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.

warfhuizen procession

^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.

warfhuizen procession

^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

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:

After the summer, appointment season open

With the summer for the Church now well and truly over (despite the sudden onset of honest to God summer weather here in the Netherlands), as the pope thanks the staff at Castel Gandolfo before returning to Rome, we can perhaps look forward to a few changes in the Dutch Catholic hierarchy. Not to say that there’s any guarantee that these will take place before, say Christmas, but we may as well look ahead.

Of course, carried over from before the summer, we have a vacant diocese, Breda. It’s last bishop, Msgr. Hans van den Hende, took over the glass cathedra of Rotterdam in July. So, with vacancies of Breda in the past century usually lasting any length of time between two and eight months, we may expect a new bishop there come December or January, perhaps sooner. The few rumours that reach this scribe’s ear tend to name any of the recently appointed auxiliary bishops on Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch, although in light of the recent reshuffling of duties within the Bishops’ Conference, one can’t escape the impression that perhaps Bishop Everard de Jong, auxiliary of Roermond since 1998, is being groomed for a diocese of his own…

Another opening, if less visible, is that of the official representative of the Holy See in the Netherlands, the Vatican ambassador, so to speak. Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop François Bacqué reached the age of 75 in early September, at which time he undoubtedly lodged the mandatory resignation with the Holy See. Whether that will be honoured on any short notice remains to be seen of course. But any changes in that field are worth keeping a close eye on for two reasons: the Dutch Catholic playing field is a difficult one, and the Nuncio plays an important part in the selection of future bishops. He receives the terna from the diocese which needs a new shepherd, as well as from the entire conference, and sends it to Rome with his own annotations.

Archbishop Bacqué was appointed to the nunciature in The Hague in 2001, after stints in Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic. In those 10 years, he played his part in the appointment of reassignment of eight bishops (in one occasion both), from Bishop Jos Punt to Haarlem in 2001 to the reassignment of Van den Hende to Rotterdam earlier this year. In this longest stint as Nuncio here since that of Archbishop Angelo Felici between 1967 and 1976, Archbishop Bacqué has left a trademark quiet but unmistakable mark on the now and future development of the Dutch Church. Archbishop Bacqué’s replacement will most likely be coming from the extensive diplomatic force of the Holy See, although diocesan bishops have in the past been sent to be representatives in other countries.

But before that is the case, the Nuncio will make at least one more notable appearance during the High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Amsterdam’s St. Agnes on 6 November, which will be offered by Cardinal Burke in the presence of Bishop Punt.

Photo credit: [1] L’Osservatore Romano – Vatican Pool via Getty Images, [2] Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam

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

The busy-ness of daily life

I’ve been unable to spend enough time on my blog lately, due to all sorts of real-life commitments. Of course, the various major news items – the horrific attacks in Norway, the diplomatic crisis between Ireland and the Holy See, to name but two –  have not gone unnoticed, but in the Netherlands, the Catholic news stream has been fairly quiet. Although the weather would have us believe otherwise, it is summer, and things simply are a bit quieter.

Of course, when things happen, I will write about it, sometimes simply reporting, at other times with my opinion and thoughts attached. For now, though, things are a bit quieter than usual, but I expect that the weeks of August and after will compensate for that. I’ll be gone for two weeks then, to participate in the World Youth Days in Madrid, which will undoubtedly lead to plenty of food for blogging.

Joy in photographs

Ordination season seems to be bearing proper fruit worldwide this year, and the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, in its own small way, joyfully participated in that as well. With the ordination of Father Tjitze Tjepkema and Deacons Pascal Huiting and Maurits Damsté our diocese gains three spiritual, intelligent and socially-minded men, if the words of Father Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar, are anything to go by. Bishop Gerard de Korte ordained the three men in a two-hour-plus Mass attended by some 400 people. The two new deacons are transitional deacons, and will be ordained to the priesthood on 29 October. Sadly, it was not allowed to take photos during the Mass, so I didn’t snap any inside the cathedral. Still, the photo to the left may give an indication of the gold-and-white flying against the clear blue sky of a lovely spring morning outside the cathedral of Saint Joseph in Groningen.

Speaking about photos, two galleries have appeared on Flickr of the annual Guild procession to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. I participated in that and wrote about it on the blog before. The first gallery, courtesy of Mr. Geert van Duinen, may be viewed here, and the second, by Marjo Antonissen, is here. Images of devotion, prayer, and also hard labour, because those banners don’t get themselves to Warfhuizen, certainly not when the strong wind of the Hogeland does its best to blow them all the other way. Carrying a banner depicting Saint Ludgerus, I can safely admit that I offered up my efforts of pushing the saint to the hermitage.

Showcasing the unique mix of devotion and levity, is below photo of a common sight in Warfhuizen: Brother Hugo when he needs to get somewhere reasonably fast, relying on his trusty scooter.

We’ve had a bit of snow

Much to the surprise (and fascination) of one of my in-laws’ cats, there has been a good amount of snow over the past days. It’s rare in this part of the country to have any lasting snow in early December, let alone an amount that allows for snowball fights.

The students of the Irish Dominican Province are also not above some fun in the snow, as the Mulier Fortis shares: