The sorrow of Belgium

What to say about the horrific bus crash in Switzerland which killed 22 children and 6 adults? Terrible in itself, the news becomes even worse when the names become faces, as happened via social media today.

The message of support from Pope Benedict XVI, the prayer vigil led by Archbishops Léonard and Berloco, the papal nuncio, at Louvain’s St. Peter’s church, the visits of Archbishop Léonard and Bishops Hoogmartens and Lemmens to the schools the children attended, even Bishop Lemmens’ flying down to Switzerland to offer any means of support to families and survivors on behalf of the bishops of Belgium, are but attempts to soften the pain. At best we may hope and pray that they will bear good fruit.

Words? I don’t think there are any.

Archbishop Léonard at the prayer vigil yesterday. Some 1,000 people attended the vigil in Louvain's St. Peter's church.

Photo credit: [1] AFP Photo/Sebastien Feval, [2] Reuters/AP


A pilgrim’s progress – the WYD experience

I am finding it really hard to condense my thoughts, memories and feelings about the World Youth Days into a coherent blog post. Maybe it’s still too early to do so. I’ve only been home for less than three days, after all. I can say one thing, though, the experience sticks. Looking back at my and other’s photos and reading their thoughts in blog posts and tweets, the WYD mood is still with me. My attitude to the daily things is different. I am certain that feeling will wane as time progresses, but for now I treasure it.

In the bus to Spain

There are many things that contribute to that feeling, which is ever so hard to put into words. There’s the company of fellow young Catholics and a bunch of priests in two buses on the long road to Zaragoza and later Madrid, buses in which the atmosphere and camaraderie was just fantastic. On the road through Belgium, France, around the Pyrenees and into Spain, this laid the groundwork for a group of almost 100 pilgrims who were there for each other and with each other. Another aspect was the accommodation, primitive as it may have been. We slept in sports centres, first with a group of some 60 pilgrims from Italy, later with almost all Dutch pilgrims (some 1,000, I would estimate). Comfortable it was not, sanitary facilities were mediocre at best, breakfast was laughable, but still… we were in it together, not for our individual selves, but for each other, for the Church, for Christ. There was the fatigue, with nights of, at most, five hours of sleep, and days filled with city tours, catechesis, Mass and cultural activities. There were also the physical discomfort, the injuries of foot and leg that a fair number of pilgrims suffered (myself included).

The view from 'Camp Holland' at Cuatro Vientos airbase

And then… there were the massive gatherings of people for the closing Mass in Zaragoza, the arrival of the pope, the beautiful Via Crucis and the closing Mass in Madrid. The latter especially, with the vigil, the storm, the baking heat and the distant pope, will indeed remain in my memory as he high point of the World Youth Days. We relied on each other, carrying only the things we could carry in our back pack, while we staked out our own ‘Camp Holland’ in section E8 on the Cuatro Vientos airbase. Temperatures soared to the high 30s, the Madrid fire department worked all day to keep people cool (and they deserve every commendation for their work), and then, as the Holy Father joined us, we were united in the downpour.

In the end, after the Mass the next morning, we smelled, we were tired, and all we could think of was cooling off in the pool around the corner, but we were blessed. Truly blessed. Sometimes it takes a while to notice this, but I firmly believe that the experience – all two weeks – changed us. And that belief, that faith, is what I want to keep as ‘normal life’ starts again.

The Holy Spirit in one of the domes of the Basilica or Nuestra Señora del Pilar

You notice that it is hard to put into words how my pilgrimage has been, and that is something I keep noticing especially when talking about it with family and friends who stayed at home. Of course, they have seen the news items on TV and Internet, seen the photos and heard the stories, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. A pilgrimage is more than a string of events. It is, so to speak, a full experience of body and mind, and that doesn’t translate well into words. It needs to be experienced to be understood. I’ve certainly learned that: the stories of friends who went to the World Youth Days in Sydney and Cologne do not compare to the real thing. And in that sense I was not prepared for what I got myself into. But sometimes it’s good not to be too prepared…

And now? I will continue to remember the past two weeks fondly and with gratitude, cultivate the friendships that were created and maintain the new vigour in my faith life. More practically, I’ll be reading what Pope Benedict XVI actually had to say to us; since I don’t speak Spanish, I couldn’t follow his homilies and addresses as they happened. I’ll be sharing the important sound bytes soon.

In closing I want to share some of the more than 300 photos I shot over the course of the Days in the Diocese and the actual World Youth Days. There are many more, by me and m fellow pilgrims as well as countless professional media outlets, but these will give you the smallest of impressions of what it was like.

