Harry Van den Akker, Chair of Mariënburg 12 February 201
Harry led us gently into his talk. The Netherlands and Ireland are different in many ways:
- Ireland is 2 X larger than the Netherlands
- Ireland’s population is one quarter of the Netherlands
- Ireland’s motorways radiate from Dublin; in the Netherlands they criss cross the country
- Mass attendance in Ireland is still way ahead of the Netherlands
Vatican ll excited the Netherlands. But the reforms promised by Vatican ll never arrived. So when Pope John Paul ll visited the Netherlands in 1985 there were large demonstrations protesting against him because of the lack of reforms. The May 8th movement was founded in 1985 and continued with protests for many years. But in 2003 they disbanded.
Mariënburg is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2018. Membership was over 5,000 but today has 1,135 members. As Harry said, you could draw a graph and find the year they would no longer exist. Harry was elected Chair in 2016 and decided on a new strategy for Mariënburg: Always protesting was taking up all their energy and made Mariënburg seem very negative to many people. So instead their main focus now is to support communities, which follow Jesus Christ. Communities, which take positive actions to help their neighbours. To be a platform for likeminded people. To be liberal Catholics outside the structures of the hierarchical church.
They want to forget about all the non ideal elements in our Church. They do not accept all the errors in the Creed. There is no Hell. God is not in Heaven. God is not a Father.
Harry spoke very approvingly about Pope Francis giving a recent sermon where a Downs Syndrome child walked toward him and Pope Francis brought him to sit beside him as he preached. We need a more horizontal, not vertical structure.
Harry noted the WAC Ireland Mission Statement “Working to End Injustices in the Roman Catholic Church.” Mariënburg have moved beyond this. Only a small part of their energy is given to protesting, for example (1) Mariënburg sent a letter protesting about Bishop Barros in Chile and (2) In 2017 their Archbishop agreed to greet the Gay Pride marchers in the cathedral, but following pressure from right wing groups, the Nuncio and other conservatives the Archbishop withdrew the invitation; Harry wrote publicly supporting the Archbishops initial welcome.
So Mariënburg devote more time and energy to environmental issues; social issues; “1000 voices sing” “Save the Earth” in the autumn; they called on their members to campaign in support of 1200 refugee children to be allowed to remain in the Netherlands. And the membership numbers in Mariënburg have started to increase again!
There was a very lively discussion after Harry’s talk. Ireland is different to the Netherlands. But we must also look at the balance of how our energies are applied.