The church of St. Jan Berchman in Diest was closed down. The parish community dedicated to this saint in Gorzków – Trzebniów (the archdiocese of Częstochowa) received a gift in the form of some objects as a sign of hope, unity and faith that the Church is one, holy and forces of evil will not overcome it.

An unusual saint

Who is St. Jan Berchmans? An answer to this question can be found when following him, that is, visiting places commemorating his presence, and mainly his love to Jesus Eucharist and Our Lady. Today also one can experience the atmosphere of his home in Diest, where he was born in 1599 and where he spent his youth, walk on the stairs on which he walked. In the church of St. Sulpucjiusz one can see a place where he was baptized, touch the hassock on which he received the First Holy Communion, and see with the eyes of imagination how Jan was praying in the church of Our Merciful Lady in Diest. Like him, we can walk the road from Diest to Mechelen where he completed his novitiate at the Jesuits’. The church of the Jesuits includes a real treasure – relics of St. Jan’s heart (his body was laid in Rome). From this church the future saint set off on foot to Rome in 1618. He studied there. He died in 1621 at the age of 22, holding a crucifix in his hands, as well as a rosary and a convent book of rules. He died before his priestly ordination. On his way to priesthood he passed away in sanctifying grace, together with death he was born for Heaven and proclaimed a saint in 1888. He is a patron of ministerial communities and studying youth.

Closed for ever

Another trace on the route of the saint is a parish of St. Jan Berchmans, built 55 years ago in Diest. However, only half a century passed when the church got short of people. Only 20 people regularly attend the Holy Mass, so it is difficult to keep the church – in Belgium the duty of keeping the church belongs to believers. In 2015, after the builder of the church, the first parish priest – Fr. Józef Poels died, there was nobody who would be his successor.

What can be done in this situation?

The last Holy Mass celebrated in the church of St. Jan Berchmans in Diest on 30 September this year was presided over by Fr. Felix van Meerbergen – a dean of Diest, a parish priest of a parish St. Sulpucjusz, in this town. Among concelebrants there were Fr. Jozef Busschots – a parish priest of the parish under vocation of St. Hubertus and Fr. Can. Bogumił Kowalski – a vice-dean of deanery of Żarek, a parish priest of the church of St. Jan Berchmans in Gorzków-Trzebniów; some objects from the Belgium equipment of the church was passed over to this community. At the end of the Eucharist the tabernacle was opened. The Holy Sacrament – hidden, candles blown away, the tablecloth rolled in and given to the Polish parish priest. The emptied altar was illuminated only by the rays of the sun. Silence in the church was like adoration of the Holy Sacrament in the hearts of people present there, or like even a ‘funeral’ of the parish. What was touching was the sight of a crying Belgian priest and then a Polish priest and believers. Hope coming from this rite leads, however, to something more, to a different reality - to an alive person of Jesus Christ who is a Priest, Sacrifice and Alter Himself. – A kind of stage of your history finishes but Church is one, holy, universal and apostolic – emphasized Fr. Can. Kowalski. Therefore, what is hope for the parish community with Fr. Felix is the fact that some objects from the church still serve to people – in Poland. – An altar, tabernacle and organ there are the sign of unity, memory of our Belgian parish. We hope that the relation between Diest and Gorzków will last – said the dean of Diest. He suggested that parishes should become mutual partners. The Eucharist was attended by, among the others: the mayor of Diest Jan Laurys, representatives of the day and day-night centre for disabled people, which is going to be established in the place of the pulled down church, a delegation of the parish of St. Jan Berchmans in Gorzków-Trzebniów, together with Jeff Slusher from Texas, worshippers of St. Jan Berchmans and believers from the whole town. Next day all the objects from the church were packed onto a truck which went to Poland. The door of the empty, deserted church was closed for ever. Believers moved to the parish of St. Sulpicjusz.

Saved in Poland

Some liturgical objects from Belgium unchangeably have their role in the parishes of the archdiocese of Częstochowa. This unity of parishioners from Belgium and Poland is blessed by archbishop Wacław Depot, the metropolitan of Częstochowa. The objects fulfilling the sacral space in Diest, were brought to churches of the archdiocese of Częstochowa: in Gorzków- Trzebniów, Wysoka Lelowska, Jaworznik, Kotowice. In the parish community of Gorzków-Trzebniów there are works on installing an altar, a baptismal font and pipe organ. On 26 November this year the organ are going to enrich the parish patron ceremony to the honour of St. Jan Berchmans, similarly as a table cloth on which the last Holy Mass was celebrated in Diest. Friendship between believers and priests as well as gifts from the liquidated parish church show Godly action and intercession of the patron. All these events prepare the parish for the consecration of the church planned in 2019, which is the crowning of ceremonies of 10 years of the parish taking place throughout the year. It is also going to be enriched by objects given to the Belgian community. The year 2019 is time of thanksgiving to God that He wanted the parish to exist in Gorzków-Trzebniów, for presence and support of St. Jan Berchmans who, among the others, contributed to raising two priestly vocations. In the parish being a place of the Church experience, inhabitants are looking for God and are aiming at Him through sacraments. Therefore on particular days those believers who received sacraments in this parish church will be gathering in order to thank for the gift of their baptism – on the day of the Baptism of the Lord, for Confirmation – on the day of Pentecost, etc.

What future to be like

Such a shocking history became participation of the parish in Diest and is not the only one. So, what future is going to be like for the Church in Western Europe? The Church in which it is difficult to notice the young. The Church which is facing up islamization. For example, in Antwerpia, there are 30 churches and 62 mosques, 1000 church will have been either closed down or pulled down in Holland by 2030, among the others, in Utrecht during 10 years, only 10 churches will remain out of 280. The dean of Diest was saying it sadly: - In 10 years only 10 churches will remain out of 100 churches in the diocese of Mechelen. In Belgium on Sunday only one Holy Mass is celebrated and in the week no liturgies are celebrated. Church of St. Sulpicjusz in Diest, amounting to 750 years of its existence, serves as a church on Sunday, but in the week as a museum. Paradoxically, it protects it from being closed down. In the week ( on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays) the Holy Masses are celebrated in the chapel of St. Jan’s house which belongs to the parish church of St. Sulpicjusz.

We have not experienced such times in Poland but it is not known what the future will bring, whether parishes will be joined together or not. Therefore the ‘Prayer of bent knees’ is so valuable, which was initiated by archbishop Depo. This is a prayer of believers and priests in the intention of priestly and convent ordinations, holiness of families, connected with adoration of the Holy Sacrament. It is the only help when facing up secularization of societies.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 43/2018 (28 X 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: