The Community that made me a Father
Reflections on leaving the Eendrachtskapel Community, Rotterdam
The Dutch never call their priests “father.” Not now, and not at any other time either. I do not know why this is so. Priests in the Netherlands were addressed functionally as “kapelaan” (chaplain) or “pastoor” (the local shepherd of a parish, CIC 518). Furthermore, my roots lie in two very catholic but anticlerical families. We went to church and volunteered in the parish, but priests were kept at a distance. What this meant for my vocation is a story for another time. Still, you can imagine that I was a bit anxious when the bishop of Rotterdam gave me the care of the Eendrachtskapel Community in January 2019.
I introduced myself as “brother Richard, a Dominican friar.” To which the reply was a heartfelt “hello Father, welcome!” So I tried again with someone else, but she grabbed my hand and brought it to her forehead, asking, “a blessing Father?” When I turned around in a slight panic, someone said, “I think you need a coffee Father, and some cake.”
I soon realised that being friar Richard would not work at the Eendrachtskapel.
Hesitantly, I started to let myself be called father and introduce myself that way. But it felt weird. I had only recently been ordained and did not have much pastoral experience. But in their kindness, the international community at the Eendrachtskapel offered me a school of life, a place where I could learn how to become and be a spiritual father to international students and ex-pat families.
After the Mass, Christmas 2019 (Photo: Maria Cardenas)
In the beginning, I tried to do too much, although I only had one day a week for this ministry. Then I learned to focus on liturgy and catechesis and offer space for the community to assist in liturgies and lead in the areas of music and hospitality. Through this experience, I learned to pray, trust, and let go. I also learned to improvise, which for a strange reason, I enjoyed. The community grew to almost 160 parishioners on a Sunday night within a year. Extra benches had to be procured elsewhere. And then the pandemic hit.
The Music Group (Twitter Bisdom Rotterdam)
And again, I had to learn what it means to be a father. To be close and yet keep some safe distance. To keep a community together online or by standing outside shivering in the cold and talking to the small groups allowed to come to Mass. Working through the pandemic became a team effort. Many young and older volunteers worked together to make it work, from running the reservations system to welcoming people at the door to organising the live streams. I never had to worry about these things, and I am deeply grateful because this allowed me to focus on the core of pastoral ministry. It allowed me to be a father and accompany young people through the pandemic.
An evening with discussions and beautiful music in the parish centre.
This weekend, I will say goodbye to the beautiful international catholic community at the Eendrachtskapel. And I am very happy that my Dominican brothers will take over my responsibilities. I share my experience of leaving with many students who will return to their home countries. We may disperse, yet we are one in Christ, and for a while, we have experienced glimpses of the Coming Kingdom. These God-given graces will remain with us, wherever we go, until we meet again.
Thank you for everything,