Chronicles of Belgium

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On the way towards 2033
Our Belgium trip from May 1-3, 2017

We were welcomed at the airport by Joseph Hoquet the former director of the Alpha Course in Belgium. He brought us to the monastery of Chevetogne, south-west of Brussels.

 

Chevetogne
A strategic meeting place between Orthodox and Catholic Christians, this monastery has been influential to reconcile Christians for soon a hundred years.
We spent four exciting hours with the Abbot Thaddée Barnas, conversing, during a prayer service (in the Orthodox-Byzantine rite) and a meal in silence with the other monks.
Father Thaddaeus is a great connoisseur on Christian unity and, for many years, a diocesan leader of ecumenism.

In discovering the JC2033 vision, he declared "Since my youth, I am touched by the reconciliation of Christians of all stripes. 2033 is a wonderful opportunity to witness to the world of God's victory in the resurrection of Christ, to renew our witness and to recommit ourselves to our common mission.” 
Thaddee_Barnas.jpg(Image: Thaddee Barnas in the byzantine church of Chevetogne)

But suddenly the voice of the monk became serious and the tone vehement:
"In the year 2000 the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation had just signed the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith. But a few months later, the Vatican published a document on indulgences for the jubilee year of 2000. It was a slap for Protestants and deeply wounded us here in Chevetogne. This is not true Catholic theology! "
He believes that this subject must be addressed to allow the celebration in 2033 for a truly ecumenical jubilee. He hopes in this regard for a dialogue between the Vatican and the World Council of Churches.
Before leaving Father Barnas he reiterated: "The intention of your project is great. It centres us on the heart of our faith. This ideal is possible, let’s make it happen!”
 
  
Discovery of Beauraing Sanctuary
Christophe_Rouard.jpg(Image left to right : Olivier Fleury, Joseph Hoquet, Martin Hoegger, Christophe Rouard)
A few kilometers away is the Beauraing Sanctuary, the Belgian "Lourdes" it is one of the busiest pilgrimage sites in the Belgium. We immersed in the atmosphere of peace before meeting for lunch with Father Christophe Rouard, rector of this sanctuary.
 "People come piously to pray for their loved ones. They are searching. We try to focus their piety on Jesus Christ.”
Advocate of the Alpha Course and evangelization services of the diocese of Namur, C. Rouard is delighted by the missiological aspect of JC2033: "It is a very beautiful project likely to bring together Christians around the essential, the person of Christ. 2000 years must be celebrated! "
  
Placing the risen Christ at the center is the only bridge between the churches
The following morning, on the road from Jodoigne to Brussels, we read a passage from Paul's letter to the Colossians in chapter 4. The call to pray with perseverance that the Lord would open the doors. We just finished praying when our car fishtailed on the highway barely avoiding an accident. This reminded us that without Him we can do nothing! Every trip is an adventure needing our prayers.
We arrived at the "Christian Center" in the suburbs of Brussels, home to several evangelical organizations. "Unity begins with forming true disciples" said Joseph Hoquet, who assembled leaders, including Raymond Vandeputt, president of the "Antioch Network" connecting 80 Pentecostal churches in Belgium.
He is also a member of the Council of the Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches in Belgium, which brings together over 500 churches.

The vision of 2033 awakened in him memories of the ecumenical gathering in Strasbourg with Thomas Roberts in 1982; on the occasion of Easter of the year 2000 he gathered all the evangelical churches of Belgium. "I would like an ecumenical celebration in 2033, with all, Orthodox and Catholics included. But the member churches of our Synod are not there yet "!  
Christian_center_Bruxelles.jpg(Image from left to right: Rocky Gathright, Joseph Hoquet, Olivier Fleury, Daniel Abaidoo, Martin Hoegger, Jean François Thys)

Pastor Daniel Abaidoo of an African Church in Brussels (Gates of the Kingdom) recognizes the challenge of the migrant church participation. As evangelical churches recede, migrant churches expand. "We are flexible and open with no boundaries. We are ready to celebrate all there is to celebrate." he says about the 2033 project.
Rocky Gathright is an American missionary. How does he see this project as a non-Belgian? He wishes the Catholic majority to strengthen itself in faith, rather than allow itself to be won over by secularism or atheism. His vision of Christian unity: "We are already a family with one faith. But in reality there are too many differences. In Belgium it’s very difficult to gather the churches. We must return to the death and risen Christ. What I like in this 2033 project is that Christ’s resurrection is in the center."
To include Evangelicals we must create a bridge with Catholics. And this bridge is the presence of the risen Christ among us.

Jean François Thys, who collaborates with the Antioch Network by encouraging artists, tells us: "I feel this project brings a new dimension. A call to grow. How? Only the Lord knows. But you have my vote." 

Expressing the joy of Easter together
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We were received by Mgr Athenagoras , Metropolitan of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Belgium (Ecumenical Patriarchate). Around some delicacies, he shared his convictions of the resurrection of Christ. He pointed us towards Olivier Clément's book "Dialogue with Patriarch Athenagoras"  as a good source to discover orthodoxy.
This book remains very relevant, the chapter on the resurrection is top notch. It shows how the resurrection is at the center of the orthodox faith. "All during the Easter season we greet each other with ‘Christ is risen’. I always feel a bit sad at the end of this time.”
 
The Metropolitan also explains that baptism in the name of the Trinity is made by three immersions symbolizing the three days after the death of Christ. We are baptized in the death of Christ to participate in his resurrection. On the night of Easter the Gospel is proclaimed in several languages ​​to mark the universality of the resurrection. This shows respect for the diversity of peoples and the universal dimension of Christianity.

"The idea is admirable " he says about JC2033. But how will we be able to live this jubilee? "We should better express the joy of Easter. The media don’t give enough importance to Easter. An ecumenical vigil could manifest our common joy. I am convinced that the message of the resurrection is the greatest message for humanity. So many people live in indifference. We must go out to join them.” 

Go out together to announce the resurrection

Concluding our brief trip to Belgium, we visited the leaders of the Focolare movement in Rotselaar, near Brussels. 

They received us the day after their large “family” gathering. ”We must champion the young people. The resurrection is the central event of humanity.  The question of what happens after one’s death is asked by everyone. The answer of Christ’s resurrection must be brought to all" said Colette Letolguenec, after discovering the project. 

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"Unity is a very important pillar.A key element is to put the networks together" adds Ton Jongstra, who recommended presenting the project to "Together for Europe" .

As C. Letolguenec  just came from an ecumenical trip with members of the Orthodox Church of Brussels, we mentioned our visit to Bishop Athenogoras. She was touched that the Metropolitan spoke of the need to go out. ”Pope Francis repeats it incessantly: Christians must go out to meet suffering humanity. May 2033 be a cooperative time to announce the resurrection with our lives and love in action!"

Nikita Skatchoff, a priest connected to the Focolare movement, recommends that we collaborate with the Catholic movements and visit their leaders. He does not hide his enthusiasm: "JC2033 is a unifying movement. In unity there is extraordinary strength. But only the presence of Christ among us allows our actions to bear fruit. For this we must engage with each other."