THERE ARE NOT many moments in history when one can put one's finger on the world as it turns and say with certainty. "Here is change. The course of history is altered now".
Yet the election of Karol Wojtyla as Pope on October IS this year, was such a moment.
So far the new Pope has moved slowly; his natural caution and philosophical turn of mind naturally makes him this way, but he has assumed the office as if he were born to It.
Even without the title or the trappings of the papacy one feels he would be a natural leader of the Church today.
He has worked his way through the senior curial cardinais and top Vatican posts hut has made no changes for the time being. He has shown himself willing to walk about openly in public and has shaken off the rcstraining influence of the hosuehold and the police,who would prefer him to keep a lower profile. So far he has only suffered a few missing buttons and some scratches from some over enthusiastic nuns.
His first big test of ecclesiastical diplomacy will come when he goes to the con ference of Latin American bishops in Puebla at the end of January, for here he will face a split in outlook and policy as deep as there is anywhere in the Church today.
Pope Paul VI had grown old in body and in spirit. He spoke of his own death on several occasions earlier this year. Finally. shattered by the death of his friend Aldo Moro. the former Italian Prime Minister, he died on August 6.
When the end came, it came quite quickly. His reign as Pope had been marked by a hesitancy which almost amounted to a stop-go policy and which left many the impression that he could not make up his mind.
His head was to the Right and his heart was to the Left, and he never reconciled these two elements in his personality. After the bleak funeral the cardinals gathered at the Vatican in the Rome summer heat to elect a successor. There was no obvious choice, and only 11 of the cardinals had voted in the last conclave. For the first time for centuries the Italians, but speculation was wide, and as it turned out was all in vain.
Albino Luciani, the unknown Pope, the smiling Pope. was an immediate winner. He came from the Dolomites and had been Patriach of Venice.
He lacked the curial back ground which was one of the qualifications deemed necessary to be papabile and his election was seen as an attempt to make the Pope a good Bishop of Rome.
It was indeed strange to see a Pope grinning and waving at the crowds in such an easy manner. His frequent spontaneous departures from prepared texts began to upset Vatican officials.
As Patriach of Venice he had sold superfluous Church treasures and encouraged others to do the same. He had also written a number of letters to famous people in history -• witty, simple, homespun wisdom.
The Catholic Herald which managed to find them first and published some of them for the first time in English. Now they are published by Collins in a book called Illustrissirni.
Meanwhile some people were beginning to wonder why some of the urgent work which had piled up during the last months of Pope Paul was still not being done, but their anxieties never took shape.
Pope John Paul I was found dead in his bed on the morning of August 31, after a reign of just 33 days. The shock was indescribable, but for the cardinals it meant traipsing back to Rome to be shut up in the hot, uncomfortable makeshift cells in the Vatican.
Once again the field was wide open, except it was now clear that the cardinals had broken the curial grip on the papacy. They also couldn't risk appointing an old man.
Once again the cardinals acted with more imagination and courage than the world had thought they could and elected a man who was on nobody's short list, and was the first nonItalian Pope for 400 years.
After a brief hestitation the crowds of Rome welcomed their new Bishop, and it seems the euphoria hasn't lifted yet. Apart from the instant upsurge of religious and nationalist feelings in Poland and the obvious disquiet of its rulers, it is difficult to judge the impact of the Polish Pope.
He seems to combine the ponderous strength of a German philosopher with a warm and gentle sense of fun. The idea of a Pope on skis a few years ago would have been a Dave Allen joke. Now it seems quiet natural.
The deaths of two Popes and the election of Pope Wojtyla overshadowed the Church's year but 1978 marked the end of the road for a number of other well-known Catholics.
Archbishop Beck, the former Archbishop of Liverpool, and veteran campaigner for Catholic education. died on September 1.3, and Bishop McClean, the much loved Bishop of Middlesbrough since 1967, died a few days before.
Three well-known Catholic campaigners for the homeless -Paddy O'Connor, Anton Clifford Wallich and Edith Urch -also died this year, and in March Douglas Woodruff, writer and former Editor of The Tablet, died aged 81. He was the best known Catholic layman of his times. The year 1978 also marked two centenaries which were or major importance to Catholics. In February there was the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Thomas More, celebrated by a Mass in the crypt of the House of Commons and a protest from lan Paisley, and in March the Scots Catholics celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the restoration of the hierarchy in Scotland.
The Scots, led by Cardinal Gray, are now trying to secure' the canonisation of Blessed Margaret Sinclair.
In January the Church in this country showed its moral strength by succeeding in reversing the Government's decision to sell arms to El Salvador. Cardinal Hume joined in the protests by sending a letter to the Prime Minister. It worked.
Jim Callaghan stepped in personally and stopped the sale, but this produced a Right-wing backlash, thinly veiled in an attack on the Cardinal in The Times by the columnist Ronald Butt. Following an ill-prepared statement by the Racial Justice Commission on Mr Justice McKinnon's dismissal of a ease against a National Front leader, Butt attacked the growing Leftwing tendencies in the Church and claimed it was this sort of advice the Cardinal was listening to.
