Who’s going to the Synod – a look at the list

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The Holy See today released the full list of participants of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, to take place from 6 to 27 October in Rome. The assembly, which has been the subject of much discussion, hopes and fears over the past months, will discuss the problems faced by the Church in the Amazon region and try to find specific solutions with an eye on both the availability of the sacraments to the faithful there and the threats faced by people and environment in that area. Solutions which the synod assembly may arrive at could, some fear, then be applied globally. The topic of mandatory celibacy for priests has received special attention, as more than a few have suggested that the Synod could allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood so as to relieve that shortage of priests in the Amazon region. The theological and ecclesiastical repercussions, some fear, could have global consequences.

Apart from the usual suspects, such as the heads of the dicasteries of the curia and religious elected by the Union of Superior Generals, the majority of participants are bishops and priests from the Amazon region. Countries represented are Guyana*, Suriname*, French Guiana*, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

As ever, there will also be a number of ‘fraternal delegates’ representing other Christian church communities. In this case, the Presbyterian, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran churches and the Assembly of God. Other special invitations were issued to a number of lay experts including former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

Hollerich-Comece-klein-kna-800x450

Pope Francis has also selected a number of personal appointments. These include a number of cardinals who have long been considered his closest collaborators, such as Cardinals Maradiaga, Gracias and Marx.  He has also added three prelates who will be made cardinals on October 4th, just days before the assembly opens: Archbishops Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa and Hollerich of Luxembourg (at left), and Fr. Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who also serves as one of the two special secretaries of the Synod assembly.

Bishop-Cheonnie-1-300x225Also of note is the role of Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo (at right). As his diocese, which covers all of Suriname, is included in the pan-Amazon region, he is an automatic participant, but he has also served on the Presynodal Council, which was tasked with the preparations for the upcoming assembly. Another member of this body is Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop-prelate emeritus of Xingu in Brazil. The 80-year-old prelate presents himself as a close confidant of Pope Francis, but he also supports a number of problematic changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

Lastly, while the list of participants makes clear that this special assembly is very much localised – devoted to a specific area, led by people from that area – there are some connections to the wider world. In the first place to Rome of course, with the curia involved as they are in every Synod assembly. Other continents are also represented however. Among the pontifical appointments, Europe stands out, mostly because of the presence of Italian prelates. And these are not only members of the curia, but also ordinaries of Italian dioceses. Among the special invitees, Germany is also quite present. While only Cardinal Marx was invited by the pope, the heads of Adveniat (the German Church’s aid organisation for the Church in Latin America) and Misereor (the German bishops’ development organisation) will also participate. Asia is rather absent, but Africa is not. The presence of two participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as, from Oceania, Cardinal Ribat from Papua New Guinea, makes sense, as these countries both include large stretches of pristine rain forest and a significant number of Catholic faithful who can not always be reached easily. The same problems are also faced in the Amazon. North America, then, is represented by a Canadian and four Americans, including Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a like mind to Pope Francis.

* As the bishops of these countries are members of the bishops’ conference of the Antilles, the president of that body, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, also participates.

On the death of Bishop Zichem

mgr_a_zichemWatching the Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in St. Peter’s yesterday, I noticed the mentioning of Bishop Aloysius Zichem in the bidding prayers, asking us to pray for his eternal rest. The Diocese of Paramaribo indeed announces the death of the first native bishop of the sole diocese of Suriname.

Bishop Karel Choennie writes:

“On Sunday 13 November, at 17:45, our beloved Monsignor Aloysius Zichem left us at the age of 83. Monsignor Zichem was ordained as bishop  on 7 February 1970  and has served the Roman Catholic community for 32 years with pastoral love and dedication as bishop of Paramaribo. After having suffering a stroke on 31 December 2002, he presented his resignation to the Church authorities in Rome, which was subsequently honourably granted to him in 2003.

For 14 years, Monsignor Zichem bore his suffering patiently and in silence, even while being meaningfully present among the faithful and in society. As bishop of Paramaribo, Monsignor Zichem not only lovingly gave himself for the Church and her members, but dedicated himself with heart and soul as an upright human being for our entire society. Especially during the great challenges in the history of our nation, Monsignor Zichem always had compassion with all of society and fully dedicated himself to maintaining justice, peace and harmony in the country he so loved.

Further information regarding mourning, farewell and burial will be announced.

Pray for him, that he may rest in peace with the merciful Father.

On behalf of the Roman Catholic community,
+Karel Choennie
Bishop of Paramaribo”

May he rest in peace.

For Paramaribo, a native son again

After almost 18 months, Paramaribo and the entire country of Suriname will once more have a bishop, and for only the second time in its almost 200-year history, the bishop is a native son.

