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

In the light of MH17: “…”

Of course the world is full of violence and death these days, from Gaza to the Central African Republic, and from Syria to the Ukraine, but sometimes it all hits particularly close to home. 285 innocent people were killed yesterday, and at least 189 of them were Dutch. The reason for their death? They flew over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, at an altitude of 10 kilometers. Someone somewhere launched a surface-to-air missile at the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, apparently mistaking it for a military transport plane.

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^No photos of wreckage here, but a shot of the Boeing as it left Schiphol Airport yesterday.

In my social media circles, there are at least two people who have lost friends or acquaintances. The outpouring of support and prayer on Facebook and Twitter struck me yesterday and today, even though the sheer scale of the death and destruction is mind numbing.

Pope Francis had a statement released via the Holy See press office today, which reads:

“The Holy Father, Pope Francis has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions. He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

The Dutch bishops also shared their grief and called for prayer:

“We ask all faithful to do everything possible to support the families and friends of victims. And we encourage all the faithful to commend the victims to the mercy of God during the services of this Sunday, and to pray for strength and courage for those left behind.”

Individual bishops als commented. Cardinal Eijk said in an official statement:

“The world heard with shock of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 near the border between Ukraine and Russia. All of the nearly 300 passengers and crew, including at least 154 Dutch, were killed. Sentiments of sorrow and frustration  dominate all aircraft disasters. According to the first reports this civilian airplane was shot down with a missile – which would make this disaster even more unbearable.

We pray for the eternal rest of the people who died in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayer are also with the family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues of the victims. For them a time of great uncertainty and mourning has begun. I ask all parishes in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to pray for the victims and their survivors in next Sunday’s services.”

The bishops of Haarlem-Amsterdam and ‘s Hertogenbosch have also called for prayers and support for the victims and their families.

But, in the end, words are words. In these cases whatever we do never feels like it is enough. We can only pray, hope and love.

Photo credit: Fred Neeleman/AFP/Getty Images

From Moscow to Cologne

As the fallout of the Pussy Riot trial in Russia reaches Germany, the message seems rather lost. Whereas the Russian punk band presented their protest as against the regime of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (while, it must be added, not hesitating to spit in the faces of many Russian faithful), three young sympathisers who interrupted Mass in Cologne’s cathedral on Sunday seem to have missed the boat a bit when it comes to understanding, well, basically a lot.

The Mass, offered by Auxiliary Bishop Heiner Koch of Cologne, was similar to the Divine Liturgy in Moscow’s cathedral in that both are sacramental acts of worship, but that’s where the similarities end. The Catholic Church is not the Orthodox Church and in Germany she is not linked to political parties, as the Orthodox Church is in Russia (Father Alexander Lucie-Smith has an interesting article in that side of the issue). The short protest that interrupted the Mass would have been rather pointless if it were politically motivated. As an act of support for the three jailed members of Pussy Riot it had perhaps symbolical value, but neither the Catholic Church in Germany or the Archdiocese of Cologne is, of course, involved in the actions of Russia’s judiciary.

It almost seems that the German sympathisers looked at the nature of the Pussy Riot protest, and decided to do something outwardly similar – interrupt the liturgy and mock the faithful participating. The reason and motivation, in the meantime, are lost in the kerfuffle.

Feathers decidedly unruffled, Bishop Koch stated he would pray for the concerns of the protesters in Germany and Russia. The police in Cologne, though, said the protesters are accused of trespassing and disturbing the free exercise of religion.

Photo credit: DPA

Pussy Riot: free speech or scandal?

In certain circles, many people have spoken out against the conviction of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who staged a protest against that country’s President Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They are punished, many on the left side of the political spectrum say, for speaking out against Putin, and therefore their conviction is an example political violence, of curbing free speech.

But, just like the group’s protest was far more than a political protest, the consequences are also. Father Ray Blake, for example, considers the site of the protest and its importance for the Russian nation. He writes (emphasis mine):

“For Russian believers this Cathedral symbolises the very heart of Christian Russia, reborn after the murder of countless of believers and the wholesale destruction of religion in Russia[…]. The demonstration against Putin was one thing but the blasphemy and mockery of religion in the Cathedral was a reminder for believers of the type of thing organised by the persecutors within living memory, it was spitting in the face of the holy Russia.
Can the fatuous western “supporters” of Pussy Riot understand the nature of their demonstration?

And the location, as well as the despicable language and behaviour displayed by the group make a difference. This was not merely a matter of political commentary. It was a blasphemous desecration, an insult to many believers and a spitting in the face to all of Russia. Pussy Riot, as many from whom free speech is a holy grail, consider their own perceived rights an opinions to trump the feelings, rights and opinions of everyone else. In fact, it’s individualism gone crazy.

Is two years in prison harsh? Perhaps (the Russian Orthodox Church seems to think so, as it has appealed for mercy and freedom for the group). Was some form of punishment in order? Most certainly. Pussy Riot are not the victims here.

Photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev

Diplomatic musical chairs – Abp. Gullickson to Ukraine

As papal representatives and delegates are moved about the globe – Mennini from Russia to the UK, then Jurkovic from Ukraine to Russia – part of the Netherlands now bids farewell to its Apostolic Delegate: Archbishop Thomas Gullickson (of the Island Envoy* blog) is set to take over Archbishop Jurkovic’s duties as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. His appointment was made public on Saturday.

Before that date, the archbishop represented the Holy See in the Dutch municipalities in the Caribbean, as well as in most other smaller island nations there. This year would have been his seventh year in the tropics. The Ukrainian post will be his second diplomatic posting, and he’ll be the fourth representative in that country since Ukraine became independent from the crumbling Soviet Union.

The last interval in which the Caribbean went without a nuncio lasted for five months in 2004, so, perhaps, by October of this year we’ll know who will take over the reins from Archbishop Gullickson there.

*Decidedly un-islandlike, Ukraine may warrant a change of name for the archbishop’s blog…

In memoriam: Bishop Tadeusz Ploski

The news of the death of many of Poland’s highest-ranking government and military officials was hard to avoid today. Of course, most attention goes to the President Lech Kaczynski and his immediate entourage, and obituaries may be found here and there already. Military officials and members of parliament are undoubtedly also remembered by people and institutions close to them. Here in my blog I want to give some specific attention to Bishop Tadeusz Ploski of the Military Ordinariate, who was also aboard the doomed Tupolev that crashed today near Smolensk, Russia.

A short overview of his life:

Bishop Ploski  was born in 1956 in the town of Lidzbark Warminski in the northeast of Poland. He entered seminary in Olsztyn in 1976 and was ordained to the priesthood of the Diocese (later archdiocese) of Warmia in 1982. From 1983 to 1986 he studied Church Law at the Catholic University of Lublin, after which he started working for the Polish bishops as a Church lawyer. From 1986 to 1992 he was editor of the Warmian diocesan newspaper as well as chaplain for the College of Education and the Academy of Agriculture and Technology in Olsztyn. In 1992 he was detached to the military. A year later he got his doctorate in Canon Law. In the years following he worked in various functions, always attached to the military, but also as a correspondent for Radio Vaticana and the Catholic News Agency. In 1998 he became a Professor in Religious Psychology in Olsztyn. He published some 150 articles about Canon Law and took part in numerous symposia and conferences about pastoral care and law in the military. On 16 October 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him as bishop of the Polish military; he was installed on the 30th of the same month. Bishop Ploski was 54.

I’ve read rumours that Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, the Primate of Poland and as such the country’s highest cleric, was also considering joining the delegation to Katyn in Russia, which would join Russian officials in a remembrance for the Polish and Soviet victims who were murdered there in World War II. If true, the Archbishop evidently elected to stay at home, so avoiding a virtual disabling of the Church in Poland, not unlike the government has now been disabled.

Also on board the Tupolev were the following representatives of the Polish Churches: Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox chaplain to the Polish military; Father Jan Osiński, field chaplain; Father Bronisław Gostomski, Father Jósef Joniec, Father Zdzisław Król and Father Andrzej Kwaśnik, priests.

I live in a city where there is a large Polish Catholic community. Judging by what I read on the Internet I can only imagine how they must feel. In a sign of solidarity I will join them for their Mass tomorrow morning at 11:15, at the church of St. Francis.

Sources:
http://catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bploski.html
http://www.ordynariat.wp.mil.pl/pl/17.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Polish_Air_Force_Tu-154_crash
http://www.eurosavant.com/2010/04/10/translated-list-of-victims-of-polish-president-air-crash-at-smolensk-airport-russia/