AMONG the messages that reached Mr Edward Heath when he signed the document of our accession into Europe was one from Fr Charles Caruana. A Gibraltarian priest. Fr Caruana has the care of the Shrine to Our Lady of Europe at Europa Point, the southernmost tip of the Rock.
His letter explained that Europe had been placed under the protection of the Mother of Christ 510 years earlier, a dedication solemnised in Gibraltar, and that a statue of Our Lady of Europe was still venerated there.
I stood a few weeks ago with Fr Caruana by Europa Point, 50 yards or so from the lighthouse, on a concrete circle with the points of the compass marked upon it, and at its centre a brass plate bearing a map of the region — the Straits, the Spanish and African coastline.
Site bleak and bare
It is Fr Caruana's dream to build a new shrine here to Our Lady of Europe for visitors making this ancient pilgrimage. The present Shrine, formerly a Moorish mosque, is charming but tiny.
Its massive walls absorb moisture constantly and the humidity quickly induces drowsiness despite the atmosphere of devotion.
The hoped-for site for the new shrine looks bleak and hare, yet there is something in the jaw, and something more in the eye, of Fr Caruana which reminds me of Fr Malachy Lynch when that great man stood before the ruin Of Aylesford Priory in Kent a quarter of a century ago. It is agreeable to report that political Gibraltar, Gibraltar the Problem, took its place with two other Gibraltars I discovered, even though politics bubbled up into most conversations under the stimulus of the election then pending: tourist Gibraltar and Catholic Gibraltar are the rival entities.
Starting from the devotion to Our Lady of Europa we found much to draw Catholics to Gibraltar. A high point of our visit was walking in procession along the soft, sandy beach of Catalan Bay behind Bishop Edward Rapallo of Gibraltar and the gorgeously decorated statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Procession at dusk
The procession takes place at dusk. Strong men carry the statue since its array of bulbs are powered by a huge 12-volt battery, and ancillary equipment concealed by a decorated valance. Half way along the beach we paused while the Bishop blessed the sea.
Catalan Bay is a fishing village, the only substantial settlement on the sheer eastern side of the Rock. Its inhabitants are of Genoese descent and they have a football team, bizarrely called Shamrock.
Our Lady's procession is the culmination of their festival week, into the spirit and activities of which the stranger is unhesitatingly invited. Catalan Bay, like Gibraltar in general, argues the case for going to a place rather than through it, The world's smallest Catholic diocese, with only four parishes, is short of priests though more than nine in ten Gibraltarians are Catholic. The population of the peninsula is nearly 30,000 when the British garrison is included. Supply priests come from Malta. I was told of a problem of poor Mass attendance by men.
Adjoining home for the aged
Bishop Rapallo succeeded the late Bishop Healy in 1974. He is the first Gibraltarian bishop. His mother eas Spanish. The Apostolic Delegate to Britain, Archbishop Heim, is also Delegate to Gibraltar, and Bishop Rapallo attends the meetings of the English and Welsh Bishops' Conference as an observer, he explained to me.
The Bishop led us from his house through the chapel to the adjoining home for the aged. Mount Alvernia, as its familiar name suggests, is run by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood.
Gibraltar's Catholic Cathedral, St Mary the Crowned, like the Shrine at Europa Point, is a converted mosque, yet its atmosphere is intensely Catholic in the old way.
Immediate as a shop
It rises from Main Street, as immediate as a shop, My wife wanted to light a candle to St Antony but his wax-laden trays were being vigorously scoured clean — a daily task, perhaps. He is invoked by young women seeking husbands as well as by those seeking lost odds-and-ends. The tiny Catholic bookshop next door displayed and sold English Catholic newspapers with orderly vigour.
The saddest thing we saw the only discouraging sight on the trip — was Sunday morning at the froirtier. The Spanish are held a good hundred yards away from their locked green gates and small groups from divided families stand and shout their love and their inquiries across the void.
Little children are lifted up and shown to grandparents. It is very moving. We have to hope that it is temporary. The goodwill between ordinary Spaniards and Gibraltarians is obvious.
Coming away from the frontier we had to pause at the lights while a British Airways Trident landed from the east on the slim, single runway.
Safely by, we toured the port, where cruise vessels and the largest liners in the world can safely dock, then the City, passing the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the Synagogue and the attractive, busy shops and markets along and spurring off from Main Street, the Rock's commercial artery. Accommodation is incredibly cheap. The grandest hotel, the Holiday Inn, averages about £7 per person for bed and breakfast and at half a dozen others, prices range between £2 and £6 a night.
With the city behind and below you the marvels of the Rock itself are displayed. The views as you ascend the 1,400 ft mass are incomparable. The milelong runway starts to look like a ruler placed to divide Gibraltar front Spain. Waterskiers can be seen only by their silver wakes.
