Fifth bishop of Rotterdam to be announced at noon tomorrow

Via Twitter (the social media network once again proving its value as a news disseminator) I am reading announcements that the Vatican Congregation for Bishops will announce the name of the new bishop of Rotterdam tomorrow at noon. The as yet unknown person will succeed Msgr. Ad van Luyn, S.D.B., currently serving as Apostolic Administrator of Rotterdam, as the fifth bishop of the southwestern Dutch diocese.

Sadly, I’ll be working at the time the announcement is made, but I expect to be able to draft a serviceable blog post about the appointment in the evening. The upcoming appointment will be the first one of a new diocesan ordinary since Bishop Gerard de Korte was appointed to Groningen-Leeuwarden in 2008.

Since the retirement of Bishop van Luyn in January, very few names of possible successors have been thrown about, although there are a fair number of possibilities. Of the current ordinaries, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Breda has been mentioned to move one diocese over; an option which I consider unlikely. Msgr. van den Hende has been in Breda for less than five years (including one year as Coadjutor Bishop), and still has enough work to do there.

Another name is that of the auxiliary bishop of Roermond, Msgr. Everard de Jong. A rumoured close runner for Groninger-Leeuwarden in 2008, he is conceivable ready for his own diocese after more than 12 years as auxiliary. Of the other Dutch auxiliaries, none seem to be likely choices: Msgr. van Burgsteden of Haarlem-Amsterdam is beyond the age of retirement himself. The two auxiliaries each of Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch have only recently been appointed; moving them now will most likely be too destabilising for the diocesan curia they leave behind, let alone themselves (but it will not be entirely unprecedented).

Of course, the new bishop may come from the clergy of the Diocese of Rotterdam itself. The first one to come into my mind, as mentioned here before, is Fr. Jan Hendriks, currently the rector of the Tiltenberg seminary, which belongs to the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, although Fr. Hendriks is a priest of Rotterdam. Another name is that of Fr. Ad van der Helm, the dean of The Hague and professor in canon law at Louvain and Bovendonk. If appointed, he would be the first true twittering bishop of the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s vicar general, Father Dick Verbakel, is an option as well, but a remote one, I think.

But in the end, Rome may still surprise us. Will there be a third Bishop Adrianus* in Rotterdam, or not? Wait and see.

Fr. Ad van der Helm (right), pictured here with Msgr. van Luyn (left) and the Nuncio, Abp. Bacqué, may be the new bishop

*The first was Bishop Adrianus Simonis, later archbishop of Utrecht and cardinal; the second Bishop Adrianus van Luyn.

Photo credit: Peter van Mulken

Looking ahead

Wim Deetman, to publish the final report of his commission by the end of the year

Looking ahead to what 2011 may bring for the Catholic Church in the Low Countries, there are a few topics which will no doubt lay an important part. Like last year, we will continue to hear much about the abuse crisis. As the Deetman Commission prepares to publish it’s final report by the end of the year, the scientific investigation into the why and how of the many abuse cases continues. It is strange to use the word ‘hope’ in this context, but I’ll do so nonetheless: hopefully, other segments of society will also become transparent about the abuse that occurred in their past. We’ve already seen the revelation of the horrible abuse of very young children in day care centres in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the very recent past. Only in transparency may we reach a solution, so hopefully 2011 will bring the first steps towards that.

In Belgium, all eyes are on the local bishops and the courts, where the former have been giving testimonies about abuse cases. How the Belgian Church handles the current crisis, which goes far beyond the abuse cases, will be critical for the future. After his notable start last year, Archbishop Léonard will continue to be the man to follow, although the media attacks will probably show no sign of weakening.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, mitred this year?

