On Sunday 25 March, the March for Life was organized in Brussels for the third time. On Saturday, after spending some time with other pastoral students of the Rotterdam diocese in the ancient abbey of Egmond (where an 11th-century Duke of Holland lies entombed), I descended on Leuven: from Hillegom to Leiden (where, waiting for the train to move on, I happen to type these lines), from Leiden to Rotterdam, from Rotterdam to Mechelen, from Mechelen to Leuven.
Inner warmth and excitement grew as my latitudinal coordinate decreased. I was looking forward to be back, feeling stimulated to be on my own, out of the ordinary routine. Essays on various subjects were devoured (one by a Lovanian friend), and, putting pen to paper, I wrote two lines of effervescent sprung rhythm.
On arriving, I sent a location status update to Anke, who, like me, had once belonged to the American College’s inner peripheral circle. She, a second-year Theology student, walked with me to the Grote Markt, where we sat down at Notre Dame to have a Stella Artois (a product of Leuven antedating the university) and a good talk. We lamented the splintering of the College, and the realization soaked into me that last year had truly been a blessed time. At the time I may have had too much on my mind to see it clearly; distance and return had reconciled me.
We also found out that her speech was perceived as Dutch by the Flemings, while mine was perceived as Flemish by the Dutch. Evidently a native speaker is not honoured in his own country.
Then I proceeded to Arenberg, where I used to live and where I would spend the night. Pierre was just celebrating his fortieth birthday by watching Tintin with a large crowd of people. It was very nice to see so many happy familiar faces again, not to mention my old place of refuge, the small chapel with the painting of the Crowning of Mary by the Trinity.
Thankfully I was reminded of Daylight Saving Time going into effect that weekend, so I was in time for Mass and meditation. Mass was celebrated in the chapel at 9am, followed by a festive breakfast. After breakfast, I went to Mass at the American College; I arrived at the beginning of the homily, a beautiful one on prayer. At both Masses, my responses were off: the Flemish differ slightly from the Dutch and the Anglophones were using their new translation of the Missal.
O God beyond all praising was the recessional song, one that resonated in memory. I went to the Sunday gathering; the dining hall of the American College was unsettlingly empty with all the seminarians gone. Olivia and Joe were there, but they did not say much. Bosco seemed more pleased to see me. I also made the acquaintance of the main celebrant, a British Dominican.
I remained in conversation, inside the building and walking through town, until lunchtime. Lunch and coffee were at Arenberg, after which Pierre, Fr. Lasala (the new chaplain) and I set off for Brussels, praying the Rosary in the car. Some other residents had gone there on their own; they were part of security and I saw them in special attire. A Belgian seminarian was there as well; he said that things in his seminary were slowly getting better, because they were now allowed to kneel during consecration and receive Communion on the tongue.
The March was beautiful: the atmosphere, the weather, the buildings lining the road. We went from the King’s Square to the Palace of Justice, where we laid down our roses. It made more of an impression than last year and seemed shorter, but last year I was taking pictures of everything I saw; this year I was merely holding my rose on high.
On coming back, I used various media for signal emissions to Dan, Anke and Michaël. Dan received them by proxy, being at church with Anke. Michaël brought his girlfriend Geraldine, and so five of us converged at the Oude Markt. Since I was out of cash and the ATM had broken down, Dan paid for my Stella. We chatted amiably for a too short while. I told Michaël I had read his paper on the train. Also, I mentioned that I had not informed Tyler of my going to Leuven, but had I done so, he would surely have told me to say hi to all. Anke exclaimed, ‘I’ve never had a more contingent greeting!’
All good things end. Our party broke up at dinnertime; I went to Arenberg and had dinner there. It was a very full dinner. The joke was that Pierre had a Triduum this year: first his birthday, then Sunday, then the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Dinner at Arenberg meant that I had to catch the train an hour later and would arrive back at seminary at 0.30 rather than 11.30pm; the journey would take almost four hours. It was definitely worth it, though. On my way back to the station I ran into the last remaining ‘old crowd’ resident, a student of things Japanese who had just arrived in town. No face left unseen!
Apparently there is another Dutch resident at Arenberg now, a biomedical student from a place very close to my hometown. It was agreed that he was more Dutch than I, being tall and vocal.
On the journey back to Mechelen, Rotterdam, Heemstede and Vogelenzang, I prayed Vespers and finished my Lenten poem, which is posted in my thread as Ouai Megalopolis.