Believers turn against Cardinal Eijk's policy with petition

'Everything is determined from above'

Cardinal Wim Eijk wants to end weekend word and communion (from tabernacle) services within five years. That is against the grain of a group of believers from the Archdiocese. 

A group of faithful from the archdiocese of Utrecht wants to protest with a petition against Cardinal Eijk's planned phasing out of word and communion services and his policy on church closures. They say their Archbishop's policy "affects the vitality of local faith communities".

Continues to do so to my memory, the policy plan in which Cardinal Willem Eijk indicates his intention to phase out word and communion services in the Archdiocese of Utrecht has caused a lot of unrest among a group of believers in the archdiocese. Catholics from Gelderland and Overijssel have therefore united to form the alliance Samen Kerk, which is asking the cardinal in a petition not to implement his plan.

According to the petition, the new plans are causing "a lot of unrest among administrators, volunteers and believers". The petitioners acknowledge that the Eucharist is "the core of our faith", but fear that abandoning word and communion celebrations will "affect the vitality of our local faith communities", they write.

Fostering wrongdoing

In Continue doing this to remember me, published last October, Cardinal Eijk says he wants to bring the number of word and communion celebrations in his archdiocese to zero within five years. This applies only to weekend celebrations; weekday word and communion celebrations, for example in care homes, can be maintained.

The aim is to promote participation in Mass, encouraging believers to look beyond "the boundaries of their own local faith community" and celebrate Mass in a neighbouring church if there is none in their home town.

"Experiencing a Eucharist is essential to one's life as a Christian," - Cardinal Wim Eijk

"In a celebration of words and communion, you only receive the fruit of the Eucharist, the host," Eijk justified his decision to KN in October. "Experiencing a Eucharist transcends this. It is essential for your life as a Christian."

'Degradation policy'

According to Gerard Oude Avenhuis, one of the people behind Samen Kerk, Samen Sterk (Together Church, Together Strong), the policy change on word and communion celebrations is typical of the "demolition policy" that Cardinal Eijk is said to be pursuing. According to him, this began with church closures and the designation of so-called "eucharistic centres", or churches with a regional function. In 2014, Cardinal Eijk predicted that by 2028 the vast majority of churches in the archdiocese would be withdrawn from worship due to lack of money and declining church attendance.

The campaigners acknowledge "that there are problems in terms of church attendance, staff and finances", but believe that phasing out word and communion celebrations will not cause believers to go to Mass in a Eucharistic centre because people want to continue attending their own churches. "The word and communion service is precisely a means of giving people access to Communion despite the priest shortage," Oude Avenhuis said. "It makes us angry that Cardinal Eijk is now abolishing that."

'Black figures'

The initiators behind the petition are also angry because, in their view, the word and communion plan is being used to close churches. Oude Avenhuis takes his own Pancratius parish (near Tubbergen) as an example: there, five of the eight existing churches are earmarked to be withdrawn from worship.

"We are facing church closure, but in Langeveen, my own village, there is nothing wrong: our income is strong, have enough volunteers and above-average church attendance."

Keeping everything open is not realistic, he acknowledges, but better consideration should be given to which churches remain. "The basilica in Tubbergen falls short in every area, but remains open. The vital churches maintain the basilica, but if they close, the money falls away and the problem only gets worse." According to Oude Avenhuis, this is not only the reality in his own parish, but at several locations in the archdiocese.

Policy maker and implementer

The petition is mainly a tool to start the conversation. "Now everything is determined from above," Oude Avenhuis said. "It bothers that we cannot have a conversation with the cardinal or a parish council."

Oude Avenhuis estimates that "several thousand" signatures have currently been collected. These will soon be handed over to Vicar Ronald Cornelissen, but the initiators would have preferred to hand over the petition to Cardinal Eijk: "We want to hand over the signatures to the policy maker, not to its executor."

"If you can gather enough people and unanimously say: we are no longer listening, you are left with a cardinal without power."

No response to the petition has yet been received from the archdiocese, although a spokesperson confirms that people in Utrecht have taken note of the initiative. According to the spokesperson, the archdiocese is currently considering a response.

Should nothing be done with the petition, Oude Avenhuis and his supporters do not intend to leave it at that. "That will mean the end: then we no longer adhere to the cardinal's policy, but only listen to the pope," he said. He thinks things should come from within the faith community and stands for more participation of believers in decision-making," he says. "If you can gather enough people and unanimously say: we are no longer listening, you are left with a cardinal with no power." Oude Avenhuis does say he hopes "it does not come to that".

'No buffer'

In Trouw, Vicar Ronald Cornelissen responded to the petition as follows: "It is our wish that believers come together in larger groups for the Eucharist. Communion is not simply available separately. Now, if you really care about the Church and the Eucharist, you have to do something for it."

According to Cornelissen, even financially healthy parishes will go bankrupt if all churches remain open. "There is absolutely no buffer," he says in Trouw. "But not only finances are a criterion whether a church closes or not. It must also be pastorally sound."



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