Adrianus Simonis with John Paul II in 1985

Adrianus Simonis: Lifelong loyalty

On September 2, the Dutch Cardinal passed away at the age of 88. A loyal priest for over 63 years, a bishop for almost 50, and a cardinal for more than 35 years, he was a great friend of the movement and a regular guest at the Rimini Meeting.
Wim Peeters

Cardinal Adrianus Simonis’ life was characterized above all by his loyalty. When he died on Wednesday, September 2, at the age of 88, he had been a priest for over sixty-three years, a bishop for almost fifty and a cardinal for more than thirty-five. As a priest, he courageously and faithfully defended the Pope at the "Pastoral Council" of the Dutch Church Province (in Noordwijkerhout), which took place between 1960 and 1970, against the overwhelming majority of dissident believers. As Bishop, he was a loyal visitor to the Werkgroep Katholieke Jongeren in Utrecht (from 1978), an important initiative of young Catholics faithful to the Church. What many easily dismiss as “conservative” turned out to be an attitude to life that was not concerned with being right, but cherished a great love for the Church. He often expressed his bitterness: the Dutch Church has become Protestant. It was an expression to indicate that, for many, loyalty to the Church and to the Pope had given way to the defense of one's own being right.

Friendship between the CL community and Cardinal Simonis dates back to the mid-1980s, when some Italian families living in The Hague met a group of Dutch people interested in their Christian experience. In the fall of 1987, we (Fr. Giorgio Zannoni, Marco Ferrini and myself) went to Utrecht to talk to him about CL and to invite him to the Rimini Meeting. I myself had been there that summer and was very enthusiastic about it. The cardinal, who had already heard about the event from Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, welcomed us and dedicated all his time to being informed in great detail. And he decided to accept the invitation. That was the beginning of a long friendship: between 1988 and 2012 Simonis went to the big event every year. We always organized a meeting, or lunch, with Dutch people present - visitors and volunteers. And you could also meet him in the morning at daily mass in the church of San Girolamo in Rimini.

As many times as he could, Simonis participated in our Way of the Cross on Good Friday, Mass for the anniversary of the Pontifical Recognition of the Fraternity, and our holiday. Over the years, he kept in regular contact with his Italian priest friends such as Fr. Giorgio from Rimini and Fr. Roberto from Varese, as well as the Ferrini family from Rimini, who visited the cardinal regularly, even when he became less and less mobile. He was always happy when we kept him up-to-date with the ups and down of our small community of Dutch ciellini.

Following the Meeting, Cardinal Simonis was a regular guest at the annual International holidays and ‘Equipes’ that took place every year in La Thuile (Val d’Aosta). For him, as he said himself, it was the highlight of the year. Sometimes he admitted that not everything about Fr. Giussani's Christian anthropology was clear to him. But he came faithfully, a faithfulness that others recognized. Once, in La Thuile, a Burmese priest sitting at our table confessed to him: "I was studying in Rome in the 1960s when I read about the Dutch priest Adrianus Simonis, who remained loyal to the Pope during the turmoil of the Pastor Council. Since then, I have prayed for you every day."

His faithfulness was noted by Fr. Giussani. In the dedication of his book, Porta la Speranza [Bring hope], he wrote to the cardinal: "Certainty, the foundation of hope, says to you from the heart: thank you for your example and loyalty."