Spirit; you will thus be effective workers in the new evangelization, which you are called to realize together with the laity, in a coordinated way and without confusing what pertains to ordained ministry with what belongs to the universal priesthood of all the baptized. Keep close to your hearts the promotion of vocations to the priesthood; by your enthusiasm and your fidelity, strive to transmit a living desire to respond generously and without hesitation to Christ, who calls each one to be conformed more intimately to himself, Head and Shepherd. (Vespers with bishops, priests, religious and seminarians, tomb of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, Zagreb, 5 June)

Photo credit:
[1] REUTERS/Nikola Solic
[2] [3] REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
[4] AP Photo/Damir Sencar, Pool
[5] REUTERS/Marko Djurica

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Papal soundbytes, Aquileia and Venice

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Archbishop Dino De Antoni of Gorizia upon his arrival in Aquileia

It took a while, but the Vatican website now features the English texts of all the pope’s speeches, homilies and other remarks made during the pastoral visit to Aquileia and Venice on 7 and 8 May. So, without further ado, here are the papal soundbytes of this first pastoral visit of the year. Go visit the above link to read the full texts.

Christ, God and man

What made the Church which Chromatius loved and served great was her profession of faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In commenting on the Gospel narrative of the woman who pours perfume first on Jesus’ feet and then on his head, Chromatius says: “The feet of Christ indicate the mystery of his Incarnation which is why he deigned to be born of a virgin in these recent times; the head, on the other hand, indicates the glory of his divinity which proceeds from the Father before all the ages. This means that we must believe two things about Christ: that he is God, and that he is man, God begotten by the Father, a man born of a virgin…. We cannot otherwise be saved, unless we believe these two things about Christ” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Catechesis to the People, Cittá Nuova, 1989, p. 93). (Meeting with the people of Aquileia, 7 May.)

The Holy Spirit speaks through community

It is through the “synodal assembly” that the Holy Spirit speaks to your beloved Churches and to all of you individually, strengthening you for a more mature growth in fellowship and mutual cooperation. This “ecclesial gathering” allows all the Christian communities that you represent here, first of all to share the original experience of Christianity, that of the personal encounter with Jesus, who fully discloses to every man and every woman the meaning and direction of our path, both through life and through history. (Preparatory assembly for the Second Ecclesial Convention of Aquileia, 7 May.)

“He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:7). Your pastors have repeated this invitation of the Book of Revelation to all your individual Churches and the various ecclesial realities. In this way they have urged you to discover and to “narrate” what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in your communities; to read with the eyes of faith the profound changes taking place, the new challenges and questions emerging. (Idem.)

Faith and family

Be sure to put at the centre of your attention the family, the cradle of love and life, the fundamental cell of society and the ecclesial community; this pastoral commitment is made more urgent by the growing crisis of married life and the declining birth rate. In all your pastoral activities make sure that you reserve a very special care for young people: they, who today look to the future with great uncertainty, often live in a state of unease, insecurity and fragility, but who carry in their hearts a great hunger and thirst for God, which calls for a constant attention and response! (Idem)

From faith lived with courage, today as in the past, flows a rich culture of love for life, from conception until its natural end, the promotion of human dignity, of the elevation of the importance of the family based on faithful marriage and open to life, and of the commitment to justice and solidarity. (idem.)

Pope Benedict XVI, pictured here with Angelo Cardinal Scola, arrives in St. Mark's Square

The eyes of faith and reason

I invite you all, dear Venetians, always to seek and to preserve harmony between the eyes of faith and reason, which enables the conscience to perceive the true good, so that the decisions of the civil community may always be inspired by ethical principles that correspond to the deep truth of human nature. Man cannot renounce the truth about himself without his sense of personal responsibility, solidarity with others and honesty in economic and working relations, suffering. (Meeting with the faithful at St. Mark’s Square, Venice, 7 May.)

