The protective hand of the mother – Dutch dioceses consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart

On Saturday afternoon the Dutch bishops consecrated their dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, coinciding with the centenary of the first apparition of Mary in Fatima and the tail-end of Pope Francis’ visit to that pilgrimage site in Portugal. The bishops did so at the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady in Maastricht. All the active Dutch ordinaries and auxiliary bishops were present, as was Cardinal Ad Simonis, archbishop emeritus of Utrecht. From Groningen-Leeuwarden, which is expecting their new bishop on 3 June, diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen was present.

Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht and metropolitan of the Dutch Church province, led the consecration during a Vespers, and gave the following homily:

“After the downfall of the Portuguese royal house as the result of a revolution in 1910, a very anticlerical government came to power in which freemasons dictated the tone. This government issued various measures against the Church: the wearing of priestly clothing was forbidden, as was taking religious vows; monasteries and religious orders and congregation were abolished by law and their possessions confiscated; Jesuits were forced to renounce their Portuguese citizenship; religious education in schools was abolished and the government gave themselves the right to appoint professors to seminaries. The brain behind these measures, Alfonso Costa, had the goal of eradicating Catholicism in Portugal in two generations.

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He did not succeed in this for various reasons. The faith of the Portuguese people was too strong en the Holy See resisted successfully. But a very important factor was the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. These apparitions greatly impacted Portugal, as well as, by the way, the rest of the Catholic world. After an angel appeared to them in 1916, Mary first appeared to them om 13 May 1917. She would do so six times in the period between 1 May and 13 October 2017.

The apparitions of Mary at Fatima are part of a string of important Marian apparitions: in La Salette in 1946, Lourdes in 1858 and Castepetroso in 1888. At all these apparitions, Mary’s message was that we should return to Christ, the Son of God and her son, do penance to gain forgiveness for our own sins and those of others and devote ourselves intensively to prayer, especially the Rosary. But of all these apparitions, those at Fatima were the most prophetic.

This had to do with the content of the three secrets that Mary entrusted there to the shepherd children. The first concerned a vision of hell and a call to prayer, conversion and penance to save souls and bring them to eternal salvation. The existence of hell was (and is) denied by many Christians and is not or barely mentioned by Christian preachers and catechists. The solemn warning of Mary must, however, be taken serious.

The second secret was an announcement of the end of the First World War, but also of the Second World War if people would not stop insulting God. Mary called for prayer and penance to implore God to bring peace. She also asked to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart to prevent atheistic communism to spread from Russia to other countries. Various popes, beginning with Pius XII in a radio message on 31 October 1942, have responded to this. It is significant that communism in Russia fell in 1989.

The third secret was a vision of a bishop in white, the pope, being persecuted, falling down as if dead under the sound of gunshots amid the bodies of bishops, priests, religious and lay people, fallen like martyrs for the faith under communism and fascism. It is an image of the way of the cross that the Church, led by the popes, has gone. On 13 May 2000, Cardinal Sodano announced, during a visit of Pope John Paul II to Fatima, that this vision referred the attack on the pope in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on 13 May 1981.

How should we now look at Mary’s messages in Fatima, and what do they add to our faith in Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer? The revelation of Holy Scripture, the public revelation to all of humanity, has been completed with Jesus Christ. Nothing can be added to that.

Mary’s messages to the shepherd children in Fatima are private revelations. Private revelations do not add anything to the deposit of faith as a whole:  “It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (art. 67). The messages of Mary at Fatima helped to better understand what the faith in Christ required to hold onto under the serious threats to the Church in the twentieth century.

A specific guidance from Mary at Fatima was her call to consecrate Russia, but also other countries or persons, to her Immaculate Heart. The heart represent the interior of the person here, and also the conscience, where the heart of man’s relationship with God lies. We call Mary’s heart immaculate because God safeguarded her from the original sin from the moment of her birth, and also because she remained free from sin in the rest of her life.

