Science - April 20, 2006

‘Atheist? Oh, Christiaan’

‘Go back to church boy, you need it.’ That was the message of the head of the Catholic Church Cardinal Simonis during his visit to KSV St Franciscus on Monday 10 April. He was in Wageningen for the anniversary of the no-longer strictly Catholic student association.

The cardinal addressed the full eating hall in a strict tone. ‘We are presently living in unimaginable cultural poverty,’ he said. Simonis does not hide his annoyance at the students’ lack of historical knowledge and is irritated by the large numbers of ‘I believe in something, but I’m not sure what’ in modern society.

KSV is a Catholic student association in name and tradition, so the recommending committee invited the Cardinal to come to their anniversary celebrations this year. Because the Cardinal very much wanted to talk to students, he suggested that he not only come to fulfil his official role in the committee, but that he would come and spend an evening at the association.

He started the evening in a friendly manner, but when four students started to explain how they view religion and society, Simonis could not conceal his irony. With a stabbing finger and a sharp memory for names he hammered home the importance of going to church and learning catechism. ‘Atheist? Oh, Christiaan’ ‘The church old fashioned? Pieter, I hope you’ll start to go more often.’ And: ‘Buddhism, that’s just navel gazing.’ It is clear, for the Cardinal there is only one way.

That the attendance was so high is a sign that students are looking for more depth, according to KSV president De Bruijne. ‘We don’t organise things like this every week, but a lot of the students are interested in religion in the broader sense.’

Nowadays KSV is above all a social club, but did start life as the Catholic students’ association. ‘We do organise a mass twice a year, and usually about half of our members attend. Many are not practising Catholics, but people who are interested in the background of the association. The services are usually led by our patron, the Dean of Arnhem, or the student chaplain, and mostly they make the mass relevant to current events and appealing for students,’ says De Bruijne.

Simonis also seemed to hit a note with the students. Even with his sharp comments on the students’ weak arguments for more pluriformity the audience listened seriously. Simonis: ‘We are the messengers of God and need to be able to demonstrate the essence of God.’ Surprisingly though he does not regard science as opposed to Christendom. ‘We need science, just like we need belief. Christendom is not a different reality, but sees reality differently.’ / MV

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