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December 25, 2005|
Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Baudouin was born on September 7, 1930, the second child of Leopold, who would become king in 1934, and his wife, Astrid of Sweden. On August 29, 1935, Queen Astrid died in a car accident. Baudouin was deeply marked by this losshe would always keep a photo of his mother on his bedside table. Leopold III entrusted the upbringing of his three children (Josephine-Charlotte, born in 1927, Baudouin, and Albert, born in 1934) to a young Dutch girl, to whom Baudouin developed a deep attachment. As a schoolboy, he showed himself to be a child like any other.
Engraved in his heart
His first trip to the Congo, at the time still a Belgian colony, in May-June 1955, was a revelation. Welcomed by an exuberant crowd overflowing with enthusiasm, he abandoned his usual reserve and did not hesitate to be himself. On his return to Belgium, more confident in his own abilities, he wore a smile that conquered his countrymen. Four years later, he went to the United States. His youth and charm enchanted the Americans and the trip was a complete success.
One day in February 1960, Baudouin was walking in the park of the royal palace in Laeken, near Brussels, with Bishop Suenens, who would become Archbishop of Malines and a Cardinal. Their conversation was informal, rambling, without protocol. During the walk, the town of Lourdes came up. The prelate then suggested that the king go there one day, incognito, and mingle with the crowds of pilgrims. «But,» replied the king, «I just came from there. I spent the night there in prayer in front of the Grotto, and I entrusted the question of my marriage to Our Lady of Lourdes.» Trading secrets, the future Cardinal told the king what Lourdes meant to him, as a result of his meeting an extraordinary woman, Veronica O'Brien. The king's reaction was instantaneous: «Could I meet her?» Miss O'Brien, an Irishwoman, headed the Legion of Mary. The king had a formal invitation sent to her for March 18, 1960. The audience lasted five hours. Afterwards, Veronica O'Brien sent the king a letter in English: «March 23, 1960. Dear King... May I offer you, on this beautiful Feast of the Annunciation, these precious little books which we spoke about? (The Secret of Mary and Treatise on True Devotion, by Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.) They are coming to you completely loaded with grace, for since the feast of Saint Joseph, I have faithfully prayed for you every day... Mary is much more interested in your future than you yourself could ever be.»
Sharing the most important thing
Put in contact with the nuncio in Madrid who gave her a letter of recommendation, Veronica began an investigation of the apostolate in the Spanish aristocracy. She was soon referred to a young woman of thirty-two, Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, sparkling with life, intelligence, spirit, rectitude, and clarity. Gracious and generous, she took care of the sick and the poor. On their first meeting, Veronica felt she had found the person she was looking for. «How is it that you have avoided marriage until now?» she asked. «What do you want? I have never fallen in love. I have put my life in God's hands, I have given myself to Him, perhaps He is preparing something for me.» When Veronica visited Fabiola's apartment, she was overwhelmed to recognize a painting on the wall from a dream the night before.
With the king's approval, Veronica revealed to Fabiola the reason for her presence in Spain and the king's wish to meet her unofficially. The young woman then believed she was the victim of an incredible hoax, and it took the nuncio's personal intervention to convince her to accept the offer. King Baudouin and Fabiola became unofficially engaged in Lourdes on July 8, 1960. «What I like best about her,» the king would say, «is her humility, her trust in the Most Blessed Virgin, and her openness... I know that she will always make me love God more and more.» The wedding took place the following December 15th. For several years, the hope of having children burned brightly in the royal couple's hearts. But over time, they understood that they would not have any. «We have asked ourselves about the meaning of this suffering,» the king confessed one day. «Little by little, we have come to understand that our hearts are freer to love all children, absolutely all children.»
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his accession to the throne, in 1976, the king created the King Baudouin Foundation, the aim of which is to undertake «any initiatives to improve the living conditions for the population, taking into account economic, social, scientific, and cultural factors that will influence the nation's development in the years to come.» He would ask this foundation to address such issues as the enslavement of women, problems in prisons, access to justice, sexual abuse of children, etc.
To close the reception, the king gave a short speech to his young listeners: «The world needs love and joy. You are capable of giving these. It's easy to say, but very hard to do. It takes effort, and you must start over every day. In doing it, you will see things around you change. For example, in helping your parents and expressing your love to them, you will make them happier, you will make them want to do the same with each other and with others. And so, bit by bit, relationships between people will become better. Try, persevere in this effort to love with actions. Never get discouraged. If you do this, I repeat, you will see even the faces of people change around you and, every night, you will feel great joy in your heart. Become builders of love.»
