In 1985, during his visit to Holland, then Pope John Paul II made a stop in the cathedral of Catherine in Utrecht. “I invite you not to disappear yourselves in an atmosphere of secularization”, Pope Wojtyla said to those Catholics.
The Pope was not taken exactly to the letter. The cathedral of Caterina, in fact, is about to be closed. The Catharijne convent, the adjoining religious art museum, is ready to take over management after deconsecration. But the closure is delicate, because the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the highest Roman Catholic priest in the Netherlands. Utrecht will have to find a new cathedral for the first time since 1853, when Catherine became the only Protestant church ceded to Catholics (the Protestants had used it since 1636).
Catherine is the most important of the churches that Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, is going to close due to secularization (an annual loss of 5 percent of Catholic faithful). Christianity in the Netherlands is nearing its end and Eijk explained it to the De Gelderlander newspaper.
Within ten years, within the archdiocese of Utrecht, the largest and in theory the most fervent in the whole of the Netherlands (the Protestant areas are even worse), only 15 churches of the current 280 will continue to celebrate. Impressive numbers, which indicate the future of Western societies with a high rate of de-Christianization.
“I'd really like to get the Dutch back to believe, but it's not that easy”, Eijk said. “All culture is against us. Every time I have to make the decision to close a church, my soul is torn apart. But I can not do otherwise”.
In 2013, Ejik launched his first warning, but “now many priests tell me: 'Eminence, it was too optimistic'". So today he says: “In 2028, when I will be 75 and I will have to hand over my resignation to the Pope, 8 or 10 churches will remain”. Eijk appears more and more as “the last cardinal”, the administrator of the precipitous decline of Catholicism.
According to Ejik, Catholics in the Netherlands are “embracing the vision of a future without churches” and that the authorities are preparing "for the closure of about 1,000 Catholic churches, or about two thirds of those in the country”.
In Brabant, the Holland of Vincent van Gogh, the churches are already closing in large numbers. In Schijndel, the Catholic parish has just sold three of the four churches under its management. According to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage, between 1975 and 2011 no less than 1,340 churches were already closed. More than a thousand have been used again, three hundred have been demolished.
When Pope Wojtyla passed through the streets of Utrecht in 1985, a group of young men harnessed the statue of Willibrord, the Catholic patron saint of the Netherlands, and pulled it down from its pedestal. They would never have imagined that thirty years later, without even a blow, the archbishop would have closed almost all the churches.
In the Netherlands, Christianity is dying and Islam is rising. The writing is on the wall.