From The Philippines To Belgium

By Sr Mary Carmela OCD, Sr Bernadette Marie OCD and Sr Rose Ann OCD

Sister Mary Carmela went to Vilvoorde Carmel in Belgium from the Carmel in Cebu with Sister Bernadette Marie from Zamboanga Carmel and Sister Rose Ann from Manila Carmel. You can learn more about Vilvoorde Carmel at .

We three Filipino Carmelites are happy to be here in Vilvoorde! We are grateful that the Lord has enabled us to respond to His call and brought us here despite our unworthiness and limitations. We only believe that it’s the Lord who will do things for us and in us. So, with Our Blessed Mother Mary, we just have to cooperate and give our faith each day of our spiritual journey.

Warmth of Belgium

When Mother Ann Christi told us to write our first impressions of Belgium, we asked ourselves, ‘Are we in a position to give a realistic impression of the country when we haven’t yet seen much of it since we arrived?’ On the other hand, we didn’t want to miss this opportunity to express our gratitude to those who have shown kindness and generosity to us.

Our first experience of Belgian hospitality was when the kind, smiling and good-looking Philippe met us at the train station in Brussels. He was like a long-lost friend because we felt at home with him at once. He was there with Mother Ann Christi and took care of our luggage. Then, the very warm and loving embrace of our dear Mother Ann Christi made us all the more at home.

Closed Cathedral

Brussels to us was just like any capital city. When we went to St Michael’s Cathedral to attend Mass we had our first disappointment. Though Sunday afternoon, it was closed - unthinkable in thePhilippines. We found an open door at the side but the young lady there said she’d be closing in a minute. So, we hurried out and went to the crypt but there was no Mass there. So, for the first time in many years in religious life, we missed Sunday Mass, the ‘summit’ of our day and the ‘source of our strength.’ But we knew in our hearts that the Lord understood our predicament. However, the sweet welcoming smile of those whom we passed by, especially a few sitting outside the Basilica’s main door, lessened our disappointment. The warm and loving welcome of our Sisters when we reached our new home-Carmel wiped it away.

No longer in the Philippines

We were wondering, however, on our way why there were so few people on the streets and most of them not young. We were told it was summer holiday time, so many were on vacation. Stores were closed. The opposite is true in the Philippines because you find the streets and malls all the more full, especially with young people, at holiday times. We had to remind ourselves that we were no longer in the Philippines but in another continent with a different culture and customs. Still, we can’t help but recall from time to time our beloved country, our home for so many years.

Taste of Countryside

Despite being in a first world country, we found the Belgian people simple, quiet and composed. The smiles on their faces radiated peace and tranquility, like the city of Vilvoorde! Entering the city, we noticed at once the simple but beautiful houses abounding with flowers and trees among clean surroundings. We got the impression that we were in the countryside but then noticed the city’s main thoroughfare. Some streets and buildings, especially our monastery, gave us a sense of antiquity.

Promise of the Future

What a privilege to be here, to be reconnected to our Carmelite beginnings particularly at this time when the Holy Father in his recent apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa urges us to ‘remember our roots.’ Coming to Vilvoorde Carmel is not just remembering, but becoming a part of our roots in the Order because this was the very first community of Carmelite Nuns, founded by Blessed John Soreth in 1469. As we journey with our new community and with all connected to Carmel, we look forward to a future full of hope and promise that one day Europe will rediscover its greatest treasure, its Christian Faith. However, we still see it very much alive in the hearts of those whom we’ve met so far, especially in Jan and Iny Goyvaerts and their children, in our associates and the regular churchgoers whom we met on August 15.

Heaven on Earth

Sunday Mass made a deep impression on us because the people really participated in the singing and the rest of the liturgy. If only more young people rediscover its beauty and contribute their talents to the enhancement of the Sacred Liturgy, more and more will fill up the churches, not only on Sundays but even on weekdays. We wonder if there are still other couples or families like the Goyvaerts just waiting for the right time and opportunity to be instruments of revival and be a leaven in the Mystical Body of Christ. God can make use of anyone or anything, however weak and insignificant, to bring about and spread His kingdom on earth. He can use you and me in the way He wants to for His greater glory and honor and for the good of the Church. Since we are the heart of the Mystical Body, we have a vital function to carry out with our prayers. Only with God’s grace shall we be able to do what God expects of us: to be a powerhouse of prayer in and for the Church.

For the Catholic faith that we received through the Spaniards and for our French foundresses who brought Carmel to the Philippines, we shall always look to Europe with gratitude. This we bring in our hearts to the heart of the old continent.

In the words of Pope John Paul, ‘Let us go forward in hope’ with Onze Lieve Vrouw van de Troost, Our Lady of Consolation, as ‘the radiant dawn and sure guide for our steps.’

You may contact Sisters Mary Carmela, Bernadette Marie and Rose Ann at: Karmelklooster, Trooststraat 2, 1800 VILVOORDE, BELGIUM or at .