TUESDAY OF this week saw the fifth anniversary of the first reported apparition of Our Lady at Medjugorje, the tiny Yugoslavian village not far from Sarajevo.
Few have done more to make this remote and formerly unknown village world famous than Fr Richard Foley SJ, and earlier this year a London Medjugorje Centre was set up at 153 Elms Crescent, SW4 8QQ. (Tel: 01-673 4370).
Thanks to modern communications Medjugorje has become known throughout the world far more quickly than did Lourdes in its early days.
The latter received ecclesiastical approval less than four years after the last of the 18 apparitions of Our Lady to St Bernadette. But at Medjugorje the visionaries still see Our Lady every day.
This fact precludes any sort of definitive pronouncement by the Holy See, which usually waits at least until apparitions are definitely over before speaking on the subject, and, in the case of Fatima, waited 13 years before pronouncing a judgement.
Meanwhile the transformation of tiny Medjugorje into a beacon of faith which shines throughout the world has become as much of a mystery to sceptics as it is a miracle to believers. The Catholic Herald, at a moment when its circulation is once more on the rise, has probably done more than any other periodical to spread the news about this five year old Marian shrine.
A FRIEND writes that many bargains are now available in the Old City of Jerusalem because of the dearth of tourists. Yet he himself feels safer there, he tells me, than in the big cities of the world.
He thus concludes that "for discerning tourists who don't like crowds this is a good time to go to the holy places in Israel." For the first time for 20 years, he adds, he visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and was entirely alone.
But I wouldn't necessarily recommend a visit to the otherwise very interesting Mea Sharim district of Jerusalem where the ultra-orthodox Jews live. They do not, as is well known, accept the secular state of Israel and maintain that there can be no Israel until the Messiah arrives to proclaim it. And they are in militant mood at the moment.
Spare a thought therefore for the gallant mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who is facing yet another test to his talent for reconciliation during many years in that difficult office.
Let us hope that the city whose name evokes peace will not lose that priceless and, in this case, hard won prize. For though there are internal feuds between ultra-orthodox and secular-minded citizens, the report from my friend that terrorists need not be feared is vastly encouraging. I trust it is not tempting providence to touch on the point.
I RECENTLY mentioned East Hendred in Oxfordshire and the twinning of English towns with those in far away places. I now hear that St Amands School in East Hendred, which has 98 pupils of primary age, raised £500 in one week earlier this month. (I also learned of an interesting piece of diocesan twinning.)
Part of the £500 is to go to their own school but the majority is to be given to Fr John Ambe, from Bamenda diocese in the Cameroons, who recently visited the parish of St Mary's in East Hendred.
The school and parish are in the diocese of Portsmouth which is twinned with the Bamenda diocese. The funds were raised by a sponsored "Spell-In" and coffee morning held at the school after a concelebrated Mass.
Fr Ambe will use the help received to set up a Marriage Tribunal in his Cathedral parish. I mention all this in case the sum raised by so small a school in so short a time is a record — which it probably is.
YOU WILL already know from previous issues of the paper about tonight's meeting arranged by St Joan's Alliance. It is curious to note that the meeting almost exactly coincides with the 75th anniversary of the event which inspired the founding of this interesting sorority.
For its ultimate origins are traceable to the day in 1911 when a group of highly respectable ladies marched to the Houses of Parliament to present a petition in favour of the vote for women. They were promptly arrested and all of them imprisoned in Holloway.
These particular crusaders were by no means as militant as some of their sisters-in-arms, many of whom refused to pay taxes, attacked property and staged far from peaceful demonstrations. In 1913 the famous "Cat and Mouse Act" allowed for the temporary release of suffragettes whose health was endangered by hunger striking and forcible feeding.
But two Catholics among the 1911 group decided, on release from prison, to form an association of Catholic fighters for women's rights which became international. It was known as St Joan's Alliance as of 1920, being called after St Joan of Arc who was canonised in that year.
All the members of the Alliance whom I have met are extremely nice and very normal. They are not militant feminists and prove to be disarming toward those predisposed to distrust them on principle.
It is a revelation to discover that women once played a much more substantial role in Church affairs than they do now. The historical background is provided by one of the Alliance's most prominent members, Joan Morris, who wanted to call her best known book "The Hidden History of Women". But her publishers decided on Against Nature and God and (in America) The Lady was a Bishop.
THE CENTRAL School of Ballet was founded only four years ago but in that time it has come to be regarded as the equal front runner in the field of dance training. It has a 99 per cent success record in obtaining professional contracts for its graduating students.
The school will be moving in the autumn into a rather interesting building which will become its new permanent home. The building in question formerly housed a well known school in Clerkenwell, namely that of St Catherine Laboure. It was adjacent to the Italianatestyle church of St Peter's for more than a century.
The area has suffered a shift in population over the years and there are not now nearly so many Catholic children in what is still known to many as "Little Italy."
I have just discovered that 10 per cent of the dance students pay no fees. On further enquiry I discovered that an appeal has raised 70 per cent of the funds needed for its move from 17 Duke's Road, London WCIH 9AB (Tel: 01-387 0161) and felt (with no prompting!) that the appeal might be of interest to those Catholics, and there must be quite a lot of them, who remember the school of St Catherine Laboure in its heyday.
THERE WAS an unusual aspect to the recent success of Lord Borthwick (in a campaign that has been waged for 80 years by the family) to prove that the said title belongs to him.
Judgment to this effect was given in Edinburgh by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, thus confirming the right of John Henry Stuart Borthwick of Borthwick to be officially recognised as the twenty-third Lord Borthwick.
The unusual aspect of the case was that some of the evidence depended on Vatican records formerly unobtainable. Vital links in the family chain as far back as the fifteenth century could only be proved beyond doubt by reference to Vatican
The Lord Lyon, in giving his judgment, said that in recent years many of the Vatican records affecting Scotland had become more readily available in recent years.
Lord Borthwick's many friends and admirers will be delighted that, at the age of 80, he will at last be able to take his rightful seat in the House of Lords. It is a fitting climax to a glitteringly distinguished career.
The former Labour party leader, Michael Foot, has contributed a new introduction to David Low's splendid collection of cartoons from the period 1932-1945, Years of Wrath, just reissued by Gollancz at £5.95. Above a cartoon from June 18, 1940, in reaction to Roosevelt's decision to supply the British war effort on a cash-and-carry basis. Caption: "Very well, alone".