Patron saint of journalists
SOME colleague on Another Paper recently remarked that this was a very self-indulgent column.
I have no idea what he meant, except that it is less austere and self-disciplined than your average gossip column on a popular daily paper. And much less well paid. And longer. And rather more wordy. And about a different sort of people.
Anyway, last Wednesday was the feast of St Francis de Sales who is not only a Doctor of the Church but the patron saint of journalists. I cannot think why.
He was born in the Duchy of Savoy in 1567, and was educated by the Jesuits. He was nobly born and his father had intended him to be next Prime Minister but three -so to speak. However, he insisted, and by pulling strings he got his way and was ordained..
He eventually became Bishop of Geneva which was then in the hands of a completely un entertaining Calvinist Theocracy. So the Bishop's seat was at Annecy.
He was an exemplary priest and prelate, and something loveable and exceptional about him lingers in the sub-conscious of the Church. Everyone had heard of him.
He was kind and unpompous. He travelled all over his mountainous diocese. He lived frugally and prayed a great deal. He was marvellously eloquent. He turned back the tide of Calvinism in his district. He knew Popes and Kings, and turned down much higher offices offered to him in France.
He was sensible. He founded an order of nuns, the Visitation Sisters, which would not be too demanding for good Catholic girls. He emphasised goodness above penance.
Someone said that he put honey onto everything; and at a time when most men of God were ransacking their libraries for novel terms of abuse, he was the exception.
He wrote a prodigious amount, his chief_ work was the "Treatise on the Love of God". He wrote other hooks and pamphlets which are still read -though net, alas, by me. He died in Lyons in 1662 in a gardener's cottage.
His tomb is at Annecy, though his heart was left in Lyons. (A nasty, pious habit in which he was not consulted). At the French Revolution, his heart was taken to Venice.
But why should this sober, industrious, humble, brilliant, enchanting person be the patron of journalists? I only hope that he does not resent the impertinence. Perhaps it even amuses him.
Hurdle for Pope John Paul II
THE visit of Pope John Paul H to the Conference of the Bishops of South America at Puebla in Mexico is beginning to look more and more important.
It is not only the new ideas that will be rehearsed there, but the enormous importance of what will be decided which will spread in ripples throughout the world.
For the Spanish Portuguese tradition left over from colonialism is quite as strong as that of the British or of the French; and, thank God, that "the Church is Europe and Europe is the Church" has never been more untrue. Now it is not simply that the South Americans will soon represent about half the Catholics in the world, there is also the fact that their Catholicism, though it produced saints and profound faith, was also indissolubly linked with colonialism at its most ruthless.
Against this tradition of a Church in almost total alliance with the alien power, there has been set a revolutionary theory that is called the Theology of Liberation. It was formulated at a similar meeting in Medellin in Colombia in 1968.
It put the Church firmly in opposition to the abuses of capitalism, but has since seemed to suggest that the Communists were proper allies in such a struggle for basic social justice and that they really sought the same things.
I find it hard to believe that a tough-minded, experienced and Polish Pope will wholly agree with this in practice or in theory.
This philosophy has spread widely, especially in Africa, where the World Council of Churches of which the Catholic Church is not a member -has contributed funds to the welfare of some pretty violent movements.
It is only a matter of time before someone says that the Faith grows out of the barrel of a gun.
But if the Puebla Conference serves only to emphasise the importance of this Hispanic tradition and the depths of its grievances, it will have achieved something. I am afraid that for the sake of this argument the Indios, the descendants of the nations shattered by Spain, must also be included.
I came across some disturbing figures from the United States on this subject. Some 27 per cent of the 49 million American Catholics are Hispanic Americans. There are 350 bishops in the United States, eight of them are of obvious Hispanic origin. Otherwise they are usually German or Irish.
Out of 58,000 priests, 585 are Hispanic. And they are making it increasingly plain that they are dissatisfied with their sub-servient role in the Church — un
derprivileged, undereducated, underwooed and under-consulted.