The consecration to her Immaculate Heart means two things specifically. Firstly, this consecration means that we want to follow Mary in the choice that she made in her heart of hearts, when the angel asked her to be the mother of God’s Son. She expressed her yes to God with the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Like Mary, we want to achieve a complete consecration of ourselves to Christ.

We realise, however, that we can’t do so on our own and need God’s grace. And this brings us to the second important meaning of the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: it also expresses that we consecrate ourselves to her motherly care. In other words, that we entrust ourselves to her intercession with God.

Mary’s concrete message at Fatima especially concerned the critical situation of the Church in the previous century. But the message is still current. The situation of the Church has certainly not improved in our century. Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Additionally, there is not only persecution from outside, but also from within.

Pope John Paul II said this his life was saved on 13 May 1981 because Mary deflected the trajectory of the bullet that could have killed him. That bullet is now incorporated in the crown of the statue of Mary in Fatima. To that protecting hand of Mary, through her intercession, the Dutch bishops entrust their dioceses in this Vespers. We pray that Mary places the path of the Church and our personal lives in the protective hands of the Risen Lord, through her constant intercession. Amen.”

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The bishops were joined by numerous priests, religious, seminarians and lay faithful, filling the medieval basilica. Following the consecration, representatives of various groups lit candles at the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

As 13 May was also the feast day of St Servatius, the first bishop in what is now the Netherlands, several bishops briefly visited the crypt where his remains lie, in the Basilica of St. Servatius, also in Maastricht. While some 130 altar servers from Germany celebrated Mass in the church above, the bishops prayed at the tomb.

 Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

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A letter from the archbishop

About a month ago I sent a short letter to Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard to express my support and gratitude for his conduct in the incident with the Femen protestors I wrote about here. Expressing such sentiments is even more important than being critical or remaining silent, I think, although these too have their function.

Today I received a letter back from the archbishop. He writes:

léonard“Dear friends,

I am very thankful that you have taken the effort to send me some words of support and solidarity after the protest action of the Femen group. Your words have been very comforting for me.

It would be a great help to me if you would be willing to support, through your spiritual engagement, the Maranatha movement which I launched at the star of 2013. Maranatha is a great movement of prayer for the conversion of the human heart and the healing of humanity.

More information about this movement and suggestions for prayer (novena, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, etc.) may be found on the website www.maranatha-conversion.com.

I once more thank you for your support and wholeheartedly bless you.

Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard,
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels”

A good suggestion, the conversion of the human heart and the healing of humanity. Let’s respond positively to the archbishop request, so that events like the one that led to this exchange of letters may become increasingly rare.

Bishop Liesen’s words at the death of Bishop Muskens

Bishop Jan Liesen, eleventh bishop of Breda, released the following statement on the death of his predecessor once-removed, Bishop Tiny Muskens:

“Msgr. Muskens was a man with an incredible work ethic and energy, which allowed him to get a lot done. Among other things, he managed, when he worked in Rome, to make sure there was a Dutch Mass in the Church of the Frisians, for the Dutch pilgrims in Rome.

Above all, Msgr. Muskens was a man of prayer. He was a praying person. You could daily see him praying from his breviary, praying the Rosary. He had a set rhythm in that. He was an animated man and one with a large network in the Dutch Church. He was loved, certainly.

I knew Msgr. Muskens well during two periods in time. First as rector in Rome, when I was studying there, and later here in Breda as bishop emeritus.

Many people will especially remember him as the bishop who spoke about stealing bread by the poor. That is a statement which can be traced back to the Church’s moral teaching. Msgr. Muskens wasn’t so much concerned about that loaf of bread, but he wanted to emphasise that there were families in the Netherlands who have nothing to eat. Msgr. Muskens was a man who was greatly moved by the poor. This compassion for social affairs also made headlines. He wanted to prompt the debate about poverty in the Netherland. He was concerned with actual aid to people who have nothing to eat. That is still true today.

