Fr. Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932-1996) Requiescat in Pace
Ed. Note: Fr. Nouwen quit a tenured professorship at Yale to become a missionary among the poor of Peru, and later quit his teaching post at Harvard — because he feared it might cause him to lose his soul — to work with handicapped people, first in France and then in Canada. He was born in the Netherlands, and died in his fatherland of a heart attack. Exactly 10 years ago, in our November 1986 issue, he wrote a poignant account of a Christmas/New Year’s visit to his family in the Netherlands, commenting brokenheartedly on what he called “the tragedy of Dutch Catholicism.” The article was in the form of diary entries. Excerpts, slightly adapted, follow:
Thursday, December 26, 1985
The train made its first stop in Holland. It’s a true relief to be able to understand every word that’s spoken. Two Dutch boys drew me into their conversation and I didn’t miss the slightest detail of their youthful expressions! Hearing my mother tongue is a special joy. But while the words are familiar, the “tone” seems less so. Going to my family and friends in Holland fills me with apprehension and a certain fear. Most of those with whom I shared my youth have moved away from the Church. I wonder if I can find a Dutch way of speaking about the good news of Jesus.
Tuesday, December 31, 1985
Early this morning I walked around Utrecht trying to find a church where I could pray. But the two churches I came upon were closed. As I walked through the streets saying the rosary I felt like a stranger among my own people.
Later I went to Rotterdam to celebrate “Old and New” with my brother and his family. At 7 p.m. I celebrated the Eucharist in the nearby parish church. My little six-year-old niece was willing to go with me, but everyone else preferred to stay home. I felt lonely, especially because I couldn’t share God’s gifts with those who are closest to me.
My closest thoughts and feelings have become foreign to them. It’s hard for me to celebrate with my whole being when there is so little to celebrate.
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