One of these new bishops, Juan Arzube of Los Angeles, has said: "For a long time they used us only when they needed people to make tortillas to raise money for the parish. That does not give you much dignity."
The Anglos there, who are largely comprised of the Irish and the Germans, are not going to be slaughtered at the altar rails, but they are going to have to change their ways. And the Pope is suddenly going to be faced at the end of this month with a high hurdle that is at once utterly alien and terribly familiar.
Popes do not clear all hurdles. I think we have the only sort of Pope who might be able to clear this one.
A Washington skirmish
THE oldest surviving Catholic Church in Washington DC, is Holy Trinity. It is pillared and porticoed and is plain and classical and handsome in a nice, gentlemanly, colonial sort of way. However, it is only 178 years old so They cannot blame Us for it.
It stands in Georgetown, which is a superb example of calculated and wildly expensive humility. It is the old colonial upriver port upon which Washington decided to append his capital city. It is frightfully English. Even the sidewalks are made of brick. It is dangerous at night.
It has become so expensive that only the more lordly sort of senator can afford to live there. It used to be a curious mixture of great mansions, negro slums and Red Light districts with some very handsome rows of Victorian houses (the cognoscenti call them "General Grant" there). It became fashionable first under Roosevelt's New Dealers, who bought the blacks out.
Now the first United States Catholic bishop was John Carroll, who was a Jesuit and who consecrated a bishop in
Lulworth in Dorset's exquisite church, late in 1790. Which does not say much for the prescience of the Curia in Rome;
He set up a university in Georgetown which is unobtrusively run by Jesuits and is famous as the best way into the American Diplomatic Service.
Holy Trinity is at the gates of this university, which itself looks like a rejected wing of our own Strathclyde University. (Victorian or General Grant in a spikey and inexpensive and sepulchral form but undoubtedly religious form).
But Holy Trinity is large and full of light. It has a gallery where a Catholic could take his hangover of a Sunday in decency. It tends to be crowded. Its congregation tends — apart from the students — to be rich and close to the sources of power. The Kennedys used to pop in — late.
Recently it has been raising a building fund of $400,000, for the repair of the organ, the roof and ramps for invalid chairs. But an organisation called the community for Creative NonViolence — small, radical, with Zapata moustaches (for the men) protested.
And one of them, Mitch Snyder, said he would fast to the death unless this church gave a great deal of money to the poor. To be fair, they already do just that.
The death fast is not a part of the American way of life. But this act was the climax of six months of demos and sit-ins in Holy Trinity.
For example, the parishioners were given a pamphlet one Sunday which said that the churchgoers refusing to hand over had acted "to reaffirm your commitment to torture and maim your neighbours in the name of personal freedom ...
"You have chosen to use your resources as weapons against anyone or anything that challenges your position of power and privilege."
So Mitch Snyder began to fast from solids and liquids -not in prison, but in his communal home. His personal physician refused to play along, but they got another doctor to monitor his condition and deterioration and to conduct research into the little-known area of human starvation. (Personally, I would have thought this an overresearched and overexperienced condition.) The parish council was unanimous against compromise. They wrote: "Your life is holy and sacred, and we ask you not to use it as a weapon."
Mr Snyder was twice moved to keep him away from forced feeding — which cannot be insisted upon. in such conditions in United States law. It is not absolutely certain that he wholly abstained. There was medical argument over his specimens.
Fr Daniel Berrigan, a radical Jesuit who uses publicity like the Church once used Holy Water, and of whom I wrote the other day, gave him the Last Rites. But the parish refused to submit to the man's demands and now he cats again after 12 days.
When the CCNV heard of the parish's refusal, they issued a statement: "Whatever personal horror we would experience at his death (was) overwhelmed by the horror revealed to us in that (rejection) statement which expresses an acceptance of Mitch's death, rather than a yearning for the joy and pain of truth-seeking".
Well, I suppose the Apostles were a difficult lot -but at least they spoke English (if you see what I mean) — when they explained themselves. And such emotional coercion is as unfair as fighting with the tips of your rapiers poisoned.