While bushfires caused havoc in Australia and Taal Volcano erupted in the Philippines, the Sisters in Vilvoorde Carmel in Belgium had to deal with a fire in the monastery church, Troost Basilica. Two children had set alight the Christmas crib at the entrance to the church.
Shortly after four in the afternoon of January 6 this year a very concerned neighbour rang at the enclosure door in panic to inform the Sisters that the crib was on fire. Providentially, there was a man praying inside the basilica at that very hour. Hearing the commotion he went outside and saw the fire. Since he had no cellphone with him he asked the owner of a store across the street to call the fire department and the police.
The fire-fighters arrived very quickly and put out the fire before it could spread to the interior of the basilica. However, the central heating installation at the back of the crib was totally burned, causing much damage. The smoke coming from it crept inside the basilica and left its traces on the newly-restored white walls, painting and statues. The pipes of the seventeenth-century organ needs to be tested by an expert to see if their sound has been affected.
The mayor of Vilvoorde came at once to assure the Sisters that everything was under control. He told the press that it was merely kattenkwaad, literally in Flemish ‘evil done by a cat’, meaning mischief by someone not realising the consequences.
At first we thought that the fire might be related to bombings and attacks in the recent past in Belgium. But witnesses saw two children running away from the basilica. One of the children told his mother what he and his friend had done. She surrendered her child to the police, an act that gained much appreciation in the media. The names of the children have been withheld from the public to protect them. But they were said to have undergone disciplinary action, especially the older one. This reassured us that it wasn’t an act of terrorism. Until this time of writing we are still waiting for the official report from the police.
Also as of this writing, the basilica is still temporarily closed to the public because a team of experts and insurance assessors have been inspecting the building, estimating the damage and the cost of repairing it. The basilica and everything in it will have to cleaned, the heating installation replaced and the burned part of the building repaired and so on. Because the basilica is a protected monument every step has to be approved by the government and proper documentation done.
The official name of the basilica in Flemish is Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Troost Kerk, the Church of Our Lady of Consolation, known simply as Troost Kerk. We trust in God’s providence and in Our Lady of Consolation, our monastery’s patroness. When and how everything will be restored remains to be seen. In the meantime Mass is celebrated in the weekday chapel inside and on Sundays in the sacristy building.
On the evening of January 5, Epiphany Sunday, the Sisters had gone to the different cribs in the monastery singing Christmas carols. They went first to the entrance of the basilica after it was closed, not knowing that it would be the last time that they would see the old nativity images, which for years had stood there every Christmas season. Years ago a statue of a sheep was stolen and vandalized. We placed a grille in the following years. But the grille could not keep out the match sticks that the boys took from our devotional room.
However, we have many reasons to thank God: the Sisters are all safe and the cloister and most of the basilica were spared from the fire. We thank God and Our Lady of Consolation for protecting us. We also feel for the parents of the two children and we pray that the two boys may learn a lesson from the whole experience.
The Carmel of Vilvoorde, founded in 1469, is the oldest continually-existing community of Carmelite nuns in the world and the only surviving Carmel founded by Blessed John Soreth himself. She celebrated the 550th anniversary of her foundation last February 11, 2019. Vilvoorde Carmel joined the Teresian Reform in 1966, an unprecented and unique event in the history of the Carmelite Order. Considering the ages of the Sisters (7 Belgians: 77-90; 5 Filipinas: 40-62 years old) the community is still open to accept Sister-volunteers from other Carmels who feel called to the Foreign Missions, to help preserve this very precious heritage of the Order. The community speaks Flemish-Dutch and English. You may get in touch with them via email addresses:
Submitted by Vilvoorde Carmel