Conversion

Sometimes, when we speak of conversion we think solely of its demanding aspect of detachment and renunciation. Christian conversion, on the contrary, is also and above all about joy, hope and love. It is always the work of the Risen Christ, the Lord of life who has obtained this grace for us through his Passion and communicates it to us by virtue of his Resurrection. (Mass at San Giuliano Park, Mestre, 8 May.)

The Holy Father arrives in Mestre by boat

Doubt, sadness and disappointment

The many testimonies that have spread everywhere are an eloquent expression of this faith: churches, works of art, hospitals, libraries and schools; the actual environment of your cities, of the countryside and the mountains, is everywhere spangled with references to Christ. Yet today this existence of Christ risks being emptied of its truth and of its deepest content; it risks becoming a horizon that only superficially — and rather, in its social and cultural aspects — embraces life; it risks being reduced to a Christianity in which the experience of faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus fails to illuminate the journey of life, as we have heard in today’s Gospel concerning the two disciples of Emmaus, who after the crucifixion of Jesus were going home immersed in doubt, sadness and disappointment. Unfortunately such an attitude is beginning to spread in your region too. This happens when today’s disciples drift away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified and Risen One, no longer believing in the power and in the living presence of the Lord. The problem of evil, sorrow and suffering, the problem of injustice and abuse, fear of others, of strangers and foreigners who come to our lands and seem to attack what we are, prompt Christians today to say sadly: we hoped that the Lord would deliver us from evil, from sorrow, from suffering, from fear, from injustice. (Idem.)

Staying with Jesus who has stayed with us, assimilating his lifestyle, choosing with him the logic of communion with each other, of solidarity and of sharing. The Eucharist is the maximum expression of the gift which Jesus makes of himself and is a constant invitation to live our lives in the Eucharistic logic, as a gift to God and to others. (Idem.)

Defending the eternal values

I know that you have made and are making a considerable effort to defend the eternal values of the Christian faith. I encourage you never to give in to the recurring temptations of the hedonistic culture and to the appeal of materialistic consumerism. Accept the invitation of the Apostle Peter, contained in today’s Second Reading, to conduct yourselves “with fear throughout the time of your exile” here below (1 Pt 1:17); an invitation that is put into practice by living intensely on the thoroughfares of our world in the awareness of the destination to be reached: unity with God, in the Crucified and Risen Christ.  (Idem.)

Be holy! Make Christ the centre of your lives! Build the edifice of your existence on him! In Jesus you will find the strength to open yourselves to others and to make yourselves, after his example, a gift for the whole of humanity. (Idem.)

Strength and encouragement

Today, symbolically, I come to redeliver the Gospel to you, the spiritual children of St Mark, in order to strengthen you in the faith and encourage you in the face of the challenges of the present time. Move ahead with confidence on the path of the new evangelization, in loving service to the poor and with courageous testimony in the various social realities. Be aware that you bear a message meant for every man and and for the whole man; a message of faith, of hope and of love. (Assembly for the conclusion of the pastoral visit, Venice, 8 May.)

The holiness of the laity

May you always and everywhere know how to account for the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). The Church needs your gifts and your enthusiasm. Know how to say “yes” to Christ who calls you to be his disciples, to be holy. I would remind you, once again, that “holiness” does not mean doing extraordinary things, but following the will of God every day, living one’s own vocation really well, with the help of prayer, of the Word of God, the sacraments and with the daily effort for consistency. Yes, it takes lay faithful who are fascinated by the ideal of “holiness”, to build a society worthy of man, a civilization of love. (Idem.)

The Eucharist

[O]ur spiritual life depends essentially on the Eucharist. Without it, faith and hope are extinguished, love cools. I therefore urge you increasingly to pay special attention to the quality of Eucharistic celebrations, especially those on Sunday, so that the day of the Lord is lived fully and may illuminate the happenings and activities of daily life. From the Eucharist, the inexhaustible source of divine love, you can tap into the energy needed to bring Christ to others and to bring others to Christ, to be daily witnesses of charity and solidarity and to share the goods that Providence gives you with brothers and sisters who lack the necessities of life. (idem.)

