David Twiston Davies
°THING CONPRONTS US
with how little we understand about God's plan for this earth more starkly than the row in Orvieto over the custom of [impelling a dove down a 1,000foot long wire by fireworks as part of the Italian town's Pentecost ceremonies. Like most English people. I felt an instinctive sympathy for the bird when I read Bruce Johnston's account last week.
Then .1 thought: here we go again, is this not the politically correct lobby at work again? In the case of the Orvieto ceremony, the bird undoubtedly undergoes the most harrowing five minutes experience of its life. Yet once that is over it is more fortunate than its brothers and sisters on the farm where it was bred since it is no longer destined for the cooking pot at an early date. Instead it is given to a recently married couple who will cherish it in their home for the rest of its days.
The trouble is that when God placed Man in dominion over the animal kingdom, he did not supply a handy guide to help us. The Catechism explains that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly, yet it also warns that we must give priority to the relief of human suffering. Although we may not care to think about this, we have inflicted suffering on animals by killing them for food ever since the dawn of time. Our species could not otherwise have survived.
It would he easier to share the concerns of the animal rights movement in Orvieto —where a provincial society has found itself threatened in the same way —if it did not appear to be fuelled by a desire to promote values that not only seem to be increasingly independent of the Church but are often firmly opposed to it. This is certainly true of Italy's left-wing AntiVivisection League which threatened an undove-like demonstration by 3,000 protesters in Orvieto's main square that nearly resulted in the 510-year-old event being cancelled. Doubtless the same doubts cannot be entertained about the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare in this country. But I cannot help wondering how much this body is inspired by that humourless and peculiarly English sentimentality about animals that astonishes continental neighbours given to lavishing rather more love on children than animals.
Such is the growth of political correctness that one cannot help wondering where it is going to appear next. This time last year I encountered a prime target in Luxembourg: the hopping festival of St Willibrod. Suspicions would he immediately raised by the fact that the connection between this Yorkshire-born monk who established a monastery in the town during the 8th century and the dance may only stem from the 16th century. They would he sharpened by the knowledge that the hop is supposed to represent an epileptic's gait since it was once thought to ward off the condition. Nowadays it is simply regarded as homage to the saint's mission to the sick suffering from the condition.
The festival attracts large numbers of pilgrims from Germany, Austria and Holland who dance into the town's square in lines, connected by white handkerchiefs: two steps to the left, two to the right, then two to the left and one to the right. All is performed to a catchy tune played by a variety of bands, to which I grew surprisingly attached by the time I had watched the arrival of some 42 separate groups of dancers . Although this is an ancient act of faith, it continues to attract even sophisticated participants. The elegant figure of the British ambassador's wife was painted out to me in one group. But even as I felt the continuing pulse of the faith as I watched in the town square for more than three hours I was uneasily aware that here was a ripe subject for protest if the politically correct lobby detected any falling off of fervour.