The General Report for the Ad Limina – the first part

Logo BisschoppenconferentieToday the Dutch Bishops’ Conference published the general report on the Catholic Church in the Netherlands that will be presented to Pope Francis during the ad limina visit that will take place from 2 to 7 December. This report comes accompanied by reports on every diocese, which the individual ordinaries will present. Those reports remain confidential, but the general report is public. In due time, I will be posting the entire report in English. For now, however,  a look at the first part, which aims to give an overview of the state of the Church in the Netherlands, and some of the ongoing developments that dictate current policy and trends.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands

The time that the Roman Catholic Church was a great people’s church. lies some decades behind us. We are developing into a church of choice with, especially in the southern dioceses, elements of cultural Catholicism. Before us lies a future in which people who want to be Roman Catholic do so expressly out of a conscious choice. We are investing in the new evangelisation, deepening of the faith and of the personal relationship with Christ. In recent years we anchored ourselves clearly on the basics of our Catholic identity. The richness of the Roman Catholic Church, with her sacraments, social teaching, liturgy, documents and the diversity of offices and ministry has been painted and communicated more clearly and we will continue to work on that.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands exists in a situation of decline, which has begun long ago. In 25 years the number of members dropped by 1 million to 4,044,000 Catholics. At this moment, 24.1 % of the total population is Roman Catholic, and that makes her the largest group of faithful in the Netherlands.

By merging parishes and stimulating cooperation between parishes and parish groups, we want to assure that the local parish remains or becomes a thriving and attractive faith community. From these larger parishes or parish groups missionary initiatives are undertaken, searching for new possibilities to familiarise people with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands performs her mission in a strongly secularised society. In it she does not want to retreat as on an island, but remain in dialogue with government, society, other Christians and followers of other religions and philosophies.

