A very special church

During the school Christmas break we take the opportunity to go and visit places. Last week, my girlfriend and I spent a few days in a hotel in the south of the country, from which we visited various cities and towns. The stop for our first day was the town of Valkenburg, in the far south of the Diocese of Roermond (and therefore of the country as a whole).

There, to my surprise, a visit to a Christmas market in a former mine complex revealed a very special former church. During the reign of Napoleon, the Netherlands was annexed to the French Empire, and the Catholic priests were required to make an oath of allegiance to that empire and its ruler. Many refused to do so, and were either imprisoned or exiled for that. Many priests had to offer their Masses in secret, and the priests of Valkenburg and surroundings chose what is now called the ‘Velvet cave’ to use for a makeshift chapel. Baptismal fonts, altars and other requirements were cut out of the soft chalk of the mine and carefully decorated. The masonry and artwork is still preserved, as are memorials to priests who were imprisoned and exiled.

In later decades, more artwork and graffiti appeared, not least from American soldiers who used the caves to fight the German oppressors during the later stages of World War 2.

A photo impression:

Memorial for Father Servaas Widdershoven, parish priest in the area during Napoleonic times.
Saints Francis and Clara, perhaps?
A baptismal font that may still be used upon request. The text reads: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" from Acts 19, 5
The sanctuary, with the former location of the tabernacle still very visible.
"And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers." Acts 2, 42
Saint Servatius, bishop of the first diocese in the Low Countries (Tongres) in the 4th century

 

Another popular saint from these parts is Saint Gerlac, a devout hermit who was fond of his pilgrimages.
"And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread ... He continued his speech until midnight. And there were a great number of lamps in the upper chamber where we were assembled." Acts 20, 7-8
List of priest of 'the canton of Valkenburg' who refused to swear the oath of loyalty to the French regime. Fr. Sewrvatius Widdershoven was imprisoned, while Fr. Joan Mathijs van den Eerdewegh was exiled to the Island of Ré, off the French coast near La Rochelle.
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In memoriam: Bishop Tadeusz Ploski

The news of the death of many of Poland’s highest-ranking government and military officials was hard to avoid today. Of course, most attention goes to the President Lech Kaczynski and his immediate entourage, and obituaries may be found here and there already. Military officials and members of parliament are undoubtedly also remembered by people and institutions close to them. Here in my blog I want to give some specific attention to Bishop Tadeusz Ploski of the Military Ordinariate, who was also aboard the doomed Tupolev that crashed today near Smolensk, Russia.

A short overview of his life:

Bishop Ploski  was born in 1956 in the town of Lidzbark Warminski in the northeast of Poland. He entered seminary in Olsztyn in 1976 and was ordained to the priesthood of the Diocese (later archdiocese) of Warmia in 1982. From 1983 to 1986 he studied Church Law at the Catholic University of Lublin, after which he started working for the Polish bishops as a Church lawyer. From 1986 to 1992 he was editor of the Warmian diocesan newspaper as well as chaplain for the College of Education and the Academy of Agriculture and Technology in Olsztyn. In 1992 he was detached to the military. A year later he got his doctorate in Canon Law. In the years following he worked in various functions, always attached to the military, but also as a correspondent for Radio Vaticana and the Catholic News Agency. In 1998 he became a Professor in Religious Psychology in Olsztyn. He published some 150 articles about Canon Law and took part in numerous symposia and conferences about pastoral care and law in the military. On 16 October 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him as bishop of the Polish military; he was installed on the 30th of the same month. Bishop Ploski was 54.

I’ve read rumours that Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, the Primate of Poland and as such the country’s highest cleric, was also considering joining the delegation to Katyn in Russia, which would join Russian officials in a remembrance for the Polish and Soviet victims who were murdered there in World War II. If true, the Archbishop evidently elected to stay at home, so avoiding a virtual disabling of the Church in Poland, not unlike the government has now been disabled.

Also on board the Tupolev were the following representatives of the Polish Churches: Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox chaplain to the Polish military; Father Jan Osiński, field chaplain; Father Bronisław Gostomski, Father Jósef Joniec, Father Zdzisław Król and Father Andrzej Kwaśnik, priests.

I live in a city where there is a large Polish Catholic community. Judging by what I read on the Internet I can only imagine how they must feel. In a sign of solidarity I will join them for their Mass tomorrow morning at 11:15, at the church of St. Francis.

Sources:
http://catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bploski.html
http://www.ordynariat.wp.mil.pl/pl/17.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Polish_Air_Force_Tu-154_crash
http://www.eurosavant.com/2010/04/10/translated-list-of-victims-of-polish-president-air-crash-at-smolensk-airport-russia/

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…