Belgium - The Brussels Fraternity

The Brussels fraternity began in October 2005 with families who were living in the same building and with some persons who were already meeting together to pray. From the beginning it was marked by the intercultural dimension. Of the some twenty persons who have participated we can count some ten different nationalities, from various countries of Africa and Europe.

At a meeting of a group "Emerging from Violence", I had become acquainted with Anne-Marie, who used to know the LSA, her parents having belonged to the fraternity in the St Gilles district of Brussels when she was a child. She agreed to come to talk to us about her experience and how she had been affected by it. She had been struck by a prayer given to her by a Little Sister, which she had kept and brought to us: 
 
’Look… I know that you have a thousand and one reasons to despair, but I would like to shout at you that there are also a thousand and one other reasons to hope. Don’t let your heart be overwhelmed by the floods of bad news. To change the world you have first to change your outlook. Every day, look around you and gather up, each day, those thousand and one flowers of hope.’ 
 
Unlike France, Belgium had always kept up the fraternity meetings. Two couples were the driving force behind this: A and M, C and A. 
 
In the Brussels group, the people called one another. From the beginning we talked about the fraternity charter and each one expressed in what way he or she felt challenged. Here are some quotes: 
 
’Today, like yesterday, the fraternity is a place for listening and speaking that enables each one to be accepted as he/she is and to speak freely, to be called by name respectfully, with the right to be different and to be fragile.’ 
- ’Fragility is a word that strikes me. As long as I don’t know a person’s name I feel fragile. I like to pray in silence, and pronounce the name of the persons whom I know.’ 
- ’We are often too hard on one another. We should be able to take account of the other’s fragility and of our own.’ 
- ’To feel less alone in a society that excludes, journeying and advancing together in mutual support, helping one another to find meaning and hope in one’s life.’ 
- ’I think of a man whom I see as a believer, even though he has not said this himself. He says: "I go out every day, certain that I will meet people and that I will give them a smile." ’ 
 
In the course of these years we have shared many events: births, deaths, joy and sorrows; the blessing of a house, the departure for Canada of a member who had asked for prayer; the baptism of Emilie, which took place in the Fraternity, and that of Arthur. Coming back after time spent in one’s home country: Congo, Peru, Portugal etc. We also had several international meetings: Nevers, Lourdes, Paris and Rome. 
 
Several times we opened more widely to well-wishers, often during the Christmas season, because of persons who were raising questions:
- ’I would like to celebrate Christmas with people who believe in it’, or 
- ’I am searching, I would like to come, it interests me.’ 
 
Most recently, we had a discussion on mourning in the different cultures. Here are some points: 
 
M. talked to us of her Italian neighbour whose husband had died. M. had not known anything about this, even though she lived just opposite them on the same landing. She saw a big coffin in the building and the neighbours reacted in a negative way saying that there were children and that this coffin was going to frighten them. M. did not know how to react to the death of her neighbour’s husband because she was not sure about what she ought to do. In Africa, as soon as somebody dies, you go to offer your condolences. 
 
In the end, she went to knock on her neighbour’s door. It was a shock to her to see that the woman was alone, with her husband in the next room. In Africa, a widow is never left alone, there is always somebody with her. 
 
This event upset her very much. She did not say anything to the people in the building for fear of shocking them. 
 
A…said it was shocking that people living in the building who saw the coffin complained about it, whereas they should have gone to find out what was happening: the person who is grieving is forgotten. We must dare to go to the person, dare to act in a fraternal way! 
 
M. explained that here, in Belgium, the Africans also are changing. They take the good and bad sides of Europe and in doing so they lose their richness and their solidarity, which are so precious. In her country, people stay close to a person in mourning for a month. Here, in Belgium, this question leads us to the subject of ’DARING’. That faces us with the question of knowing what the other person’s wishes are, if the person is of another culture. 
 
M. mentioned the fact that, in Belgium, one must telephone before going to see the person. 
 
E., in her work, knew a person whose daughter, aged 33 died, on her honeymoon. Her room remained as she had left it, years ago. In Africa, everybody brings their mat and goes to stay with the persons where there has been a death (40 days for the family, 3 days for those not of the family). 
 
Westerners weep, we Africans, we laugh. The Africans harden themselves; inside, they are shattered. For the death of a person over 95, there is singing, dancing and drinking. 
 
If somebody dies and there is new-born child in the family, the first name of the dead person is given to the new-born child. Mourning ceases when there is a birth. With us, in Africa, it is not possible to mourn privately. 
 
In Peru and in Portugal people are criticised if they do not weep. It shocks me that, here in Belgium, somebody dies and we do not know about it. The children are kept at a distance. In Africa, when there is a death, we prepare food for sometimes up to 250 persons. It is solidarity that comes first. 
 
There is not just one way of mourning: having a mass said, going to see people etc. 
 
Some time after this discussion the mother of Y., a member of the group, died. We had decided, on that Sunday, to meet at her home and to begin the year with a meal where each one would bring something, before having our monthly meeting, 
 
At the Sunday mass we learned that her mother had died. She had been admitted to hospital and had died during the night. What would we do? Three or four members of the group were present. Should we go to see her as is done in some cultures or go to the Sisters who have the space to receive the ten members expected? We could not postpone the meeting because each one had prepared something. S. held out for the second solution. The community present took some time to react – we had to discuss it together … 
 
In the end, the meeting and the meal took place in our apartment, at the last moment. This involved some organisation for the table and the reception room, but did not really change the plans of those who do not attend the meeting and had planned another activity for after the meal.
 
However, we wanted to come together so as to give support to Y, but it was difficult. Each had his or her personal life: work, family, commitments etc.; finally, we organised a prayer at the community. There were ten persons present, each having made an effort to be there at 6.30 p.m., some of them after a day’s work. 
 
M. asked that we add, when preparing the prayer, the phrases from the creed: ’I believe in the resurrection of the body, in life everlasting’. 
 
We are advancing, full of hope, towards the international meeting that is to be held in Brussels from the 8th to the 11th of May, 2014. We are expecting 120 delegates from France, Italy and Belgium, on the theme: 
 
 
’Together, deepen our faith, which is lived out in the spirit of Etienne Pernet and Antoinette Fage, so as to dialogue with the world of today.’
 
The LSA community in Brussels
16/05/2014
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