Page 7, 10th August 1990

10th August 1990
Page 7
Page 7, 10th August 1990 — A playlet to mark Newman's centenary
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A playlet to mark Newman's centenary

AS a focus for school and other discussion on the relationship between sacred and the secular in the modern world, Simon Lee offers a five minute play inspired by the centenary of Newman's death, the campaign for his beatification, the appointment of Saatchi and Saatchi to promote the Italian church and of other marketing people to the Vatican, the difficulties of the Marcinckus-run Vatican finances, and the criticism of Thatcherite politics as materialistic.

Set in Heathrow. Background airport noise.

CHRIS: Fr Kevin?

KEVIN: Oh, are you Chris, Chris Caritas?

CHRIS: Sure am.

KEVIN: I, I . .

CHRIS: You expected a white male, right?

KEVIN: Look, I'm so pleased to meet you. I thought I'd lost you somehow. Thought you might have gone straight onto the other terminal . . .

CHRIS: Why would I have done that? The arrangement was to meet you here so that we could talk while I transfer flights. You're not choreographing some altar-boy, Fr Kevin, this is big business. If we arrange to meet here, I'll be here. If the deal is to sell your man in the right way, we'll sell him in the right way, OK?

KEVIN: Quite but . . . well, never mind, all's well.

CHRIS: OK, let's get moving, I've got another plane to catch and you've only got a few minutes to brief me. I'm all ears.

KEVIN: Well, I'm the Secretary of the Newman Society and we are hoping to celebrate the centenary of the death of Cardinal John Henry Newman by persuading the church to beatify him. Do you understand what that means?

CHRIS: For sure. It means big bucks, right, which is why the top marketing firm in the world have asked their top woman to interrupt her flight to Europe (and a far bigger account), just so as to meet you. OK, tell me about John Henry Newman. I guess he was some kind of nineteenth century Mother Teresa, huh?

KEVIN: No, not really. CHRIS: So what kind of saint are we selling, a sort of Catholic Dalai Lama . . . spiritual, right? KEVIN: Well, that's closer but it's not exactly . . .

CHRIS: Come on, the man must have been a winner else he wouldn't be in the frame . . . KEVIN: Well, he was an inveterate letter writer, you know, arguing about faith, very vigorously, often in public . . . CHRIS: Keep going.

KEVIN: And he set up a Catholic University in Dublin. CHRIS: Great, now you're talking, what's the story? Science park, corporate sponsorship, big league football team, thousands of alumni rooting for him? John Henry, he's our man, if he can't do it, no saint can.

KEVIN: It was more like a seminary for those who couldn't face the priesthood.

CHRIS: OK, forget the college line . . . Look, let's try another approach, lateral thinking . . . tell me about some other saints. KEVIN: Where shall I start? CHRIS: How about your name? KEVIN: St Kevin was a mystic who dreamt that he was being seduced by a virgin and resisted her charms by pushing her off a cliff.

CHRIS: We execute people for that where I come from . . . OK, we'll build on that . . . So, tell me, did this guy John Henry push any women off any cliffs. KEVIN: No, he never married. CHRIS: Great, you mean he was gay? Terrific . . .

KEVIN: No, no, he was just celibate.

CHRIS: OK, OK, celibacy's cool too. So was he tempted like St Kevin? Could we run a video package as part of the promotion, with Madonna as temptress?

KEVIN: Hardly, but if you want a video, he did write hymns . . .

CHRIS: So we'll get Madonna to sing a duet with someone playing JH. Neat. Any decent tunes? Y'know, something that could double as a Coca Cola advertising jingle?

KEVIN: Look, can we just get back to what it is the Society hopes for? I don't think we want Cardinal Newman sold like soap powder or a brand of jeans.

CHRIS: Fr Kevin, that attitude's been dead for longer than the cardinal. It went out with the ark, as you religious guys say. OK, OK, let's have it your way. What's the problem, why's it taken this guy a hundred years to get to th,e starting blocks?

KEVIN: We can't prove that there have been any miracles attributable to him.

CHRIS: Wonderful. What would count as a miracle? KEVIN: Getting your people in New York to understand the church.

CHRIS: You got it. I'm converted. Newman's convinced me. It's a deal. This way. Lead, kindly light, praise to the holiest. I'm here.

