By H. M. GILLETT
This was the first of a series of 33 apparitions which continued almost daily until January 3, 1933.
The father of three of them was Hector Voisin, 41, railway clerk, shrewd, vivacious, popular. Their mother, Marie-Louise Perpete, petite, blonde, talkative. smiling, they adored and were quick to obey.
In common with many others in the district, both parents had fallen away from the practice of the Faith, had adopted a "neutral" attitude. Thus they sent Fernande, their elder girl. and Albert, only son, to non-Catholic schools. But Gilberte, their younger daughter. they sent to the nuns.
Fernande Voisin, 151, steady, helpful, was shy of strangers. Gilberte, 131, lively, generous, was the idol of the younger children at school. Albert, 11, very much the boy, full of fun, had a sterling nature and genuinely wanted to do right.
LIVING in the nest street, newly `-` come to Beuraing. was a farmer's widow, Germaine Degeimbre, with her three daughters. She was a sound Catholic, without frills, full of common sense, and did her best to provide Catholic education for her children.
They, brought up on a farm, were less sophisticated than the Voisins, inclined to be slower. The eldest does not come into the picture.
Andree, 141, a strapping girl who preferred farm to classroom, was thoroughly honest, with great respect for the clergy; but she was blunt to the degree of rudeness. She disliked strangers but was candid and open with friends. She loved films . . . for the first time in her life there was a weekly film-show within reach. She soon grew out of them.
As for her sister, " little " Gilberte. 9, not to be confused with Gilberte Voisin. she was dimpled, blue-eyed, and discon
certingly truthful. It was impossible for her to act, or maintain, a lie.
Thus in character there were many differences between the five. In general, however, all were known to be truthful, dependable. and, in spite of the Voisin's parents' disaffection, regular at Mass and the Sacraments.
THAT November evening, Albert and Fernande were sent, at short notice, to meet Gilberte Voisin when she came out of school. They called for the Degeimbre girls en route. A plan was brewing to tease a shopkeeper by ringing her door-bell and running away—a plan which came to naught
They were late and ran to the convent. Albert was first. Looking back for the others he cried out in wonder: "See there ! The Virgin is walking about up there, all in white !" He pointed to the archway.
The others, thinking he was fooling, paid no heed until, on his insistence, they looked and saw likewise. The figure was bathed in a wonderful light. As soon as she came out, " big " Gilberte was enraptured at the scene, As at Fatima and La Selene, where the children were alarmed
at their first sight of Our Ledy, so here. Suddenly a panic seized them and the five fled in terror. They thought a Lourdes statue had come to life
FROM that moment began their
sufferings, is intense as any endured by others privileged to behold Our Lady. Mocked at, scolded, punished. they were held in disgrace at home, ridiculed at school, insulted in the street, and subjected to what became tantamount to persecution from a host of•scientific " investigators?'
When they were polite, they were said to be lying; when rude, as sometimes Andre was apt to be. they were " brazening things out."
Commonsense Mme. Degeimbre found her little Gilberte radiant in her dreams, talking of the beauty of what she had seen. Henceforth the mother knew this was not make-believe, whatever hoax there might have been. She it was who first escorted the children back to the scene, armed with a big stick !
Mother Superior Theophile ordered the garden gates to be locked, and let loose a fierce dog. Denied admission, the five children witnessed the remaining apparitions, kneeling on the pavement, close to a may-tree where Our Lady henceforth appeared.
Crowds of onlookers increased. On December 8. before 10.000 people, three doctors applied severe tests, stabbing the children with penknives, holding lighted matches to their hands and faces; without hurt or reaction. Later, tests were applied so severe that the crowds menaced other doctors who came to investigate.
(IN all that transpired, on these 33 occasions, a considerable authentic, literature has been published. Night after night the children were questioned and examined. True, they were never falsely imprisoned but, apart from that, they suffered no less than others who saw Our Lady.
By their inquisitors they were treated as morons, degenerates, frauds, criminals. But the harsher the treatment, the more their sterling characters stood out. All but a few were convinced.
At one time, before 1942, Beauraing was the subject of two Commissions of Enquiry simultaneously. The Diocesan, Canonical, Commission was set up in 1935. Later another was instituted by the Archbishop of Malines, to consider these and other alleged apparitions in other parts of Belgium. In 1942. the Malines Commission reported, and the Cardinal denounced all these alleged appearances, with the specific exception of those at Beauraing and Banneux.
Then the Namur Commission's verdict, already given, hut withheld until then, was published. With the formal consent of the Holy Office, the Bishop of Namur gave a Decree, February. 1943, authorising cuitus at Beauraing. The Commission continued.
IN 1949 came a further Decree,
recognising as miraculous two remarkable cures. On the same date, the Bishop, in a Letter to the clergy, pronounced judgment, that the Apparitions to the five children were viorthy of credence. This judgment leas confirmed in his Pastoral of November 3, 1957, and published in THE CATHOLIC HERALD last week.
ptEAURAING has been visited As. not only by Bishops from many lands, but also, on ceremonial occasions, by the Papal Nuncio to Brussels and the InterNuncio to The Hague.
And because at Beauraing Our Lady revealed her Immaculate Heart to the children. the Feast of August 22nd. by permission of the Congregation of Rites, has been adopted as the particular Feast of Beauraing. Thus a tremendous link has been forged between Beauraing and Fatima. By the same authority the Mass of this Feast is said daily at the altars adjacent to the May-tree.
As for the children. They, who might so easily have lapsed, have remained truly constant to the Faith. All have found their vocation not in the cloister but in marriage. Gilberte Voisin (Mme. Pierrct) now a widow, with her children lives in Beauraing, near Andree Degeimbre, (Mme. Van de Steen) who has three children.
Albert, also father of three, is doing splendid work as a teacher in the Belgian Congo.
And any evening, whenever any (or all) of the -Children" are at hand in Beauraing. they are to be found at 6.30 at the May-tree, quietly on their knees, joining in the Rosary.
Their rule is never to discuss their experiences. Of their (now) adult belief there can be no doubt. When the five larger bells in the campanile were blessed, in 1954, all five stood together as the formal godparents of the bells, named after them.
OUR LADY'S REQUEST
AT Beauraing Our Lady asked ' for a Chapel. The Chapel of the Apparitions, consecrated in 1954, is truly representative of her message.
She asked for pilgrims. Stark numbers are invidious, bit each year they run into millions.
She promised there to convert sinners. This is an aspect which merits close study " Beauraing" may be said to have marked the end of an insidious period of drift from the Church in those regions. Thousands have come hack to the Faith, and countless thousands owe their faith today to the influence which has spread from the May-tree.
Preaching to a great assembly of Belgians at Lourdes. the Bishop of Lourdes declared Beauraing to be the "sublime complement of Lourdes." The two Shrines have this in common: both have been chosen by Our Lady as places of great grace; who, in both places, has declared herself to be Immaculate.
With the Lourdes Centenary so close at hand the spiritual relationship between Lourdes and Beauraing, 75 years younger, is one of enormous significance.
A Crucifix in the waiting room
Travellers passing through the main waiting room of the railway station at Passau. Germany, have been stopping to look at a large carved wooden crucifix which dominates the room. Both Catholic and Lutheran authorities have praised the action of the state in placing the crucifix on the wall of the waiting-room.