Health

Salute” is an all-encompassing, integral reality: it extends from “being well” which enables us to live serenely a day of study and work or of vacation, to the salus animae, on which our eternal destiny depends. God takes care of all this, excluding nothing. He takes care of our health in the full sense. Jesus demonstrates this in the Gospel: he healed the sick, suffering from every kind of illness, but he also freed those possessed by the devil. He forgave sins; he resurrected the dead. Jesus revealed that God loves life and wants to deliver it from every denial, even to the point of rescuing it from that radical denial which is spiritual evil, sin, a poisonous root that contaminates all things. (Meeting with the worlds of culture and economy, Venice, 8 May).

The Council fathers

We must not […] forget that the Council Fathers […] lived in the period of the two World Wars and totalitarianism. Their perspective was certainly not dictated by an easy optimism, but by Christian faith which enlivens hope at the same time great and patient, open to the future and attentive to the historical situations. (Idem.)

The Gospel

The Gospel is the greatest power for transformation in the world, but it is neither a utopia nor an ideology. The first Christian generations called it rather the “way”, that is, the way of living that Christ practised first and invites us to follow. (Idem.)

Photo credit:
[1] AP Photo/Paolo Giovannini
[2], [4] Marco Secchi/Getty Images
[3] Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
[5] AP Photo/Luigi Costantini
[6] Barbara Zanon/Getty Images

To be prepared

I am usually a bit wary when it comes to cries of religious persecution of Christians in the west. Surely we are being not murdered for our faith, or imprisoned and tortured? But in recent days it became clearer to me that, as in such countries where these things do happen, there is a seemingly deep-rooted distrust to people of faith in our society. Of course, having to explain our convictions and occasionally defending them is nothing to be surprised or concerned about, but all too often there is no place for those explanations or defences.

Complutense University chapel, scene of relentless hatred

Theologian George Weigel discusses a serious incident in Spain in his column, speaking of ‘student gangsters’ desecrating a Catholic chapel at the Complutense University in Madrid, apparently for no other reason than that it is a Catholic chapel used by Catholic students and university staff. Madrid is the same city where millions of young Catholics will celebrate their faith this summer at the World Youth Days.

From Belgium. Jeroen van Hecke writes about a ‘terrorist attack’ against Archbishop Léonard, committed by some students displaying  “especially low intellectual and moral levels”. Strong words, but the fact that pies were smashed in the archbishop’s face for no other reason that that he stands for Catholic faith and teachings is telling. “He deserves it,” said one of the perpetrators, “for all gays who do not dare tell it at home and for all girls who want to undergo an abortion.” Make of that what you will.

Both these incidents are just that, incidents, but they do point out the extent to which a true Christian understanding of life is at odds with modern society’s ideas of the same (what Weigel calls, after Pope Benedict XVI, “the dictatorship of relativism”). And this is something that we Catholics should be aware of and prepared for. We should not only be ready to face the differences these incidents are examples of. No longer can we assume that we live in a free and open society where every faith, philosophy and opinion is equally respected. We don’t, and I don’t think we ever have. Reasoned and intelligent debate is something to strive and hope for, but it rarely is reality. Not if the answers to differences are thought to be found in desecration and attacks.

We must stand prepared: internally to understand, learn from and love Jesus Christ, His Church and our faith; and externally to protect and defend ourselves and that which we call our own from those who wish to see anything that does not conform to the dictatorship of relativism removed.

Off the deep end

Dutch Europarliamentarian Sophie in ‘t Veld – who appeared in this blog before, displaying her ignorance about the separation of church and state – now goes off the deep end in British newspaper The Guardian. In her article, she attacks any religious influence on public life, and makes  the claim that the European Union and her parliament are the only arbiters of right and wrong.

Let’s analyse:

Europe is generally regarded as the most secularised continent in the world. But in few EU member states is there a complete separation between church and state. The old interweaving of religious and worldly authority still makes itself felt in many countries today.

