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"Report" from Belgium, June 2001

When the London office of AIF invited us last year to become contact persons of the organization in Belgium we felt honoured and embarrassed at the same time. As Germans who had come to Belgium some time ago for professional reasons we had at that moment just overcome the initial problems and difficulties many foreigners experience when settling down in a country with a different mentality and language - languages, if we want to be precise in the case of Belgium which is a country divided into two different entities, the French speaking south and the Flemish part in the North with its Dutch speaking population. Annette had just started a new professional career which meant another time of struggling and adaptation and so we were afraid that, at least in the beginning, our engagement for interchurch couples would most probably be very limited. And so it was. To be honest about it: we have not yet succeeded in setting up a group however small of couples in the same situation of different church affiliation as we are. Therefore this "report" for the international conference of interchurch families in Canada is a very poor one and we completely leave it to the organizers to decide on whether they want to add it to the more substantial reports from other countries. We do hope however that we will be able in the future to contact other couples and to win them over to the important work that interchurch families are doing for Christian unity. And so, for the next international conference there will hopefully be a real contribution from our dear Belgium as well...

We should add however that interchurch marriages are still an exception in a country in which until very recently Roman Catholicism has permeated vast areas of the societal and cultural life. Members of the different Protestant Churches which agreed in 1978 to form the United Protestant Church of Belgium are a small minority which does not even amount to 1% of the whole Belgian population, while only 0,3 % are orthodox Christians. The last time that the Belgian Catholic Bishops´ Conference dealt with interchurch marriages was in 1970 when they adapted the ecclesial legislation in the wake of Pope Paul VI´s Motu proprio Matrimonia mixta. Since then there is little attention to the specific situation of interchurch families from the side of all Christian churches. In their 1970 pastoral note the Catholics bishops estimated that there were about 700 Catholics per year who asked for a marriage celebration with a non-Catholic partner, half of whom with a partner from a different Christian denomination.

Although we do not have more recent statistics, there might be today a rather big number of foreigners working for the European institutions or international companies in Brussels who are married or going to be married to a partner affiliated to a different church. Among them we will most probably find potential associates on our common search for Christian unity.

Annette & Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi
Wandelingstraat 2a
B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
Tel. +32 (0)16 - 23 14 36