In surprising move, Bishop de Korte goes south

It was one of the more unexpected choices, and for the new bishop the change will be big in several ways: he goes from the north to the south of the country, from a diocese with few Catholics to one with many, from a part of the country where people are fairly down to earth, to one where the Dutch concept of ‘gezelligheid’ has a natural home and where people are sometimes brutally honest. It will be interesting to see what bishop and diocese bring each other.

Mgr. Hurkmans en Mgr. de Korte
Bishop Hurkmans and his successor, Bishop de Korte

The new bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is 60-year-old Gerard de Korte, until today the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. And this scribe’s bishop at that. In yesterday’s blog post I already characterised Bishop de Korte as a popular shepherd. He is personable, interested, with a keen sense of the hearts and minds of other people. That makes him well suited to represent the Catholic Church in relations with other Christians, a talent he has made one of the focal points of his mission. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, such ecumenical effort is a necessity and a value. How it will take shape in ‘s-Hertogenbosch will be very interesting to see.

In a message leaked prematurely via Twitter, Bishop Hurkmans congratulated Bishop de Korte, and expresses a few wishes to him and the faithful of ‘s-Hertogenbosch:

bisschop Hurkmans“I wish very much that you, as a society, may live in confidence with the new bishop. You and I, we, live in a time of many and great changes. Especially now it is good to stand on the solid ground the faith offers us. God is our Creator and Father. He wanted all of us and included us in His plan of love.

Secondly, I wish for you all that you may remain hopeful with the new bishop. Evil and death are in the way of us all. They supplant hope. Jesus Christ broke the power of sin and opened the way to life. We celebrate this in the Eucharist and from it we draw hope every time. With that, as a new community around Christ, we can be a sign of hope in our society.

Lastly, I wish for the new bishop and you all to remain in love. That this may be the basis of your life. The Holy Spirit lives in us. He plants love in us and continuously strengthens the divine life. This makes love bloom in us. Love can reinforce our community. Love will let us live for each other in the Church and in the world.

Remaining in faith, hope and love is more than guaranteed when we participate in unity in a healthy life of the Church. I gladly wish Msgr. Gerard de Korte people who say yes to their vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate and the religious life, people who will work with him in the life of the Church, people who make the Church present in the world. People who support him in his prayer and proclamation, on being close to people and managing the diocese.”

Bishop Hurmans, now bishop emeritus, closes with a word of gratitude, despite beginning his letter by saying that he has said enough about his retirement.

“I thank you all for the faith, the hope and the love which I was able to keep among you. I hope to be able to be a witness of that in a simple way, trusting in the Sweet Mother of Den Bosch and living from the Holy Eucharist, until my death.”

duzijn jellema ordinationBishop de Korte has been the bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden since 2008. Before that, from 2001 to 2008, he was auxiliary bishop of Utrecht, where he also worked as a priest since his ordination in 1987. He is a historian and served as seminary rector before his appointment as bishop. In Groningen-Leeuwarden he was a bishop on the road, travelling to every corner and sharing the major celebrations of Easter and Christmas between the cathedral in Groningen and the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden. Ordinations were also shared between the two cities: those of deacons, as pictured at left, in Leeuwarden, and priests in Groningen. He leaves a diocese in the midst of the greatest reorganisation in recent history: the reduction of its 84 parishes to 19. May the vacancy of the seat in St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen be a short one.

In my blog, Bishop de Korte has made frequent appearances, and translations of his writing may be found via the tag cloud in the left sidebar. Just click on the tag ‘Bishop Gerard de Korte’.

Despite the appointment coming before Easter, Bishop de Korte will mark the Church’s  greatest week in Groningen-Leeuwarden. His installation in ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist will follow on 14 May.

In hindsight, this was perhaps the most Franciscan option in the Netherlands. Bishop de Korte fits the profile of what Pope Francis wants in a bishop (although other bishops are often unfairly depicted as being in opposition to the Holy Father): an open communicator, close to the people, a shepherd who smells like the sheep. These qualities may go a long way in resolving the polarisation that plagues parts of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In recent years more than one community has broken with the diocese, and the person and approach of Bishop de Korte, a man of dialogue and a strong voice against hate and distrust, may go a long way in setting them back on a course towards reconciliation.

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Bishop de Korte at an interfaith meeting against hate and racism in 2014.

 In his new diocese, Bishop de Korte will undoubtedly continue to stress the importance of catechesis. Back in 2012 he said, “It may sound dramatic, but I sometimes feel that only a great catechetical offensive can secure Catholicism in our country. Without it, the strength of our faith seems to continue to weaken and Catholics become more and more religious humanists for whom important aspects of classic Catholicism have become unfamiliar.” Other emphases of his new task will be ecumenism, religious life and active Catholic communities.

de korte eijkIn the Dutch Bishops’ Conference this appointment does not change much, although several commentators have chosen to see it as a blow for Cardinal Eijk, outgoing president and predecessor of Bishop de Korte in Groningen. The two prelates have not always seen eye to eye, and they have clashed on occasion, although how much actual truth there is behind the rumours will probably remain guesswork. In the conference, Bishop de Korte retains his one voice, and continues to hold the portfolios that formulate Church relations with the elderly, women and society. Actual change will only occur when a new bishop is appointed for Groningen-Leeuwarden, and perhaps not even then: if the new ordinary up north is one of the current auxiliary bishops in the country, the composition of the bishops’ conference remains the same as it is now.

