Fr Bart Beckers, a Jesuit from the Netherlands, is staying with us at St Canice’s until after Christmas. He then joins eight other Jesuits from various countries around the world for seven months in Melbourne attending what is known as tertianship. Welcome to Australia!
These tertians come together a few years following ordination to reflect on their personal and religious lives, and on their vocation moving forward. The chance to broaden international perspectives is also very valuable in the Jesuit sense, as the Order’s Mission is global in nature.
After graduating as a medical doctor, Bart undertook two year’s military service. He then chose to practice in the field of geriatric medicine for thirteen years. With a mind to advocating for much-needed revision in healthcare for the elderly, Bart also became very active in politics to press for this change.
The stirrings to join the priesthood resurfaced during this time of public advocacy, and he joined the Jesuits in 2004. Fr Bart was ordained and appointed as parish priest in the rectorate church of the Jesuits in Amsterdam in 2012.
During our conversations, we were talking about the demise of the Catholic church in the Netherlands, and compared the situation between our two countries. As in Australia, parishes are closing or combining, but Fr Bart goes on to say, “it’s ironic that people still remain so attached to the institutions of the church. They clamour to retain their local village church for example, but they don’t come to church, so there’s no funds for up-keep, and so little reason to keep the ‘institution’ of the church building, simply for sentimental reasons.
St Canice’s is a special parish with its outreach for the poor and marginalized, but there is a good percentage of the congregation who are older. In talking about how we might attract more lapsed Catholics, or appeal to younger people, we must first show that we are a community. Fr Bart goes on: “That begs the question. How can we be a community and attract people who might be searching?” We need to ask the question of ourselves:
“If the embers of one-time Catholic faith glows sufficiently bright to bring a person to Mass once again, would their experience at St Canice’s relate to them, and encourage them to return?”
Being Catholic is more than a being a ‘Catholic on Sunday’. The Liturgical Ministries, which include Greeters, Readers, Eucharistic Ministers and Altar servers; and the Social Ministries such as the Kitchen, ideally would comprise community representing all age-groups, young and old.
Tomorrow’s problems for the church are not today’s. It’s not an impossible situation. We can be innovative.
The ‘old’ Church as we know it; Church in the western world, is gone.
But this is not so in Asia, Africa or East Timor”.
“We’re back to square one, but not really; we still have much that is good in our institutions. Institutions get drawn into themselves, but there’s lots of good to be had from the better ones”, he says.
“Go back to the time of the early Christians. Take a clean slate, and start to attract people the way they did two thousand years ago when there were no priests”. “We’re free to do what is good, and to appeal to people . . . on the basis of our message, and our example”.
Catholics do missionary work very well, but Fr Bart poses the question, “What does it take to become like the Church of today in places such as Africa, Asia and East Timor, where the church is growing, and vocations are increasing at a rapid pace?”
The upcoming generation in those emerging areas is engaged in evangelizing; they’ve gone back to square one, just like the early Christians”.
Fr Bart, in one sentence, how do you see the solution for the crisis for the Church in the western hemisphere that we’ve spoken of? He calmly suggests:
“You have to give people ‘tradition’ (2000 years of Church and the Gospels), but the message has to be ‘contemporary’ if people are going to relate”.
As an example: An exhibition of Dutch Masters is here in Sydney. It represents tradition in an artistic sense. The exhibition looks at who we are, and where we come from – it is part of our Western culture, of a tradition that goes all over the world. However, to make the experience ‘relate’ to us, and be more than a series of ‘pretty pictures’ that we peruse and move-on. It has to be interesting and relevant, and presented with a storyline that transcends time. Fr Bart continues:
“It’s the same with the church. We have to find a way in this beautiful building from the Victorian-era. We must show we are a community first; a living community that’s welcoming and inclusive.”
Conversation with Michael Musgrave, Sydney, 26th November 2017