In an interview with a Mexican radio station aired on Tuesday, Pope Francis announced his intention to visit Belgium in 2024.
The announcement was surprising given that since his election, President Francis has expressed a preference for visiting Europe’s “periphery” countries, starting with Albania in 2014.
He has avoided what he calls the “big” European countries, such as Spain and Germany, in favor of the continent’s smaller countries. When he visited France in September, the Vatican pedantically insisted that he was visiting Marseilles, not the French Republic, in order to maintain this idea.
Certainly Belgium teeth A small country with a population of less than 12 million people. It is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Vermont, sandwiched between its much larger neighbors France and Germany.
But Belgium is not on the periphery of Europe. During its colonial period, it controlled a vast territory today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as parts of China and Guatemala.
It is currently the world’s 26th largest economy and has Europe’s second largest port. There’s also a fascinating royal family, whose activities are carefully documented by Hello! Brussels, the magazine’s capital city, is the de facto capital of the European Union.
So why would the Pope want to go there? And what are the potential pitfalls of this trip? Let’s take a look.
Pope Francis was reportedly invited to visit during a private audience with King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, modest but ardent supporters of the Belgian Church, at the Vatican on September 14. That’s what it means.
The trip is said to be scheduled for late September 2024 and aims to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Leuven in 2025.
Francis’ ties to Belgium go back to Argentina, said Emmanuel van Lierde of the Vatican monastery.
When Jorge Mario Bergoglio entered the Society of Jesus, he befriended fellow novitiates from the Belgian Steverink family, who owned a textile company in Argentina. Francis praised the company’s thoughtful approach to its employees.
As Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, Fr. . The future pope traveled to Belgium to show his gratitude. He is said to have been fascinated by the atmospheric city of Bruges and the work of painter Hans Memling.
When Pope Francis first appeared on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square after his election, he was flanked by Cardinal Godfried Daniels of Belgium.
He personally appointed Danielles as a delegate to the 2015 Family Conference. In the same year, he appointed Bishop Joseph de Kessel, a disciple of Daniels, as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, restoring the continuity of progressivism in Belgium’s most prominent diocese, which had been in turmoil under Benedict XVI. .
Mr. de Kessel immediately received the cardinal’s red hat. Francis was considering welcoming another Belgian to the Cardinal College in 2022. Bishop Luc van Rooy met the future pope during a visit to Buenos Aires as a Salesian priest. However, Van Rooy withdrew from consideration after receiving criticism for his handling of abuse cases as Bishop of Ghent.
In addition to these biographical connections, Pope Francis may also have an affinity for Belgian Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, who influenced the Second Vatican Council and strongly advocated the collective responsibility of the faithful. , perhaps foreseeing that Francis would promote synods in the Catholic Church.
Francis will definitely visit both Belgium’s predominantly French-speaking Wallonia region and the predominantly Flemish-speaking region of Flanders, Emmanuel van Lierde said. He was able to achieve this by visiting the University of Leuven in the town of Louvain-la-Neuve in Walloon Brabant and the University of Leuven in the city of Leuven in the Flemish province of Brabant.
Francis may also preside at a Mass in Brussels, where he will undoubtedly be joined by Archbishop Luc Terlinden, who was appointed as the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels in June.
In addition to his customary meetings with young people and local Jesuits, the pope also met privately with abuse survivors in one of Belgium’s poorest regions, depending on whether he was staying for one or two days. There is also the possibility of visiting a new Jesuit school in Molenbeek.
Arguably the biggest potential pitfall of this visit is that the Belgian church has just had its foundations shaken by new revelations of clergy abuse.
The revelations were made in the form of a documentary series called “Godforsaken,” which caused a huge backlash when it aired in Belgium in September of this year.
The series, which highlighted both abuse and cover-up, sparked a parliamentary investigation and reportedly sparked a surge in Catholics leaving the church. The case has also led to calls for the Belgian federal authorities to stop paying salaries to people appointed as “ministers of religion,” which includes not only Catholic priests and deacons but also lay people appointed by bishops. I stirred it up.
The series has sparked debate over previous high-profile abuse cases, particularly that of Bishop Roger Van Helwe of Bruges, who resigned in 2010 after admitting to sexually abusing his nephew.
The scandal also damaged Danielles’ reputation after an audio recording of the cardinal urging the young man not to publicly accuse his uncle was leaked. Francisco also caused controversy when he included Danielles on his list of personal invitees to his family meeting in 2015.
As the crisis deepened, police launched surprise raids on church grounds, straining relations between Belgian authorities and the Vatican.
Following Van Helwe’s resignation, an independent report documented 475 allegations of abuse against clergy and church staff from the 1950s to the 1980s.
However, the Van Helwe scandal still casts a shadow over the Belgian church to this day, as the now 87-year-old prelate continues to hold the title of bishop.
According to Belgian Catholic media, two bishops visited Van Helwe Monastery in September this year and are required to live anonymously. They asked him to submit his resignation as bishop to Pope Francis.
Vanhelwe reportedly later told one of his visitors, the Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bony, that he had written a letter to the Pope. Bonnie believes the Pope will respond to the unspecified letter by the end of the year.
With the papal visit looming, pressure to resolve the Van Helwe case will increase even more, but Belgian bishops are frustrated that they have long been pushing the Vatican to take further action.
Perhaps the abuse crisis will subside by the time Pope Francis arrives in the country, but given its depth and intensity it is unlikely to fade into the background. The visit could therefore be similar to Francis’ visit to Ireland in 2018, which was marked by protests by abuse survivor advocacy groups.
Another, smaller pitfall is that the trip could restart debate over the identity of the two Catholic universities the pope plans to celebrate their 600th anniversary.
The University of Leuven and the University of Leuven both trace their origins to the former University of Leuven, which was founded in 1425 and abolished in 1797. Its parent organization was taken over by the Catholic University of Leuven in 1834, which separated along linguistic lines in 1968 to become the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) and the Catholic University of Leuven (UCLouvain).
As in the neighboring Netherlands, a highly secularized society poses challenges to the university’s Catholic identity. Both the University of Leuven and the University of Leuven want to emphasize comprehensive qualifications. For example, the University of California, Louvain’s website says, “‘C’ stands for ‘Catholic.'” The University of Leuven has more than 120 nationalities and includes almost every creed, whether secular or religious, practicing a religion or not. ”
Another pitfall is that the pope’s visit could further intensify an already heated debate within the Catholic Church over the possibility of ceremonial blessings for same-sex couples. Flemish bishops released a document in September 2022 recognizing just that, despite the Vatican’s doctrinal office declaring the previous year that the church had no authority to bless same-sex marriages.
The Vatican has not publicly responded to the bishops’ efforts. However, the topic was discussed at the Belgian bishops’ conference. Advertising restrictions The Vatican appears to have quietly allowed the initiative to proceed on an experimental basis, presumably for the reasons Pope Francis outlined in his July response. doubtDo you have questions or concerns about the same-sex blessing expressed by five cardinals?
But the intense spotlight of the pope’s visit could turn Belgium’s position on same-sex blessings into a global church debate on the eve of the synod’s final session, exacerbating an already flammable atmosphere. There is.