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On April 6, voters in the Netherlands participated in a referendum on an EU treaty for closer ties with Ukraine.

Nearly two-thirds — 61% — voted no. Thirty-eight per cent voted for the EU-Ukraine association agreement. The percentage of people voting was 32%, two points over the validity threshold.

Regardless of the results, in a way, it is almost a moot point. First, the referendum result is non-binding on the Dutch government. Secondly, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his coalition parliament plan to modify their terms of the treaty to satisfy public opinion or risk losing in national elections to be held early in 2017. Thirdly, trade parts of the agreement are already in force and 27 out of 28 EU governments have already approved the treaty.

The big picture here is the disenchantment many Dutch have with the EU project. It’s not so much an agreement with Ukraine, although that is part of it, but the popular change of heart of one of the six founding nations of the European Union towards the bureaucratic behemoth.

‘No’ voters say the EU is undemocratic and lacks transparency. They dislike the power Brussels has over their lives. They are worried about their own economic situation.

The Guardian explained that, for the Dutch government — as well as Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, who wrongly predicted ‘Yes’ would win — the fear is, as Poroshenko said, this will result in:

an internal Dutch discussion about the future of the European Union.

The article went on to state:

The referendum’s Eurosceptic Dutch organisers have admitted the vote is essentially not about Ukraine but a handy hook to push a broader anti-EU agenda and “give citizens more say in Brussels”.

It was triggered after organisers used new legislation allowing citizens to voice opinions on legislative decisions if they garner more than 300,000 signatures.

On April 13, The Guardian interviewed several voters from the Netherlands to find out why they voted against the EU-Ukraine agreement. These are not old, fusty-dusty people, by the way. I highly recommend the interviews, which are considered reflections of both sides of the EU argument. Excerpts follow.

Joanne, a law student in Leiden, said she was happy with the result:

Euroscepticism in the Netherlands has lingered from the moment the 2005 referendum result was ignored and we lost power over our foreign policy. People have sensed that they still have the power to control their own fate and that they can punish politicians for acting against our national interests.

She also alluded to the dissatisfaction she had with the coalition government which played a part in her ‘No’ vote.

Hannah, a regional archivist in Noord-Brabant, also took exception to the policies of the coalition government and was worried about the economic situation as well as cuts in state care for the vulnerable and meddling with the educational system. As for the EU, she echoed Hannah in the growing Euroscepticism since 2005 and added:

There was a majority no vote in Noord-Brabant, although it was also the province that ended up having the lowest overall voter turnout … Many people believe that the needs of the EU are put above those of individual member states. On the other hand I do think many Dutch people understand there needs to be some European unity, just not necessarily in its current state. 

Claudia, an assistant professor in Amsterdam, was also happy with the result. She grew up in a rural area, where Euroscepticism is more pronounced than in the cities. Overall:

That result also shows that Eurosceptic sentiments have been present for a long time. I do not necessarily see an increase. Instead, there might be more awareness among politicians that Dutch voters are sceptic about a political union with other countries, especially countries we lack common ground with …

The Netherlands does not have a single-issue, anti-EU party. Those who would like to vote against the EU have to choose between the far-right of Geert Wilders or the far-left parties. For voters like me, who thoroughly disagree with other opinions held by members of these parties, a referendum is a great opportunity to express anti-EU sentiments and to deliver the message that something has to change.

… The referendum is a great example of a bottom-up initiative to change national policy and I feel it is incredible over 30% turned up to vote for something most politicians did not bother paying proper attention to. 

Marinus from Groeningen said:

A lot of people would in fact support much greater EU integration as long as it is done right. Even no voters in this referendum have admitted that they would support the EU, if it were a better EU.

I agree with all of these people, especially Marinus, with regard to our own Brexit referendum coming up on June 23, 2016.

None of us dislikes Europe and nearly all of us — except for radicals — feel we should uphold our own civilisation, regardless of the conflicts we have had over the centuries from the Dark Ages to the Second World War.

Although we have our cultural and linguistic distinctions, we are united in our greater common heritage.

However, a growing number of us no longer wish to be associated with unelected, unknown Brussels bureaucrats who have the power to impose laws on the member states which gradually erode our national sovereignty and personal freedoms.

Of Europe, we say: take it seriously but wear it lightly. Let the EU nations manage their own affairs and come together only for large member-wide decisions on trade and security that affect us all.

Yes, a decade of referenda by member states voting one by one to leave the EU would stop the Brussels gravy train in its tracks. That’s what many in government — even at national level — fear: cuts in grants and the shrinking of elite job opportunities at EU level.

That is why the media narrative, which largely centres on scaremongering about loss of trade, supports the status quo: staying in the EU.

No one opposing the current bloated European project says it will be easy to leave it. However, spending a few years roaming in the wilderness is a price worth paying when we emerge stronger and more sovereign than before.

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On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

Today’s news has more on the migration crisis, including an update on Alexandra Mezher, who was fatally stabbed in Mölndal, Sweden, earlier this week.

United Kingdom

Embedded image permalinkWhilst more than a few of us were relieved to read that our longed-for referendum on EU membership will be held in 143 days, we have other hurdles to overcome before then.

(Photo credit: Mike Smithson, PoliticalBetting.com Twitter feed)

I mentioned on January 25 that the question of bringing in refugee ‘children’ troubles some British teachers and social workers who are already working with those who arrived last year. They say that some refugee ‘children’ are of majority age, yet are in contact — whether in the classroom or in care homes — with minors. Children are therefore at risk in these situations by being in close proximity to young adult males.