Prayer took the first place in the king's schedule. He usually devoted the beginning of the day to it. He was not spared spiritual dryness: «It was almost always difficult,» he would write, «to remain still to contemplate God in the silence and aridity of faith.» Daily Mass was the highpoint of his day. Wherever in the world his responsibilities took him, he asked a priest to be found to celebrate it. He lived in the rhythm of the liturgy, noting in his journal a thought drawn from the Mass texts. He regularly approached the Sacrament of Penance and often made weekend retreats with the queen.
I exist for You
The king's spiritual life supported and inspired him in his governmental duties, and he followed the country's affairs very closely. Aware of the limits the Constitution placed on his power, he exerted an influence on politics more through his advice and exhortations than by decisions. For this, he carefully informed himself on all subjects, directly interviewing competent individuals whom he received in audience. He methodically noted the main points from these exchanges in a notebook. The advice he later gave to his colleagues was appreciated. «He has more information than we do,» confessed one of them. «So of course we listen to him and often follow his advice.» The king completed his information with numerous visits around the country, meeting with the largest possible mix of peoplemen and women of every political and ideological persuasion. Each of his trips, in Belgium or abroad, each talk, received careful preparation. He read the works that his collaborators recommended to him and meticulously studied the files they showed him, leaving nothing to chance. Despite having the gift of being able to distinguish what was important from what was incidental, he nonetheless didn't neglect the details.
The morning of April 4, 1990, unexpected news was broadcast on the radioBelgium no longer had a king! Baudouin had refused to sign the law sanctioning abortion, and the government had declared that he could no longer reign. On March 29, Parliament had approved a law legalizing abortion, which had been accepted by the Senate the previous November 6. However, according to the Belgian Constitution, no law approved by the Chambers could be passed without the king's signature.
Sometimes difficult choices
But the abortion law approved by the Belgium Parliament contradicted what is right, expressed by God's law. «Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an 'unspeakable crime' (Gaudium et spes, 51). But today, in many people's consciences, the awareness of its gravity has become darkened. The acceptance of abortion by the culture, in the mores and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis in the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. ... [D]irect abortion, that is, willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. ... No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church» (Evangelium vitæ, nos. 58, 62).
Respect for the life of an unborn child is a sacred and universal principle: «The child,» King Baudouin had declared some months earlier, «because of his lack of physical and intellectual maturity, needs special protection, special care, especially legal protection before as well as after birth.» Knowing that he would have to account to God for his decisions, Baudouin wrote to his Prime Minister: «This proposed law raises a great problem of conscience for me... In signing this bill... I would inevitably take on a certain degree of co-responsibility. That I cannot do.»
Searching for the Truth
In response to the king's letter, to get out of the bind that the government found itself in, the Prime Minister had recourse to an article in the Belgian Constitution that foresaw the possibility that it could be impossible for the king, in extreme cases, to reign. On April 3, the Cabinet affirmed this impossibility in the present situation. The Cabinet then proceeded as though there was no longer a king, and passed the law turned down by Baudouin. But for the king to resume his duties, a vote of Parliament was necessary. On April 5, Parliament voted to allow Baudouin to take his place again as Head of State.
The king thus resumed his duties in the service of the country. But for ten years, his health had been deteriorating, and he felt death approaching. In 1991 and 1992, he underwent two operations, one of which was open-heart surgery. On July 21, 1993, the national holiday, he addressed his fellow citizens and, shortly thereafter, left Belgium to go to Spain for a rest. The evening of July 31, he settled down on the terrace of his residence. Around 9 o'clock, the queen called him for dinner. Receiving no response, she came to him and found him slumped in his chair, stricken by a heart attack. At his funeral, a large crowd came to show their affection, and the poor among the poorest testified how close the king's brotherly heart had been to the greatest human misery.
King Baudouin «had his secret: it was his God, Whom he was madly in love with and by Whom he knew himself so loved. Under the foliage of his public and political activities flowed a calm and hidden spring: it was his life in God... While the king served men, he did not cease thinking about God. In each human face that presented itself to him, he discerned the face of Christ» (Cardinal Danneels, homily for the king's funeral, August 7, 1993). Pope John Paul II described him as an «exemplary king» and a «fervent Christian.» His example encourages us to work for the glory of God in our daily activities. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux brilliantly put it: «Oh my God, to love You on earth, I have nothing but today» (Poem 5).