On our way to the dinner location, with much song and flag waving
Pilgrims from all over the world, like these Japanese sisters in the chapel of St. John the Baptist, visited the Basilica in Zaragoza
Firemen bring deliverance from the heat at Cuatro Vientos
The sun sets over the Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza
Zaragozan streetview
A pilgrim's dinner in Zaragoza
A great group of fellow pilgrims
En route to Spain, a Mass at the French shrine of Our Lady of Garaison
Early in the morning, crowds already fill the metro stations to Cuatro Vientos
Our spot in a small park, awaiting the arrival of the pope
Before departure, pilgrims arrive at Utrecht's St Catherine's cathedral
Sunrise over Cuatro Vientos
Sleeping arrangements in Zaragoza
The Basilica of Nuestra Señora del PIlar as seen from across the River Ebro
Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam gives the second catechesis talk
Watching the pilgrims and their flags return from the opening Mass in Madrid
Clear blue skies over the second day of our trip to Spain, at Notre Dam de Garaison

Prayers for the pope: the Dutch contribution

Pope Benedict during the Corpus Christi celebrations in Rome, yesterday

As mentioned earlier here, Cardinal Piacenza has written to the bishops of the world with the request that they organise 60 hours of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, for the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination to priest, five days from today. A number of Dutch dioceses have responded positively and announced various prayer vents and moments. An overview.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht announces various initiatives in its three vicariates, most of them by religious orders. The 60 hours are easily reached, and the Community of St. John at the church of St. Gerard Majella in Utrecht is the greatest contributor with the better of 40 hours of Adoration offered. The ‘pink’ Sisters of the Cenacle, also in Utrecht, will pray for the pope from Corpus Christi to the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The Basilica of St. Lambert in Hengelo and the church of St. Martin in Arnhem also contribute. In Wageningen, there will be two all-night vigils per week. The link above also features an extensive list of other initiatives.

The Diocese of Roermond has created a rotating schedule for all the diocese’s fourteen deaneries. Every day, a different one will hold several hours of Adoration.

The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch mentions Adoration in several major towns, as well as at the cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, where the 60 hours will be concluded on 4 July, during the annual day for priests.

In the Diocese of Breda Adoration will take place in the Community of Chemin Neuf in Oosterhout, the cathedral of St. Anthony, the Bovendonk seminary and the seminarians’ St. Anthony House.

The Diocese of Rotterdam, then, the Blessed Sacrament has been exposed every day of this week for Adoration, between the morning Mass of 9:30 until 22:30. The local parish as well as various international parishes in Rotterdam joined in this Adoration.

Five out of the seven dioceses in the Netherlands responded well to Cardinal’s request. It must be said that these are the initiatives that have been publicly announced. There are bound to be more which are limited to local faith communities, prayer groups and parishes. The involvement of religious communities, especially in Utrecht, but also in Roermond, is encouraging. Their efforts, especially those of young groups such as the Community of St. John, are often overlooked, but they play a very important part in the communication and witness of faith, especially among young people.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito

Stats for November 2011

Last month did not see many stand-out posts, at least not when it comes to the number of visitors. Some old posts continue to be popular, but there are also some current topics visible. The consistory, the prayer vigil for all nascent life, Archbishop Léonard, Bishop Ter Schure… as well as some lighter topics, such as the Catholic Youth Day and the re-consacration of the cathedral in Paramaribo.

Here’s the list:

1: A gentle pope, but rock solid in the execution 69
2: Under the Roman Sky 61
3: Prayer vigil for ‘all nascent life’ – the Dutch response 50
4: I have one or two things to explain to you 44
4: Cardinals according to John Allen 43
5: Impressions from the Catholic Youth Day 39
6: Oh, not again… 35
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 35
8: Let me say once more…, Some personal thoughts about a resignation, “The cathedral has been resurrected” 32
9: A new deacon 29
10: Serious questions about the guilt of Msgr. Ter Schure, The bishop’s other diocese, Pornography or art? 28

All in all, the blog received 3,754 visits this month, which is a contintuation of the slow rise in visits since September.

Pope’s life vigil homily online and translated

The pope’s homily at the vigil for all nascent human life, held last Saturday, is now available online. NCR has the Engish translation, and I have a Dutch one. Particularly timely in the light of a small resurgence in pro-life debate in the Netherlands (in the wake of Bishop de Jong’s letter to all Dutch MPs, the initiative was then enthusiastically taken up by Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán), the homily is workmanlike, as Father Z put it; the pope makes his points clearly and unashamedly.

