Call it home coming or a pilgrimage; ten of us from the SSpS English Irish region made a spiritual journey in the soil of our foundation from Monday 27th June to Friday 1st July, 2022. Apart from bonding us together as a Region, the purpose of the pilgrimage was to revitalise our souls by getting immersed in the atmosphere filled with the spirit and memories of St. Arnold, Blessed Maria Blessed Josepha and the founding Generation. Fr. Jurgen Ommerborn threw more light on the life and spirit of our founder through his talks.
Brother Heinz’ enthusiasm for the historical elements of the congregation brought us to the underground exhibition where the activities of the first SVD brothers were displayed. The display helped us to understand the will power and the visionary mind of a man who created a self-sufficient village out of nothing. Steyl missionaries did everything from cultivating their own vegetables to providing fire brigades for the city of Tegelen.
Leo Kessler, one of the 80 volunteers working in Steyl explained to us about the steam machines in the Kettle house. Steam played a big part in the lives of the community during and after the time of Fr. Arnold. This steam machine that we see now was one of the latest of that time. It was ordered by Fr Arnold but it was installed only after his death. It can still be operated and worked for all visitors to see.
We made a visit to our sisters in the Sacred Heart convent. It was a joy to gather around the sarcophagus of Blessed Mothers to sing and pray. We were then warmly welcomed by Sr. Antonia and the motherhouse community and met all the sisters who knew us. We joined our Cloistered for the Eucharist convent. After the Mass we had an opportunity to meet Sr. Encarnation and the sisters through the grille. Brother Heinz also took us to the Grottoes in St Michael’s grounds made by the brothers long ago. One of them, Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes was a place of peace with a serene atmosphere and soft music.
Fr Dennis took us to St Gregory’s to visit the rooms of Mother Josepha and Fr. Arnold. We prayed and sang in the room of Mother Josepha. In the room of Fr. Arnold we had a short reflection on his last last days and death. Fr. Dennis also showed us the chapels where the SSpS were praying one side and the Cloistered sisters praying in the other.
One day we went for a walk across the river and saw St Michael’s from the other side. We had an interesting virtual trip to Nicaragua and Ghana in the World Pavilion Steyl. A lot of time, creativity and work has gone into this project. Many visit this project and children from schools come there and are educated in a creative way. We are indebted to Fr Ommerborn, Brother Heinz, Fr Dennis and many of the fathers and brothers in St Michael’s as well as Sr Encarnation and Sr Antonia.
On the last morning Fr Ommerborn celebrated Mass and we all sat around St Arnold’s sarcophagus. He asked Brother Heinz to pray in place of Fr Arnold for his spiritual sons and daughters. God, Holy Spirit – Now, when my life ends, when my eyes have closed, let others stand in my place and let my sons, my daughters implore you. That united and with all their might they praise you always and ever, and continue to promote your honour. Grant then that they may love you sincerely. Therefore, I consecrate them to your love. Oh, take them under your protection. The father of your children exalts you; your children exalt you too. Accept them in your goodness and love, You, God’s breath of love.
In Fr Ommerborn’s talk on Fr Arnold the Pilgrim he said that the pilgrimage to Kevelaer always consisted of two parts, first a spiritual one and the physical one – an ice cream. One evening we had a great surprise when the brothers took us to an ice-cream parlour in the disguise of taking us to a church to pray. Donald, a staff at St. Michael’s treated us to this lovely occasion. One day the SVD also invited us to supper and to a recreation with the community.
The pilgrimage to Steyl was an enriching experience for us all. It was our first time to be together as a region in the birthplace of our congregation. The fact that we remained in Steyl (without travelling to other places) brought us deeper into the spirit of our congregation. We extend special thanks the SVD community and all those who helped us in different ways to have this beautiful experience.