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

The peace of Christ – Bishop Van Looy’s letter for Christmas

Ghent’s Bishop Luc Van Looy devotes his Christmas letter to the peace of this period. Peace in ourselves, but also the peace we are obliged to share with those who need it most, especially the homeless, the displaced and the refugees.

van looyTo all people of good will
Christmas letter from Msgr. Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent

Christmas truce

The commemorations of the start of the First World War remind us of what our ancestors did to achieve peace. In the past year we could learn much from the media about this dark page in our history. At the same time we are continuously confronted with the horrible situations in which many people live today, because of the violence of war. The UN speaks of 28 million people without a home and 10 million refugees in the world at this moment. Among these people there are a great many children, especially since those countries in which war now rages have a culture of families with many children. In 2013, 15,840 people asked for asylum in Belgium, people mostly from eastern European and African countries.

We can’t take comfort in the thought that these things happen in distant countries. We can’t remain blind to the situation of so many displaced persons in our towns and cities: homeless, squatters, people without a house, who are completely dependent on social services for their food and clothes. Perhaps we et to easily rid of our duty by giving some small alms or donating to some project for children in Africa or Latin America. A child in London asked, “Why would I go to my mother’s when there is no electricity of water there?” These people need our love, just like our material support.

Pope Francis sees in these “new forms of poverty and vulnerability … the suffering Christ”. “The homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others” all call to mind the suffering Christ. The image of breaking the bread and pouring the wine as His body and blood are irrevocable signs of the total givenness of Christ. Pope Francis calls for generous empathy out of that union with Christ. Referring to himself, he says, “Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 210).

Christmas is an ideal period for special focus on these social problems. Mary and Joseph also failed to find shelter for the birth of Jesus. In addition, they were forced to flee with Him to Egypt. Herod did not recognise the Messiah in this child; he was not interested in the person, but to his own position as steward. It is our duty to focus on the person and not to judge or generalise based on race or culture, religion or ancestry, poverty or wealth, orientation or age. The incarnation of Christ shows us that every human being deserves attention. Jesus comes among the people. He joins in their conversations and speaks with authority, but at the same time He listens to their concerns. He has special attention for the deprived, the sick, the poor, the children. His attention is for the sinners; He lets the adulterous woman go, to ultimately praise her to the expense of the host. He is a man among men. He did not take pride in His descent. On the contrary, He became the servant of all.

In the social unrest that we have witnessed recently, we need to distinguish what is important. Here too, man needs to be in the centre instead of mere power play. Here the Pope also speaks: “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Evangelii Gaudium 226).

Christmas teaches us to bring peace. “He is the peace between us” (Eph. 2:14), and He paid the price for it with His blood on the cross. People and cultures are diverse and you can try to achieve peace through negotiations, but nothing is as strong as the unity of Spirit. Unity is fundamental and transcends all conflict. Looking for a synthesis, one must depart from the desire for unity among all people. It is a matter of appreciating the other, esteeming him – more than yourself – and recognising and accepting the dignity of all. This attitude can defeat all partisanship and conflict. No one is more man because he or she was born in some privileged culture or in a certain context. Equality flows from the gift of life itself, which everyone has received from the same Father.

Dear friends, states of war, conflict, migration and poverty can not leave us unmoved. There are many initiatives in this time of Christmas to ease the fate of others, to share the warmth of the community. In this time everyone may experience that Christ has come to bring peace and unity. But it is important that this attention is not limited to the period of Christmas, but spreads throughout the year. The service to people and the world – we call this te diaconate – is an essential aspect of our Christianity.

I wish for the year 2015 to be a year of solidarity and service for all of you, of friendship which resolves conflicts, of peace in families. May the peace of Christ for every man be even stronger than just a “Christmas truce”, so that it may be a new start wherever necessary. For it was God’s intention to give everyone peace, when He sent His Son into the world.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

“Building bridges with Christ”- Pontifex writes about the true Pontifex

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In a message to the organisation and participants of the German Katholikentag, it’s 99th edition starting in Regensburg today, Pope Francis takes on the events motto to write about what it means to imitate Christ in His building of bridges between people and between God and people. Classic Francis:

“My honourable brother Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg!

In heartfelt unity I greet you and all our brothers in the episcopate, the priests, the deacons and laity who have come from all parts of Germany, and also from the Czech Republic, Austria and other countries to the time-honoured “City of Bridges” Regensburg on the occasion of the 99th Catholic Day, taking place from 28 May to 1 June. Under the motto “Building bridges with Christ” you wish to celebrate together in these days, to learn from each other and pray from one another, bearing witness of our faith, through the means of the Catholic Day, as builders of bridges in Church and society.

