For the monks of Sion, a first foothold on the island

monks schiermonnikoogThe Cistercesian monks of Sion Abbey, who have been scouting possibilities of relocating their monastic home to the island of Schiermonnikoog, have found a first place to call home, if a temporary one. Through the offices of a Belgian sponsor, the monks were able to purchase a house in the sole village on the island, a house which was until recently used a hairdresser’s shop and home. The house is situated on the east-west axis of the village, on the edge of the historic village heart and a newer postwar area, and will be used by two monks from May onwards.

The community has plans to build a new monastery on Schiermonnikoog as their current monastery, near Diepenveen in the northeast of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, is too large and expensive to maintain. It is likely that they’ll choose a more removed location for the new monastery, even though their current house is in the village. The major part of the Island is a national park of dunes and beaches, although their are also areas of Farmland to the south and east of the village.

Schiermonnikoog has an important monastic past and is even named for the monks who used live and work there, meaning “island of the grey monks”. Like these mediëval monks, the new community is also Cistercian, albeit of the Order of the Strict Observance, which developed out of the original Cistercian Order in the 17th century.

The website of Sion Abbey has a list of “frequently asked questions” in Dutch regarding the relocation.

On Schiermonnikoog, the first monks arrive

…but only to scout the territory.

monniken, schiermonnikoog

In May of last year, I wrote about the plans of the Trappist monks of Sion Abbey to relocate from their monumental abbey to the a new house on the island of Schiermonnikoog. Today the first three monks arrived for a week-long visit in order to experience island life and to consider possible locations for the new abbey.

Staying in a holiday bungalow, the three monks will be seen in their regular habits, which have already been getting them some glances on the ferry to the island. They were met upon arrival by the mayor of Schiermonnikoog, as shown in the photo above.

The relocation of the abbey to Schiermonnikoog is not certain yet, but the will does seem to be there. The monks have informal contacts with the municipality, the province and Natuurmonumenten, which manages the parts of the island outside the only village as a national park.

“The higher truths” – Bishop Wiertz’s letter for Advent

Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond devotes his Advent letter to the topic of the religious, the people who consecrated their lives and themselves to God:

Bisschop Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

In this time of Advent we begin a new Church year. A year that Pope Francis has declared as the Year of religious life, consecrated life. Religious are not some different breed of people, but just like us, faithful who are living “in the world”, according to the three evangelical counsels: obedience, poverty and chastity.

They live together in a community of brother or sisters, according to a certain spirituality. Sometimes they have come together around a common goal. The communities in which they live are often called monasteries. The religious who lead a contemplative and withdrawn life, do so in abbeys.

It may seem as if almost no one in western Europe joins a monastic community anymore. But there are some 900 religious living in our diocese. Many are elderly and with a  great service record, but there is also a significant number of young religious. Recently some new monastic communities settled in Limburg.

Many people associate abbeys, monasteries and monastic life with the long gone days of the “Rich Roman Life”. But nowadays, both in traditional monastic life and on its peripheries, interesting things are happening all the same.

From the media we may sometimes even assume that there has never been so much interest in monasteries, monastic life and products from monasteries. Our Pope Francis himself is a religious. In films and television programs monastic life continues to thrive. After the impressive films “Into Great Silence” about the monks of Chartreuse and “Des Hommes et des Dieux” about Trappists in northern Africa of some years ago, the RKK television series about monasteries and abbeys also turned out to receive good ratings.

Even more remarkable is the (re)discovery of this form of Christian life in Protestant circles. In Friesland a new Protestant monastery was established recently, based on old Catholic traditions. The ecumenical religious community of Taizé manages to draw and inspire more than 150,000 young people every year.

Religious life had and has great value for the Church. Religious were the ones to set the great developments of our western society into motion. They have also always coloured the life of the Church with their social, scientific and cultural initiatives. The Church would lose her variegation and topicality if monastic life were to disappear.

The Church, and with her also the faith, has a bad name for many people these days. But many – including young people – have a desire to connect with a deep and “higher” truth, which is more important than civil truths.

We all know these civil truths: the truth that you have to earn enough money to live or be able to do fun things in order to be happy. I am not saying that these are wrong truths by definition, but for religious and also for me other truths are more important.

Which ones? The highest truth that I know lies in the experience that there is a far bigger world that exists beyond man. A world which calls forth connectedness with God and with people. And one which is given shape in a special way in the birth of the Son of God, which we will celebrate again in a few weeks.

In the experience of the grandeur of creation and humanity the fuel for the religious life is also found. Someone who is sensitive to that experience – and becomes aware of it – feels something that makes everything human insignificant. Earthly pleasures pale in comparison. If you really accept the experience and dare to let go of civil frames of reference, you not rarely feel an appeal to connect in some way or another with that great truth.

The religious and consecrated life is a proven possibility in which the connectedness with God and people leads to unconditional service to the world, experienced from a fraternal or sisterly community.