In England, the head of state is also titular governor of the church and bishops are members of the House of Lords. Finland and Denmark still have an official state religion (a formality, jut like the English royals must be Anglican and the Dutch ones must be Dutch reformed), and in Greece up until recently, the Orthodox church was in charge of the public civil status register. Everywhere, churches maintain a firm grasp on education, the care and medical sectors (the Catholic Church still is responsible for much of the care for sufferers of AIDS in the Third World, for example. Hardly a bad thing), and the media. Churches have formal and informal positions of exception by law, which are sometimes used to refuse public services such as abortion or same-sex marriage, or to evade secular authority in cases of child abuse (Can you tell where this is going?).

Europeans may take a sceptical view of political leaders who are too quick to express religious faith in public (while in the US an atheist president is virtually inconceivable), yet churches have a greater influence on politics than many people realise. The Vatican has a special position due to the highly centralised organisation and its status as a state.

Worryingly (?), religion is also increasingly making its presence felt in the corridors of the European Union – even though the EU was designed as a strictly secular project (by whom? Not the populace of Europe). The treaty of Lisbon includes article 17 on the dialogue of the EU institutions with churches and non-confessional organisations. This forms the basis for an annual summit of religious leaders with the leaders of the EU institutions. Secular organisations are largely ignored (Yet the EU consists of secular organisations. You can say that it speaks for them, while religious groups are dialogue partners outside it).

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, have special high-level cabinet officials whose job it is to maintain relations with churches. The EU has official diplomatic relations with the Vatican (of course, as Vatican City is a state). The Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the most powerful lobby groups in Brussels (Good to hear).

Other religions also have representatives in Brussels, but they are less influential than the Roman Catholic church (This is not about religion or faith in public, is it? it’s about the Catholic Church and Catholics in politics). Their collective influence is not to be underestimated, however. In addition, religions have influence from the pulpit, if necessary by threatening excommunication if politicians adopt standpoints that are at odds with official doctrine (Sure. Same goes for political parties and any other institition. if you don’t abide by the rules, there must be consequences).

We are witnessing the emergence of the European equivalent to the “religious right” in the US (Just the religious presence, more like). Areas affected by this rise include women’s rights, gay rights and sexual and reproductive health rights as well as healthcare (such as contraception, abortion, condoms and IVF) (Yawn. Hello, 1960s). Freedom of expression is also affected, generally in the form of laws against blasphemy (Blasphemy and insult is now freedom?). Freedom of religion is often conceived as a collective right of religion to exempt itself from the law, particularly the EU fundamental rights (No. It is a right to live one’s faith without fear of persecution or repression, which Ms. In ‘t Veld seems to be advocating).

Religious lobbies are, for example, highly active against the broad European anti-discrimination directive that is in the works. Under intense pressure from religious lobbies, the European commission was initially reluctant to table a directive by which discrimination against gay people could be combated (Discrimination is bad, but its opposite is not mindless acceptance of any actions one can think of).

Invoking religious freedom, the lobbies are negotiating exceptions to the ban on discrimination, including discrimination against gay people, or for the right of confessional schools to discriminate (Again, not discrimination, but defense of values and teaching, of freedom of religion). In this way, discriminatory practices are effectively being written in stone, while the principle of equality is one of the explicit pillars of European unification Again, equality is not the same as mindless acceptance of every possible thing).

The European commission scarcely dares to take action when member states invoke religious freedom to disregard EU-fundamental rights. For example, in the case of Lithuania, when a law was passed that bans the “promotion of homosexuality”, effectively rendering gay people invisible (Who passes that law? Churches? I think not).

The controversial Hungarian media law also includes a paragraph of this type, which states that the media must show respect for marriage and the institution of family, whereby the government aims to constitutionally enshrine the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman (Which it is. A matter of natural law). The new Hungarian media supervisor has already qualified public expressions of homosexuality as in conflict with these standards (naturally), and therefore potentially punishable under the new law. Discrimination of this type is clearly in conflict with the ban on discrimination in the EU treaties (People are not being discriminated against. Weird redefinitions of marriage are).