The post also explained that, a week ago, a British QC (Queen’s Counsel) ruled that Britain will have to accept three teenagers and a mentally-ill 26-year-old from Syria currently in Calais whilst their case for asylum is being decided.

Today, Thursday, January 28, the Express reported that ‘unaccompanied child refugees’ could be arriving in the UK soon.

The Save the Children charity have pleaded with the British government to accept 3,000 children. This number would be on top of the 20,000 refugees the UK has pledged to take in between now and 2020.

The scheme would involve taking the children directly from refugee camps near Syria, with input from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On top of this, the Express tells us that ‘unaccompanied child refugees’ currently elsewhere in Europe will be allowed to come to Britain if they have relatives here.

Sweden

The age of ‘unaccompanied child refugees’ should concern us.

Today, via the Daily Mail, the Express reported that Chiméne Mezher, mother of brutally murdered Alexandra, who died on Monday, January 25, said some these ‘children’ at the refugee youth home where her daughter worked are actually adults (emphases mine):

Alexandra knew how to handle children including violent ones. But those she was working with were big powerful guys – she could see it in their eyes and their bodies

A few were maybe under 18, but the rest were older, maybe 23 or 24.

The article went on to say that Alexandra was on duty alone the night she died. Working night shifts alone has been standard practice at the youth home.

A colleague had rung Alexandra a few hours before she left home for work to say that one of the centre’s kitchen knives was missing.

Mrs Mezher said that the employees did not report the missing knife because they were afraid of their superiors.

To date, the head of the company Alexandra worked for has not visited the Mezher family to express sympathy and discuss the tragedy.

Alexandra was stabbed in the back and thigh by a 15-year-old resident shortly before 8 a.m. on January 25.

Mrs Mezher is wondering where her family’s future lies:

We left Lebanon [25 years ago] to escape the civil war, the violence and the danger. We came to Sweden where it was safe, to start our family. But it is not safe any more.

It is not surprising she has come to that conclusion:

The family has criticised politicians for the rise in immigration in Mölndal, a suburb of Gothenburg, where 8,000 migrants have arrived in less than a year

4,000 of the migrants are unaccompanied children.

Let us hope the British government does not put their citizens in a similar situation.

In other news

The Netherlands: Last week, a violent clash took place in the town of Geldermalsen over a proposed refugee centre. Townspeople planned a peaceful demonstration against plans to house 1,500 asylum seekers in the community of 27,000 people. The quiet protest was soon hijacked by violent outsiders, police said. However, on January 22, Geldermalsen’s mayor cancelled plans for the centre, admitting that she should have consulted with residents first and that she had acted too quickly.

Germany: Assyrian Christian asylum seekers now living in the town of Saarlouis informed the police of a jihadi whom one recognised as a man who terrorised his neighbourhood in Syria. The Christian said the man stopped him several times at the local checkpoint when the two were still in Syria. The man also has an active Facebook page. The Christians duly informed the police. However, under German law, no arrest can be made until the man commits an offence. Some of the Christians now want to leave Germany, because, in the event of an IS attack there, they will be the first to be targeted.

Denmark: Whilst the Geldermalsen storm was brewing, the Danish council in Randers made pork a mandatory menu offering in day care centres and schools. The councillors said this is to preserve ‘food traditions’ and continue to put pork at the forefront of the Danish diet. However, halal meat, vegetarian dishes and foods for diabetics will continue to be available.

St NicholasThe feast day of St Nicholas is on December 6.

This famous saint, revered around the world by Catholics and many Protestants, led a fascinating life of faith which also included persecution.

(Photo credit: St Nicholas Center)

Life events

Nicholas was born on March 15, 270 in Asia Minor, then known as Greek Anatolia. Today we call it Turkey.

He grew up in a wealthy Christian family and inherited a lot of money at a young age when his parents died of an epidemic which swept through the region.

Epiphanius and Johanna — sometimes referred to as Theophanes and Nonna — raised Nicholas in faith and holiness. Nicholas also willingly observed the canonical fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays. When his parents died, Nicholas went to live with his eponymous uncle who was the Bishop of Patara. There, Nicholas was tonsured and pursued theological studies. His uncle appointed him a reader and, when the time came, ordained him as a presbyter — a priest.

In 312, Nicholas went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to better understand our Lord’s life. He ended up staying three years, living with the monks of the monastery dedicated to the Great Martyr George — St George. They lived at Beit Jala, a mountain overlooking Bethlehem. Whilst visiting the great shrines commemorating events and places in the life of Christ, Nicholas prayed regularly. Then, one day, he felt the necessity to return to his homeland, specifically Myra.

He arrived in Myra in 317 as the people of city were in the process of deciding whom to elect as a bishop. They decided to elect Nicholas.

This was a time of intense persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. The emperor Diocletian ordered the young Bishop of Myra to be exiled and imprisoned. Diocletian did not bother filling prisons with criminals, only Christians. Nicholas met a great many other bishops — as well as deacons and priests — during his time in captivity. When Constantine became emperor, he freed the Christian prisoners and Nicholas was able to return to Myra.

The false teachings of the heretic Arius were making the rounds of the Christian world at that time. St Methodius wrote:

thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.

In 325, the Council of Nicaea formally declared Arianism a heresy and, to guard against present and future generations adopting it, wrote the Nicene Creed.

Although Methodius did not say whether Nicholas attended the Council, another account maintains that he was present. That account claims Nicholas was so angry that he slapped Arius in the face. The other clergy present found this un-Christian behaviour and took away not only his episcopal insignia but also sent him to prison. Tradition says that our Lord and Mary appeared. Nicholas was released and reinstated as Bishop of Myra.

