Pope Honors Late King Who Opposed Abortion Pontiff In Belgium To Beatify Father Damien For Work Among Lepers

Pope John Paul II interrupted his official visit to Belgium on Saturday to pray at the tomb of King Baudouin, the late monarch who refused to sign a law liberalizing abortion.

John Paul’s unscheduled trip to the royal estate on the outskirts of Brussels underscored his support for world leaders who share his moral views.

Officially, the pope was in Belgium to beatify a 19th-century Belgian missionary, Father Damien De Veuster, who worked and died among the lepers of Hawaii. The ceremony was scheduled for today outside the city’s basilica.

The pope arrived Saturday afternoon at Melsbroek airport outside Brussels and was greeted by King Albert II and Queen Paola. Recalling Baudouin, Albert’s older brother, the pope said: “I wish to pay homage to his memory.”

King Baudouin died in 1993. His widow, Fabiola, joined the pope at the crypt at Laken, just outside Brussels. Vatican sources said the pope wanted to pay tribute to the king for his strong position against the abortion law.

The king’s refusal to sign the law in 1990 won him high praise from the Vatican, which hailed the decision as a “noble and courageous choice” dictated by his “very strong moral conscience.”

Nonetheless, the king’s opposition didn’t stop the law from passing. The Belgian government simply had Baudouin step down temporarily until the legislation was enacted.

In his March encyclical, the pope devoted considerable attention to the role of world leaders in moral matters, including the Roman Catholic Church’s stand against abortion.

About 30,000 people were expected to attend the beatification ceremony today. Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the church.

The pope had been scheduled to visit Belgium last year but canceled after breaking his leg.


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