In 2012 he marked the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. For the Diocese of Breda he celebrated this with a Holy Mass on Ascension Day, 17 May, in the Cathedral of Saint Anthony. He was physically fragile. At the end of that celebration, and this was typical for him, he surprised everyone with a gesture. He took his bishop’s ring from his finger to give it to me. This was the ring that Msgr. De Vet received at the Second Vatican Council. Msgr. Muskens was part of that historical line of the Second Vatican Council, with its ‘aggiornamento’, ‘bringing the Church up to date’. This especially touched him. This was a typical moment in which he came forward.”

Four bishops of Breda: Jan Liesen (2011-current), Huub Ernst (1967-1992), Tiny Muskens (1994-2007) and Hans van den Hende (2007-2011).
Four bishops of Breda: Jan Liesen (2011-current), Huub Ernst (1967-1992), Tiny Muskens (1994-2007) and Hans van den Hende (2007-2011). Photo credit: R. Mangold.

“This day for me is different” – the end of eight years of Benedict

benedict cardinalsOn his first full day as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI offered Mass, read in the books he brought with him and took a walk through the Castel Gandolfo gardens while praying the Rosary. The evening before, which capped an eventful day the likes of which the Church has never seen before, and most likely will not see for a long time, Benedict spent watching the news and reading some of the messages he received. Father Federico Lombardi told the assembled press this in what was the first of daily press briefings during the sede vacante.

Reading this today was actually rather comforting, because yesterday was quite eventful, even for one who watched the main events via the Vatican video player. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, there was definitely a personal factor; it was less the departure of a high official, and more the passing of a beloved family member. While the morning meeting with the cardinals assembled in Rome (pictured above) was a very affectionate event, with quite a lot of smiles and  laughter (standing out was the joke and the laugh that Cardinal Tagle seemingly shared with the Holy Father), the afternoon was totally different.

The tone was set with the first appearance of the Pope on the screen, bidding his farewells to the vicars general of his diocese, Cardinals Vallini and Comastri. Neither kept a dry eye, and especially touching I found Cardinal Vallini briefly squeezing Archbishop Gänswein’s hand as a sign of support. The latter subsequently had to employ a tissue to dry his eyes as well.

And then, after the fifteen-minute helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, there was the epilogue to almost eight years of Benedict XVI, and it was as simple and to the point as the Pope emeritus himself.

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“Thank you!

Thank you all!

Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your affection that does me much good. Thank you for your friendship, your love, [applause] …

You know that this day for me is different from previous ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church: until eight in the evening I will be still, and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.

But I wish still [applause – thank you!] … but I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity. And I feel very much supported by your affection.

Let’s go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world.

Thank you, I give you now [applause] … with all my heart, my blessing.

Thank you, good night! Thank you all!”

And so, a final two-handed wave (not unlike, as some have noted, that first gesture we saw back in April of 2005), and the Pope returned inside. And then, less than three hours later, it was over. The doors closed, the Swiss Guards returned to their barracks, and the sede vacante began.

It was a farewell: we have seen our last of Benedict. But it’s not a farewell: he is still there with us, not in plain sight, but as close as ever in prayer and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. So, while we mourn a loss, we have also gained something. But it will take some getting used too, that much is certain.

Thanksgiving for the Pope – special Masses in the Netherlands and Flanders

benedictMarking the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, which becomes effective in the evening of 28 February, all Dutch and Flemish dioceses will be offering a thanksgiving Mass for his pontificate. With the exception of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Antwerp, all will do so on the day of abdication itself.

The two metropolitan archdioceses, Utrecht and Mechelen-Brussels, will feature the most extensive celebrations. In Utrecht, a Mass will be offered at 12:30 at St. Catherine’s cathedral, which will be followed by Holy Hour, a sung Rosary, Vespers and Benediction at 6. Whether Cardinal Eijk will attend this day is unclear. Mechelen-Brussels will offer no less than three Masses, all at 8pm: In Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, in Louvain (St. Peter’s) by auxiliary Bishop Leon Lemmens, and in Waver (St. John the Baptist) by auxiliary Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn.

