16 June 2014

To the home of the greatest Belgium!

The coat of arms of the city of Tremelo.
It was a most welcome and unexpected discovery when I learned that one of the priests living with me here at the Casa Santa Maria shares with me a great love of Hawaii and a deep devotion to Saint Damien de Veuster. He also happens to be a priest from the Province of Illinois whom I knew a little bit from the seminary.

We were talking about Father Damien a few weeks ago and mentioned that neither of us had yet been to his tomb in Leuven or his birthplace in Tremelo, both cities in Belgium and said we needed to look into making a short pilgrimage to follow in the European footsteps of the Leper Priest. Just a few moments ago we solidified our plans to make this pilgrimage in eight days time!

Brussels is just a 2 1/2 hour flight from Rome and Tremelo is about an hour's drive from Brussels (Leuven isn't far from Brussels, either).

Because our schedules will not allow us to leave Rome together, the priest with whom I will be traveling will meet me in Brussels and we will return to Rome together that evening. I will spend the next day putting my room order for the summer and packing my bags to return home.

As I fly from Rome to Brussels, I will bring with me the best biography of the greatest Belgian I have yet found, The Heart of Father Damien, by Vital Jourdain, SS.CC. (which really deserves to be reprinted). The first chapters are devoted, naturally enough, to Father Damien's childhood and the culture and people of Belgium. He says, in part, of Father Damien:
A man of robust temperament, of loyal and energetic character, he gave himself with the spontaneity of a tree giving its fruit. His soul contained a life that was clear and unified. His was a life of young and vigorous realism. He was not buried in the clouds. He was a man of action. In him we stand face to face with one of those beautiful examples produced by a soil and a race penetrated by centuries of hard work, honesty, and faith (4).

At long last, it will good to see such soil with my own eyes.

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