Again paraphrasing Msgr. Chaput, the good Archbishop of Denver: Forget the media headlines, just read the pope.

Sadly I was unable to attend the vigil offered in the cathedral of my diocese. Instead I was two dioceses over, in Oldenburg in the diocese of Münster. The local church, St. Peter’s in the city centre, sadly offered nothing in the way of prayer or celebration, at least not when I was there. I’d be interested to find how well (or poorly) attended the vigils across the Netherlands were. All cathedrals held them, and a number of parishes, seminaries and rectorates did the same.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Happy new year!

“Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning brings a special grace, because it is blessed by the Lord. In this Advent period we will once again experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and cared for us to the point of becoming a man. This great and fascinating mystery of God with us, moreover of God who becomes one of us, is what we celebrate in the coming weeks journeying towards holy Christmas. During the season of Advent we feel the Church that takes us by the hand and – in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary – expresses her motherhood allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Vigil for Nascent Human Life, St. Peter’s Basilica, 27 November 2010

Prayer vigil for ‘all nascent life’ – the Dutch response

Driven by curiosity, I perused the websites of the Dutch dioceses, as well as the social media at my disposal, to see how Pope Benedict XVI’s request that the bishops of the world hold a prayer vigil for “all nascent life” on the 27th of November is received in the Netherlands. The result is pretty meagre, to be honest.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht and the dioceses of Breda and Roermond present scheduled prayer vigils, as well as the FSSP-run church of St. Agnes. Individual parishes here and there are also organising, but it’s not as much as could have been.

EDIT: The Diocese of Rotterdam and the parishes of St Barnabas in Haastrecht and Blessed Sacrament in Tilburg  also join the effort.

EDIT 2: Frederick reports that the St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch is also organising a vigil.

EDIT 3: Happy news during the announcements at Mass in my parish today: all Dutch cathedrals will host prayer vigils on the 27th, even those who have yet failed to advertise it.

So, bishops, priest, laity (yes, every Catholic is called by the pope to pray for life): get to it! There is still time to organise something.

Father Z muses about the meaning of the word ‘nascent’ in the pope’s call:

“I like the use of the word “nascent”.   The very form, from the Latin deponent verb “nascor… to be born” suggests ongoing action.  The -sc- element is inchoative: ongoing, beginning, not yet complete.  That is to say, from the moment of conception the newly conceived person begins the process of being born.  Sure, we identify different stages of development and birth.  But from this other point of view, which I hear in “nascent human life”, every abortion would be a partial birth abortion.”

USCCB offers worship aids for upcoming life vigil

A link to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ page about the upcoming Vigil for All Nascent Human Life that Pope Benedict XVI has urged all diocesan bishops in the world to organise and preside over on 27 November. The USCCB offers some helpful worship aids for parishes to organise said vigil. The vigil coincides with the first Vespers of Advent, and so is firmly part of the lead-up to the new Church year. Perhaps it can be the start of renewed focus on the defense of all human life, from conception to natural death, especially in those countries and areas where that has been lacking. I hope that bishops, priests and laity take the invitation of the pope seriously and will unite in prayer with their brothers and sisters all over the world at the start of Advent.

My view during the night

The St. Joseph altar which is also the Altar of Repose where the Blessed Sacrament resides following Maundy Thursday.

The all-night vigil at the cathedral was a moderate success, I would say. The turnout immediately after Mass was quite high, but that diminished as the hours progressed of course. Still, there were nine people who watched all night, from 9:30 in the evening to 7 in the morning.

The doors of the cathedral were open until midnight, and people came trickling in and out until that time. That hasn’t happened every year. For some people it was the first time they’d experienced something like a vigil, but a few were determined to try it out, so to speak. And some were enthusiastic. The silence which almost automatically triggers reflection seems surprisingly appealing to some.

It was a long haul, though, and the hours between three and six in the morning are the worst.

My Easter Triduum, and then some

If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice. 

Here is my schedule: 

Maundy Thursday
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time. 

Good Friday
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service. 

The Easter Vigil starts in darkness. The Paschal candle, carried here by my parish priest, Fr. Rolf Wagenaar, signifies the light of Christ, and slowly illuminates the entire cathedral.

Holy Saturday
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic. 

Easter Sunday
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage. 

Easter Monday
11:00: Serving at High Mass.