After the Eucharist celebration in the Zandkapel in Noorderwijk (Herentals), José Aertgeerts was allowed to unveil a hand-woven portrait of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. She received this out of gratitude for her help in Guatemala.
The beautiful Zandkapel on the edge of Noorderwijk is officially called Chapel of Our Lady on ‘t Zand. The building is large enough to host worship services for the local community. After Sunday morning’s Eucharist celebration, Pastor Gert De Naegel announced a special moment. Because the walls, which are already full of portraits of inspiring believers, were given a beautiful piece of work.
“José Aertgeerts from Noorderwijk received a beautiful farewell gift for her years of work as a lay helper and nurse in the village of Jocatan in Guatemala,” said Gert De Naegel. “It is a hand-woven portrait of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. What Our Lady of Lourdes is to European believers, the Madonna of Guadeloupe is to South Americans. It is a real place of pilgrimage. And together with the Zandkapelkomitee, we thought it was appropriate that this image was given a place with our own Our Lady on ‘t Zand.”
José Aertgeerts single-handedly pulled away the canvas in front of the framed handicraft. “I worked as a development aid in Jocatan in my younger years, from 1980 to 1986. That is a village in Guatemala, about 30 kilometers from the border with Honduras,” says José. “Afterwards I came back to Belgium, but I still went back there every year, for more than thirty years in a row. Before that, I saved up all my leave so that I could help out for two months at a time. I worked as a nurse in the small children’s hospital-dispensary.”
José Aertgeerts looks back on her times in South America with warm feelings. “Those were really fantastic years. Mind you, I had to work hard there, but I really learned a lot from the locals. I mainly treated many malnourished children, but also adults. We also taught about nutrition and hygiene. Every now and then we went on foot with a backpack, but in it a refrigerator box full of vaccines, to the mountain villages to vaccinate the people there. The great gratitude of those people still humbles me.”
For her unwavering efforts, the Noorderwijk woman received the hand-woven portrait as a gift from the villagers on her last trip. But it was also explicitly intended for the community of the Herental sub-village. Because in addition to José, there were two other villagers who regularly supported the Guatemalan population. “And in addition, the annual 11.11.11 campaign in Noorderwijk has raised money specifically for Jocatan several times. I was then allowed to take that amount with me on my next trip to spend on projects. I am very happy that the gift will now have a permanent place in the Zandkapel. I am grateful to the church community and the Zandkapel Committee for allowing this. I think the idea of ’Mary meets Mary’ is very beautiful.”