Father Karel Choennie, pictured below with Apostolic Administrator Fr. Antonius te Dorshorst and episcopal vicar Fr. Esteban Kross at today’s press conference announcing his appointment, was vicar general under the diocese’s previous bishop, Dutchman Wim de Bekker, who retired in May of 2014.

Choennie

Bishop-elect Choennie was born in Suriname in 1958, He studied pedagogy at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and subsequently at the minor seminary in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He received his licentiate in pastoral theology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. He served in various parishes in Paramaribo, became a member of the diocesan curia in 2001 and vicar general in 2005. This office was suspended upon the retirement of Bishop de Bekker in 2014.

The diocese reports that the new bishop will be consecrated in early 2016. According to canon law this must take place within three months after the appointment, in this case before 11 February. The identity of the main consecrator is unknown at this time, but it is a safe bet that emeritus Bishop de Bekker will be the one. After his retirement he remained in Suriname, living in the town of Groningen, west of Paramaribo.

Bishop-elect Choennie, as mentioned above, is the second bishop of Paramaribo born in Suriname. The first native bishop of Paramaribo was Msgr. Aloysius Zichem, who is now 82. He was bishop from 1971 to 2003. All other ordinaries have been Dutch, reflecting the colonial history of Suriname.

The Diocese of Paramaribo, which covers all of Suriname, is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. It was established in 1817 as  the Apostolic Prefecture of Dutch Guyana-Suriname, promoted to an Apostolic Vicariate in 1842 and became the modern diocese in 1958.

Photo credit: Gino Rozenblad

Time for a native son? – Dutch bishop of Paramaribo retires

On Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Wilhelmus de Bekker of Paramaribo. The Dutch-born prelate turned  75 on 27 April and has been the bishop of Suriname’s sole diocese for almost ten years. Father Antonius te Dorshorst has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator until a new bishop has been appointed. Like the retired bishop, Fr. Toon, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is also Dutch. But after 46 years in Suriname, he says, “I feel more Surinamese than Dutch.” He admits surprise at having been chosen as Administrator, considering his age (71). “I thought, I am 100 per cent safe.”

father te dorshorst, bishop de bekker

^Fr. te Dorshort and Bishop de Bekker.

Bishop de Bekker, born in Helmond in 1939, is a teacher by training. In the 1970’s he travelled to Suriname, where he studied theology and was ordained in 1985. He worked as a parish priest in Paramaribo and was appointed as the diocese’s vicar general in 1995. Upon the retirement of Bishop Aloysius van Zichem in 2003, Msgr. de Bekker became Apostolic Administrator, and a year later, in 2004, he was appointed as the new bishop. Bishop Ad van Luyn, then of Rotterdam, was the main consecrator. Archbishops Edward Gilbert of Port-of-Spain and Lawrence Burke of Kingston in Jamaica were co-consecrators.

It will be interesting to see if the successor of Bishop de Bekker will be a native son of Suriname, or, once again, a Dutch priest. Paramaribo has been a diocese since 1958 and was the Apostolic Vicariate of Dutch Guyana-Suriname between 1842 and 1958. Nine of the ten bishops and vicars apostolic who headed the Church in modern Suriname over that period were Dutch. The sole exception is Bishop de Bekker’s predecessor, Bishop van Zichem, who is now 81.

Bishop de Bekker will remain in Suriname, ready to assist the Apostolic Administrator and, presumable, the new bishop as well. He will take up residence in Groningen, which lies about 30 kilometers west of Paramaribo.

There are now two Dutch bishops active abroad: Bishop Joseph Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane in Australia; and Archbishop Bert van Megen, Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan.

Photo credit: Jason Leysner

For 300 Dutch pilgrims, WYD 2013 begins

As young Catholics gather in the chapel of Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, Bishop Everard de Jong offers a blessing for their journey to South America.

de jong wyd schiphol

Some 300 young Dutch Catholics are travelling to destinations in Suriname and Brazil before joining hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Rio to partake in the 2013 edition of World Youth Day, which will take place from 23 to 28 July.

Travelling with the pilgrims are Bishop Hans van den Hende, who will join the group heading for Suriname, and Bishop de Jong, who will be with the group in Almenara. In Rio, they will be joined by Bishops Rob Mutsaerts and Jan Hendriks. The latter three will be the three Dutch bishops holding catechesis talks during the days in Rio.

