Helge Lockner pays tribute to Patrick van Bladel, who died from a brain tumour in Stockholm in July this year.
[New City Magazine – November 2020 pages 14-15]
A couple of months ago, when someone asked Patrick how he could stay so calm knowing about his incurable cancer, he first said: ‘I don’t know…’ And after a moment of reflection, continued: ‘I feel like a child in the arms of God the Father. Nothing can frighten me.’ On another occasion, he said: ‘I know that everything is God’s love for me.’
This steadfast faith in God characterized his life, in the relationship with each fellow human being and in the relationship with God. A simplicity, a security.
Mad about planes!
Patrick was born in Antwerp, Belgium 1963. Six years later his younger brother Dick was born. From his father, Patrick inherited his interest in aircraft. Dad, Patrick and his brother Dick spent many days together at Antwerp Airport. Patrick took flying lessons and at the age of 16 he got his pilot’s licence for a small Cessna aircraft. He could fly before he could drive a car!
When he was 18 years old, he moved to Delft in the Netherlands to study aircraft engineering, a subject in which he also got a PhD. His interest in aircraft remained throughout his whole life, much to the joy of many children who through the years learned from Patrick how to build small (and some not so small) airplanes. As for his PhD, he didn’t talk that much about it.
During his studies, in 1983, he got to know the Focolare Movement through the Word of Life leaflet [see page 12] found in a church. He enquired about who published it and he came into contact with some young people, who were trying to put the gospel into practise. Together with the youth he participated in various Focolare projects. They sold Christmas trees and washed cars at shopping centres to raise money for a hospital in Cameroun. They visited patients in hospitals and inmates in prisons.
God is love
In 1988 he took a decisive step and decided to follow Christ through life in the Focolare community, and in September 1989 he travelled to Loppiano in Tuscany for a period of formation.
Barely back in the Netherlands he was diagnosed with cancer. He surprised everyone by the way he received this news: ‘An opportunity to live even better in the belief that God is Love. I want to live for one hundred percent in the present moment, and to be ready when God calls me. If it is God’s will, it will all be his Love: it will all be Him’ (1990).
Supported by the prayers of many, Patrick underwent surgery and started chemotherapy. He wrote to Chiara Lubich in January 1991: ‘I want to approach this stage of my life with my compass focused on Jesus on the cross. I have received 100 faxes, letters, postcards and drawings from children of the Movement. In this way I realized that illness is a very special way to build up the community. This amazing ideal enables me to experience my illness as a grace.’
The most beautiful vocation in the world
Miraculously Patrick recovered quickly and fully. Based at the Focolare communities in Eindhoven, Diemen and Amersfoort, he used his many talents and creativity for activities of the Movement, especially for the youngest generation and for the magazine Nieuwe Stad, where he took care of the layout for many years. In a letter to Chiara Lubich in 2003 he wrote: ‘I feel like the son of a king, being provided with everything I need to live the most beautiful vocation in the world.’ In 2010 he moved to Stockholm and took up responsibility for the community there. There he built relationships with immigrant families, catechists and diocesan groups. In addition to his work as a programmer, he was active in the ecumenical council and organized meetings between the various Christian movements.
Patrick had a special love for children. For many years he was responsible for various children’s groups in Focolare. He was particularly talented in this, and was wholeheartedly committed to developing methods, games and activities that should both be fun and appealing to kids – and also transmit a message about what’s important in life: to be open towards others, take care of those who are bullied, forgive each other…
Workwise, in Sweden he mainly worked in Business Intelligence. He had a capacity to be a team leader, build relations and make everyone collaborate. He was often asked to host training courses. Patrick was valued for his professional knowledge, as a colleague and friend.
Nothing is lost when I live in love
One year ago, he was diagnosed with cancer again. In an interview in December 2019, when he had been admitted at Ersta Hospice, he said: ‘It’s a brain tumour, among the worst ones… I’m here in palliative care, it’s not that they think they can make me well again…’
With his typical way of facing the truth and at the same time having a solid assurance that God was with him in this trial, Patrick lived through the period of illness in the ‘extra’ time he was granted thanks to chemotherapy, radiation, medical home care and home nursing services. He carried his illness with great patience and was always more focused on those around him: family, friends and staff, than on himself. Many were touched by the serenity and love that he radiated.
He wrote: ‘Every moment is precious; nothing is lost when I live in love.’ After months in the hospital, where doctors and nurses were touched by his serenity, his condition improved considerably. But in the end, the disease resumed its course. Patrick did not give up: ‘I feel like a child in the arms of God the Father…’
Patrick died peacefully at home in Stockholm on the 30th of July, aged 56.
One of his friends said:
I’d like to think that he flew straight to the heavenly dwellings, without stopover or refuelling.