Now, we could make the assumption that Cardinal Eijk would have liked to see a bishop in ‘s-Hertogenbosch who was more in line with himself, but that is guesswork. And besides, as I have pointed out before, the cardinal and the bishop may have different personalities and talents, their policies (for example, about the closing of churches and merging of parishes) are not always all that different.

In recent years, Bishop de Korte has appeared as the voice of the bishops’ conference, especially in the wake of the abuse crisis. This will not change, I imagine, even if the crisis has abated somewhat. Although the bishops in general remain hesitant to embrace the resources of the media, Bishop de Korte is the one whose face and name appears most frequently. He is a blogger on the diocesan website, writes books and articles and even appears on television every now and then. This is something that he should continue to do so: he is well-liked by many in and outside the Church, and knows how to communicate to both. And that is a value we need in our Church today.

More to come.

Photo credit: [1] ANP RAMON MANGOLD, [2] Roy Lazet, [3] Leeuwarder Courant, [4], ANP, [5] edited by author

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On the road to priesthood – two new deacons for Groningen-Leeuwarden

duzijn jellema ordinationOn Saturday Bishop Gerard de Korte ordained two men as transitional deacons in the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden, the usual location for deacons to be ordained in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden (priests are ordained in in the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen). Deacons Diederik Duzijn and Arjen Jellema, who will be ordained to the priesthood in February, have both had late answers to their vocation.

duzijnDeacon Duzijn (at right) is 51 and studied classical languages, philosophy and Semitic languages before completing his theological studies. He is appointed to various parishes in western Friesland. Deacon Jellema (below, at left) is 43, studied history and medieval studies and worked as a pastoral worker for seven years before hearing the call to the priesthood. He is appointed to the parishes around the city of Groningen, as well as the student parish in the city.

jellemaIn his homily Bishop de Korte spoke about the good Samaritan. He emphasised that every priest first becomes and always remains a deacon, following the example of the true good Samaritan, Jesus Christ. “The vertical and the horizontal belong together in our faith. Prayer and work, contemplation and struggle.”

I am personally somewhat acquainted with both men. Deacon Duzijn has been an active acolyte in the parish I belong to, and has also given lectures and seminars for parishioners and students. Deacon Jellema was a guest speaker on the topic of the Eucharistic Adoration at a presentation I attended. Both men are knowledgeable and studious and a welcome addition to the small clergy of our diocese.

Rain and wind didn’t stop us – impressions of a pilgrimage

Last Saturday, as I shared on this blog, I went on pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. While it is impossible to share my personal experience with mere words, I think photos will do as well. I can, however, say, that this year’s pilgrimage did not disappoint in either surprises – a rain storm as we were just about halfway to the shrine – or devotion and familial comforts.

Anyway, some photos:

warfhuizen procession

^Beginning with Mass at the Church of St. Boniface in Wehe-den Hoorn, Father Maurits Damsté takes care to give everyone present their share of holy water as the cathedral schola, which had travelled north for the occasion, sings the “Asperges me“. Just like our Baptism washed us clean of our sins, we pray that our confession of sins and the sacrifice of the Lord which we celebrate in Holy Mass will also wash us “whiter than snow”.

procession warfhuizen

^The shrine containing the relics of several holy hermits – including St. Anthony Abbot and St. Gerlac – is being lifted onto the shoulders of four servers. During the Mass it stood before the altar, and for several years now, it has had pride of place in the procession.

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^Assembling the procession line, which went rather easily this time around.

warfhuizen procession

^For the first time, the procession was a sacramental one, as Fr. Maurits carried the Blessed Sacrament underneath a canopy upheld by four men. This is really having the Lord join us. This was also when the rain started to fall.

procession warfhuizen

^Amid the windswept fields of northern Groningen – not to mention the rain and even rumblings of thunder – it is not always easy to maintain composure, especially when carrying big things which catch lots of the aforementioned wind and rain.

procession warfhuizen

^Some evidence that your humble blogger also did his part. I’m the soaked person holding the pole with a statue of the Blessed Virgin, right behind the reliquary of the holy hermits.

warfhuizen procession

^Big skies, tiny procession.

warfhuizen procession

^The rain has stopped, but evidently did its thing.

warfhuizen procession
^Arriving in Warfhuizen, home of Our Lady.

warfhuizen procession

^Holy Hour in the mercy chapel. Father Maurits incenses the Blessed Sacrament in this image taken from behind the enclosure grille.
warfhuizen procession
^Prayers. It has become traditional for faithful to individually ask for prayers for specific intentions (provided they are comfortable with doing so in public), which the entire congregation then takes up. It makes things quite personal and sometimes emotional.