Orthodox Christians believe that Nicholas was one of the signers of the Nicene Creed.

In Myra, Nicholas guarded his people against paganism. He destroyed several temples, including the main one of Artemis. It is said that when he destroyed it, the evil spirits fled, howling.

Nicholas felt responsible not only for his flock’s spiritual welfare but also for their material welfare. Many were needy. Others were innocent people falsely charged with crime. Nicholas was their tireless defender and helper.

Nicholas died in Myra on December 6, 343. He was buried there. By the time the emperor Justinian came to power, a basilica had been built in Constantinople to honour the new St Nicholas. The Church did not have formal canonisation procedures until the 10th century.

During the next several centuries, devotion to St Nicholas spread across all lands and among all ages. One Greek living in the 10th century wrote:

the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. Images of him are set up, panegyrics preached and festivals celebrated. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence his memory and call upon his protection. And his favors, which know no limit of time and continue from age to age, are poured out over all the earth; the Scythians know them, as do the Indians and the barbarians, the Africans as well as the Italians.

The relics

Nicholas’s relics have continued to exude manna — a watery substance that smells like roses — from his death in Myra to the present day. This occurs only once a year, on December 6.

During the Saracen invasion in the 11th century, the shrine dedicated to him in Myra eventually fell to the Muslims.

The great Italian cities of the time decided to rescue the saint’s relics. Venice and Bari ended up being the two most powerful contenders. Bari was successful.

A group of men from the city set sail for Myra and were able to load the saint’s relics onto their ship. They returned home on May 9, 1087. That part of the country — Apulia — had maintained many Greek colonies, a factor that might have been an added incentive for the men. A new church (now a basilica) was built in St Nicholas’s honour and the then-Pope — now Blessed — Urban II was present for the installation of the relics. They remain there today. There is also a Greek Orthodox church close by.

Priests continue to extract one flask of Nicholas’s manna a year and will do so on Sunday, December 6, 2015. The manna is poured into small vials which can be purchased from the basilica.

Sailors from Bari will also process from the basilica on Sunday carrying St Nicholas’s statue. They have been doing this for centuries in the hope that he will keep them safe on the sea (see next section).

Stories and legends

The faithful quickly established a cult — devotion — of St Nicholas which spread across Christendom.

Many legends, no doubt some of which are true stories, spread about his goodness and generosity.

The following were to have happened during his lifetime.

The three imperial officers

In St Methodius’s time only one story circulated about Nicholas. That concerned the ill fate of three imperial officers travelling on duty to Phyrgia. When they returned from their assignment to Constantinople, the prefect Ablavius imprisoned them on false charges. It is said that Ablavius was a jealous man. Ablavius went further and appealed to Constantine to issue a death warrant for the three men. Constantine duly did.

When the imprisoned officers found out about their ultimate fate, they remembered the holy example of the Bishop of Myra. They prayed to God that Nicholas might somehow intercede on their behalf.

That night, Nicholas appeared in a dream to Constantine and to Ablavius. The next day, Constantine and Ablavius told each other of their dreams. They sent for the three officers who told them of their prayers for Nicholas’s intervention. Afraid and awestruck, Constantine freed the men and wrote to the Bishop of Myra asking him to pray for the peace of the world. That is how much spiritual power Constantine thought Nicholas had.

The sailors

A group of mariners encountered a storm off the coast of Lycia. Frightened, yet faithful, they asked for help from the Bishop of Myra. He appeared before them and guided their vessel back to port. Sailors travelling in the Aegean and Ionian seas often remembered St Nicholas. They:

wore their “star of St. Nicholas” and wished one another a good voyage in the phrase “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”

The poor man with three daughters

A poor man had three daughters whom he hoped would marry. However, he could not afford to pay the required dowries to their bridegrooms — a custom that continues in various cultures today.

He was beside himself with worry.

One night, unbeknownst to the poor father, Nicholas crept onto the man’s chimney and dropped a bag of gold into a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. This meant that the man’s eldest daughter was now able to marry.

Some time later, a second bag of gold arrived in a stocking hanging by the fire. It was for the second daughter.

Intrigued, the man stayed up late at night by the fire to discover who was leaving him dowry money.

Finally, one night, he saw that the mysterious benefactor — with the third bag of gold — was Nicholas, who begged him not to tell anyone.

It is difficult to maintain silence in such circumstances, and it was not long before several people knew. After that, word spread quickly that anonymous gifts came from Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra.

The three bags of gold translated into three balls of gold — hence the saint’s protection of pawnbrokers — and also into satsumas or oranges for children’s stockings, suggesting gold. These fruits, until recently, were expensive; children considered them highly valued treats.

The theological students; children and the butcher

Three theological students were on their way to study in Athens.

They stopped at a local inn, where the evil innkeeper murdered them. He hid their remains in a pickling vat.

Some time later, Nicholas was travelling along the same route. He stayed at the same inn. That night, he dreamt about the murders. He awoke and immediately summoned the innkeeper. Nicholas prayed fervently. When he had finished, the students had been resurrected in full health.

In France, the story involves three children who got lost and fell prey to an evil butcher. St Nicholas appeared and appealed to God to resurrect them and return them to their families. God heard and fulfilled the prayer. This is one legend linking the saint to children.

The Arab pirates and the boy from Myra

This is another which also relates to children.

I have separated this story from the others. It could be relevant to the next section.

Some years after Nicholas’s death, the people from Myra were celebrating his feast day. However, their joy was short-lived as a gang of Arab pirates arrived from Crete. They looted the Church of Saint Nicholas and, before they sailed home, kidnapped a young boy, Basilios, an only child.

