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Friday September 7 2018

Looking Back: Brussels International Exhibition

An account of the International Exhibition of 1958 and the churches' part in it, published in September that year.


[From the Church of Scotland Chaplain, Brussels]

THE Brussels International Exhibition, the first world exhibition since the war, has been a gigantic display of the rich discoveries of an almost unbelievable development in the realms of science and technology.

Clever men and women from fifty-one countries have brought the achievements of their peoples to be seen and shared by the millions.

The Belgians’ instincts to rejoice in forest and woods and their love of trees are conspicuous in the Exposition. Trees are everywhere landscaping the international pavilions. They are around and about them with banks of flowers in profusion, and there are trees actually growing through some pavilions, the buildings being erected around them. Flowing water appears in many places with kindly grace, taking the geometric flint-like edge off the A.D. 2000 architectural conceptions.

The British pavilions make a valuable contribution. The Government pavilion is by no means the biggest. Indeed it is comparatively small. But it has grace and dignity, history and tradition, the story of a country’s high endeavour.

Not far away are the American, Russian and French Pavilions and the Holy See, which are the largest single sections. The American one is circular and a magnificent conception. At night it is a feast of light eclipsed only by the atomium which shimmers and scintillates in the most fascinating fashion. The atomium is a miracle of light, like myriad auroras flitting constantly magnetically. It is the centre of the World’s Fair and the symbol of the Exhibition – that and the Star.

But the purpose of the promoters of this Exhibition is more than the holding of a Fair, great achievement as that is in itself. Baron Moens de Fernig, Commissioner General of the Belgian Government for the Exhibition, has said, “We aim to bring together people of every nation and every race, of widely differing cultures and civilisations and to make them conscious of their common humanity.” Its fundamental aim is to contribute to the development of a genuine unity of mankind based on respect for human personality.

This makes it all the more essential that the Churches should bear their witness in the midst of all this stupendous display of man’s achievements in scientific progress and inventive genius.

The Roman Catholic Church is present in the International Section, the Vatican having been invited as a Sovereign State. And, by the faith and enthusiasm of a little band of 75,000 Protestants in Belgium, a Protestant Pavilion and Church stands near the very centre of the Exhibition.

The Cross is lifted up in that sanctuary where each day hundreds of men and women of countless nationalities enter to bow their heads in adoration or, it may be, to hear for the first time the name of Him who is the Saviour of the world.

There is always a joy in ministering in the continental Charges of our Church, but it is a special privilege to be in the Scots Kirk in Brussels these days. There are the many Scots folk one meets and welcomes both in the Protestant Pavilion and in the Kirk, Youth Groups, Scouts and School Parties who parade to Church. Two Youth Groups came forty-five miles from Ostend by bus to worship in the Service here, and most of them were again seen in the Exhibition Protestant Church Service in the evening.

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