Visits from the Girls

Wooden MaryThe Benedictine sisters at the Béguinage host girls from nearby middelbare schools (high schools) in Bruges, Kortrij, and Gent. The girls come in groups of 2-4, sometimes alone for a weekend or for as long as a week. The impetus for this seems routinely to be papers the young people must write either on something they know nothing about (religious life definitely falls into that category ) or the last assignment was ~ choose a place you think ideal, visit and write about the place. I do not know if we seemed ideal at the end of the week! I did ask the last young girl, `Did you like it here?` `Absolutely,` she responded! Maybe we will see her again! The girls sleep in the guest house so some school work and paper writing can be accomplished between the disciplines of religious life. The girls fully participate in our life. The girls attend all services, wash dishes, fold bulletins and generally whatever needs doing from chicken feeding to ironing. Of course they have a chance to ask their questions which are many…. from why is your veil black and the other sisters` veils white to more serious ones like why did you choose this life?! The sisters graciously take time and respond honestly to all their myriad questions. Meals are eaten in silence with us in the refectory. Recreation time provides a friendly opportunity to get to know one another over handwork and scrabble. Chatting goes on in three languages. The girls fully participate in services, from ringing the bell 8 minutes before each service to short readings at the lectern. At the end of the day, the girls process protectedly sandwiched between the sisters to the last Salve Regina sung in Latin or Dutch before the 500-year-old Mary statue carved from a single tree trunk. Compline has been sung, the church put to bed and now at last  we too cross the courtyard, the girls returning to their room with a quietly whispered `Slaap wel` wish from the sisters. (Sleep well.)

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