MANY HAVE. TURNED, or returned to the Catholic Church in this country in my lifetime. We have had no converts quite as notable as Cardinal Newman. But our much-valued Catholic priest in Chelsea, Fr Alan, was an Anglican clergyman. There is the revered editor of The Catholic Herald. who was also one. I suppose that the three most famous converts have been Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Malcolm Muggeridge. Perhaps I should also mention Ann Widdecombe, deputy leader of the Conservative Party with a wide popular appeal. I never knew Graham at all well though I read his books voraciously. But Evelyn became a great friend and did me the supreme honour of inviting me to be the godfather of his eldest beloved son Auberon (Bron). He was received into the Church by his spiritual guru whom we shared along with many other converts, Fr Martin D'Arcy Si. His reception was about 10 years before mine. I was indeed some kind of Anglican when 1 became Bron's godfather, but Evelyn kept urging me to "get on with it". He pointed out that Martin D' Arcy made the Church so infinitely glorious that one hesitates to intrude on it. Malcolm had been introduced to Christianity while at Cambridge by the late Alec Vidler. When, however. I first come to know him as a neigh hour in Sussex there were few Chris tian traces evident. Then he fell uncle] the spell of Mother Teresa. But even that was not decisive. He became the greatest champion on television that Christianity has ever had. Nevertheless it was a complete surprise to me when one day he told me that he and Kitty were about to be received into the Catholic Church and asked Elizabeth and me to be their sponsors. A crucial influence had even a certain Fr Vidone in charge of handicapped children who came and crooned delightfully at Malcolm's reception. Recently my brilliant friend Andrew Wilson has questioned the depth of Malcolm's beliefs. But as one who preached at his funeral I could assure him that he was wrong.
WHEN 1 JOINED the Labour Party in 1936, aged 30, I boldly announced I am a Socialist because I am a Christian. Although as a Christ Church don I had rooms in College I never went near the Cathedral. Instead I crept along the road to Campion Hall and the great Martin D'Arcy. Then came the war. Fr D'Arcy went to America on war service. Having joined the army as a private, I was a second lieutenant on the Isle of Wight on the verge of a breakdown. I went into a lonely church and prayed. My future was as dark as dark could he. 1 begged my agony might be allayed. I begged "this cup" might pass away from me. But as I prayed it seemed to matter less about a miracle to set me free. Somewhere the hand of God stretched out to bless. My prayer was answered. Not long afterwards I woke up in Oxford with the absolute certainty that the moment had come. I was attending the Franciscan church in Cowley and they welcomed me into the Church with open arms. Elizabeth was very suspicious of the Catholic Church at the time. In the Thirties we had demonstrated along with the Communists against the Franco side in the Spanish Civil War. But six years later she joined me and brought in the family — all eight of them in the end. Clare, the wife of my youngest son Kevin, is today a wonderful Catholic wife and mother. She arrived in the Church by a rather strange route. Although her parents were not Catholics at the time (her mother became one later) she was sent to a convent school where non-Catholic children were made to feel secondclass citizens. Yet somehow the Catholic message reached her unawares. When she married Kevin she became a Catholic. She had no doubt that in a true sense she had always been one. SUCH THOUGHTS were in my mind as I made my way last Saturday to Maidstone prison to act as a sponsor for my friend Roger Gleave, serving a long sentence for an alleged sexual offence. One other visitor was present, introduced to me as Valerian, who hopes one day to be a Franciscan priest and has been visiting Roger regularly. They are both working for theological degrees at the Catholic Open University, Maryvale. The Franciscan priest who performed the ceremony allows me to quote something that he wrote for me about Roger: I believe the Spirit of God has led him to full communion with the Catholic Church. His life has been a sad one in that he has been in the grip of human weakness. This weakness has been responsible for his being in the care of Her Majesty's Prisons. Now I feel. and he believes, that attendance at Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion will give him the strength he needs to control his weakness.
Every Sunday I meet a new friend Anthony at St Leonard's. He is active in the Anglican Church but feels, deep down, that it is in the Catholic Church alone that he will find spiritual anchorage. All those I have mentioned above, and many others, will confirm that feeling and wish him eveything good. But we converts must not get above ourselves. Some years ago my eminent friend Miles (Duke of Norfolk) was escorting a clerical gentleman along a corridor of the House of Lords. He said to me: "Do you know the Archbishop of Glasgow?" 1 automatically knelt down and tried to kiss his ring. Miles Norfolk said: "How like a bloody convert." "Yes." I said. "We Catholic converts know our place and are proud of it." The story appeared in The Daily Mail the next day. It has never been clear who leaked it.