The other thanksgiving Masses will take place at 6pm in Bruges (by Bishop Jozef De Kesel), at 7pm in Groningen (Bishop Gerard de Korte), Breda (Bishop Jan Liesen) and Roermond (Bishop Frans Wiertz), and at 8pm in Ghent (Bishop Luc Van Looy) and Hasselt (Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens). All Masses will be at the respective cathedrals of the dioceses, except in Breda, where the Mass will be offered at the chapel of the Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven, and Hasselt, where the Basilica of Our Lady will host the Mass

The next day, 1 March, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will offer a Mass at 7:30pm, and on 3 March, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny will offer one at 5pm.

In addition to these Masses, parishes, communities and other societies may of course also mark the abdication with Masses or prayer services.

Rosary for the Bishop

I stumbled across this rather nice initiative today, “a campaign that aims to support Catholic Bishops through prayer of the Rosary”, as the initiators say. The bishops are our shepherds, appointed just like St. Peter was, to look after Christ’s flock (cf. John 21: 15-17) with the pope at their head. As such they don’t always have an easy task. People, like sheep, can be stubborn and deaf to guidance and advice, both within and without the Church. And bishops, being just as human as you and I, can err likewise. That is why they – and we – also need the guidance of the ultimate shepherd: Christ.

So why not join up at that site, promise to pray a Rosary for your bishop (or some extra bishops too). Many American, Canadian and British dioceses and bishops are already included, as is the pope of course, as well as some bishops in Australia, South Africa, Poland, Italy and other countries. I’ve sent the people who run the website a message with the request to include my bishop, Msgr. de Korte, as well, and in the meantime I’ve already promised to pray for the Holy Father. So, see if you’re bishop is already listed, and if not, see if he can be added, and then go and pray from him: that he may remain open to God and to the members of his flock, that he may lead his diocese in union with the world Church, and that he may receive the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and teach in full health and wisdom.

Papal soundbytes, part 2

At the Chapel of Apparitions in Fátima

“In our time, in which the faith in many places seems like a light in danger of being snuffed out for ever, the highest priority is to make God visible in the world and to open to humanity a way to God. And not to any god, but to the God who had spoken on Sinai; the God whose face we recognize in the love borne to the very end (cf. Jn 13:1) in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Dear brothers and sisters, worship Christ the Lord in your hearts (cf. 1 Pet 3:15)! Do not be afraid to talk of God and to manifest without fear the signs of faith, letting the light of Christ shine in the presence of the people of today, just as the Church which gives birth to humanity as the family of God sings on the night of the Easter Vigil.”

“The recitation of the rosary allows us to fix our gaze and our hearts upon Jesus, just like his Mother, the supreme model of contemplation of the Son. Meditating upon the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries as we pray our Hail Marys, let us reflect upon the interior mystery of Jesus, from the Incarnation, through the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection; let us contemplate the intimate participation of Mary in the mystery of our life in Christ today, a life which is also made up of joy and sorrow, of darkness and light, of fear and hope. Grace invades our hearts, provoking a wish for an incisive and evangelical change of life so that we can say with Saint Paul: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21) in a communion of life and destiny with Christ.” 

Homily during Mass at Fátima

“The Scriptures invite us to believe: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29), but God, who is more deeply present to me than I am to myself (cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, 11) – has the power to come to us, particularly through our inner senses, so that the soul can receive the gentle touch of a reality which is beyond the senses and which enables us to reach what is not accessible or visible to the senses. For this to happen, we must cultivate an interior watchfulness of the heart which, for most of the time, we do not possess on account of the powerful pressure exerted by outside realities and the images and concerns which fill our soul (cf. Theological Commentary on The Message of Fatima, 2000). Yes! God can come to us, and show himself to the eyes of our heart.”

Blessing of the sick

“Dear friends who are sick, welcome the call of Jesus who will shortly pass among you in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and entrust to him every setback and pain that you face, so that they become – according to his design – a means of redemption for the whole world. You will be redeemers with the Redeemer, just as you are sons in the Son. At the cross… stands the mother of Jesus, our mother.”