The emir wanted Basilios to be his cup-bearing slave.

For the next year, the boy’s parents were understandably gripped by anxiety. Meanwhile, Basilios brought the emir his wine in a golden cup every day.

When the next St Nicholas Day arrived, Basilios’s mother was too grief-stricken to join in the celebrations. She stayed home and prayed.

The story goes that, as Basilios was about his duties for the emir, he was suddenly whisked up, up and away. St Nicholas appeared to the boy, calmed him down, blessed him and set him back down at his home in Myra.

Basilios was said to have appeared before his parents with the emir’s golden cup in his hands.

This is the first legend that circulated about Nicholas’s protection of children.

This legend illustrates why we have the association of St Nicholas-Father Christmas travelling across the sky.

Black Pete — Zwarte Piet

I put Basilios’s story above because I theorise it relates to the Dutch Zwarte Piet, St Nicholas’s mythical helper.

St Nicholas Day was a feast for everyone. It is unclear how or where the custom arose, but putting shoes out for a gift from the saint appears in Utrecht’s St Nicholas Church records in 1427. Even adults participated.Not a Zwarte Piet here

Children were given more particular gifts. Bad children were given lumps of coal or switches for whippings. Good children were given fruit, biscuits or a toy.

Jan Steen’s The Feast of St Nicholas (1665-1668), pictured — courtesy of Netherlands by Numbers — shows a typical scene. The boy who is crying has a switch in his shoe.

Although countries of the Reformation banned celebrating saints’ feasts, the Netherlands continued to observe St Nicholas Day.

For most of the centuries when the Dutch celebrated this feast, St Nicholas always operated alone.

History

Then, in the 18th century, the saint somehow acquired a helper, Zwarte Piet — Black Pete.

A century later, one Dutchman later would codify Black Pete into every one’s mind.

Before going into his story, please consider the aforementioned legend of Basilios, whom St Nicholas rescued, and The Netherlands’ place in history from the 17th century.

History Extra reminds us that, at the time, the Lowlands — of which The Netherlands was part — were ruled by Spain under the Hapsburgs. The Dutch would have seen Spanish soldiers.

In the run-up to St Nicholas Day, children were often told that if they were very, very bad, a man named Black Pete might bundle them in a bag and take them to Spain.

These days, being bundled off to Spain sounds pretty good. However, that wasn’t always the case.

In fact, I had an ex-colleague from The Netherlands whose parents used to threaten him with kidnap to Spain in the 1960s. It scared him into being good! Spain was, even then, far away and foreign.

So, how did Black Pete come into the picture? History Extra gives us two possible reasons.

One concerns history. All of the listed possibilities reminded me of the aforementioned Basilios:

Black Pete’s origins are … problematic. There are suggestions that he started life as a Moorish servant from Spain, a Turkish orphan rescued by St Nick, or an Ethiopian slave freed by him.

The other concerns the spiritual element as well as colour symbolism of good and evil from paganism to Christianity:

Among his miracles and good deeds St Nicholas also had time to combat the devil and medieval pictures show him with Satan in chains. The devil is often painted black, but it’s possible Pete is pre-Christian. One of his jobs is to look after Sleipnir, Santa’s horse. He’s an elegant but normal nag and has the same name as Norse god Odin’s eight-legged steed. Odin is often portrayed taking dead souls back to the underworld. Guess what colour they are? Black.

In any event, in the popular mind, the Turkish bishop somehow ended up in Spain. He and his servant Pete would make the trip to arrive in the Netherlands every December 5-6 and punish or reward children accordingly. St Nicholas — Sinterklaas (St Klaas — St ‘Claus)) to the Dutch, in the same way we say St Nick — gave the instruction for the gift. Pete fulfilled his bidding.

The story that changed everything

In 1850, Dutch schoolteacher Jan Schenkman published a wildly imaginative and equally inaccurate story of St Nicholas and Black Pete.

Sinterklaas and his Servant has the two sailing to the Netherlands from Spain by steam ship. It was meant as just a bit of fun, no doubt. But there might also have been some excitement for young minds of the day. Steam ships were a new and technologically advanced form of transport at the time. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe was also a popular novel. It tells the story of a Knight Templar who returns from Palestine with two black Saracen servants. Schenkman must have had his finger on the pulse, because his story took off.

Slaves on horseback?Black Pete was dressed in Saracen attire whilst Nicholas wore his episcopal robes. The postcard ‘St Nicholas and his Servant’ (same root as ‘knight’) — courtesy of The Netherlands by numbers — shows a scene from a St Nicholas Day celebration of the era.

Despite the mild mischief he engaged in, Pete was always a force for good. However, this does not come without complications today.

Present day controversy rages

Over the past few years, people of colour in the Netherlands have been both sad and angry about Black Pete. Some are sad because they have been called Pete — this includes women, too — whilst others are angry that an annual national celebration includes a reminder of slavery. Others are offended to see some Petes acting like buffoons.

However, Pete continues to be an even better guy these days; he no longer hands out punishment gifts or kidnaps children.

In fact, whilst Nicholas is on his horse, Pete’s the chap who’s busy handing out sweets to children eagerly lining the streets of Dutch towns and cities.

Yet, he’s still a troublesome character.

History Extra says:

Earlier I deliberately wrote of Zwart Pete’s “darker” side. It is this unthinking western link between evil, death, colour and coarse caricature that so worries some. Others point out that it is Pete who is really loved by the kids, not the stuffy Bishop, and they always add that it’s a bit of harmless fun. Here, it’s a debate that is as seasonal as Christmas itself.