I call upon all of you to approach both active and contemplative religious life in a positive way. To bring young people also in contact with it and to appreciate our brothers and sisters who chose the consecrated life as fellow faithful, who let the faith prevail in their lives, above all those civil truths of our modern time.

In these weeks of Advent we are at the beginning of the time of Christmas. The time in which we celebrate that God became man. In the past Christmas was concluded with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the Lord (2 February), traditionally also called Candlemas. Since a few years this is also the Day of Consecrated Life.

Following the consecration of God to the people at Christmas, we are then called to consecrate ourselves to God. On this day we want to especially remember the people who dedicated their entire lives to the service of Christ and His Church.

I call upon all the priests in our diocese to invite the religious in their area to take part  in the services in their parish(es) on the Day of Consecrated Life. At the same time I call upon the religious of our diocese to visibly take part in the services in the parishes on that day. Their contributions in our diocese are important.

I call upon all of you to pray together in the coming year – and especially on the Day of Consecrated Life – for religious life in our Church . A prayer for new vocations. A prayer in which we ask that the variety and the actuality of our faith and our Church will root itself in the choices of many young people for some form of consecrated life.

In my personal prayer on that day I want to thank God for all the religious, old and young, the sisters and brothers, who are always working unconditionally for the people in Limburg, be they faithful or not.

Looking forward to a year in which we focus on the religious and therefore also their choice to imitate Christ, I wish you a good time of preparation for the feast of His birth.

Roermond, Advent 2014

+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

“A life of Advent” – Bishop Wiertz opens the Year of Consecrated Life

On the first Sunday of Advent – which is tomorrow, so happy new year – the Year of Consecrated Life begins in the Church. Although in the Netherlands the presence of religious communities varies per area – from virtually none in the north, to numerous in the south – it is good to remember that they are there, often hidden from view, praying and working for all of us and for the Lord.

Bishop Frans Wiertz opened the Year in the Diocese of Roermond (which is home to some 900 religious) and spoke the following homily.

wiertz

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” With these words Pope Francis opens his apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium, which has already impressed so many people.

A central element of the words of the Pope is the message that it is Jesus Christ who can fill our hearts with joy. Not a temporary joy or cheap sense of fun, but deep joy which we shall feel through the personal encounter with Christ. The desire for that encounter is something that we may experience once more in the coming weeks. Advent is a time of expectation, a time of hope; a prophetic time too, which lets us look forward to the encounter with the Christ child. “But in my trust in you do not put me to shame,” the Psalm of this first Sunday of Advent tells us. In those words the hope and expectation already resound, which we also hear in the words of Pope Francis when he says that “with Christ joy is constantly born anew”. Every year we experience this expectant time again, in which we go from dark to light. Towards joy.

At the same time we may perhaps consider Advent to be a metaphor for everyone who dedicates his or her life to the service of the Kingdom of God: sisters, brothers, monks and nuns lead a life of Advent. A life in hopeful and prophetic expectation of the encounter with Christ. A life on the way to the light. And therefore by definition a life of joy.

“Where there are consecrated religious, there is joy,” Pope Francis says in the preparatory texts for the Year of Consecrated Life that we open today. With that he does not mean, of course, that every religious per definition leads a joyful life. Because in a sense a consecrated life is choosing a voluntary martyrdom. Your choice for life in a religious community is a radical one. You deny yourselves much: married life, a family, a career in society. In some parts of the world religious even live in very difficult circumstances. These are certainly not to be envious about.

And yet they choose to continue that life. Because they want to life according to the Gospel with the people around them, and so manifest something of the coming joy of the Kingdom of God. I am grateful that there are always people, also in our part of the world, who decide to dedicate their life completely to God.

Our society doesn’t always understand this. Perhaps it can’t be understood when you are not looking forward to God in your own life. When you can’t live from the hope of the coming joy of the encounter with Christ. When you can’t live in Advent. That is why I have great respect for those who do make that choice. Especially for young people who today – against all trends – choose a life that is completely dedicated to God.

In the Gospel of today we are called to be vigilant. This can be interpreted in all sorts of ways. In the context of this celebration I would say: Let us be vigilant that we do not lose the charism of the religious life in our diocese and beyond.  The Church needs religious. Throughout the centuries the renewal and the renewed evangelical zest has always been initiated out of religious movements. This will also have to happen now. Whether they will be new movements, foreign religious establishing themselves among us, or perhaps a revival of classical orders and congregations, that is something the future will show.

But it is our task together to create such a climate in which religious life remains possible. A climate in which people can choose a life in Advent, in imitation of Christ and towards the encounter with Him. I invite you to be open to initiatives which allow the joy of the Gospel to be constantly born anew, as the Pope says.

A logo has been designed for the Year of Consecrated Life which includes three words: Gospel – prophecy – hope. Life the Gospel, be prophetic and keep for us the hope, so that many will experience the hope you carry in your hearts. Amen.