In the asylum and immigration legislation, religious lobbies are advocating for a conservative definition of “family” for purposes of “family reunification”, or against the recognition of homosexuality as grounds for seeking asylum (Well, politicians in Europe have hardly a right to speak up for immigrants… And homosexuality by itself is no ground for seeking asylum. Persecution is.).

The fight against HIV/Aids and the reduction of maternal mortality also form targets for the religious lobbies, which are attempting to impose their own sexual morals such as a ban on condoms (more than morals, scientifically defendable theories).

This is abuse of freedom of religion (wrong), which was intended to protect the individual against oppression and coercion on the part of the regime (which is exactly what happens if the tenets of a faith are compromised upon the insistence of regimes). Religious organisations do not determine where the boundaries of fundamental rights should be set (Yes, they do). The EU fundamental rights are currently in the process of finding increasing expression in legislation. It is unacceptable for this legislation to be biased according to a strict religious morality (Instead, it must be based on the whims of politicians and the electorate?). It is high time for the secular nature of the European project to be re-emphasised. Europe doesn’t do God (tell that to the millions of Christians in your treasured EU, ms. In ‘t Veld. You are curtailing their freedom).

Perhaps it is time to replace “freedom of religion” by freedom of beliefs or conscience, an individual right that can be claimed by 500 million Europeans in all of their diversity (Ah, in the end, here is the core of modern society: individualism above all else. Well, in that case. I choose to make up my own mind. Ms. In ‘t Veld doesn’t need to do that for me).

Wikipedia tells us that Europe is home to more than 280 million Catholics. Something to keep in mind when denying rights in the name of liberalism.

Accident or secret agenda?

At the cost of 5 million Euros the European Union has distributed some 3.2 million calendars over more than 21,000 schools. The calendar’s purpose is to inform children between 12 and 16 about EU policies, and  next to that, like virtually all calendars, it contains the important dates of the year: holidays and religious feasts and the like. All, except for all Christian holidays and feasts.

Eid ul Fitr is there, as are Sukkot, Divali and other Muslim, Jewish and Hindu feasts. Dutch Christian MPs have expressed their amazement on Twitter, with ChristenUnie head André Rouvoet tweeting: “What would the EU agenda be with distributing school agenda listing all holidays except the Christian? Unbelievable!” SGP chair Kees van der Staaij shared that he has sent questions about this, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling it “no mistake, but the world upside down”. Twittering priest, Fr. Ruud Verheggen, concludes that “it shows where [they] stand”.

It would be a pretty remarkable mistake to make: to go and take the effort to list all major religions’ holidays and completely missing the Christian ones. It’s not as if Christians are a minority in the EU, after all. A conscious decision, then? It would fit with the attempts from the EU to curtail the rights of religious expression in its member states (classroom crosses in Italy, anyone?), but surely the EU, with all its talk about democracy and freedom, won’t skip over the religion and the rights of the vast majority of its citizens? Right?

It’s only a calendar, you might say. Yes, but it is one that is used by the EU to present itself to a couple of million school-going children. What does this then say about how the EU sees itself and its values?

Guest blogger Ingrid on the March for Life

A first in my blog today: a proper guest blogger. Ingrid Airam, who usually blogs in Dutch about all kinds of Catholic topics, describes her experience of participating in a March For Life in The Hague and shares why she could do no less but participate. Her contribution starts underneath the photo.

The March for Life, something I had heard of once in a while, and by chance  read about on the website of the church of Saint Agnes in Amsterdam, about a week before the march would be held this year. Well, by chance… in some ways it obviously wasn’t. But considering the marginal attention (one can safely say none at all) offered by other parishes in the Netherlands it was. A march against a so-called medical procedure which is legal in the Netherlands. Theoretically only in emergencies, but that word proves to be very flexible in practice.