VQR Online has an excellent article by a black American who lives in The Netherlands. In some St Nicholas parades, Black Pete also holds the bridle of St Nicholas’s horse, suggesting servitude. The author, Emily Raboteau, writes:

In this last posture, he reminded me a little of a lawn jockey, that American holdover from the days of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Clearly, this was why Zwarte Piet haunted and sickened me in Amsterdam.

At the Amsterdam procession she attended, Raboteau made these observations:

“Piet, Piet!” the children cried. It seemed they loved him more than Sinterklaas, who carried a miter and never smiled …

While I munched on those little Euro-​coin-​sized cookies made soggy by the rain, one particular child captured my attention. She was older than the others, maybe ten or eleven. Her makeup was unevenly applied, as if she’d smudged her face with dirt. In her ear was a cochlear implant, and when she shouted Piet’s name you could hear the deafness in her voice, but also the joy. Her mother stood directly behind her, happy to see her daughter made so happy. I couldn’t be angry with that girl, who was guileless, nor with her mother, who had grown up with the tradition. One Piet stopped clowning long enough to give the girl cookies. I must admit it made me feel good to see that girl smiling. I felt my baby quickening inside me and looked forward to future Christmases: eggnog, “Silent Night,” midnight mass, the smell of the tree. I remembered my felt stocking stuffed with walnuts, tangerines, and candy canes, and choosing the biggest present to open on Christmas Eve. I knew I would gladly lie about Santa Claus to make my kid’s childhood more magical, just as my parents had done for me. Was there an ingredient of love in all this Zwarte Piet stuff?

She illustrated her article with a number of representations of Black Pete.

I studied the photo of the Jumbo brand chocolate boxes. One can buy a box of St Nicholas chocolates or two different kinds of Black Pete.

That alone tells one something: Black Pete is more popular. His representations also look super-friendly whereas St Nicholas’s is just creepy.

Some supermarkets have withdrawn these chocolates from sale after protests from Dutch blacks and those born in former colonies, such as Surinam. In fact, when short motion pictures became affordable, a few St Nicholas Day processions were recorded on film. The Netherlands by numbers says that one was made in Amsterdam in 1934 or 1935:

Sinterklaas was accompanied by a lot of white heralds in outfits very similar to today’s Zwarte Piet. And, according to Sinterklaas expert Marie-Jose Wouters, the procession also included six Surinamese sailors whose boat was in the harbour at the time. They are, alas, not on the film. But it could just be that the very first Zwarte Piets in the procession were Surinamese.

However, in 2012, Amsterdam city council took a local survey:

39% of people of Surinamese origin don’t like the idea of Zwarte Piet being at their children’s school, nor do 28% of Ghanians, 24% of Antilleans and 17% of English speakers. However the survey found no people of Moroccan origin thought Zwarte Piet was an issue. A survey in October 2013 for television programme EditieNL found 96% of the Dutch think the Zwarte Piet character should stay.

Oddly, although technically Caucasian, St Nicholas was from Asia Minor. It is unclear whether he would have owned a slave and we do not know what his circumstances were with regard to having servants. Schenkman’s story — rather than actual history — might be what is stoking people’s objections today.

It is interesting to discover that all the objection started in 1968 — that fateful year which gave rise to a twisted era in much of Europe and North America that continues today. A woman named M C Grünbauer said:

it no longer appropriate to continue to celebrate our dear old Saint Nicholas feast in its actual form.

Conclusion

Perhaps one solution would be to go back to the real story of St Nicholas in as far as people know it. Black Pete’s not part of that history, certainly not as represented.

I’ve run on quite a bit here. I’ll be back next year with more information on St Nicholas and Black Pete references, including how the saint became part of Christmas.

For now, here is another story about St Nicholas by Margaret Meyerkort, Wynstones School, Whaddon, Gloucester, England. The last two sentences sum up this feast perfectly:

The earth is wide and great. There, where St. Nicholas cannot go himself, he asks a good and pious person to go to the children and take them apples and nuts and tell the children of the coming of the Christ Child.

And that’s all that matters.

slipperyIn light of yesterday’s post on a European murdering his disabled daughter in France and Paralympians around the world comes the issue of legalised euthanasia for children.

The Netherlands, Luxembourg — and now Belgium — all allow young people to request euthanasia. In the first two countries, a child must have attained the age of 12 in order to do so.

In Belgium, no minimum age exists.

Naturally, proponents of this astounding legislation say it will be used only in the rarest of cases involving terminal illness.

That reminds me of the Roe v Wade debates when abortion supporters said the procedure would only be requested and used when the mother’s health was at risk. I recall discussing the issue with my fellow classmates in Catholic secondary school. I posited that it would eventually become a form of birth control. My classmates told me that I was being alarmist: ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Who would actively seek out an abortion?’

Hmm. Millions of women around the world, a number of them more than once. Tens of millions of foetuses who were divinely intended for this world and never saw it.

From abortion it was but a short step to euthanasia.

In 2005, Gallup’s poll on the subject found that a majority of Christians in the United States support euthanasia: 75% of Catholics, 70% of Protestants and 61% of Evangelicals. A majority of Catholics and Protestants also support physician-assisted suicide, PAS — 60% and 52%, respectively — although only 32% of Evangelicals do.

Now we have children who will be able to ask for the means to end their lives. It may start with the terminally ill but it will surely end up with unhappy youngsters of all kinds. No doubt, some of their parents and other family members will encourage them.