+ Frans Wiertz
Bishop of Roermond”

religious

Meetings in Rome, and some thoughts about blogging bishops

hendriks paus franciscusThe Netherlands is a fairly small country, and the Catholic Church in this country is, relatively speaking, even smaller. So when a Dutch bishop or two visit Rome and meet with the Pope, it is interesting enough to mention here. But that’s not the only reason, of course…

This week, Bishops Jan Hendriks and Theodorus Hoogenboom visited the Eternal City to discuss the plight of diocesan religious institutes who no longer have enough members to supply their own superior, economist or council members. For that purpose they met with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Bishop Hendriks writes about the visit on his personal website.

Bishop Hendriks also attended Wednesday’s General Audience (where the photo above was taken) and shares an anecdote about a meeting with a Nigerian cardinal:

“Among others, I spoke with Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, who was in Rome for a congress on the meaning and the role of women, with participants from various world religions. He had been well acquainted with the former bishop of Haarlem, Msgr. Hennie Bomers CM, who died suddenly in 1998, shortly after a visit to Nigeria where he had ordained fellow Lazarist brothers. The cardinal had good memories of the bishop’s house in Haarlem, where he had stayed in the past. I didn’t tell him we are busy selling the building…”

Bishop Hendriks is the sole blogging bishop in the Netherlands (although several other bishops regularly contribute articles and texts to various media and their diocese’s websites), and I think his is an example that deserves more following. It is good to know what our bishops are doing, to counter the unwanted image of secrecy that, in my opinion, the bishops’ conference still has. We know they meet monthly, but what they discuss remains a secret. I’m not suggesting we should all receive detailed reports of their discussions (Bishop Hendriks also supplies none, but he does explain what the meeting in Rome was about), but more openness, certainly in the personal medium of a blog or piece on a website, could help making us faithful feel more involved in their daily affairs and more understanding when difficult decisions need to be made, such as in cases of parish mergers and church closings.

Of course, a blog is not for everyone. Neither is a social media presence. But generally speaking, there is still so much to gain in the new media for our bishops. The Internet has penetrated in every layer of society and few are the people who never come into contact with it. More and more people get their news from the web first, and opinion is everywhere. As the chief shepherds of our local Church and the visible representatives of the world wide Church that they are, the bishops must also be there. Blog posts, the personal element of a social media presence, can be a great asset in that.

Book review before reading – Sacred Liturgy

sacred liturgy bookI was very happy to find this in the mail today: Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, edited by Dom Alcuin Reid. It is the product of last year’s Sacra Liturgia conference, which I wrote about a few times.

It is quite the hefty tome, clocking in at 446 pages. The book collects the contributions from a great variety of authors; Bishop Marc Aillet, Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, Raymond Cardinal Burke, Bishop Dominique Rey and Archbishop Alexander Sample, to name but a few. The topics are equally varied, covering a wide range of the liturgical landscape. Here too, a random selection to give some idea: liturgical music, new evangelisation, liturgy and monastic life, sacred architecture, the role of the bishop in liturgy, catechesis and formation. There are also the homilies given over the course of the conference, one by Cardinal Cañizares Llovera and the other by Cardinal Brandmüller.

I have not always found it easy to find such theological resources in my neck of the woods, so I consider this book a welcome resource for my own personal theological education, small and interrupted by necessary daily commitments as it may be. And as such, it may also have its influence on the blog.

Monks coming north

Luchtfoto_Sion_WebThe Trappist monks of Sion Abbey in Diepenveen, north of Deventer in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, are abandoning their abbey. Built in 1883 for a community of more than 100 monks, has become too big, housing only 12 Cistercian monks of the Strict Observance, Trappists for short. Maintenance costs for the buildings have become too high for the small community and, as Abbot Alberic Bruschke says, sharing it with other users is not possible, since it wouldn’t be a monastery any longer.

But where are the twelve monks going? They’re not dispersing over other monasteries in the Netherlands and abroad, I’m happy to read. Even happier is their decision to come about as far north as is possible while remaining on Dutch soil: to the island of Schiermonnikoog, off the coast of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Abbot Alberic says: “A small, new beginning, in all simplicity, of a new life as monks. New and at the same time a restart in timeless continuity with our Cistercian tradition.”

De_Schiere_Monnik_Martin_van_WaningThe exact location and shape of the new foundation on the island is not yet known, but the choice of Schiermonnikoog is not random. In the local old dialect, the name of the island means ‘Island of the grey monks’, referring to the Cistercian monks who had come from the Claercamp monastery in Frisia. In the Middle Ages they established a grange on the island and were responsible for much of the early reclamation of land from the ever-shifting sand flats and sea to the south, between island and mainland. In 1580 that ended, as the Reformation took all possessions from the monastery, including Schiermonnikoog. But the monastic history of the island has always been recognised, and in 1961 a statue of a monk  (pictured at right) was placed in the island’s only village.

Once the monks have moved to Schiermonnikoog, they will form only the second religious foundation in the diocese, after the hermitage of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, which was established in 2001.

schiermonnikoog^Schiermonnikoog from the air, seen from the south west. Apart from the village, the entire island is a national park. It is some 18 kilometers in length and forever moves slowly eastward.