Joyful Renewal: A Story From the Netherlands

Father Erik Rozeman celebrates Holy Mass for the first time on June 2022 in the St. Lambert Bassilica in Hengelo

“We’ve got to tell this to everybody!”

Jacqueline Marie | December 13, 2023

Ordained only one year ago, Father Erik is at St. Titus Brandsma in Wageningen, an amalgamated parish (collapsed from 11 churches down to six) in the Netherlands – a country all too familiar with parish decline.

But while in seminary, this young priest read Divine Renovation: Bringing your parish from maintenance to mission, and attended last year’s Missionary Parish Conference in the Netherlands and was determined to enter the priesthood already focused on mission.

Pastor Father Mauricio, and Father Erik at the Alpha Collective in November

Despite entering a dire situation in his region, he is incredibly joyful! He says, “The priesthood brings this happiness to my life.” Through Divine Renovation, he sees the path forward and, with his Pastor, is taking action. They are relying on the Holy Spirit to transform a seemingly hopeless situation to one teeming with possibility. 

“I really want to go outside and try to attract the ‘nones’…the people who are totally blank and don’t know anything about the faith anymore.”

Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, ordaining Father Erik Rozeman while his grandmother looks on

Father Erik was born in Hengelo on the Eastern border of the Netherlands, near Germany. Part of a Catholic family, when he was growing up everyone around him was Catholic – even in school. In his community, receiving all the sacraments of initiation in childhood was the status quo. He states, it is “totally backwards now. Where there was probably one person who didn’t do their first Holy Communion, now there is probably one person in a class who does.” 

After high school, he studied European law and Dutch administrative/constitutional law. But after graduation, he went to Lourdes with a group from his diocese and the direction of his life completely changed.

He prayed at the grotto and felt very connected to God – at that moment he felt a clear pull towards the priesthood –– something that he had not felt before. Shortly after, he made the leap to leave a career in law and entered the seminary.

St. Titus Brandsma in Wageningen has the advantage of being near a university. This equates to many young people, who come as students from other countries, joining into parish life. But it still lacked a missional posture and was in maintenance mode. However, that is quickly changing.

“One of the most important things [in moving on mission], of course, was Alpha,” Father Erik states. Through Alpha they have been able to shift their parish’s culture towards mission. They have created a leadership pipeline, formed a Senior Leadership Team and now focus on a culture of hospitality.

Fruit, from focusing on evangelization, is apparent within the parish. “Some people have kind of done a 180” Father Erik says. He tells the story of one parishioner: “someone who had never read the Bible and literally said in the first session, ‘I’m never going to read this book’ but by the end of Alpha couldn’t stop reading it!” Father Erik also sees how a shared vision and experiencing things like Alpha collectively has changed the culture of his parish. Individuals from different churches within St. Titus are getting to know each other, unifying the whole parish.

In just two years, the parish has already run 11 Alphas. 75-80% of attendees are still from within the parish, but new people are coming. This group is Father Erik’s passion: “I really want to go outside and try to attract the ‘nones’…the people who are totally blank and don’t know anything about the faith anymore.” He acknowledges that to reach the unreached and have the whole parish be missional in the community, requires “rely[ing] on the culture of prayer.”

In just two years, the parish has already run 11 Alphas!

For this young priest, being on mission fills him with hope, faith, joy and love: 

 Hope “to see people grow, to be like disciples of Christ, we want to be a disciple making parish.”  

Joy like “Father Mallon talks about. We want to be happy disciples, having this joy… we want a parish that is missionary. We want to go out!” 

Faith as “people are looking for authenticity in faith,” says Father Erik. 

And love as “we want to be an open Church…” sharing the love of Jesus. “We’ve got to tell this to everybody!”