For the north, the closest thing to a native son for bishop

tencerEight months after Bishop Pétur Bürcher’s requested retirement was accepted, the Diocese of Reykjavik gets ready to bid their ten-year bishop goodbye, and welcome a sort-of-native son as his successor. Bishop-elect Dávid Bartimej Tencer, O.F.M. Cap, while Slovak, has been active in Iceland as parish priest since 2004 and that makes him more of an Icelander than any of his four predecessors. The fact that the new bishop is yet to be ordained means that Reykjavik’s cathedral of Christ the King will see it’s first bishop’s ordination since 1988.

In a way this could be considered evidence that Reykjavik is grown up as a diocese, now that it can supply its own bishop. The Church in Iceland is largely an immigrant Church with some 13,000 faithful, and all but one of its priests coming from abroad.

Bishop-elect Tencer was ordained in 1986 for the Diocese of Banská Bystrica in south-central Slovakia, and for the following four years he worked in parishes there. In 1990 he started his novitiate in Order of Capuchin Friars Minor and made his profession the next year. From 1992 to 1994 he studied Franciscan spirituality at the Antonianum in Rome, after which he made his final profession. Back in Slovakia he held various offices within the order, including superior at a convent in Hrinová. In the period between 2001 and 2004 he taught various topics at two seminaries. In 2004, Bishop-elect Tencer came to Iceland and was appointed as parish priest in Reykjavik. Since 2007 he has been parish priest in Reyþarfjörþur and a member of the council of priests of the Diocese of Reykjavik.

Bishop emeritus Bürcher has tried his best to establish religious communities in his diocese, something that Bishop-elect Tencer is well suited to continue.

The Diocese of Reykjavik covers the entire country of Iceland and was established in 1923 as the Apostolic Prefecture of Iceland. In 1929 it became an Apostolic Vicariate and in 1968 a full Diocse. Bishop-elect Tencer will be the 7th ordinary and 5th bishop. His predecessors were:

  • Bishop Martino Meulenberg (Prefect Apostolic 1923-1929; Vicar Apostolic 1929-1941)
  • Bishop Johánnes Gunnarsson (Vicar Apostolic 1942-1967)
  • Bishop Hendrik Hubert Frehen (Bishop 1968-1986)
  • Bishop Alfred James Jolson (Bishop 1987-1994)
  • Bishop Joannes Baptist Mathijs Gijsen (Bishop 1996-2007)
  • Bishop Pétur Bürcher (Bishop 2007-2015)

Bishop-elect David Tencer’s ordination and installation as Bishop of Reykjavik is set for 31 October. Bishop emeritus Pétur Bürcher will remain in office until that date, after which he will divide his time between the Holy Land (where he will focus on prayer as well as organising spiritual exercisies and pilgrimages to support the local Christian communities) and Switzerland (where he will live with the Dominican sisters of St. Peter’s convent in Schwyz).

End of an era as Melzer steps back

20111011_Stadtpatronefest_Weihbischof_Melzer_MG_7194_printbHe was the most senior bishop in the Archdiocese of Cologne, having served for almost twenty years. But now it is enough, as his health can no longer support the work he does, and Bishop Manfred Melzer , 71, is now taking the first steps towards retirement. Granted, Pope Francis did ask him to keep working until a successor has been named, but with today’s  announcement we could be looking at the end of the Meisner era (well, were it not for the fact that Cardinal Rainer Woelki can be safely considered as executing a smooth continuation of that era, which started in 1988).

Bishop Manfred Melzer was appointed in 1995, becoming part of the traditional group of auxiliary bishops of Cologne, one for each pastoral area (four before 2005, three since). His fellow bishops under Cardinal Meisner were Klaus Dick, who was succeeded in 2003 by then-Bishop Woelki; Norbert Trelle, who was appointed to Hildesheim in 2005 and was succeeded by Heiner Koch the next year; and Friedhelm Hofmann, who was appointed to Würzburg in 2004. Bishops Woelki and Koch also left the archdiocese, for Berlin and Dresden-Meißen respectively, although the former returned in 2014. The current group of auxiliary bishops consists of Dominikus Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff, and can be considered a generation younger than Bishop Melzer.

As auxiliary bishop of Cologne (and titular bishop of Carinola), Bishop Melzer was appointed for the pastoral area Mitte, which includes Cologne itself, as well as the city of Leverkusen and surrounding areas. He was also the episcopal vicar for the female religious orders, the hermits and consecrated virgins in the archdiocese. In the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Melzer was a member of the pastoral commission and the commission for questions of the world Church, as well as chairman of the subcommission for the mission. He made headlines most recently when he led the archdiocese for a few hours, between the retirement of Cardinal Meisner and the election of then-Msgr. Stefan Heße as Diocesan Administrator.

According to the statement on the website of the archdiocese, Bishop Melzer has been suffering from unspecified health complaints for some years now.

Documenting the moving of monks

I have written before about the planned move of the Cistercian monks of Sion Abbey to the island of Schiermonnikoog. The community is now renting a house where the brothers live in groups of three to scout the terrain and find a new permanent home for their community. On the Sunday of Pentecost, the monks celebrated their last public Mass at Sion Abbey. While they haven’t left that place yet, the monks do not want to host faithful for Masses and prayer services when they can’t guarantee those service to take place on set times.

The big new development in the story, however, is that the entire project will be documented by a film crew, for a documentary that is expected to air sometime in the spring of 2018. Filming has already begun and will last until the end of 2017.

Broeders-strand monnik de film

It sounds to be like a wonderful project to document an extraordinary event like this: monks of one of the stricter orders in the Church not only downsizing, but also looking ahead to the future with a new foundation on an island that is named for them.

For now titled “Monnik” (Monk), the documentary will use the move as a context in which to find answers to some questions. From the summary on the website:

“What moves them to be a monk today, contrary to all the demands of modern society? What are they looking for in this simple existence with possession, no career perspectives, no relationships or family, no autonomy or freedom, no visible successes? What do they find there, hidden behind cloister walls, in the order’s rigid hierarchy, subject to a strict schedule of prayer, study and labour? Did they lose their own identities to the uniformity of the habit?


MONK is a reflection of the timeless spirituality of the brothers at a critical time in their order’s history and in their personal lives. Their existence, filled with many hours of silence and prayer is seemingly pointless. But would this ancient uselessness perhaps not show something of the basis of human existence?”

The makers of the documentary have secured almost half of their expected budget of 200,000 euros. They accept donations via this page.

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.


“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”