We Christians have the standing commandment to build bridges of relationships, of maintaining a dialogue about the questions of life with other and not to lose sight of the care for the margins – be they those of society, of religion or human relationships. Christ is the foundation upon we start building; for it is he who has broken down the dividing wall between people and between God and people (cf. Eph. 2:14). Through His death on the Cross and His resurrection he builds for us the bridge of life. In his Ascension into Heaven he became the bridge builder between God and people, as a bridge between time and eternity. He calls us through Baptism and Confirmation to follow Him in building bridges.

History teaches us that dialogue is not an easy task. Just one hundred years ago it was negatively shown how people tear down bridges and refused dialogue. The terrible First World War broke out. Many more terrible wars and conflicts followed – altogether a bloody century. In the hearts of people the walls of distrust, of anger and hate for the other grew. In such a way man isolates himself in his resentment. Walls are raised, first in the heart and then between houses. How difficult does reconciliation then become. In your country, you have bitterly experienced this – with the Berlin Wall. How much pain, how much division did this wall cause. But then people came together in Churches, to pray for peace. And in the power of prayer they went out into their city, week after week. Increasing numbers of people joined them. And finally the wall was torn down – this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this event. There we see the mission of Christians: to pray and the go out and bring to others the Good News, for which people yearn most deeply.

Building bridges with Christ means, in particular, to pray. Prayer is not a one-way road. It is a real dialogue. Christ answers and helps us. We must pay attention, because Jesus often speaks very quietly. He speaks to us through the Gospels and through our encounters with our fellow human beings. It is important to be watchful and to often read the Gospel. Entrust yourself to the Lord and His good guidance! At the Catholic Day you give a sign for true dialogue: dialogue with Christ and with each other. In this way you become true witnesses and capable bridge coworkers with Christ in “building bridges” for peace and eternal salvation. With this in mind I gladly give all participants of the Catholic Day the Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 23 May 2014

Pope Francis”

The Cardijn Cause

cardijnIn recent weeks, the dean of Diest in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Father Felix Van Meerbergen, has been using his social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to promote the cause of Josef-Léon Cardinal Cardijn. As the founder of the International Coordination of Young Christian Workers, he was particularly concerned with the formation and evangelisation of labourers, inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum from 1891, as well as people around him. His approach and inspiration continues in various lay movements around the world, most notably Catholic Action.

Fr. Van Meerbergen shares a prayer (which I translated in Dutch here) for Cardinal Cardijn’s cause:

Heavenly Father, you are the source of every good thing that comes unto us. We are thankful to you for the gift of Joseph Cardinal Cardijn to the world at large.

Cardinal Cardijn was a champion of workers who are co-labourers with you in re-creating a new world where love, equality and justice will reign in the spirit. He toiled all his life for the empowerment of the workers so that they may move from being powerless to be powerful with your divine help.

We, the present and former members of the Cardijn movements and those who have accepted or having known Cardijn’s spirituality, vision and SEE-JUDGE-ACT methodology seek your divine intervention to declare the apostle of the workers a saint of the Holy Mother the Church.

This we ask you through Christ our Lord,

Amen.

Joseph-Léon Cardijn was born in 1882, in Schaerbeek near Brussels. In 1906, he was ordained a priest and decided to devote his life to the evangelisation of the working classes. He travelled abroad and developed his ideas in earnest while a parish priest in Laeken. Following World War I, during which he was imprisoned twice, he left Laeken in 1919 and started working fulltime for the workers. He established what would become the Young Catholic Workers movement in 1919, and saw it unofficially recognised in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1967, Father Cardijn’s movement was active in 69 countries and had 2 million members. Pope Paul VI recognised this success in 1965 by creating him a cardinal. Cardinal Cardijn became Cardinal-Deacon of San Michele Arcangelo.

Cardinal Cardijn passed away in 1967 and his funeral Mass was attended by the then-Prince Albert, now King Albert II. In 2005, Belgian television viewers voted Cardinal Cardijn to number 23 in the Greatest Belgian vote.

Fr. Van Meerbergen is not only promoting the cause of Cardinal Cardijn, but also invites people to submit information about him, especially those who may have known the late cardinal. Her may be contacted via the social media channels mentioned above.

The Official Acts of the Holy See, and lots of them

A wealth of historical information has been made digitally available by the Vatican: the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007. That covers the papacies of Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the unification of Italy, two Vatican Councils, the challenge of modernism, the publication of the first Code of Canon Law, two world wars, the creation of the Vatican City State and the cold war. A lot of topics which directly affected the Vatican and the Catholic Church and which resulted in many hundreds of pages of documents.

Browsing is not really useful with this collection, since the PDF files take while to load, due to their size. And it requires a working knowledge of Italian, but all the same: it’s a treasure chest of information.

Now to learn Italian…