Faith Is Still Alive in the Netherlands, Says Dutch Bishop

Words of Praise for John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 25, 2002 ( The Catholic faith is still alive in the Netherlands, judging by the presence this week of 2,000 Dutch pilgrims in Rome.

The group belonged to the Diocese of Breda, which boasts 495,000 Catholics in a population of just over 1 million and which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

On Wednesday, John Paul II personally greeted many of the Dutch pilgrims and encouraged the group to continue their reflection on the theme of their pilgrimage and of their diocese’s jubilee: «The Faith of Our Baptism.»

To celebrate the anniversary, the diocese organized a number of activities to reflect the mission of the Church in contemporary society in light of the spirituality of baptism.

In statements to ZENIT, Bishop Martinus Petrus Muskens of Breda explained that the great challenge the Church faces in the Netherlands is to make the faithful aware of the grace and commitment received in baptism.

The pilgrimage and meeting with the Pope were signs of encouragement that the tensions of past decades between Rome and the Church in the Netherlands are being overcome.

During a Mass celebrated by Bishop Muskens near the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican basilica, the celebrant mentioned the example of John Paul II, whom he referred to as «The Great,» for his pastoral work.

«With unending energy he puts effort in the dialogue between the Church and the world,» the bishop said during the homily. «He has traveled to all continents. He dialogues with the young people at the World Youth Days. He seeks contact with other religions. He prays with them in Assisi. He was the first Pope to visit the synagogue of Rome; to pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; and to visit a mosque in Damascus, Syria.»

«Just like Peter and Gregory the Great, John Paul the Great breaks the boundaries of his day,» the Dutch prelate continued. «Unceasingly, he witnesses to his belief in God, his Son Jesus Christ, and to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world today. He consequently defends the dignity of the human being. The human being is the basis of the civilization of the love, which he desires to build up.»

Bishop Muskens later explained that the media sometimes exaggerate the degree of secularization in his country. «It is no more difficult to be Catholic in the Netherlands than it is in any other country,» he told ZENIT. In fact, he insisted, other European countries are more secularized.

«Certainly, the historic influence of Calvinism also influenced the Catholic Church, fragmenting her,» the bishop said. «But with this pilgrimage to Rome, we are witnessing that the Catholic faith is united.»

As one of the signs of vitality of Dutch Catholics, Bishop Muskens mentioned that his diocese has more than 30,000 Catholic volunteers, who each give several hours of their time every week to the apostolate and to Christian charitable works.

The Diocese of Breda is now engaged in reflection, which will result in a document on the theology of volunteer work.

«I am hopeful about the future, especially after this week. We have all known one another personally, by name, during the pilgrimage. Many are young people who have deepened their faith,» the bishop concluded.

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