Beaches, a casino, a wide variety of fine restaurants, a Moorish castle, a cable car, all the ingredients of leisure and reflection, are on offer. There is even the changing of the Guard every Monday at the Governor's Residence.
A number of tour operators offer inclusive holidays in Gibraltar, and prices range from about £64 for a week in low season to £88 a week in the height of summer — this at a medium-priced hotel such as the Bristol.
Sense of being at gateway
Gibraltar offers an agreeable and familiar parallel to England's south coast, and especially to those resorts from which ships and hovercraft depart for the continent.
It gives the visitor the same sense of being at the gateway of something vast and different and exciting: Africa dangles, as it were, from Gibraltar. Most visitors to Gibraltar will want to set their feet upon Africa, a feeling -heightened by the frustration of not being allowed to pass the green gates into La Linea.
A visit to Tangier is a part of the Gibraltar experience. An organised tour (vulgar, but best the first time) costs £13 and includes the 23. hour each-way crossing, a tour of the Kasbah with opportunities to buy kaftans and leather goods at marvellous prices (if you bargain fairly and intelligently), a meal on low, tapestried couches in a decent restaurant and a snake-charmer or bellydancer according to whose tour you arc on.
The crossing to Tangier is famous in the public memory from Alec Guinness's "Captain's Paradise" — Celia
Johnson in Gibraltar and Yvonne de Carlo in Tangier.
Made journey interesting
The real master of the Mons Calpe (the Roman name for Gibraltar) is Captain Deft, and he made the journey interesting for us despite having crossed 13,500 times since 1952. We felt safe. He was captain even when the famous film was made.
We crossed smoothly, but Captain Delf explained that near the African side countercurrents can put the vessel into an eight to twelve foot swell even on fine days — a fact that recurred to me when considering Gibraltar the Political.
There are two countercurrents in men's affairs everywhere today, and they produce eddies and turbulence in just the same way. One stream is that of association, of getting together by negotiation or force into blocs and partnerships; the EEC, NATO, the Warsaw Pact, the OA U and attempts h3 various Arab nations to weld themselves into one are all examples.
Fuse has been blown
The other movement is towards devolution, independence, separate and individual identity. It is a tragedy of politics than men, like the sea, can only produce eddies and storms where these tendencies meet. We must contrive the understanding to harmonise and reconcile these apparently conflicting movements.
It is encouraging to think of Gibraltar in this context. There is no doubt that a fuse has blown between Spain and Britain at the frontier gates.
But our accession to Europe, the hope of genuine democracy in Spain embodied in a young King who is gaining the trust and affection of his people. the hope that Spain in its own turn will soon be making the new Europe with us, these are all factors that should make Gibraltarians, Spaniards and the British alike trustful enough to make a gradual reconstruction of relations.
Since the frontier closure there has been a major inflow of Moroccan labour, for whom decent accommodation has had to be found. The Spaniards had not been allowed to reside in Gibraltar.
Brisk and cheerful
The Moroccans are brisk and cheerful, a vital force in hotels, although their English is often amusingly inadequate. Such a labour force is naturally more volatile than the one that walked daily across the frontier from Spain.
Uniquely in Europe today, Gibraltar has a labour shortage.
What are Gibraltar's political possibilities? There is a move for independence, but its opponents see this as unrealistic politically and economically.
Integration with Britain ran strongly until squashed by Britain in a brusque veto delivered by Mr Roy Hattersley: its candidates ran only as individuals in the recent election, not as a party. A condominium is naturally urged, and felt by some to be the inevitable as well as the best solution, but serious people, do not seem to expect it.
The return of Sir Joshua Hassan's Labour Party at the election makes it clear that the great bulk of Gibraltarians, though free of hostility to Spain, want the British link maintained and want the frontier opeaed without any prior trade-off.
Best value for holidays
Perhaps a glimmer of light falls upon Gibraltar from the bold analysis of British constitutional defects and opportunities which Lord Hailsham has just presented, and from the belief of Europeans like Mr Heath and Mr Jenkins who find in devolution no threat to the British union.
If we in Britain can resolve our own aggregation versus devolution dilemma by a form of federalism, an identity can surely be found for Gibraltar which assures Britishness there, yet soothes the Spanish sense of hurt.
Pound still a pound
Meantime there is nothing better that ordinary people in Britain can do than to go down there on holiday. Gibraltar has offered the best value of all foreign holidays in 1976. The pound is still a pound there.
The hotels, the unique ambience, the views from Europe's finest viewing platform, a climate I5°F warmer all the year than here, above all a sort of duty to go and see and learn and understand, all these things argue for the journey. And the Catholic will find extra reasons.