Friday, August 6, 2010

A Catholic Queen

August 29, 2010 will mark the 75th anniversary of the tragic death of Astrid, Queen of the Belgians. Here is an account of the (originally Lutheran) princess' conversion to Catholicism, taken from the memoirs of Lars Rooth, a Swedish Jesuit who had served with British Intelligence in World War II. During this period, he spent time in Belgium. He later wrote movingly of Astrid:
...This Swedish princess, who had married Leopold, had become most popular, and you could find a photo of her in almost every window in Belgium at that time- she had become a symbol of patriotism and of Catholicism.

Here I must relate a story that one of the Jesuits in Sweden told me years later. He had been approached by Astrid when she was a princess of Sweden and the fiancée of Leopold's. She came to our parish in Stockholm and told the priest that she wanted to become a Catholic. Fortunately, she met the right man, Fr. Ansgar Meyer, who asked her why? Well, she said, I am going to get married to prince Leopold, become the crown princess of Belgium and later queen of a Catholic country, so it seems reasonable for me to join that church. Father Meyer asked her if she had any other reasons or if she had studied the teaching of the Catholic Church at all. When he got a negative answer, he told her to leave things as they were. If later on, she were to take a personal interest in the Catholic Church, she could always ask someone for instruction. As it was, Astrid did later contact a priest in Belgium and became a convinced Catholic. If she had been received before the marriage, she most likely would have become just a nominal Catholic, without much interest in religion.

(More Joy Than Pain, Lars Rooth, 1991, pp. 84-85)
Another account, from a Catholic journal of the period, described the fruits of her conversion in Sweden:
We made mention last week of the sad death of Astrid, the Belgian Queen. Since that time many stories have come to us which show the unmistakeable effect the sincerity of her conversion had upon her own people in Sweden. It was to be expected, of course, that her marriage, and especially her conversion, would not meet with the universal approval of the Swedish public. Once, however, the Queen had made up her mind about the truth of Catholicism she let nothing stand in her way, not even the possibility of losing the love and esteem of her own people. Last June when she was on a visit to Sweden she appeared officially at Mass in St. Eugenia's church. The effect of this act was a greater respect for the Queen, and a greater tolerance toward the four thousand Catholics in Sweden. None, perhaps, will miss Queen Astrid more than the Catholics in Sweden for whom she had a very deep affection.

(The Ave Maria: October to December 1935, John O'Conner, 2005, p. 441)

A true daughter of St. Bridget!

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