Els van Hoof, a Belgian senator, was one of a small number who voted against the bill. Christian News reports that she told the BBC (emphases mine):

In the beginning, they presented a law that included mentally ill children,” she noted. “During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life—so how far does it go?”

Paediatrician Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer disagrees:

” … there are children we try to treat but there is nothing we can do to make them better

We are not playing God—these are lives that will end anyway,” he argued. “Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, ‘I don’t want to die this way, I want to do it my way,’ and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it.”

We all die. The point is dying when the Lord decides it, not us. So, contrary to what van Berlaer says, we are playing God by determining not His timescale but our own — for our comfort and convenience.

Thirty-eight Belgian paediatricians issued a statement countering this perspective, noting:

Even the most complex medical cases can be solved in the current legal framework, with the means and expertise at our disposal,” the translated statement says. “For whom is this legislation therefore designed?”

Children in Belgium are not suffering,” it continues. “The palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospitals and at home.”

The law passed the lower house in late February 2014. Christian News tells us that most Belgians oppose it. Catholic Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard observed:

The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they’ve become able to decide that someone should make them die

This ties in tangentially with America’s Cass Sunstein — an early Obama adviser and a father himself — who advocates animal rights over those of humans. This World Net Daily article tells us that he agrees with Jeremy Bentham, one of the stars of Britain’s Enlightenment of the 18th century. Bentham once wrote:

A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old.

Similarly, another of Obama’s early ‘point people’, John Holdren, said that he would favour seizing babies from unwed mothers who refused to have abortions. A chilling thought. In the 1970s, he co-authored a book with Paul and Anne Ehrlich on population control and other aspects of ecoscience. Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment still appears on course syllabi on some college campuses. The three authors propose forced marriage or compulsory adoption as well as mandatory sterilisation. They justify it this way:

Policies that may seem totally unacceptable today to the majority of people at large or to their national leaders may be seen as very much the lesser of evils only a few years from now.

That is, sadly, all too true.

Back now to children’s euthanasia. Many of you probably read about this story when it was being debated at the end of last year and early this year. Of its passage into law, business magazine magnate and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes warns:

As euthanasia becomes more accepted—and we become more numb to the horror of murdering people like this—we’ll descend to the next abomination: pressuring the sick to discontinue treatment for a likely fatal illness in the name of ‘saving scarce resources’ for people who have more years ahead of them.

Indeed, we have only to go to the Wikipedia entry for Voluntary Euthanasia to read the rationale, which anyone in the Benelux countries might now hear and adults in many other nations may be given:

Not only will PAS and euthanasia help with psychological suffering and give autonomy to the patient, PAS can help reduce health care costs and free up doctors and nurses. By keeping a terminally-ill patient alive, the patient must pay for any medical necessary procedures. These procedures can include x-rays, prescribed drugs, or any lab tests that needs to be performed. All of these procedures can run up a medical costs. Since the bills will continue to come for the patient, they will lose more of the money they would want to leave behind for their family. If the patient wants to end the suffering, the reason for racking up the bills and keeping the patient alive are lacking (13). Also, the costly treatment to keep the terminally-ill patient alive from medical funding cannot be used for other types of care, like prenatal, where it would save lives and improve long-term quality of life.[37] Along with reduced health care costs, more doctors and nurses could be freed up. A shortage of medical staff is a critical problem hospitals face and studies have found that understaffed hospitals make many mistakes and provide less quality care. Attending to terminally-ill patients, who would rather die, is not the best use of the medical staff. If PAS and euthanasia were legalized, more staff would have time to care for others and there would be an increase in the quality of care administered.[36]

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia can lower health care costs, free up doctors and nurses, and give back the right to the patient to practice autonomy. By keeping PAS and euthanasia illegal, each terminally-ill patient is being discriminated against because they are not able put this option into action. Those patients because of their disability do not have the same right as any other person in the United States.[37]

To be fair, the article does explore the opposing right-to-life argument.

However, let’s look at how these arguments could make villains out of religious people — Christians or others — who wish for their relative to die in hospital without assisted or self-imposed suicide.

When families keep the terminally ill in hospital, doctors and nurses could well look upon these people as robbing others of good health. Family requests might end up being ignored. Relatives might be shunned. They might be expected to perform nursing and hospital orderly duties themselves.

The patient will be viewed as a ‘bed-blocker’, a term used of the elderly in Britain’s NHS in the early 1990s. Since then, a number of NHS doctors have written on elderly patients’ admittance forms to casualty the letters DNR: Do Not Resuscitate.

It is ironic that, given our greater overall life expectancy and medical advances, that more of us — children included — will be destined for the scrapheap because we are mere inconveniences to our families or physicians.

God? Who needs Him, eh? We can now take care of all our life and death issues ourselves.

Next to smokers, the current health target is the obese.

Smokers and the obese are constantly being told how much they cost health providers and nationalised health services.

However, is it true?

A 2008 Dutch study done on a sample of citizens from the Netherlands reveals that:

Until age 56 y[ears], annual health expenditure was highest for obese people. At older ages, smokers incurred higher costs. Because of differences in life expectancy, however, lifetime health expenditure was highest among healthy-living people and lowest for smokers. Obese individuals held an intermediate position. Alternative values of epidemiologic parameters and cost definitions did not alter these conclusions.

The aforementioned page at PLOS Medicine summarises how the study was conducted and the variables involved.

I hope this helps to clear up the confusion surrounding which target group costs more. It surprised me to read that healthy-living people cost the most.

As a brief historical follow-up to yesterday’s post on the Revd Harm Schilder, a Catholic priest from Tilburg (Brabant), who wants to post the names and photos of people who leave his Emmaus Church, the Netherlands has a history of registering citizens’ church affiliation.

