The city and world to be blessed in near-empty St Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY: With billions of people around the world in lockdown, the traditional Easter Celebrations in Saint Peter’s Square will be replaced by a virtual Easter Sunday mass in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Charles Lansdorp, aged 59, former area manager Italy for the Flower Council of Holland and with a career spanning over 25 years in the floricultural sector and with significant expertise in promoting Dutch flowers in Italy and the rest of the world, says that the online Easter address breaks a tradition that began 35 years ago when a team of Dutch floral designers decked out St Peter’s Square with Dutch plants and flowers for the first time.

In a Skype interview with tv show Cristianità hosted by the Italian broadcaster RAI International, Lansdorp commented on the exceptional initiative, while highlighting that next to decorating church altars, flowers can now also be turned in sweet surprises for seniors who cannot leave their homes. Working from his home in coronavirus-hit Lombardy, Italy, Lansdorp reached out to Dutch rose grower John Meijer, floral wholesaler Willemsen, Floral Extase, Exotica and Chrysal and together they were one of the first to set an example by giving away thousands of snowy-white Avalanche roses flowers to care homes across the Netherlands and Italy.

In his interview Lansdorp noted that in these trying times his heart goes out to all the families working in this sector in the Netherlands and Italy. “However we should not forget that Africa too has been hit hard. In Kenya, for example,  approximately 70 per cent of  flowers are grown for the European market, and a substantial proportion of products is sold through the Netherlands. An estimated 1 million people in Kenya depend directly or indirectly on the flower industry and many companies had to send most of their staff home. There is no economic safety net for them.”

Lansdorp concluded by saying that year Dutch flowers we make their reappearance in Rome. “For now, Happy Easter to each and everyone of you. Be safe, be well.”

Lansdorp is known for being one of the driving force behind Grandparent’s Day, a floricultural initiative that is gaining ground in Europe. This year, Grandparent’s Day is celebrated on 2 October (Italy and Spain), 4 October (UK and Netherlands) and 11 October (Germany).

When last year, Flower Council of Holland, the marketing arm for the Dutch floricultural sector, pulled out of sponsoring the papal flowers, floral arranger Paul Deckers was quick to ensure that, despite the financial obstacles, Dutch flowers were to adorn Saint Peter’s Square again.

In decorating Saint Peter’s Square, Paul Deckers follows in the footsteps of Nic van der Voort (pictured) who in the 1980s ‘opened the doors’ in the Vatican. Deckers recalls, “In 1985 Pope John Paul II embarked on a visit to the Netherlands. On that occasion, the Pope celebrated mass in Utrecht and Nic van der Voort, a florist from the city of Leiden, made the floral arrangements. The Pope and his entourage were so delighted with the Dutch flowers that Van der Voort and his colleagues were asked to come over to Rome to provide an appropriate floral backdrop for the beatification ceremony of Dutch priest Titus Brandsma that same year. This is how the idea was born to deck out St Peter’s Square with Dutch plants and flowers at Easter.”

Decker and his team of 25 florists, under normal circumstances, gather on Maundy Thursday in Vatican City to start making preparations for their flower arrangements in yellow and white, the traditional papal colours.

Normally tens of thousands of worshippers in the square and millions across the world  witness the celebration of mass on their TV screens, culminating in the traditional blessing to the city (Urbi) and the world (Orbi) given by Pope Francis.

Last year, the Flower Council of Holland’s decision was heavily criticised by many industry professionals stressing the benefits of the publicity for Dutch flowers the event has brought for so many years. Others were quick but cautious to add that to stop donation to an institute that plagued by abuse scandals can only be considered ‘a wise decision’.

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