Reunion and hopeful signs

Yesterday I attended a reunion of the Amigos en Cristo group, six weeks after our return from Spain.  The afternoon’s program was a varied one,including workshops, a period of Adoration, lunch and a simple dinner and of course ample opportunity to catch up with the friends made on the way to and in Spain.

For me, one of the most inspiring moments took place during a group presentation in which a representative of each of the nine subgroups presented some items that the members of the group would like to see developed in the coming youth platform season. From several groups, it became clear that there is a strong desire for clear and accessible Catholic information on the Internet; not just about upcoming events (although the use of Facebook for that purpose certainly took an enormous flight since the World Youth Days) but certainly also about faith and Church. Many young people want better and more catechesis about their faith, and they see a clear role for the Internet in that respect. Listening to the wishes, suggestions and embryonic plans to develop such things got me very enthusiastic.

The existing online Catholic youth platforms may be developed to include catechesis resources from all kinds of other, explanations about Catholic teaching, current events from a Catholic point of view and such things as the liturgy, the rituals, prayer life, the hierarchy and such. There is a desire for that. And the future of the Church in the Netherlands needs to see such desires fulfilled.

Stille Omgang 2011

The experience of participating in the annual Stille Omgang – a night time silent march through Amsterdam, in memory of the 1345 Eucharistic miracle that took place there – is different every year. For me, it was unexpectedly different than previous years.

This year, me and a group of friends travelled down to the Dutch capital on our own. That was different in itself, since we normally joined other people from our diocese. Sadly, this year nothing was organised from Groningen-Leeuwarden (although, oddly enough, the diocesan youth worker was present in Amsterdam), so we took it upon ourselves to go.

The church of Moses and Aaron

In Amsterdam, we took part in the youth program in the church of Moses and Aaron, a building no longer used for regular religious celebrations. After a performance by sand artist Gert van der Vijver, Father Michel Remery held an introduction about the Eucharist. After his initial remarks, he presented a number of questions about why we need the Eucharist, what the Eucharist is and the role of priests in the Eucharist to the audience. People were invited to respond to these questions and their replies were frankly shocking. The vast majority of them were tainted by rampant individualism (“if it feels good to me to attend a prayer service instead of Mass, it must be right”) and Protestantism (“the Eucharist is not necessary to meet Christ, and is comparable to the Protestant Lord’s Supper” and “We should not judge others and accept the different opinions”). As if the Eucharist, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and His presence among us, is a matter of opinion and feeling. At the root here lies an idea that there is no truth, only that which we make ourselves. This makes God, who is Truth, subject to human whims.

Fr. Remery

Luckily, Fr. Remery generally responded well, and there were also some audience members who gave good responses (and even got some applause for it). But seriously: the level of Catholic education in this country is atrocious. I knew it was bad, but it seems that we need to rebuild it from the ground up.

That need for further elucidation and explanation was seemingly also felt by Bishop Jos Punt, who was the main celebrant at Mass, and who adapted his homily to include some personal experiences regarding the Eucharist. I have always considered the bishop to generally be a good homilist, both in delivery and in content, and he proved it here again. As for the effect of his comments, those will remain to be seen.

What struck me in the march itself, which had some 7,000 participants, was the enormous contrast between it and the streets it passed through. Filled with bars, coffee shops, drunk people and the stench of drugs, they are nothing more than hell holes. That depressed me, all those people who had no idea what on earth they (or we) were doing. I’m not against enjoying oneself with a few drinks and some partying, but this was quite simply excess.

So there you have it, a march through secular Amsterdam on its worst, while the mind is full of thoughts about the Eucharist and concern for the Catholic education in the Netherlands. It can get depressing, but, as I said a man I met just before Mass, we have to keep hoping.

A sad goodbye

I’ve known about it a few days, but only today have I been at liberty to write about it. Via their website, the Archdiocese of Utrecht announces the appointment of their new youth worker, Mr. Hao Tran.

I’ve known Hao for a couple of years in his capacity as youth worker for the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, where he has been key in the development of the youth platform which, among other things, sent significant delegations of young people to the World Youth Days in Cologne and Sydney. In my experience, Hao is driven, inspirational and pastoral, knows what he wants and how to get things done. As such he is, I think, the ideal person to repeat in the archdiocese what he has done here: create a solid foundation for youth programs and events for people between 12 and 30.