So why in Heaven’s protest against which is so commonly accepted in this country? Not even simply accepted, but something that is considered by many a right and a sign of civilisation. Essentially it’s very simple: I am pro-life in heart and soul, but also with a  considerably amount of sense. And although I really understand the difficulties of a woman faced with such a choice, I consider it barbaric, to quote one of our listeners. And when I am full of words about sanctity and worth of protection of life, wouldn’t it be weak not to participate in such a march? And so I considered it nothing more than my Christian, no, even my human duty to walk – even though it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, least of all in politics – even though, as a student, I have little money to spend and traveling costs money, after all. I simply couldn’t do anything less.

And so,this Saturday, 11 December 2010, I stood on the Plein in The Hague. A fair number of Catholics had attended a traditional Mass beforehand and had come to the Plein from there. It wasn’t an enormous number, but still a fair number of people. And so many different people: from children to elderly, many young people, Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics… Beforehand some words from Minister Dorenbos, as far as I know one of the initiators, although I am not sure, encouragement from a Belgian pro-life movement (Catholics, as I found out later when we were walking right behind them, and all of them young), and some testimonials. One of them from an elderly lady who had undergone an abortion, and a younger woman of, I would say, about my age. Impressive and certainly encouraging. By then many people had their placards in hand, with texts as ‘Stop abortion now’  and ‘Jesus forgiver’. hen we left. I don’t know the exact route anymore, since I’m not at all familiar in The Hague, but I think we generously avoided the Binnenhof [seat of the Dutch parliament – MV]. I was somewhat surprised at how quiet it was along the route. Apart from a shouting woman, a few signs and two troublemaker it was quiet. My tension abated somewhat, and armed with a rosary and police around us (honestly, compliments for them on this day) we walked the route in relative quiet. Passers-by stopped, often with surprised looks, taking pictures.

Back at the Plein there were speeches. They started well, powerfully. Among them a man from America who hadn’t been supposed to be born according to his mother and the doctors: but the abortion failed. Another proclaimed that we, in the Netherlands, of whatever denomination, should make this a priority in our prayers, to stand up for life.

I don’t recall the later speakers as much, it was too much. But the fact that these people were so clear… I wish our bishops and priests would join this, and make this an important point on the agenda. Because, although there was a decent number of Catholics, there was all of one bishop (Msgr. de Jong, who deserves all accolades, and who also said a few words), two priests from the FSSP and one from the SSPX, it was a very meager showing. Granted, it is an originally Protestant march, but that does not diminish the importance of the march and the common goal. The Catholic Church offers clear teachings about this, a message of love. And so we should join our forces for this. Christians in the Netherlands, in Flanders… let’s unite, pray… and be on the Plein next year with a much larger number!

Photo credit: Bryan Kemper for Jeunes pour la Vie

The Catholic tradition that everyone enjoys

It’s the 6th of December, the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra, but for many people in the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Germany and central Europe, his celebration is already over. The old tradition of giving gifts on the eve of the saint’s feast day still exists, and despite heavy secularisation and commercialisation, his imagery is still enormously Catholic. Depicted as a bishop with mitre, staff, alb and something approaching a chasuble, the heavily-bearded saint still makes an official arrival in the Netherlands in mid- to late-November, when he is welcomed in a different city or town each year, with members of the local authorities and the royal family in attendance. Well-choreographed children shows and tv-programs are centered around St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, as he promises presents to children who have been good and, now less frequently, punishment for bad children (often in the form of being taken to Spain, where tradition tells us St. Nicholas lives during the year).

In reality, the person of St. Nicholas of Myra, in modern Turkey, lies at the foundation of the tradition of Sinterklaas. The abbot and bishop may have been an important player at the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he defended Catholic teaching in the face of heresy, and victim of persecution under Emperor Diocletian: first and foremost a Christian, a Catholic shepherd and example then.

The media attention to Sinterklaas will now lie dormant for another year, but how fantastic would it be if this regal person with all his Catholic regalia and symbolism were officially welcomed by the bishops of the Netherlands next year? Sure, he may be the great friend of children and giver of gifts, but in the end he is the abbot and bishop who is an example to us all in his Christianity. Maybe it’s time we all get to know him as such again.