A QUICK LOOK
A guide to help you to feel more at home when visiting European countries
By PETER ANSON
PEOPLE who spend their holidays abroad cannot remain very long on the Continent of Europe these days owing to currency restrictions. Because it has become so difficult to calculate just how. far the sum of £25 can be spun out, more and more holidaymakers take the line of least resistance and decide on a motor-coach tour, unless they are young and agile, when the adventurous among them seem to enjoy hitch-hiking.
The latter method of travel ceo tainly allows a closer contact with the lives of ordinary people. The former is much more comfortable and mentally restful, but the impressions gathered of foreign countries and peoples tend to be very superficial. The object of these brief notes is to help readers of this paper to know what to look out for and how to understand the religious life of those countries in Europe to which it is still possible to visit, and which are not yet behind the Iron Curtain.
THE Republic of Austria still remains a predominantly Catholic country, although the Church is no longer so rich and powerful as it was in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Should you be visiting Austria it is more than probable that you will not venture farther east than the Tyrol. in the villages among its mountains Catholic life, with strong local characteristics, will be discovered.
IT is a false idea to think of France las a Catholic nation. It would be more correct to say that today about half the population is religiously indifferent. Indeed, there is an increasing minority which is actively opposed to Christianity in any shape or form.
Rut how can one generalise about the characteristics of Catholic life in this country? The simplest thing to say is that France is made up of saints and sinners.
Holidaymakers who go to France may find themselves in a part of the country where the Faith still influences the daily life of the people; on the other band, it is equally possible that they will stay in a district where Communism is rampant and where churches are half-empty. There are many parts of France which have to be reconverted: dioceses which are now almost pagan. Elsewhere the Faith seems to be almost as strong as it always was.
The best way to sum up French religion at the present time is to say that when it is good it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid! To put it differently. France has a minority of fervent Catholics amid a mass of indifferent or hostile pagans.
yN order to understand the charac tercstics of this mainly Catholic country, it is important to bear in mind that it was not until 1831 that Belgium became a nation with its own monarch.
The cathedrals. churches and public buildings you will visit date mostly from the times when the country was ruled over by Bishops, dukes, counts, and latterly by the Spaniards.
Again, there is no such person as a "typical Belgian," for the population is composed of two almost equal groups; the Flemings (in the northem part of the country, nearest the sea) and the Walloons (south of Brussels). The former speak Flemish; the latter French. There is very little in common between them, except that most of them profess the same Catholic religion.
IN Denmark, Norway and Sweden ahe Catholic Faith was gradually suppressed after the 16th century. Lutheranism became the established religion in all of them.
In Sweden in particular many of the external features of Catholic worship have been retained, Some of the Lutheran pastors believe that they have retained the Apostolic Succession. A small "High Church" movement makes slow progress.
"PLANT in Feb. Prune in Feb." An Ieasy reminder for this month's most fragrant flowering shrub, Chimonanthus fragrans, our English Wintersweet, or Japanese All-Spice. On a south-west wall and planted in a fairly rich soil with an admixture of sand, it will grow to a good nine or 10 feet and trail for your delight long sprays of tiny pink and yellow scented blossoms through most of the drear days at the year's beginning. Its drawback. for those who want a quick return for their planting, is that the young plants take a year or two to come to maturity, and the little speckled flowers will have to be rather patiently waited for. But once established the shrub will look after itself and bloom each year with little or no attention.
Strictly speaking. the old shoots of Wintersweet should be pruned right back to within an inch of their base as soon as they have finished flowering—generally about the end of February. Neglect this pruning for a year or two and you may not get such good blooms, but you will be surprised, one morning about Candlemas the following year, by finding long sprigs starred with tiny buds that, if you cut and take into the house and (after hammering the woody stems) put into warm water, will soon open out and bloom on for weeks.
The seeds of Wintersweet can be sown in pots and reared under glass, or the plant itself can be layered for
future cuttings. J. H.
Until about 100 sears ago the penal laws against Catholics were rigidly enforced in all three countries. Even today the tiny minority of Catholics have to fight for their Faith, although it would be true to say that their chief enemy is. an increasing indifference to religion among the people as a whole.
PILGRIMS to Fatima do not often have much time to study the characteristics of Portuguese religion, but what they must remember is that after the Revolution of 1910 Church and State were separated, ecclesiastical property was confiscated. and all religious orders were expelled. The upheaval was so overwhelming that it has taken time to restore Catholic life .to normal conditions, even granted the fact that the vast majority of the people are more or less practising Catholics.
'171' is even more risky to dogmatise
about religion in Spain, although under the present Government the Church has regained its official status to a large extent.
Here indeed is a foreign country which, being so utterly different to our own, it is wiser to observe carefully but hesitate to form impressions.
It has always been difficult for us to understand the Spanish mentality —it has nothing in common with the half-tones and love of compromise to which we are accustomed.
Lastly, tourists who rush round Spain in a week or a fortnight should remember that there is little love lost between the Basques. Catalans and other races who make up the population of the Iberian Peninsula.
IF you visit Germany it is likely that your tour will be confined to the Rhineland and perhaps parts of Bavaria, both of which happen to be still largely Catholic. Here will be found the signs of a wonderful spiritual revival, from which much can be learned.
IT is not often realised that about 38 per cent. of the population of Holland are Catholics. Approximately 37 per cent. belong to several Protestant Churches. At the 1949 census some 24 per cent. stated that they held no religious beliefs.
One is bold enough to say that there is perhaps no country in Europe where Catholic life is so intense and virile today as in the Netherlands, even if this little nation is ruled over by a Calvinist Queen. It is a stimulating experience to live among Catholics in Holland; very helpful, just because the Dutch have so much in common with us.
The status of the Church is much the same as it is M Britain, but Dutch Catholics. so 'it must be confessed, are tar more go-ahead than we are. We can learn much from them. They base little to learn from us.
HERE is another country where it is difficult to form correct impressions of the state of religion, for, like France, it varies so much from province to province, even from village to village.
One must never forget that the present Italian nation only came into existence in 1870, and that it is made up of races which have managed to retain strongly marked characteristics, not to say different languages which they speak among themselves.
Wherever one goes it is impossible to forget that Communism is fighting hard to suppress Catholicism. At the moment the battle may be going on mainly underground, but the distant rumblings can be heard below the surface. All the same, the Republic of Italy still recognises Catholicism as the sole State religion.
THE population of Switzerland is about equally divided between Catholics and Protestants. They are separated fairly distinctly and do not usually overlap. So if you want to live among Catholics in Switzerland, make sure beforehand that you are staying in one of the Catholic cantons.
Swiss Catholicism, like that of the Netherlands, is perhaps more "English" in character than what one finds in other countries of Europe. It is a clean and efficient sort of religion; modern and realistic, democratic and progressive.
At the same time one is always cooscious of a venerable and unbroken tradition going back over 1,000 years.
So, in conclusion, one ventures to recommend Switzerland and Holland as the best countries in which to study characteristics of Catholic life. The problems are not so difficult to solve; the differences between our own ways of living and worshipping are less marked.
Finally, a warning from St. Paul . .
N° matter where one goes, what country one passes through or stays in for any length of time, the chief thing is to remember what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: "I warn every man who is of your company not to think highly of himself, beyond his just estimation, but to have a sober esteem of himself, according to the measure of faith which God has apportioned to each. Each of us has one body, with many different parts, and not all these parts have the same function; just so we, though many in number, form one body in Christ, and each acts as the counterpart of another."
Sometimes we are tempted to believe that we are the Chosen People of God, but there is no reason to presume that the people of Britain are any more favoured by God than the other races of Europe.