Sign of the cross (trainer): Antwerp priest aims to get congregation moving


Rudi Mannaerts of Sint-Andries church in Antwerp has installed gym equipment for his parishioners, to encourage them to move and to reflect on their faith

Faithful and fit

The faithful at a church in Antwerp found an unexpected addition to their Easter Sunday service this year: their priest had installed a cross-trainer.

Rudi Mannaerts is encouraging his parishioners to start moving more. “We spend more time sitting on our backsides than is good for us,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “There used to be much more movement in church: there was dancing, kneeling and bowing. A healthy spirit in a healthy body, that’s what I believe in. And so I’m inviting our visitors to try out this fitness equipment.”

Mannaerts (pictured) is also hoping to encourage his parishioners to reflect on themselves and on their faith. Rather than displaying calories burned, the screen of the cross-trainer shows images of pilgrims trekking to Compostela. “You see beautiful landscapes, for example, images that bring you peace. In fact, I hope people will consider undertaking a pilgrimage themselves,” he said. “It’s an educational experience. During the long walks you really get close to yourself. I encourage people suffering a personal crisis to go on a pilgrimage, because if we conquer the mountain, we conquer ourselves.”

“This is just another funny stunt from our dear, special pastor,” said one elderly woman, who watched others trying out the apparatus at Sunday’s service. “Every now and then he does something silly like this. Sometimes he preaches in Antwerp dialect, and he once hung a punchbag in the church. He enjoys symbolism: the punchbag represented parishioners who are wrestling with their faith or with themselves.”

Photo: Stad Antwerpen/YouTube