Schilder’s story brought to mind the Dutch government’s mandatory registration of religious affiliation before the Second World War:

In the Netherlands, the Germans managed to exterminate a relatively large proportion of the Jews.[11] The main reason was that before the war, the Dutch authorities had required citizens to register their religion so that church taxes could be distributed among the various religious organizations.

Several years ago I read another account of this registration which said that the government made this policy more palatable to the people by pointing out that should they be away from home and injured or ailing, the right clergyman (i.e. Catholic or Protestant) could pray over them or give them the last rites and a proper burial. This account went on to say that, thanks to this registration, the Nazis had a very easy time finding out who the Jews were in the Netherlands.

This shows you how a well-intentioned scheme can easily backfire.

The Dutch geography — flatlands and fens — also helped the Nazis. The nation’s high population density and lack of hills and mountains left nowhere for people to hide. There was also no means of escape, except through another occupied nation or German-controlled waterways.

An online article ‘Survival and Resistance: The Netherlands under Nazi Assault’ describes more of what happened under German occupation:

Culturally, Dutch society was stratified largely on the basis of religion. Thus, close friendships between Jews and Christians were uncommon in war-time Holland. This made it difficult for Jews to find a place of hiding within the homes of Gentile neighbors – individuals that they did not know. For those Jews with Christian friends, to accept shelter carried with it the knowledge that discovery placed their friends’ lives into jeopardy. Additionally, most Jews who went into hiding did so as individuals. Rarely, were entire families hidden as in the case of the Franks. Thus, to go into hiding not only endangered the well-being of one’s Gentile benefactors but often meant abandoning other family members including elder parents, spouses, siblings, or children.

The article goes on to say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were also widely persecuted and killed. Hitler viewed them as ‘troublemakers’ and forbade publication and dissemination of their material.

Whereas the British royal family stayed in the UK, the Netherlands’s Queen Wilhelmina and her family took refuge in Britain.

I mentioned in a previous post last year that, by the end of the war, the Dutch were, sadly, reduced to scrounging for nourishment (emphases mine below). By 1944:

In search of food, people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugarbeets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating. From September 1944 until early 1945 the deaths of 18,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause and in many more as a contributing factor.[4] The Dutch Famine ended with the liberation of the western Netherlands in May 1945.

Whilst I am digressing for a moment, it is important for us to learn the lessons of history. The Dutch showed much stamina and resilience. Throughout the Occupation:

Many believed that the war would be short-lived and thus, through a process of seeming cooperation and delay, the impact of Nazi occupation on the Dutch, including Dutch Jews, would be negligible. Unfortunately, the Nazi occupation lasted five years with devastating consequences for all of the Netherlands including the Hunger Winter of 1945 [see preceding quotation].

Yet:

Many a Dutch [person was] active in speaking out or publishing against the Nazis. These activities occurred in spite of the great risk involved. To be caught meant imprisonment or deportation possibly to Mauthausen from where few returned. Clergy regularly read letters from the pulpit. Underground newspapers flourished and were particularly invaluable after the confiscation of radio sets and the loss of electricity during the later years of the war.

We just do not know what will happen when we cast a vote or act nonchalantly about an enemy, e.g. ‘Oh, don’t worry. Nothing will come of it. Politics as usual.’ We still need to be very careful and make sure we understand the events of the past so that we do not repeat them.

Now onto the present day and the subject of religious affiliation among Catholics and Protestants.

It seems that registration of religion is still required for distribution of church taxes in the Netherlands. With regard to Fr Schilder’s case, the Brabants Dagblad reported that a resident, upset with the priest’s insistence of a board with names and photographs of those who left his church, referred to a site called ontdopen.nl from which s/he found form letters to print.

This is what ontdopen.nl says (translated into English):

Dear visitor,

This website makes it easy for Catholics (generally speaking) to unsubscribe from the Catholic Church. Fill in your details [below]. A Foundation for Inter-Church membership records one for the diocese and the parish. Paste them into Word, print them out and sign the documents. Send them, accompanied by a copy of your ID, and you are no longer a member of the club of Ratzinger & Co.

Buddy Jesus says come again!

If you do not know your baptism data anyway you can send a letter to the SILA and you are in any event no longer a Roman Catholic registered with the government.

For more information about writing and the address of your parish on this website.

It’s the penultimate paragraph that caught my eye — ‘registered with the government’.

However, going to that next website indicates that government registration of religion is still active today in the Netherlands:

One of the many privileges that religious institutes in the Netherlands still enjoy the recording of church members through the municipalities using SILA (Interchurch Foundation Membership Administration).

This means that municipalities personal information for SILA, SILA while the only private organization in the Netherlands that information from the GBA (Municipal Personal Records) gets. Update: Dioceses report that ten percent of the parishes is not yet connected to the central membership records of the Church = SILA.

Meanwhile state aid and subsidies to religious bodies, eg broadcasters such as RCC, IKON, etc. are determined by the “interest”, ie the number of members of the religious movement. In addition, there again, there is an exception (Art. 2.42), for which ordinary broadcasters members have, Muslim broadcasters, Broadcasting For Churches, IKON denomination, JO Jewish broadcasting, RKK etc no members have airtime and grants to get.
Case: size Coptic Orthodox community determines grant school.

The apparent social relevance of religion – as in the ethical debate about freedom of speech, euthanasia, abortion and stem cell research and prenatal diagnosis – is measured by the number of members of the Church. What also comes through in the tax privileges that the churches via their ANBI status enjoy.

