PROVINCE OF BELGIUM
Report for New Superiors' Meeting, Rome, September 2007
There are 36 members in the Belgian Province, three of them still in Africa (one each in Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Cameroon) two in other parts of Europe (one each in Saverne and Montana) plus four confreres appointed to the Province.
The confreres are grouped in four communities plus five who live ‘outside of community':
Nijlen: 11 confreres, average age 81.72 (from 72 to 90 years)
Gentinnes: 9 confreres, average age 78.11 (from 67 to 95 years)
Blanden: 5 confreres, average age 78.6 (from 66 to 85 years)
St. Boniface-Brussels: 3 confreres, two of 60 years and Fr. Saniko who is 37
The average age of the Province is 74.69 years; not counting Frederic Rossignol, appointed to Vietnam, all the confreres in the Province are over 60:
7 are 85 years or more
7 are between 80 and 84
4 are between 75 and 79
5 are between 70 and 74
9 are between 65 and 69
17 confreres are working in a ‘classical' ministry situation: weekend ministry and chaplaincies to homes; 9 are responsible for parishes. Two confreres are working in ‘Justice and Peace' projects.
Where are we?
The community at Blanden will soon be closed as it is too costly to run and there is no point any more in having a Procure there.
Gentinnes: the only francophone community. The site is symbolic and ‘sensitive' (with the Kongolo Memorial). There is a very comfortable wing reserved for the community, mostly aged confreres, but it is isolated. Some confreres do still have pastoral commitments. CASEM is rented out to a new community and there is a little tension between the two communities. In the future there would be need for some more development and re-structuring. But is our future still in huge structures in the countryside? What can be done with such big ‘unsaleable' houses?
Nijlen: the only Flemish community with confreres aging; the house is comfortable enough; but what will become of this house in a few years' time?
The problem with these communities: they are communities of elderly confreres who have experienced the difficulties in the Congo – they carry wounds and handicaps and are isolated, and do not have much in the way of a vision:
huge problem of human, moral and spiritual accompaniment;
few wish, or are able to take on responsibilities; some then become unco-operative, which also increases their inability to take on responsibilities;
problems in the Belgian culture reduce the number of options;
individualism, absence of vision, handicaps – must not give rise to a ‘waiting for the end' mentality!
because there is a real sense of fraternity – but how to put more life in to it?
could we have proposed a project for Gentinnes involving confreres from outside or from circumscriptions in the south? Or would this have been imposing a burden on others which we are not ready to take up ourselves?
The option of taking up a project in Brussels was agreed: St. BONIFACE – traditional parish ministry and now part of a wider pastoral area:
it gives us a base (house and parish) in Brussels and a place in the Church in the city – but it is a ‘fragile' presence, that of a Spiritan parish priest in St. Boniface's
two confreres living there realise the priorities of the Congregation:
Aurélian, working with young Africans in Brussels;
Christian, working with Memisa, AEFJN, JRS, Inter-religious dialogue, Justice & Peace Coordinator for the Province
the project needs to be fine-tuned; Brussels is the European capital and centre for other international organizations. It is a city in which many human problems are concentrated – illegal immigrants, refugees, homeless people, serious unemployment. It is a very multi-cultural city – a real field of evangelization! We have already mentioned the presence of a competent confrere fully engaged in ‘Justice & Peace'!
the closeness of the European Community (rue de Mérode) invites us to reflect with ‘Circumscription Europe'; we believe that the ‘Brussels project' must go forward together with Circumscription Europe and not in competition with it. It is in the cities, with all their social problems, that the new ‘mission fields' are to be found and not so much in the rural areas. It is therefore important to maintain a community in Brussels; could it expand to be more committed in these social problems and in the work of Justice and Peace? Does that mean creating something altogether new or collaborating with what already exists? (There are already many groups working with the homeless, refugees and illegal immigrants). For a more stable presence, could we foresee another Spiritan house which could be an extension of the one at rue de Mérode? This would be an important sign that Congregational and European solidarity in terms of personnel is working well. The question of coming closer to Circumscription Europe may therefore be asked; St Boniface is ready. But what would this mean for the two big communities of elderly confreres?
Future of the Province
For a long time now we have not fulfilled the criteria for being a Province ! At our last chapter the question was quietly raised. Coming closer to, and perhaps becoming part of Circumscription Europe seems evident. But many are resisting! We know our limits well enough, but there is a fear of being ‘absorbed' (into France, Netherlands, Europe?), of losing our ‘identity' and independence; age does not diminish the sense of being Belgian, despite linguistic loyalties!
However, being part of a larger organization which has its projects, provides a vision and therefore life and energy. We spoke about this on one of our Spiritan Days with Dick Olin; we broached the question to help us understand what we also have to gain by it.
What lines to follow? We need to respect the two communities of elderly confreres. But how? The ‘St Boniface' community already has many contacts with that at rue de Mérode and would be ready to join the Circumscription as another ‘project'. Could the communities of elderly confreres become a ‘Region'??? We have not yet worked out all the implications of this step; this will take time, but at the next chapter (in two years' time) we will have to decide!