1. Developments

  • The reorganisation of the Bishops’ Conference support structure was completed this year.  On the diocesan level there were reorganisations of the diocesan curia and a restructuring of ecclesiastical life. Ambitions, priorities and organisations must be adjusted to a decrease of available personal and financial means, the size of the faith community and the way in which one participates in the community. It makes the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands a “Church in conversion”.
  • knox_bible_openedThe bishops and their coworkers make parishes aware of their missionary duty and the importance of decent catechesis in the parishes, which makes, attuned to the various stages of life, people familiar with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of the Church. In the past fifty years there has not been enough attention for systematic education in the faith in accordance with the teaching of the Church. A multi-year religious education program for children, youth and young adults, developed by employees of the Diocese of Roermond, is also promoted in other dioceses. Much is being done for a good formation of the countless volunteers who take care of catechesis in the parishes. On multiple sides means of assistance are being developed, such as pastoral care with an emphasis on presence in the concrete lives of people, the use of new media, the Alpha Course and initiatives of new movements.
  • Within the context of the mergers of parishes, parochial caritas foundations are also being merged, creating larger and stronger caritas foundation able to create a diaconal face for the larger parishes. A missionary Church must also give clear witness of the Gospel in the diaconal works of love.
  • Mergers of parishes and decline – with the unavoidable consequence of closing church buildings – create unrest and pain in many places.
  • wydPolicy and the joining of forces regarding the pastoral care of young people have led to a successful Dutch participation in the World Youth Days in Cologne in 2005 (3,500 participants), Sydney in 2008 (700 participants), Madrid in 2011 (1,250 participants) and Rio de Janeiro in 2013 (300 participants). The World Youth Days in Rio de Janeiro drew fewer participants because of the distance and the high costs related to the journey. Additionally, the previous World Youth Days (Madrid) took place only two years earlier, which made the time to save money shorter. The annual Catholic Youth Day draws every years some 1,500 young people from all over the Netherlands. The World Youth Days especially deepened the Catholic faith of many participants, as well as the formation of their personal prayer life and active participation in Church life. There is special attention for the follow up of the World Youth Days through youth activities in the dioceses and on a national level. The dioceses also develop their own programs for youth activities.
  • The Passion is the name of a musical event organised by Roman Catholics and Protestants, in which the story of the passion of Christ and the Gospel of Easter take centre stage, and which since 2011 has taken place annually on Maundy Thursday, every time in a different location. It is broadcast live on television. Famous artists portray the roles of Christ and others who appear in the passion and the Easter Gospel. The event is a missionary chance to present the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ in a modern way to a large audience. In 2011 the event drew almost 1 million viewer. In 2012 there 1.7 million. In 2013 no less than 2.3 million viewers tuned in to The Passion.
  • There are some fifty Catholic immigrant communities and some thirty immigrant parishes (of which a few are Catholic parishes of the Eastern rite) These immigrant Catholic faith communities are often very vital and introduce experiences and expression of the Catholic faith from their country or culture of origin. In that way they contribute to a new momentum in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands.
  • In words and action the bishops follow a clear policy regarding the ecclesiastical, liturgical and sacramental life concerning the position and duty of priests and deacons, as well as pastoral workers and other lay ministers.
  • RKK_logo_paars_magentaThe social relevance of the Church plays a role in her relation to the government, the society, the other churches and church communities, as well as to other religions and philosophies. An important tool is the allocated broadcast time for the Roman Catholic Church (RKK), which the Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Katholieke Radio Omroep (KRO) fill in cooperation. National government carries the costs for the RKK. This time offers special opportunities to reach Catholics and non-Catholics. But the government has decided to stop financing the RKK and withdraw the licenses of all religious broadcasters, so also including the RKK, in 2016. That is why it is important that the KRO continues expressing her Catholic identity in her own broadcast time. In cooperation with the bishops, the KRO will take over the broadcast of the Sunday Eucharist and a few programmes of the RKK. In addition, the bishops are investigating if there are more affordable means to broadcast programmes with a Roman Catholic identity, for example via Internet television and radio.
  • Whereas the principle of the separation of Church and state originally guaranteed the prevention of state interference with Church affairs, this separation is now used by some to urge for a religious neutralisation of the public domain. This helps in the privatisation of religion and faith. The bishops are in favour of Church and state being clearly separate from one another, both administratively and organisationally. This does not, however, mean a separation between faith and conviction on the hand, and politics on the other. The Roman Catholic faith implies a clear and develop social doctrine, a rich source of inspiration for civilians and politics. The opinions of secular groups in society are, like religious opinions, not neutral.

This part of the report is fairly factual, although it does give an idea of where the priorities of the bishops lie. It is fairly policy-driven and therefore automatically rather far removed from the daily experience of faithful and their pastoral needs and wishes. That is an ongoing issue in the Church in the Netherlands: it is still difficult to make the step from policy to practice, from the discussions and plans of the bishops to the daily affairs and experiences of people. That is a gap that needs to be closed from both sides.

The bishops will have arrived in Rome by 1 December, when they will offer a Mass at the Church of the Frisians, with Cardinal Eijk as the main celebrant. This Mass will be broadcast live on television.

The important things happen behind closed doors – the Council of Cardinals gets to work

Although much attention has been given to Pope Francis’s second interview in less than two weeks (more on that later), the real meat behind his proposed reforms is being discussed behind the closed doors of the private library in the papal apartments.

council of cardinals

The Council of Cardinals, from left to right: Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, George Cardinal Pell and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya.

The Council of Cardinals (not the ‘G8’ – that’s a dumb name) will meet twice daily until Thursday. On Friday, they will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Assisi. In the previous months, the cardinal members have been working generally solo, collecting information from the bishops, priests and faithful in their part of the world, although they have been in contact of course. During World Youth Day in Rio, some of them met up unofficially to speak about their mandate.

The meetings which started today will remain private and, as the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, we shouldn’t be expecting any sweeping changes just yet. The council’s work will take a long time, which is also the reason why Pope Francis made it a permanent body. Membership is to the Pope’s  discretion, and we may expect a ninth member from one of the Eastern Churches soon.