Perhaps this was part of what Fr Schilder was alluding to, although the news articles were largely unclear in this regard.

On January 8, 2013, I ran across this item in Yahoo!UK news about a Catholic priest in the Netherlands who has told departing parishoners they must send him a copy of their Dutch identity papers.

Armed with the photo, he intends to post their name and photo (from said identity papers) on a board in the church so that the rest of the congregation can pray for their return.

To most others, myself included, this looks like a high-handed name-and-shame tactic unworthy of an individual church and unheard of in the Roman Catholic Church.

Yahoo!UK reports:

“This is a large parish, and I don’t know everyone: by putting up the photos I thought someone might recognise someone they know who they could try to make stay in the Church,” priest Harm Schilder told AFP on Tuesday.

Many Catholics in the liberal Netherlands were shocked by Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas call to “fight” gay marriage, which the Netherlands was the first country to legalise it in 2001.

Schilder said that he had received four requests to leave the Church around Christmas.

“This isn’t about pointing a finger, naming and shaming,” said Schilder, insisting that the plan would help the community pray for these people not to leave the Church and perhaps “persuade them to stay”.

Those wishing to leave must send a letter to the priest along with a photocopy of identity papers.

This is where Schilder gets the photos that will be displayed in the entrance hallway of the church in Tilburg in the south of the country.

If I were his bishop, I would waste no time in getting in touch with him to ask if he is going about this the right way.

Whilst some Reformed denominations and conservative Evangelical churches tell their members that they must apply to withdraw membership, this is not part of Catholic Church teaching. If it is, I trust that someone will write in to explain otherwise.

Normally, if relations are good or neutral between a priest and congregant, the latter may contact the pastor to indicate reasons for leaving. This is done more by way of courtesy than obligation.

If I were Fr Schilder, I would politely ask these people why they wish to leave. I would want to know if it was something I said or the way I presided over Mass or my sermon content. I would also ask about the person’s perception of the Church and if they were experiencing any personal conflicts with regard to faith.

In that way, the person is more likely to return to church — if not his, perhaps another — at some point in future.

Naming and shaming — even if Schilder denies that’s what it is — is the surest way to drive people out of church for good.

Schilder’s Emmaus Parish is located in Tilburg in Brabant, which has a high percentage of Catholics, even though not that many attend Sunday Mass.

In late 2011, scandals involving priests and children came to light:

a report was published by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister, detailing widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church in Holland. 1,800 instances of abuse “by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses” were reported to have occurred since 1945.[6] In March 2012, however, it was revealed that cases of 10 children being chemically castrated after reporting being sexually abused to the police had been left out.[6] It also emerged that in 1956 former prime minister Victor Marijnen, then chairman of a children’s home in Gelderland, had covered up the sexual abuse of children. According to the Telegraph newspaper, he “intervened to have prison sentences dropped against several priests convicted of abusing children.”[6] The factuality of these claims is unclear, though.

It is also thought that as more people come out of the closet revealing their sexual orientation more families have become empathetic towards same-sex relationships and less well-disposed to Church teaching on the matter, regardless of what the New Testament says (e.g. Jude).

Harm Schilder bd_nl image-3371025When I first read this article, I expected Schilder to be an older man. However, he isn’t (see photo courtesy of Brabants Dagblad).

Readers will not be surprised to discover that the Dutch media have been running updates over the past few days.

On the original story, Schilder [‘Painter’ in English] defended his actions in the Brabants Dagblad (translated from Dutch):

According to the priest – known for the conflict over the early ringing of the bells of his church – it is a way to get the whole community ‘involved in the problem. ” “As a pastor, I am far from the type of people who unsubscribe. I usually call, but then the position still pretty final. Maybe it could happen through acquaintances or anyone who manages to persuade them.”

Comments to the article focussed on violation of privacy with the name and photo policy. Others pointed to the ‘rudeness’ of the Catholic Church.

Another article from the same publication — ‘Angry reactions to Tilburg pastor — phone keeps ringing’ — shows a photo of him being interviewed and features an audio of his statements to Brabant’s Radio 1.  The article says that ‘responses have been flowing in from around the nation’ and that

in any case, his secretary has been busy: ‘The phone keeps ringing. I refer everyone to the priest’.

I went away for a few hours whilst writing this to reflect more on this incredible story, unusual for Western Catholicism as it would be for mainline Protestantism.

First, Fr Schilder is undoubtedly keen to retain his congregation and, let’s not forget, he is blessed with a large parish at such a young age.

Second, it is his pastoral responsibility to invite those courteous enough to send him letters for an appointment or a telephone call to see if he can help or clarify the Church’s position on various matters. He could also make it clear that his door and that of the church are always open to them when they decide to return. Notice how many Catholics and Protestants slam the door on sensitive matters? There are many more doorslammers among us than there should be.

Third, any discreet withdrawal of membership has nothing to do with anyone else in the congregation. Schilder may be a conduit between them and God, but, in the final analysis, he has no business posting names and photographs of those leaving, especially if he is in danger of violating privacy laws. Other congregants will know some of these people and their reasons for withdrawing their participation in church. They can fervently pray for them. As for Schilder, he can offer a general prayer at Mass — no names — for their return to the fold. It might then be a matter of weeks, months, years or, perhaps, never.

This is why the notion of Calvinist predestination, as taken from the New Testament, makes so much sense! This is a perfect illustration of it.

Here are a few related Bible verses on the situation:

Matthew 18:15-20 — note the necessity for witnesses before public condemnation of a private matter. Jesus said:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

John 6:37-39:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

Tomorrow: Church registration in the Netherlands

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