The rector’s word
At the very heart of the Shrine there is a spring. There’s nothing extraordinary about that, you might say. Indeed, the spot where we are is known as “a site of springs”. Some of them are even quite famous: Chaudfontaine and Spa are only of a distance of a few kilometers. The reputation of their waters and their hydrotherapy is a well-established fact, so much that the term of “Spa” is even a notion that goes for all and every stations of that kind in the English language. Lucky are these who know or rediscover the numerous benefits of such waters for their health and well-being.
Taking the waters at Banneux is of a quite different order. A pilgrim once compared the Shrine with an oasis, a haven of peace and contemplation, silence where heart, mind and soul can get back in touch with one’s inner self and recover. Indeed many of us are overworked, and life becomes a race against the clock. Our way of life sometimes arouses compassion. “You Europeans have watches, we Africans have (plenty of) time.” In our over-active lives the realm of the soul is often last sight of: “no time to take care of myself.”
Slowing down, coming to a standstill, taking time to let myself be rejuvenated by the freshness and the benefit on an oasis, sitting down in the shadow of a tree, getting one’s breath back this is what many of us long for.
I’m perfectly aware of the great difficulty of withdrawing from our harassing and constantly overwhelming world. Even when making up our minds to go on pilgrimage, our roads are strewn with obstacles: traffic jams and roadworks are there to bother us. But a caravan doesn’t give up because of the difficulties encountered, it resolutely goes forward on the way to the oasis which it badly needs to reach.
Pilgrimage shrines – places more in particular where Our Lady appeared – are not first and foremost what clever business men have discovered as a promising niche for religious tourism. shrines are above all “a gift from heaven”, a motherly response to so many distressed and suffering souls. Indeed, many souls send an SOS “Save our Souls!” Without hesitating the Virgin of the Poor answers: “I come! I present you with a spring for you to be relieved and where the Saviour of your souls is waiting for you!”
As to you, dear organizers of pilgrimages, let me tell you how immensely GRATEFUL I am to you on behalf of all those whom you enable to spend those unforgettable rewarding moments next to the Virgin Mary. At the very site of springs she made one of them her own property. There she waits for those who badly need a unique refreshment.
And above all, don’t hesitate to request our help: our administrative and pastoral helpers who are always available to help you launch a beneficial pilgrimage.
Father Leo Palm, rector