In closing I recommend this interview with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, conducted by Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV, in which the cardinal speaks about the Council of Cardinals and their work, among other things:

Photo credit: Catholic News Service photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

At WYD@Home, Bishop van den Hende on the living Lord

van den hendeIn 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.

Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.

1. Topic of the Catechesis

In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.

The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ

In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage [1].In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.

That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” [2]

As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:

  • The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [3].
  • The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I […] have decided to write an ordered account for you, […] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” [4].
  • Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” [5].

So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!

3. Jesus lives

To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried [6]. The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.

But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen [7].

That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen [8], to the Apostles in their home [9], on the shore of the lake [10], on the road [11], and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).

On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.

Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them [12].

Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel [13]. We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them [14].

van den hende4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus

Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [15]. Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.

A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” [16], and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” [17].

When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil [18]. The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” [19]

In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” [20]. Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [21] As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel [22].

B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.

  1. Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” [23]. In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” [24].
  2. Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” [25]. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” [26].
  3. Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” [27].
  4. Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent [28]. To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” [29]. And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” [30]. In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” [31]. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” [32].

Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus [33]. Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.

5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus

Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:

  • Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
  • Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
  • Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear [34]);
  • Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
  • Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.

It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate [35].

6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ

As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:

  • Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room [36] and in the community of the Church;
  • Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
  • Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
  • Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice [37]);
  • Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel [38];
  • Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.

In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.

7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)

The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:

  • Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
  • Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
  • Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel

Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.

8. Questions to discuss

  • Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
  • What would you like to learn from Jesus?
  • What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?

+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam

Photo credit: P. van Mulken

At welcoming ceremony, Dutch pilgrim to meet the Pope

ANNEMARIE SCHEERBOOM

For Dutch pilgrim Annemarie Scheerboom, 21, World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro will be even more special than it already is. As part of the ceremony that will welcome Pope Francis into the city on Thursday, Annemarie has been chosen to represent the European pilgrims and will address the Holy Father in both Dutch and English.

Annemarie also attended the World Youth Days in Sydney (2008) and Madrid (2011). At the latter event, she was part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht’s group that also included me. In daily life, she studies biology, is active in the Sant’Egidio community, edits a Catholic youth magazine and works at a restaurant for the homeless. She considers Pope Francis a “great source of inspiration”.

What Annemarie will tell the Pope is unknown at this time, although an interview with her will be put online at the Dutch World Youth Day portal www.wjd.nl tonight.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold for Jong Katholiek/RKK

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.

“A real missionary” – Dutch bishop in Brazil retires

Yesterday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the bishop of Almenara in Brazil. Bishop Hugo van Steekelenburg reached the retirement age of 75 in October of last year, and was one of four Dutch bishops serving in foreign dioceses*.

Bishop van Steekelenburg was born near The Hague and come to Brazil in 1964, as a Franciscan missionary. Of this time he recalled in a 2011 interview:

“Most of us came to Brazil as missionaries. Almost all left for the interior. They worked there on the request of the local bishop and took on every task. I remember I felt like a real missionary. Electricity was still unknown and the roads were impassable. Almost everything had to be done by horse. There were already many Franciscans active in the area where I am now a bishop. No missionaries came from the Netherlands after about 1968. An increasing number of parishes were transferred to local clergy.”

The same interview mentions that virtually no retired missionaries choose to return to their native Netherlands. After 49 years in Brazil, and 14 as a bishop, “Dom Hugo” may decide to stay as well, in the country and among the people that he took on as his own.

Mgr_%20Steekelenburg-2722

In the final months before his retirement, Bishop Hugo (pictured above at left during a November 5 meeting with Roermond’s Bishop Frans Wiertz) and the Diocese of Almenara were looking forward to the arrival of a group of Dutch pilgrims who will spend a week there, before travelling to Brazil for the World Youth Day. In the style of the retired bishop, the pilgrims will be participating in a “missionary week”, visiting several diocesan projects – schools, land reclamation projects, care centres and hospitals – and cultural events. Bishop emeritus van Steekelenburg will most likely still participate in the scheduled meeting with the pilgrims, as his successor, Dom José Carlos Brandão Cabral, will probably not have been consecrated before then.

