Central and Eastern Europe, International Journalism and PR, Tourism

Banneux a well-known pilgrimage site in Belgium and its Central and Eastern European connections

By Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska

Banneux also known als Banneux Notre-Dame is a well-known pilgrimage site in Belgium, visited by approximately 700,000 pilgrims annually. The pilgrimage site was created after eleven-year-old Mariette Beco (1921-2011) stated that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her eight times between January 15 and March 2, 1933 and that Mary had then called herself the Vierge des Pauvres (“Virgin of the Poor”). The Virgin Mary is also said to have asked for the construction of a chapel; it was built and consecrated in the same year at the site where the Virgin Mary had appeared, the front garden of the Beco family home.

Mariette Beco’s statements were investigated by an episcopal commission between 1935 and 1937. From 1948 onwards, a basilica was built. On March 19, 1942, Bishop Kerkhofs of Liège authorized the veneration of Our Lady of Banneux and on August 22, 1949 he confirmed the supernatural character of the apparitions, which the Congregation of the Holy Office joined in 1952. On the premises there is a water source with healing effects, which is said to have been shown to Mariette by the Virgin Mary.

Banneaux has also strong Central and Eastern Europe connections. In 1985, Banneux was visited by Pope John Paul II. There are also various chapels and crosses established by various nationalities.

The Croatian chapel

stating the inscription Croatia Semper Fidelis: Croatia always faithful

The Armenian Cross

In 1999 an Armenian family left Armenia and moved to Belgium. They went often to the Shrine of Banneux. Before the father Sarkis died in 2009, he expressed to his wife and his sons a strong wish to offer a typical Armenian cross, a khatchkar to the Shrine of Banneux.

On Saturday, 22 May 2010 (the 1st anniversary of Sarkis’ death), the Armenian cross was inaugurated at the Shrine of Our Lady of Banneux.

Cross of the Hungarians

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The cross was brought and erected behind the cloister of St Grignion de Montfort in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution by the youth of the Calamine. It commemorates the Hungarian people who died fighting fort heir freedom during the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest. It depicts an inscription: “Hongrie en sang” (Hungary covered in blood) in the national colours of this country (green and red).

On 25 August 1968, between 700-800 Hungarian refugees and migrants with their national flags and costumes reunited in Banneux, coming from various parts of Belgium, The Netherlands and the German city of Aachen to celebrate Saint Stephen, First King of Hungary, father of Hungarian people, who before death solemnly entrusted his country to the Most Holy Virgin.

Hungarians from the surroundings of Liège and Limburg still come every year in pilgrimage to Banneux on the night of 31 October.

Ukrainian monument

The monument erected in the Shrine in commemoration of the Millennium of the Christian Faith in Ukraine was solemnly blessed on 12 August 1990.

It is an impressive gravestone, broken in two pieces. In the wide-open crack there is a solid wooden cross, straight and proud. At the crossing of its branches, a round medallion, in the form of a crown, reminds us of the commemorated dates: 988 – 1988 with an inscription: Jesus Christ brings victory. This monument was built on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the artificial famine caused by Russian communists  in 1933 which caused 7 millions deaths in Ukraine.

The monument as the official website of Banneux Notre-Dame says ‘’invites us to build the future of our old Christianity in line with the one single message of love, which Christ proclaimed from his cross. The Christian faith of this country, which an atheistic regime promised to extinguish, bury, and cover with a final gravestone, awakens in a rediscovered freedom. The cross, symbol of our faith in Jesus Christ, breaks and pierces this oppressive stone and proclaims its message: It is Christ that brings the victory of love.’’

Two Romanian crosses

The larger cross was placed on 9 April 1993 at the request of Mgr P. Gherman of the Romanian ministry in Brussels.

On a stone at the foot of the cross, the following inscription is depicted: “In memory of the martyrs and heroes, victims of atheistic totalitarianism, exiled Romanians in Belgium” – Banneux 1995.

The second cross was placed a year or two later one, also in memory of those who testified to their faith in God and died for their Homeland. Initially it was placed next to the Hungarian cross in the alley of the Rosary.

As the official website of Banneux Notre-Dame says: ‘’these crosses recall the connections of Banneux with the pilgrimage to Carbounari and with the Assumptionist Fathers of Blaj. The Virgin of the Poor is strongly venerated by the Catholics of the oriental byzantine rite in Romania. In Carbounari there is a sanctuary with a small chapel identical to the one in Banneux.’’

A chapel of Mother Teresa

A beautiful, impressive little statue/chapel of Mother Theresa. Mother Teresa was born in 1910 into Kosovar – Albanian family in Skopje, North Macedonia, which at the time was the capital of the Ottoman Turkish province of Kosovo. She was the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. It was in Letnica, a town in Kosovo where a young Mother Theresa found her calling. It is also interesting to mention that the first cathedral for Mother Teresa was consecrated in Kosovo in 2017.

Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, president of the European Institute on Communist Oppression and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, the Netherlands since 2005.

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