KEVIN: How did you know about lead, kindly light? And where are we going.

CHRIS: This is the Heathrow chapel. You should know that. My secretary checked it out. KEVIN: Why are we going to the chapel.

CHRIS: To pray, Fr Kevin, to pray.

KEVIN: You surprise me, Miss Caritas.

CHRIS: Ms. Yes, I probably do surprise you. That's because I'm a professional and you're an amateur. I've done my homework. You don't know your way around Heathrow, let alone the church. I know exactly what you want, what the church wants, who Newman is, and now we're going to get him star billing. Right, end of prayer. Let's hope I can trust another professional. Sit here and pretend to read your office but listen out to the opposition when they come in any second now . . .

Door opens and shuts.

FAITH: I think we can talk in here, Monsignor.

MONSIGNOR: Ah, a chapel. Signorina Hope, we must pray in here first. Please give me a few moments . . . Now, we must whisper, so we do not disturb these others.

FAITH: Very well, Monsignor, now thank you for breaking off your journey to New York so as to see me. As you know, my masters in the Treasury are anxious to help His Holiness with any advice we can offer. I've taken a preliminary look, when we met in Rome, and I must say I think there's plenty of fat to cut. As we say here, let's sell off the family silver, looks like you've got lots to offer.

MONSIGNOR: I'm sorry? FAITH: Privatise, issue shares in the Sistine chapel, rent out the unused space in St Peter's, put advertising on your priest's vestments, just move into the twentieth century.

MONSIGNOR: Privatise? FAITH: Yes, bring in some advertising chaps to run a campaign, like 'Don't tell Saint Sid', build up media interest, then announce your stock market flotation, and bingo — if you'll pardon the expression. MONSIGNOR: Ah, bingo, the church here depends on bingo, so I am told.

FAITH: Exactly, this is just a modern version, capitalising on your assets.

MONSIGNOR: But how would we keep control?

FAITH: The Pope retains a golden share, the key of Saint Peter, which would be needed to unlock the system before any changes could be made. MONSIGNOR: So if the laity would not have control, why would they buy the shares? FAITH: You keep control of the schools yet they fork out for those, don't they? Anyway, they'll buy the shares to sell them at a profit . . . MONSIGNOR: A prophet like Moses?

FAITH: No, like Marks and Spencer. Look, that's why the Treasury has been brought in, isn't it, to help you turn your outfit into something like Marks and Spencer?

MONSIGNOR: But if that is what il Papa wanted, why not ask Marks and Spencer? FAITH: Because the British Civil Service has already been overhauled by Lord Rayner of Marks and Spencer and now we're spreading the gospel, to coin a phrase. Anyway, all this Marks and Spencer talk has given me a great idea — you could issue your own credit card, cut out the cash at collection time, throw in a deal for first communion dresses to card-holders, the works? MONSIGNOR: We had something similar with the sale of indulgences centuries ago. FAITH: Sale of . . . centuries . that's it, what a launch. Sale of the Century, no, no, Sale of the Millennium, the best deal in 2,000 years. Name that Saint.

MONSIGNOR: What?

FAITH: Invite people to bid for sainthood, see what the market price is.

MONSIGNOR: You sound like the advertising people advertising the Newman campaign for beatification. FAITH: Thank you.

MONSIGNOR: It wasn't meant to be a compliment. Next you'll be offering cut-price miracles? FAITH: Brilliant, the tourist market, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorge. You need a holding company, how about Pilgrims' Progress, and a special offer, like a miracle and your money back. I must say I'm warming to this project. We'll get some good housekeeping established, you mark my words.

CHRIS: Faith Hope?

FAITH: Chris Caritas, speak of the devil. What a coincidence. MONSIGNOR: Ladies, we clerics are not complete fools. Why have you contrived this 'chance' meeting?

CHRIS: You mean you don't believe in divine providence? KEVIN: Not like this. You've set us up.

CHRIS: Only to talk face to face, rather than fax to fax. FAITH: Look, can we get back to the miracles, please? How much would the average pilgrim pay to see a miracle, do you think?

MONSIGNOR: Madam, it will clearly need a miracle for you and the rest of this modern world to understand the church. CHRIS: No, Monsignor, it will take a miracle for you and the church to understand the modern world.

Simon Lee is Professor of Jurisprudence et the Queen's University, Belfast.




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