By Elizabeth Strakoseh •
MUCH has been said and written about Austria. some have praised the country and its people. others have criticised it, but an inextinguishable halo of romance still hovers over the names of Vienna and Austria.
Although the Austrians are well aware of their charm, they never trade on it, nor has it made them proud or arrogant. Even if the customa and the approach to various problems may be different from those of other countries, the tourist will never be faced with the withering attitude Of "take it or leave it."
It is an experiment well vvorth the trouble to try and venture behind the romantic halo and to seek the Austrian as he really is. Obviously, one must be conversant with the language, although the aierage Austrian is atways prepared patiently to listen and even to encourage anybody who attempts to try his luck in this somewhat intricate maze of a highly imaginative patois.
It will also be much easier to make contact with the " real " Austrian if one takes opportunity of staying in a little town or village, because the general disease of the modern world—'. rush "— has also invaded Austria's larger towns.
THE terrible upheavals of the last
war are still to be felt, although this little country, true to its age-old tradition of peaceable absorption of alien elements into its national life, is a splendid example of the art of social adaptation by admitting people of foreign extraction, without interfering with their national customs, and thus to bring about the gradual blending with the customs of the adopted lands.
The result is an enrichment of the Austrian character and a safeguard against a great and ancient culture growing old and stale. It is one of the compensations which Providence has granted to those border states which otherwise have to pay a heavy price for the privilege of living in peace,
There is a fairly large village in the Ts rol, near the German border, where, amongst its present inhabitants, one can find former Yugoslays, Germans from the East Zone of Germany and from the Sudetenland, as well as other unfortunate People who had to flee from their homeland before the onslaught of the Russian Army.
They found refuge in this village. in which the were allowed to carry on with their own crafts or to earn their living in whatever way they chose.
American bombers had wrought havoc in the district, many sons of the landed peasantry had found their lust resting-place in the Russian steppes, the tourist trade was at its lowest ebb, and poverty and the general desolation which Nazism had left in Its wake was apparent everywhere.
yET a•tiny cemetery. situated
just beyond the village, in a glade between fir trees and birches. has been laid out for two very different types of victims of this most hateful of all past wars and persecutions. It is a moving memorial, characteristic of the natural Catholicism of the people.
One side of it is reserved for fallen soldiers and a large Cross %vitt, a hand-carved Christ crucified watches over the graves. On the other side, within the same enclosure, ,and quite as large as the Cross, the Star of David, the Jewish emblem, eloqttently tells the story of a number of Jews who, towards the end of the war. were taken by the Nazis from the concentration camp of Dachau to be transferred into Italy across the Brenner Pass, to be killed off as they went, The American tanks, however. overtook this gruesome transport and the Nazis fled, leaving the Jews behind to die from the aftereffects of ill-treatment, starvation and disease.
Roth sides of the cemetery are always well cared for and supplied with fresh flowers.
FOR many years an old priest
had been in charge of the spiritual needs of the villagers, but his failing health had hindered him in the conscentious fulfilment of his task so that he only celebrated one Mass each day. also on Sundays. and did a bare minimum of parish work.
When he resigned a young priest was appointed, himself a son of the mountains, keen, intelligent and endowed with a great sense of beauty.
The Nazis had repeatedly put him in prison, and exiled him from his country. All the years of the war he had lived under the shadow of death end deportation, nor, when he took up work in his new parish. did he meet with a very friendly reception. The older generation. used to the easy-going ways of the old priest, had gradually drifted away from regular church-attendance and were only coneemed with the task of building up the tourist trade and making the most of it.
The refugees, in the process of adjusling thems'elvcs to the new conditions, had no sense, as yet, of the claims this Catholic heritage would lay on their spiritual lives, find the young people, or what was left of them, had grown up under the anti-religious whip of the Nazis. when going to Church and to a Catholic school was regarded as a crime against the all-powerful State.
AS the priest a ;Liked through the " streets of his new domain hardly a head would turn and bow to him, not a smile would greet him. His one and only hope were the children and with all Vhe vigour and ardent love for his Master he tackled the difficult (ask.
He founded a sports-club on the ground-floor of his house, sent for teachers from the nearby town, to teach the children various games and sports ; he also engaged a young musician as organist and entrusted him with the task of forming and training a choir.
When he saw that the peopie's interest was awakened. he•went in search of and found art-treasures, which had been looted by the armies and then abandoned or stolen by the Nazis and whose former owners could not be traced.
These he acquired for a mere song and, with the help of the Board for the preservation of valuable antique% (Denkmalarno, had them cleaned and restored to their former healui v.
Theo they were installed in the parish church which, the finest example of Gothic architecture in the Tyrol. is mentioned for the first time in the annals of the year 1334. (Incidentally. the English King and Martyr St. Oswald is the Patron-Saint of the village).
COON the children rallied round the new priest who, in his capacits as religious instructor, had won their love and admiration. He arranged retreats for the schoolleaving boys and girls, started a Catholic youth club, and to-day. after eight years of hard work, he can proudly proclaim that every single villager knows him and though he himself would not admit it—loves him.
It is an eye-opener to wall. through the village with him and to watch the never-ending stream of greetings : Gruess Gott, Herr Pfarrer.
School-hoys of all ages and sizes come to church every morning in time for Mass at 7.15 a.m. ; some serve and all receive Holy Communion. During the week every priest, whether local or visiting. can rely on having two altar-boys to answer his Mass and on Sundays and holidays of obligation four servers assist at every Mass.
Some of them are so small that one can hardly see them above the rails and wonders how they manage to carry the heavy Missal from one side to the other.
little girls. their pig-tails pinned to the top Of their heads, come to early Mass, alone or in small groups, and all receive Holy Communion.
This state ot things is all the more surprising as quite a number of these children come from homes where church-going is not a matter of course and thus it is apparent that the children come of their own free will.
AS the priest has only one assis
tant-priest and often must attend meetings outside the parish, the problem of Confessions taking place together with Rosary and Benediction is solved in the following way. The priest in charge. accompanied by two little servers, enters the church, they kneel before thie altar and the priest begins to say the Rosary.
After the first live or six Hail Mary's he leaves the servers in charge, goes into the confessional, and the boys lead the congregation for the whole of the Rosary.
The pride and joy over the important task which has been entrusted to them rings in these high, piping children's voices. arid the prayers. together with the lowvoiced responses from the congregation, rise into the high vaults of the church. proclaiming the glory of God. uo picture these children as little angels for, as soon as they arc outside the church. they are boys again and nothing but boys.
problem of the village at the moment is that as it grows so rapidly its houses must necessarily be built at an ever greater distance from the centre— the Chureh.
'the priest's ambition is that, though the circle becomes wider, the Church should still retain its central position and the general character of the typical Austrian
illage be preserved (it has repeatedly been compared to the picture of a hen gathering the chicks under her wings).
lIiii the re-birth of a itrufy Catholic parish has been accomplished. a happy blending or different nationalities and tempera merits into the One, Living Body of Christ.