Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Louvain Celebrations

Louvain, Belgium October 17th. - With the announcement of the date of Damien's canonization we began to organize the celebration of this great event in the city of Louvain. At the beginning, the idea began to circulate of the Damien Today project. The announcement of the Damien Year was one of the first initiatives. Elsewhere, the dean’s office in Louvain and the City council, also started talking about it. Along the way the government of the Flemish province of Brabant joined in as well. There were different dates and ideas, but in a joint meeting between the three parties, it was agreed that there would be a single celebration on October 17th. For the Congregation this date was ideal because brothers and sisters who were in Europe on the occasion of the canonization could be present. Meetings were arranged, everything was arrnged to the last detail, e-mails from the dean’s office did not stop arriving. Plan B was talked about in case of rain. The city government was fully at the disposal of the organizers of the celebration. The preparation was so thorough that nothing could go wrong.
The city was decked out in the days before the celebration with flags and banners with the phrase: DAMIAN INSPIRES. Photos of Damian, particularly those relating to his remains being brought to Belgium were exhibited at strategic points. Louvain became DAMIAN CITY.
The 17th arrived. Movement was already felt from days before in the Damien Centre with the arrival of vestments for the celebrants, about 80 including 30 Picpus Fathers and international guests. Sometimes we looked with some concern at the sky. A little rain and a cloud make us consider Plan B. But in the end the weather was nice, then came the event.
With everything ready at half past four in the afternoon the procession started to take us from the Damien Center to the church of San Pedro, in the heart of Louvain. A large photo of Damian was carried on the shoulders of a group of scouts, two brass bands, a group carried the Tremolo flags, a group from French Polynesia, and a long line of priests, among others, formed the procession that was intended to recall the journey that the remains of Damian took in Louvain in 1936. The Vicar General of Malines-Brussels Archdiocese presided over the celebration, accompanied by the Superior General of the Congregation and the Dean of Louvain.
Once in the church of St. Peter, full to the brim, the first part of the celebration began, a liturgy of the word and the explanation of why we were there: in 1936, Damien's body spent the night in that church, where tribute was made before being transferred to the Church of the Picpus Fathers. The procession resumed its journey, going through the streets of Brussels, towards the church of St. James, where there is a statue dedicated to Fr. Damian, the first in Belgium. There the mayor of the city paid tribute to Damien, apologizing because maybe it was not Damian's will to be away from his brothers and sisters in Molokai, but the fact of having Damian in the city, reminded the mayor, is a wakeup call for us to remember and live the values that he lived, especially tolerance and giving to the marginalized. Some children also read their stories and impressions about Damian.
After the wreath was placed, the procession moved on again, in the direction of Damien Square, opposite the chapel of San Antonio, Church of the Picpus Fathers in Louvain, where Damien's tomb is. Along the way, perhaps it was not the same crowd as in 1936, but the faces present in the audience were very diverse and also their reactions. At the entrance to the Square, the priests went to a nearby parking lot to make way for the people who came behind the group, far more than expected.
At seven o'clock in the afternoon the third part of the celebration began. A word of welcome by Father Francis Gorissen, provincial of the Picpus Fathers in Flanders, put the celebration in context: the church in this square witnessed the entry of young Joseph De Veuster to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in 1859. He must have prayed in it many times. And from this place brother Damian left for the missions in the Sandwich Islands in 1863, stopping in Paris and Bremen. At the celebration, excerpts of letters from Damien were read in French, Netherlands and English, languages in which he communicated with his superiors, his family and friends. A trumpet, a hammer, a bottle of medicine, a cross and a coat reminded us how Damien gave back lost joy, built houses and coffins, healed the sick, spoke of God's love for the small and unprotected and was a sign of welcome for the lepers of Molokai. As a gesture of solidarity, the collection of the celebration was given for a project of the SS.CC. sisters in Mozambique that targets vulnerable people affected by AIDS. Despite the intense cold, more than 2000 people stayed until the final conclusion. The Superior-General thanked the city and the local church for the celebration; He did this in Spanish with the efficient translation of Frits Gorissen. Subsequently, the Superior General, gave her thanks as well. A word from them in Flemish would not have been a bad thing.
Then everyone was invited to go to visit the final resting place of St. Joseph Damien De Veuster, the official name of Father Damien for us all. A small reception at City Hall ended the day.
Juan Carlos Tinjaca,
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

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