But we will definitely miss his drive, his knowledge, his inspiration and his person here. But things change, people move on, and what is good for one diocese can certainly positively influence other parts of the Church province as well.

Hao Tran (left) gives catechesis to young altar servers, earlier this year

Looking back in gratitude

I spent my Palm Sunday weekend with the youth platform of my diocese, Groningen-Leeuwarden. For 25 years now, Palm Sunday is also World Youth Day, so the youth platform hosts a weekend of fun and games, but also catechesis, for young people between 16 and 30.

Notes left on a flipover, after youth worker Hao Tran spoke about the nature of God's love for His people

It was not only a chance to be away from the relentless media assault on the Church, but also an opportunity to meet people I hadn’t seen in too long. I was sorry that it only last one and a half days, to be honest.

Local hermit Brother Hugo visited
On Sunday afternoon, there was the opportunity to go canoeing

On Sunday afternoon, Bishop de Korte visited to celebrate Mass together with Fathers Arjen and Victor. I had the honour of serving at that Mass, and almost nothing went wrong… 😉

Before Mass, we processed to the church, carrying buxus branches in lieu of palm fronds.   

The church in Wehe Den Hoorn, the small village where we stayed, is small but rather nice. Aspects of the sanctuary, though , are mirrored to what I used to: the credence table is at the other side, which totally turns one’s orientation to the altar around.

The interior of the St. Boniface church
An impromptu welcome sign for Bishop de Korte

The weekend reminded me that the Church and the faith are so much bigger than what the media presents it as. It truly transcends it.

I am thankful for these past two days. Let’s remember the things to be thankful for in this Holy Week. It grounds us in and elevates us to Easter, less than a week away.

TV Masses new style

The tower of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden

Tomorrow I will be attending Mass in another church: With some friends I am going to St. Boniface’s in Leeuwarden for two reasons.

The first is the fact that this Mass will be first Mass organised by my diocese for live television broadcast. A bit of an event, especially since, starting this year, the dioceses have taken the responsibility of the televised Masses in their own hands. The Masses rotate through the dioceses, so that each organises seven TV Masses per year. In Groningen-Leeuwarden, they have chosen for the church of St. Boniface in Leeuwarden, with Father Albert Buter as celebrating priest.

Leo Fijen, head of the Religion & Culture department of the KRO, the network responsible for the TV broadcast, says that the new arrangement shows “the diversity and vitality of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands”. What I’ve seen of the Masses broadcast up till now is that the quality is actually quite good. Of course, there is always room for improvement: priests should use proper missals instead of binders, ugly glass ‘altar tables’ and choirs in the sanctuary have to go, but in general, the impression is positive.

Let’s hope that tomorrow’s Mass will fit in that trend. I’ve never attended a Mass by Father Albert, but the church will be impressive enough. St. Boniface is a massive building, larger than the cathedral here in Groningen.

The Mass will be broadcast live on Nederland 2, starting at 10:00, and will be preceded by an interview with Fr. Albert starting at 9:35.

After the Mass I intend to stick around at a diocesan youth platform event to mark the start of Lent. A nice occasion to see some people I haven’t seen in a while.

On the appointment of Archbishop Eijk

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed our bishop, Mgr Willem Eijk, as the new archbishop of Utrecht and head of the Dutch church province. He will be installed as such on the 26th of January.

I am not sure what to think of it. I have full confidence that this is very good news for the Church in this country, but I wonder what this means for our diocese… Mgr. Eijk has worked wonders since his appointed in 1999. His policies have increased the number of vocations, turned the various parishes back on the same path, and back to Rome, and he´s done sterling work with the youth and for the return of religious communities to the diocese.

But still, only eight years in which he has been able to do the kind of work that takes time to develop. That´s a very short time. I hope whoever succeeds him will continue his work, and is able to do so.

He, and his work here, will be missed by many people. He may be a bishop, but if one cleric was eminently approachable by anyone, it was him.

Mixed feelings.