300 to Rio

wyd_logoAs the registration closed on 5 April, some 300 young Catholics from the Netherlands had signed up for the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which will take place in July. Although this is about 1,000 less than the number who went to Madrid in 2011, the number can’t be considered as very low. Whereas a bus trip sufficed for Madrid, for Rio, the pilgrims will be making an intercontinental flight, as well as significant plane journeys within Brazil or, in one case, from Suriname to Brazil. Higher costs and the far greater distance will have kept more people from committing.

The Dutch pilgrims, which will be accompanied by Bishops Hendriks, Mutsaerts and De Jong, are also joined by a group from the Diocese of Paramaribo. That is a similar construction to the one used in 2011, when the Surinam pilgrims joined up with the group from the Diocese of Rotterdam before travelling south to Spain. The Dutch pilgrims will now be guests in Suriname before travelling to Rio.

Other pilgrim groups will start their World Youth Day experience in Brazil, in the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza and the Diocese of Almenara. Two of these circumscriptions have connections to the Netherlands: Belo Horizonte is the city of Blessed Eustáquio van Lieshout, a Dutch missionary who worked miracles for the sick under his care; and Almenara’s Bishop Hugo van Steekelenburg was born in the Netherlands.

 As in earlier editions of the World Youth Days, the first week will be spent in dioceses and communities across the host country and neighbouring countries. Starting on 20 July, the young pilgrims will start arriving in Rio de Janeiro.

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19)

In the aftermath of my post on Bishop Schilder, I wondered how many other Dutch bishops are serving abroad, or, at least, are still alive. In a twist of irony, the Netherlands was at one time something of an exporter of missionary priests and religious and some of those ended up climbing the ranks to become bishops of a diocese on another continent.

A glance at the unrivaled repository of all things bishop that is Catholic-Hierarchy, I found a list of all living bishops who in some way have something to do with the Netherlands. Among them the bishops who were born here but who put on the mitre somewhere else. There are twelve of them. Eight have already retired, and four are still active.

They are the following:

  • Monsignor Everardus Antonius M. Baaij, S.C.I. 89 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Aliwal, South Africa. Ordinary from 1973 to 1981
  • Monsignor Wilhelmus Josephus Adrianus Maria de Bekker. 71 years old. Bishop of Paramaribo, Suriname. Ordinary since 2004.
  • Monsignor Wilhelmus Joannes Demarteau, M.S.F. 94 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Banjarmasin, Indonesia. Ordinary from 1961 to 1983. From 1954 to 1961 he was the Vicar Apostolic of Banjarmasin, then not yet a diocese.
  • Monsignor Henk Kronenberg, S.M. 76 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Ordinary from 1999 to 2009.
  • Monsignor Herman Ferdinandus Maria Münninghoff, O.F.M. 89 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Jayapura, Indonesia. Ordinary from 1972 to 1997.
  • Monsignor Joseph John Oudeman, O.F.M. Cap. 69 years old (exactly 69 today, by the way). Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Australia. Auxiliary since 2002.
  • Monsignor Cornelius Schilder, M.H.M. 69 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Ngong, Kenya. Ordinary from 2002 to 2009.
  • Monsignor Andreas Peter Cornelius Sol, M.S.C. 95 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Amboina, Indonesia. Appointed Coadjutor Bishop in 1963, ordinary from 1965 to 1994.
  • Bishop van Steekelenburg

    Monsignor Johannes Henricus J. Te Maarssen, S.V.D. 77 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Kundiawa, Papua New Guinea. Ordinary from 2000 to 2009.

  • Monsignor Theodorus van Ruijven, C.M. 72 years old. Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte, Ethiopia. Appointed Prefect of Jimma-Bonga in 1998, Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte since 2009.
  • Monsignor Hugo María van Steekelenburg, O.F.M. 73 years old. Bishop of Almenara, Brazil. Ordinary since 1999.
  • Monsignor Vital João Geraldo Wilderink, O. Carm. 79 years old. Emeritus Bishop of Itaguaí, Brazil. Appointed Auxiliary BIshop of Barra do Piraí-Volta Redonda in 1978, ordinary of Itaguaí from 1980 to 1998.

All but one of these bishops belong to religious orders or congregations, indicated by the abbreviations behind their names, evidence that all of them once joined the mission as priests. The twelve also represented at least two distinct generations. The first in the late 80s and 90s, and the second, still serving for the most part, in their 60s and 70s. The youngest, Bishop Oudeman, being 69, does show that this Dutch presence among the bishops of other nations is slowly coming to an end. After all, it is not unheard of that priests in their 40s or 50s are appointed bishops, but these men are well beyond that age. Besides, most of the countries named above are now ‘homegrowing’ their own bishops, so there is less need to fall back on the mission.

But, as it is, these twelve men of God remind us of a part of the recent history of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands which seems quite unusual to our modern eyes.