*The remaining three are Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, Suriname; Bishop Joseph Oudeman, auxiliary bishop of Brisbane, Australia; and Bishop Theo van Ruijven, Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte, Ethiopia.

Dangerous Rio – young German pilgrims advised to stay at home

Final MassWith about 2,500 young Catholics, the German delegation to the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, in July of this year, is decidedly smaller than before. In comparison, some 16,500 young German Catholics attended the Madrid edition in 2011 and about 6,000 travelled all the way to Sydney in 2008. Why such a small group this time around? It’s not the distance or the cost, as Sydney was both further away and hence more expensive. No, in this case it is the German bishops who are discouraging underage Catholics from participating in the festivities, Vatican Insider reports.

Citing both travel costs and concerns about the pilgrims’ safety, the Bishop Conference’s religious education coordinator Markus Hartmann explains that the priests and coordinators accompanying the pilgrims will be ultimately responsible for their safety and that, it would seem, is a risk, or responsibility, they are not willing to take.

In a way, this reflects the added risk that Rio presents. Crime rates are admittedly higher than in, say, Sydney or Cologne, which hosted the event in 2005. On the other hand, it seems a bit odd that the bishops refuse the added responsibility: at other Church events, in or outside Germany, they are still responsible for those under their care, and pilgrims, young or old, can also be injured, fall ill, or even die in other places than Rio de Janeiro. There is always a risk.

It is sad that the bishops of Germany have chosen for this option, instead of relying on security measures that exist in Brazil, or impressing upon the pilgrims the need for extra safety precautions. After the World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro will host both the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup, so Brazil has much to loose if there is a security failure of any sort next July.

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.

Cologne provides once more – Koch to Dresden

heiner kochIn 2011, Cologne sent one of its auxiliary bishops to Berlin to become archbishop there. Today, history repeats itself as another of Cologne’s auxiliaries is appointed to head one of Berlin’s suffragan dioceses: Heiner Koch succeeds Joachim Reinelt as Bishop of Dresden-Meißen.

Dresden-Meißen, which covers virtually all of Saxony and eastern Thuringia and is home to some 140,000 Catholics, has been a vacant diocese since February of 2012 and with today’s appointment only Erfurt and Passau remain vacant among Germany’s 29 circumscriptions.

Bishop Koch was born in 1954 in Düsseldorf and ordained to the priesthood in 1980. Since 2006 he has been auxiliary bishop of Cologne, with the titular see of Ros Cré in Ireland. As priest he worked in pastoral care for both youth and adults, and he was also attached to the University of Düsseldorf as university chaplain. In 2002, he became vicar general of the Archdiocese of Cologne. As general secretary, he was responsibly for the organisation of the 2005 World Youth Day, which took place in Cologne.

Bishop Koch will be the 8th bishop of Dresden-Meißen since it was established as a diocese in 1921, and the 49th since this area of Saxony was first organised as an ecclesiastical territory. He will be installed on 16 March, in a Mass at Dresden’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. On 23 January there will be a press conference in which the new ordinary will be introduced.

Against the stream, Pope Benedict calls youth to evangelisation

In his letter for the 2013 World Youth Day, which was published yesterday, Pope Benedict urged all young people to be missionaries, wherever they find themselves. This as an answer to Jesus’ call to “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” (Matt. 28:19) which is the theme for this 28th World Youth Day.

