Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taizé in Brussels: day two

The weather is cold (-4 centigrade); cars, houses and trees are iced with frost; but the skies are clear and there's no hail, drizzle, sleet, snow or freezing mist to contend with. Yesterday was the second day of the Taizé pilgrimage in Brussels. The hobbit-like habits of the Belgians are much in evidence: nobody is willing to let the pilgrims walk anywhere in the cold, and many will happily drive miles out of their way to see that they don't; before morning prayer the pilgrims get breakfast with their host families, then after morning prayer they get second breakfast in the local primary school that's functioning as reception centre and meeting place for the discussion groups. Although they're supposed to get noon and evening meals at the Heizel, some of them are given yoghurts and other odds and ends to take with them. After they get back, they're virtually force-fed supper (soup, tea, cake, weak coffee) before being dispatched to their various host families.

A couple we know in the next parish along have Serbian guests who manage to get lost when they go to the Heizel, and end up sight-seeing. I don't know whether our guests have that problem - I'm not particularly worried what they get up to, as long as they don't roll in drunk at three in the morning.

I'd planned to go to sit in on one of the "workshops" yesterday afternoon, but a rush job came in around lunchtime and by the time I'd turned it around and got to the Heizel all the afternoon workshops were over, and everybody was at a loose end for the hour before they began serving the evening meal. So I went to the "silent" area, which had a tremendously restful atmosphere, despite being busy with hundreds of people engaged in silent reflection or in muttering with the dozen or so priests and spiritual counsellors who, with decent distances between, were lining the walls of the hangar-like space. There were banners hanging from the roof, carpet on the floor, and images of Christmas-themed Brueghel paintings being projected on a massive screen at one end of the room. I poured out my woes to a South-East Asian priest whose main European language was French, and received a blessing and some sound advice that had nothing whatsoever to do with what I'd been talking about. Still, no reason to neglect it on that account. Then I poured out my woes to a Dutch sister, and got advice that was relevant. Two sets of sound advice at the price of a single set of woes - a bargain by any reckoning.

Today is actually day three, but I won't know how it's gone until this evening (when we have a peace vigil, followed by a New Year's party until 2 tomorrow morning). After morning prayer I took the children to sing out the old year in the little village that my mother-in-law is from (and where my sister now lives), so that old ladies who went to school with their grandmother can give them sweets, crisps, pieces of fruit and loose change.

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