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^A blessing with the Blessed Sacrament. Perfect conclusion to procession, devotion and prayer.

Photo credit: [1-7, 9-12] Marjo Antonissen Steenvoorden, [8] Sander Zwezerijnen

Life in service of the Lord never ends

While in the south we bid our farewells to Bishop Joannes Gijsen today, up north we rejoice as a young man is confirmed in his service to the Lord and His Church. There is always joy, even when we mourn the end of an earthly life.

I can’t be there, so I’ll just use this blog to express not only my heartfelt congratulations, but also my gratitude for his service, to Sander Zwezerijnen as he is ordained a transitional deacon at the St. Boniface church in Leeuwarden today.

zwezerijnen hendriks

Photo credit: Sander with Bishop Jan Hendriks, his seminary rector for most of his formation, upon receiving his magna cum laude diploma from the Pontifical Lateran University, last May/Tiltenberg.org

Mother’s Day with Mary

Looking back at last Saturday’s pilgrimage to Warfhuizen – a visit to our heavenly Mother before visiting our biological mothers for Mother’s Day – I can safely affirm that it was once more a day of unexpected moments. Aside from the personal element which I will keep to myself, there was the wind preventing the use of banners in the procession, for example. First time that happened.

Before we processed to the hermitage and shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, cathedral administrator Father Rolf Wagenaar offered Mass in concelebration with Father Maurits Damsté at the church of St. Boniface in Wehe-den Hoorn, some two kilometers away. The procession had, as always, a very physical element: the distance is not long, but the wind made us put in some effort indeed. Personally, I find it a welcome element, although the prayers were all blown away from my ears. As we came closer to the hermitage, the church bells were victorious over the wind and welcomed us as we entered the village of Warfhuizen.

We spent about half an hour in Adoration and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Many candles were lit for all kinds of intentions. The afternoon’s devotions will, I expect, have its long-term effects over the coming days and weeks. I welcome those effects…

A few photos I snapped:

A new deacon

Tomorrow our diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden will gain a new transitional deacon: Mr. Tjitze Tjepkema (46) will receive the ordination from the hands of Bishop Gerard de Korte at the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden. In May or June of next year he will be ordained to the priesthood.

Mr. Tjepkema is a former Protestant minister who became a Catholic in 2007, only a few months after me. He studied for the diaconate and priesthood in Italy and has already started working in parishes in the south of the province of Drenthe.

As a sign of his duty to proclaim the Gospel, a deacon receives the word of God at his ordination

Photo credit: Sarah K. McIntyre

Going on a pilgrimage

“Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”

… as old Master Chaucer put it in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. And while it is May, and not Aprille, I will go and visit a shrine this afternoon, and with me a fair number of other people of the Guild of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. We will start with Mass in the parish church of St. Boniface in Wehe Den Hoorn and then will process to the shrine, which is also the hermitage of Brother Hugo. It’s a procession of only two kilometers and today it looks to be a slightly rainy one too. It’s a contrast to last year’s pilgrimage, of which you see photo above: it was a warm day, us acolytes wore cassocks and surplices and took turns carrying the cast iron processional cross on its three-meter pole. A rather top-heavy thing. Taking turns was a necessity.

Anyway, once at the shrine, we will celebrate Holy Hour with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. That will then be concluded with coffee and sandwiches. A simple yet devotional practice, I always find. This will be the fourth time I’m participating.

What is the Guild of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed? Quoting from the new website, linked above:

“The Guild […] is a so-called devotional guild [, …] a company of faithful who share a certain preference for a specific saint or a certain aspect of the faith. In the case of the guild of Warfhuizen [the village where the shrine is located] they are Catholics who are especially touched by Mary, the mother of Jesus. [They]  specifically venerate her as Mother of Sorrows. They are touched by Mary’s sorrow as she experienced the suffering and death of her Son.

“The guild was established following the development of pilgrimages to Warfhuizen, [which] started spontaneously in 2003.

“[…] the guild is primarily a community of prayer. We strongly believe in its power and daily pray for the wellbeing of the Church and the world. There is a special guild prayer that many of us pray daily, but it is also possible to do so in our own words, or in silence. The guild does require that we always specifically pray for our own diocese and bishop.”

It sounds very pious and serious, and it is, but at the same time it is not. It’s hard to characterise the guild and its members, but the aforementioned website calls it “familiar, informal”, and that’s true. Case in point: I’m meeting with about a dozen guild members who are first and foremost friends. The atmosphere is perhaps best characterised by the familiarity between friends and their familiarity with the Blessed Virgin and so also Christ.

“Mother of Sorrow, thou knowest what sadness is. Pray for us to your Son Jesus: for faith for those who do not believe. For comfort and relief of those who are ill, and, if it is God’s will, healing. For trust and peace for those who are afraid or lonely. For passionate faithful, for holy priests and religious. That God may keep the Church from any danger and bless our diocese. Mary, Garden Enclosed, pray for us.”