In the afternoon of Monday, September 10, participants to the annual assembly of the Mill Hill Missionaries in The Netherlands gathered at the Emmaus Retreat Centre at Helvoirt.
Regional Representative Martien van Leeuwen mhm started proceedings with a word of welcome to the exceptionally high number of participants this year: 42.
A brief reflection inspired by Pope Francis’ exhortation ‘Gaudete et Exultate’ got the meeting off on the right footing.
Then followed a brief overview of memorable items of news from the Dutch Region.
On August 22nd the Dutch Region celebrated the 90 years jubilee of its close association with the community of Discalced Carmelites Sisters at Schaarsbergen.
The sizeable collection of paintings left by Fr Kees Breed mhm has aroused the interest of the Dutch Master Painters organization in Nispen, The Netherlands. An exhibition of some 160 paintings of this collection is being prepared with a view to a possible sale. Prospective proceeds will be earmarked for the mission in The Philippines where Fr Breed ministered for many years.
The future of Mill Hill Oosterbeek: Missiehuis Vrijland and St. Jozefhuis.
The inevitable reorganization of the presence of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Oosterbeek due to age and ever shrinking numbers has been the subject of regular consultation with experts in the Congregation Council (CORA) and various agencies for the past several years.
Concrete plans involving the sale and demolition of Missiehuis Vrijland and the construction of new apartments for possible renting are now on the table.
It is expected that these plans will come to fruition towards 2020.
St. Jozefhuis will remain a property of the Mill Hill Missionaries and serve as care home as well as base for residence and administration.
Later in the afternoon two Mill Hill missionaries spoke of their missionary experiences.
Fr Paul Hien mhm who recently took up an appointment in The Netherlands as chaplain to the Vietnamese community in the country shared his feelings of joy at reconnecting with his Vietnamese roots and discovering the everchanging realities of the lives of his Vietnamese co-patriots living in The Netherlands. There are 25 communities in all, spread all over the country. Of particular interest was his discovery that second or third generation Vietnamese in The Netherlands no longer
Fr Nol Verhoeven mhm gave a historical perspective on the current crisis in Cameroon on the basis of the writings of ‘Nkukuma’ Engelbert Mveng, a French-speaking Jesuit.
He made it clear that the patchwork of population groups in Cameroon (250 ethnic groupings) have a very violent past. In the past mistrust between ethnic groups prevailed and often led to violence. This history continues to press on the current generation. The current confrontation between anglophones and French speakers needs to be seen in this light. The use of Pidgin as lingua franca is possibly a binding agent between the various groups. Communication is the key for peaceful coexistence.
Finally a discussion on the future leadership of the region was introduced by Theo Geurtsen mhm.
Two important positions of responsibility in the region – rector of St.Jozefhuis and regional superior -will need to be filled during the course of the coming year.
The main focus of the second day, Tuesday 11 September, was the address of keynote speaker, Rt Rev. Gerard de Korte, bishop of the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. His chosen subject was ‘The missionary challenge in The Netherlands today’.
In his overview of the contemporary religious landscape in The Netherlands bishop de Korte spoke of the ongoing process of secularization of Dutch society.
‘People below my age – I am 55 now ‘ – have no longer any experience of religious (Catholic) socialisation’, he observed. ‘Two of more generations contemporary society are religiously illiterate. The challenges for witnessing to the Gospel are huge. Ministry to migrant communities may often be the first option for returning missionaries. But the most fundamental missionary task is surely to find ways to make Christ known in this deeply secularized environment’.
Priests coming from other continents often find it difficult to connect. The small number of young local priests often opt for very traditional forms of liturgical expression and manifest a stifling rigidity in their approach to complex moral issues.
Many people are on a spiritual search without any reference to the rich Christian heritage. How to create an environment and space for the core hunger of people to be allowed to surface? Maybe this is one of the key challenges of missionary outreach in contemporary European society.
Following his address bishop de Korte responded to questions from the audience and entered into a graciously open dialogue on a number of burning issues.
This second and final day of the assembly was concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist in the quietly imposing chapel of the Emmaus Retreat Centre.
Fons Eppink mhm