Back in the Netherlands, we may see the appointment of a new bishop of Rotterdam. Current ordinary, Msgr. Ad van Luyn, turned 75 on 10 August of last year, and bishops are obliged to offer their resignation upon reaching that age. It is up to Rome to accept it, which sometimes may take some time. Bishop van Luyn is also the chairman of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, so his resignation will have its effect, no matter when it is accepted. As to the identity of his successor? It is of course anyone’s guess, but I would personally not be surprised is Msgr. Jan Hendriks, currently the rector of the Tiltenberg seminary of Haarlem-Amsterdam is chosen. He has the contacts among the priests and bishops of the Netherlands and is an intelligent and prolific author. His experience as an educator may be exactly what the Church in the Netherlands needs. But it’s just a guess…

Another bishop who turned 75 in 2010 (on 8 December), is Msgr. Jan van Burgsteden, the auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam. It is of course by no means certain if the ordinary, Bishop Jos Punt, chooses to request another auxiliary bishop, or if Bishop van Burgsteden’s resignation is even accepted this year.

FInally, and possibly the most interesting new appointment that may happen in 2011, is that of a new nuncio. Archbishop François Bacqué will mark his 75th birthday on 2 September. His successor will be the first direct representative chosen by Pope Benedict XVI in the Netherlands, and it will be exiting to find out who it will be and what his effect will be.

Another upcoming event which we may see in 2011 is the five-yearly (well, five-yearly in theory…) Ad limina visit to Rome of the Dutch bishops. Their last visit to “the threshold of the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul” took place in 2004, so the follow-up visit is already almost two years overdue. It will be the first Ad limina during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, although the Holy Father has obviously met individually with Dutch bishops in the past. During such a visit, often also considered a pilgrimage, the bishops deliver extensive reports on their dioceses to Rome, and are addressed and advised by Pope and important Curia members about the future direction to take. For no less than five Dutch bishops (Van den Hende (Breda), Woorts and Hoogenboom (Utrecht), and Mutsaerts and Liesen (‘s-Hertogenbosch)) it will be their first Ad limina visit, and two more (Eijk (Utrecht) and De Korte (Groningen-Leeuwarden)) have since either changed sees or been appointed as ordinary. But be all this as it may, it is not at all certain yet if the visit will take place this year. First up are the bishops of the United States, a number of countries in south Asia and Africa.

The Dutch bishops during their last Ad limina visit in 2004

 

Priests and seminary – words about the future

On the occasion of its twelve-and-a-half year jubilee, two days ago, a whole truckload of guests (if not more) attended the celebration at the Tiltenberg seminary. Msgr. François Bacqué, nuncio to the Netherlands, was main celebrant at the Mass and delivered the homily. In it, he speaks specifically to the seminarians about their future, the importance of Christ’s promise of friendship as well as His commandment to remain in His love. He also speaks about the fact that the Tiltenberg houses student from four dioceses and what that can mean for future priests.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, the rector of the seminary als refers to that in his address, an excerpt of which is below Msgr. Bacqué’s homily.

The full texts in Dutch may be found here.

Msgr. François Bacqué, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands

Your excellencies, lord mayor, honourable gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ,

With joy and gratitude we celebrate this anniversary, the copper jubilee, of this seminary in the year of the priest.

We wish to thank God for His blessing, for the vocations to the priesthood and the diaconate that have found their way to the seminary, and for the priests and deacons who are already working in the parishes.

We also wish to pray today for the future, for the students of the diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, including the seminarians of Redemptoris Mater -, of the archdiocese of Utrecht, the dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden and the abbey in Egmond, who follow their education here.

Today we pray that the Holy Spirit may continue to touch your heart and give all of you the strength to heed God’s call, every day anew, and that your heart may be moved by God’s love, inviting you to give your life for Christ and His Church.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks to His apostles in the Cenacle about their vocation and election:  “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me,” the Lord says. “You are my friends…”. And: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you”. In this way Jesus speaks about the apostles’ calling. But those words are valid for each of you! Your vocation is an election and a sign of God’s love for you. When we keep these words of Jesus in our hearts, we can be nothing but grateful. Through God’s mercy do we, weak people, carry this vocation and election as a valuable treasure in our hearts.