These nations are not only to be understood geographically:

“Some people are far away geographically, but others are far away because their way of life has no place for God. Some people have not yet personally received the Gospel, while others have been given it, but live as if God did not exist. Let us open our hearts to everyone. Let us enter into conversation in simplicity and respect. If this conversation is held in true friendship, it will bear fruit. The “nations” that we are invited to reach out to are not only other countries in the world. They are also the different areas of our lives, such as our families, communities, places of study and work, groups of friends and places where we spend our free time. The joyful proclamation of the Gospel is meant for all the areas of our lives, without exception.”

The letter is a clear call against the silence of so many faithful, especially young people who no longer have the words to speak about the faith. It is most definitely a counter-cultural move, and perhaps for many in the west even a step too far just yet.

Pope Benedict identifies several steps in the way to becoming missionaries. The first and most important is to become a disciple of Christ:

“A disciple is a person attentive to Jesus’ word (cf. Lk 10:39), someone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Teacher who has loved us so much that he gave his life for us. Each one of you, therefore, should let yourself be shaped by God’s word every day. This will make you friends of the Lord Jesus and enable you to lead other young people to friendship with him.”

A missionary then has to go out, into the world, but also out of himself, out of his own little world, habits and comforts. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are essential in this. Missionaries then have to take what they have received, Christ’s love and mercy, out into the world, to the “nations”. Here, the Holy Father emphasises two specific areas: travel and migration and social communications, especially the internet.

“As I mentioned to you on another occasion: “I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives. […] It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent’” (Message for the 43rd World Communications Day, 24 May 2009). Learn how to use these media wisely. Be aware of the hidden dangers they contain, especially the risk of addiction, of confusing the real world with the virtual, and of replacing direct and personal encounters and dialogue with internet contacts.”

One of the direct and challenging questions follow then. A young missionary has to make disciples, and that means an active engagement with their contemporaries.This can happen through words, but in the first place through our sharing of Christ’s love, which is our own love.

“The main way that we have to “make disciples” is through Baptism and catechesis. This means leading the people we are evangelizing to encounter the living Christ above all in his word and in the sacraments. In this way they can believe in him, they can come to know God and to live in his grace. I would like each of you to ask yourself: Have I ever had the courage to propose Baptism to young people who have not received it? Have I ever invited anyone to embark on a journey of discovery of the Christian faith? Dear friends, do not be afraid to suggest an encounter with Christ to people of your own age. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. The Spirit will show you the way to know and love Christ even more fully, and to be creative in spreading the Gospel.”

The questions that I have highlighted in bold are, in our modern secularised and relativist culture, the most difficult to ask. It is so counter-cultural and can be so easily and automatically perceived and an attempt at indoctrination or condemnation of a person’s current lifestyle. It is anything but that, of course, but there is an innate hostility towards any expression of faith in our culture, if that expression can’t be easily relegated to a mere opinion or a private matter. But if we take our faith seriously we can’t do nothing but share it. As the pope writes in an earlier paragraph:

“When we forget God, we lose hope and become unable to love others. That is why it is so necessary to testify to God’s presence so that others can experience it. The salvation of humanity depends on this, as well as the salvation of each of us. Anyone who understands this can only exclaim with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).”

To be able to do this, we must stand firm in the faith, and we need prayer and the sacraments for that. “We must first speak with God in order to be able to speak about God,” the Holy Father writes. The sacraments of Confirmation and Confession and Eucharistic Adoration (pictured) are also valuable means to be able to become firm enough in the faith to be able to proclaim the Gospel, to evangelise.

And we can’t do so alone, by our own standards or morals. We need the Church.

“Dear young people, if you are to remain firm in professing the Christian faith wherever you are sent, you need the Church. No one can bear witness to the Gospel alone. Jesus sent forth his disciples on mission together. He spoke to them in the plural when he said: “Make disciples”. Our witness is always given as members of the Christian community, and our mission is made fruitful by the communion lived in the Church. It is by our unity and love for one another that others will recognize us as Christ’s disciples (cf. Jn 13:35).”

Lastly, for those interested, read my Dutch translation of this letter here.

Art credit: [1] Harold Copping, “Jesus at the House of Martha and Mary” (1927).