Meeting with social pastoral care organisations 

“The pressure exerted by the prevailing culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain, ends up influencing our ways of thinking, our projects and the goals of our service, and risks emptying them of the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them. The many pressing requests which we receive for support and assistance from the poor and marginalized of society impel us to look for solutions which correspond to the logic of efficiency, quantifiable effects and publicity. Nonetheless, the synthesis which I mentioned above is absolutely necessary, dear brothers and sisters, if you are to serve Christ in the men and women who look to you. In this world of division, all of us are called to have a profound and authentic unity of heart, spirit and action.”

Meeting with the bishops of Portugal 

“[T]he Pope needs to open himself ever more fully to the mystery of the Cross, embracing it as the one hope and the supreme way to gain and to gather in the Crucified One all his brothers and sisters in humanity. Obeying the word of God, he is called to live not for himself but for the presence of God in the world.”

“In truth, the times in which we live demand a new missionary vigour on the part of Christians, who are called to form a mature laity, identified with the Church and sensitive to the complex transformations taking place in our world. Authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ are needed, above all in those human situations where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt: among politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life. In such circles are found some believers who are ashamed of their beliefs and who even give a helping hand to this type of secularism, which builds barriers before Christian inspiration.”

“The courageous and integral appeal to principles is essential and indispensable; yet simply proclaiming the message does not penetrate to the depths of people’s hearts, it does not touch their freedom, it does not change their lives. What attracts is, above all, the encounter with believing persons who, through their faith, draw others to the grace of Christ by bearing witness to him. The words of Pope John Paul II come to mind: “The Church needs above all great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness among the ‘Christifideles’ because it is from holiness that is born every authentic renewal of the Church, all intelligent enrichment of the faith and of the Christian life, the vital and fecund reactualization of Christianity with the needs of man, a renewed form of presence in the heart of human existence and of the culture of nations (Address for the XX Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree “Apostolicam Actuositatem”, 18 November 1985). One could say, “the Church has need of these great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness…, but there are none!””

“The bearers of a particular charism must feel themselves fundamentally responsible for communion, for the common faith of the Church, and submit themselves to the leadership of their Bishops. It is they who must ensure the ecclesial nature of the movements. Bishops are not only those who hold an office, but those who themselves are bearers of charisms, and responsible for the openness of the Church to the working of the Holy Spirit. We, Bishops, in the sacrament of Holy Orders, are anointed by the Holy Spirit and thus the sacrament ensures that we too are open to his gifts. Thus, on the one hand, we must feel responsibility for welcoming these impulses which are gifts for the Church and which give her new vitality, but, on the other hand, we must also help the movements to find the right way, making some corrections with understanding – with the spiritual and human understanding that is able to combine guidance, gratitude and a certain openness and a willingness to learn.”

“This is not a matter of turning back to the past, nor of a simple return to our origins, but rather of a recovery of the fervour of the origins, of the joy of the initial Christian experience, and of walking beside Christ like the disciples of Emmaus on the day of Easter, allowing his word to warm our hearts and his “broken bread” to open our eyes to the contemplation of his face. Only in this way will the fire of charity blaze strongly enough to impel every Christian to become a source of light and life in the Church and among all men and women.”

Homily during Mass in Porto 

““One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection,” said Peter. His Successor now repeats to each of you: My brothers and sisters, you need to become witnesses with me to the resurrection of Jesus. In effect, if you do not become his witnesses in your daily lives, who will do so in your place? Christians are, in the Church and with the Church, missionaries of Christ sent into the world. This is the indispensable mission of every ecclesial community: to receive from God and to offer to the world the Risen Christ, so that every situation of weakness and of death may be transformed, through the Holy Spirit, into an opportunity for growth and life.”

“We impose nothing, yet we propose ceaselessly, as Peter recommends in one of his Letters: “In your hearts, reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). And everyone, in the end, asks this of us, even those who seem not to.”

Farewell ceremony 

“In Fatima I prayed for the whole world, asking that the future may see an increase in fraternity and solidarity, greater mutual respect and renewed trust and confidence in God, our heavenly Father.”