Is Flanders to boast world heritage sites but without any Beguines? Not if Sister Marie-Angela and her two fellow sisters have anything to do with it. At present they are involved in an almighty row with the Vatican in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church HQ is eager to close the convent in Halle, where the three nuns live. The Vatican does have a point. A religious house with only three inhabitants seems somewhat of an indulgence, but the authorities in Rome hadn’t reckoned with the likes of Sister Marie-Angela and her two colleagues, who would prefer to switch religious order and become Beguines, pious women, who belong to a Christian sisterhood established in Liège in the 12th century, rather than to close down. Beguines are women who live an austere life but do not take permanent vows. As Beguines the women wouldn’t have any legal bond with Rome.
Sister Marie-Angela (60), Sister Imelda (90) and Sister Marie-Madeleine (30) recently got a Dutch bishop on inspection. He noted that the nuns’ age difference too violates rules for a convent. Sister Marie-Angela is in no mood to bow out: “We’ve looked into the matter. We’re thinking of becoming Beguines and want to attract more people to the convent.”
Twelve of the convent’s rooms are empty. The sisters are only prepared to welcome new women, no men: “Singles, people who have divorced and widows” Sister Marie-Angela told VRT. “Believe it or not, people are interested.”