In March the Cardinal had to put out in a speech what amounted to his political manifesto -a hit to the Right and a hit to the Left.
The man who had indirectly asked the Cardinal to stop the arms deal going through was Archbishop Romero of San Salvador. His defence of the poor and imprisoned has earned him the fury of the El Salvador Government but, in the rest or trhe world, a campaign is under way to award him the Nobel. Peace prize. Still on the foreign front, the South African bishops took on the Government and won a quiet victory when they insisted that their schools should no longer be segregated.
However, the situation seems to have gone far beyond anything the Catholic bishops can effect, and the only question remaining for them is whether they can keep the younger black Catholics as the situation continues to polarise.
In Rhodesia more missionaries were killed and more deported. But in September representatives of the bishops met the Patriotic Front in Lusaka. No details of the talks were released, but the fact the meeting took place at all indicated what the bishops felt about the future.
Meanwhile, although the Interim Government did not allow Bishop Donal Lamont to return it did drop charges it had made against three members of the Justice and Peace Commission.
On the Chrstian unity front, 1978 was a year of clarification but no progress at the top. Church Catholic leaders said that more had to be done at grass-roots in ecumenical venture, but the ban on intercommunion showed no sign of alteration.
Nevertheless Dr Coggan, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a plea for intercommunion when he preached at Westminster Cathedral in January.
Cardinal Hume achieved a first by addressing the Anglican Synod in the same week, and though he made no concessions to the Anglicans over women priests he outlined the social and moral areas in which he thought the Churches should be working together.
Ile was given a rapturous welcome by the Synod, who stood to the Cardinal after his address.
The Cardinal repeated his warm and sincere ecumentical gestures at Canterbury in May and at Chantilly in France, where European bishops and the European Council of Churches had a major meeting. While the "Scandal of division" continues to be the most frustrating issue in Church affairs today, the message so far seems to be that to arrive at a decision to unify the churches is not the same as to travel along the path to unity. To the layman the paths appear parallel but are not allowed to meet.
The Anglicans, however, were not slow to affirm their friendship with Catholics either.
When Pope Paul died in the middle of the Lambeth Con ference a special service was held in memory of him and The Church Times gave a great deal of space to Cardinal Flume in an interview timed to coincide with the conference.
Apart from new photographic evidence which showed that the stigmata had left Padre Pio's hands when he died. the mystery story of the year was the Shroud of Turin.
Although not all Catholics believe without doubt, the Shroud has always been revered as the winding-sheet Christ was wrapped in.
A remarkable film, "The Silent Witness", examined the evidence and even hard-bitten scientists were presented with facts which they could not explain away.
The Catholic Herald also remembered the remarkable trip made to Turin 23 years ago by Josie Jones and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC. Josie. a little girl at the time, had been given up for dead by the doctors because of a complicated Ilness, but she wrote to Leonard Cheshire saying if she could see the Shroud she knew she would be well.
Cheshire told the story in the Catholic Herald in April in his own words, and we also managed to find Josie, now married with a child. and interview her.
In September the two went back to Turin to see the Shroud together --a moving journey.
At a national level the Catholic Church in this country has had a quietish year. The only decision which caused any
upset at either of the Bishops' -Conference meetings was the decision not to allow girls to serve on the altar.
This provoked a feminist backlash, and if any movement has grown in the Church this year it is the women's movement. We can expect to hear a great deal more from them in the future.
Plans for a National Pastoral "Con-something" went ahead, but no one was quite sure whether the bishops were opening up the Church for
general diagnosis and prescription by everyone. Or whether they intended to hold a sort of National Eucharistic Congress
where people came and shared an inspiring spiritual experience.
It is understood that the bishops themselves do not have a common mind on the subject, and suspicisions that they were kicking with both feet at once, as they say in the North of Ireland, have not been allayed.
Speaking of Ireland, the Church has had to contend with some fundamental problems in its relationship to the State. The sacking of two lecturers at Maynooth for unorthodoxy of varying degrees brought the hierarchy, which runs the college, into conflict with the teaching unions and called into question the position of a Catholic college in a secular world.
The Irish people also had to come to terms with a Church which no longer tried to impose its morality over contraception on society but whose influence and values still permeate Irish society.
Italy. Spain and Malta also faced alterations in Church State relations, and at last we are to see the concordats drawn up between the Church and the Fascist Governments disappear; whatever their merits they have been something of a scandal in the eyes of many and it seems a rule that the more political security a church has the less spiritual dynamism it is able to generate.
Throughout the year someone in Dublin succeeded in persuading the newspapers that the British Government was trying to stop Cardinal 0 Fiaich from becoming a cardinal and that they were doing this through the Apostolic Delegate in London and Cardinal Hume.
This story rambled on without any evidence whatever, but as long as the ecclesiastical boundaries between Ireland and the rest of the Biritsh Isles do not match the political boundaries there will be plenty of opportunity for driving wedges between Cardinal Hume and (soon to be) Cardinal 0 Fiaich.
The early part of the summer was taken up with marriage between Prince Michael of Kent and Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz. The baroness had her previous marriage nullified, but it was not this which presented the problem.
It was the fact that she had