City priest, country priest: toward a less solitary life

  • Young people on the path to a religious vocation aspire to greater connection and community.
  •  Some are still entering seminary to become parish priests…but with a difference.

 

Beyond the modern luminous façade of the Sauvenière cinema, night is falling on Xavier-Neujean Square. Umbrella in hand, you glide along the gray, austere walls of Saint-Jean L’Évangéliste College barely lit by the streetlight, until you get to number 42. There you find the “bar” that bears the same name. No signs, no lights, just a little doorbell. A student opens up for us. The sad remains of a beer keg lies dejectedly on the narrow hall floor. You might think you were at the entrance of a student gathering. When you enter the small vaulted room festooned with dozens of framed images of Liège, the atmosphere is completely different. Young people are conversing in small groups. Some Dominican brothers from Liège, founders of this Wednesday night bar, circulate among them. These monks in jeans and sweaters blend in with the crowd.

 

They won’t serve any altar wine, but every kind of beer is available, as long as it’s Trappist of course! Brother Cochineau derives his joyful slogan from this enterprise: “If you don’t believe in God, drink a Rochefort. If you still don’t believe in God, you have a bigger problem: go see a shrink!” This is followed by a loud peal of monastic laughter. Philippe Cochineau is the classic picture of the hearty monk with a big belly, slightly balding head, jovial smile, bushy salt and pepper eyebrows with a Trappist beer in hand. We’re almost sorry to not see him in his coarse habit as in the days of yore, but that’s not really the spirit of this establishment.

 

Every Wednesday, the seven Dominican brothers who live in this Liège community open a bar to students in collaboration with the “Logos” dormitory. The evening starts with a short and lively mass at 7:30 p.m. Next, a meal for 3 EUR, and last, but certainly not least, the bar remains open until the wee hours.

 

The service tends to attract young Catholics and the other events welcome a more diverse crowd of both believers and atheists. As 24-year-old Pierre advised us, “Most people who come here are the college party crowd. Half of them are even baptized.” Here there is no talk of baptism with holy water! What are they looking for in this somewhat unusual bar? Absolution? The Word of God? None of the above. “We are looking for another way to spend the evening, less noisy and more mellow,” Pierre explains. Besides, there is nothing “Catholic” about the atmosphere, according to the student. It tends to be more like a “scout gathering but a little more serious.”

 

The Liège Dominican brothers seem to be the definition of a more modern religious life, more directly integrated into society. Philippe Cochineau fulfills the role of historian-journalist. Didier, the current thirty-something brother superior first studied law at Louvain-la-Neuve, parties included, prior to turning to a novitiate at the age of 24. “To be honest, I could not be a parish priest. Though I don’t believe that there is a vocational crisis, I do think there’s a crisis of function. Before, being a priest meant supporting a ‘territory’. What does that mean today? Is it just to perform the sacraments? As far as I can tell, religious communities are the wave of the future” even if many communities are not as visionary as this group of monks who command the beer pump with as much adroitness as the holy water sprinkler.

 

ELODIE BLOGIE

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