It is certainly good for each of us to regularly consider the ways by which God has led us in His goodness. Every vocation is unique, we have all reached our calling via different ways. But every vocation story is, in the end, a history of God’s personal attention and love for us. He has chosen us to be His friends in a special way, and as a priest to be an ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’.

“Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. […]  I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you…”. Jesus speaks these words on the final evening of His life. They are a spiritual testament. With this, the Lord wishes that His disciples will leave in joy, keep His commandments and remain in love.

May the joy that the Lord gives by your strength! Of course you see difficulties around you in an yourself. I may know priests who are having a difficult time in their parish, a lot of work, duties in many different places. And a man must fight the weaknesses of his own nature. Certainly, there will also be difficulties for you. There is no priesthood without the cross. But stay focussed on the great mercy that you are connected to Christ as His friend and that, as a priest, you will be ‘another Christ’. Stay in the love of the Father.

Keeping the commandments is of course also an important point. Jesus asks it of us and it is part of priestly life. The priest is an example to others. At the ordination, the candidate lies prostrate and he kneels before the bishop to whom he promises obedience. He vocalises his wish and desire to become small and a loyal servant of the Church of Christ. With all this the candidate indicates that he will not follow his own guidance, but that of God, and that he will recognise God’s will in the guidance of his bishop, of the Church. Every priest must be willing to let go of his own will to be able to follow Christ.

But the central calling of the Lord in the gospel that we have heard, must be the insistent and repeated commandment to maintain the love: “Remain in my love. […] This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you”. That is especially valid for the priests among one another.

Seminary is a school for mutual love; because you live together every day, you learn to support each other, to stand and value each other and so a bond for life may be created. The fact that here there are students from multiple dioceses studying, praying and living together, can strengthen the ‘communio’ and the mutual bond among the priest in the Church in the Netherlands.

The priest is in a special way a man of ‘communio’; he is called to promote unity and community everywhere, among people and with the Lord, also the ‘communio’ with the bishop and the heartfelt bond with the pope and the universal Church.

God has given us everything. In a spirit of gratitude we have gathered here. A thankful person can do nothing but experience joy and love. I wish that spirit of joy and love, that the Lord presented to His disciples, to you all. Amen.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, Rector of the Tiltenberg seminary

In a way we are entering a new phase. As you know our archbishop, Msgr Wim Eijk – whom I thank once again for the trust in us – has decided to entrust the education of the deacons and priests of the Archdiocese of Utrecht to the Tiltenberg. That has been  a major and difficult step. But the decision means that, in effect, the students of all northern dioceses (Utrecht, Groningen-Leeuwarden, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and candidates of the abbey of Egmond are studying here. This has important positive sides and I trust it will turn out well. Means and money are used better, also considering the number of candidates. Seminarians of different dioceses get to know and hopefully value each other better and later as priests, they will be able to working together in the Church. From my own experience I know the positive effects of such a mutual background. This seems especially important to me in light of the future of the Church in our country, which will have to go to a period of restructuring, purification and renewal, but which will always be there, as she has been there for the past 2,000 years, in all the changes of times. Ultimately the Church will have to communicate to message of the gospel and Christ’s merciful salvation with a new drive and as one body.

For that reason we will search and find ways. People now are often searching, the struggle with themselves and with life’s great questions: where do I come from, where do I go, why is everything, why do I exist? Are there set values and is there Someone who has wanted me and loves me? When a person allows himself time for reflection, these question arrive inevitably. As St. Augustine already said: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You”, and – speaking to God – : “You have created us towards You”, “Creasti nos ad Te”. There is an innate desire for God, who is Love, in every person, and that is an opening and starting point for us. Let us pray that we may be able to develop our gifts and talents to answer this innate desire of people. Students experience this especially during their internships, which can therefore be so inspiring and motivational.