By a Staff Reporter
M. l'abbe Gaston Courtois, who for nearly a quarter-of-a-century has watched and helped the spread of Catholic social work in France, impressed me when we met last week, as a priest of immense ideas and unlimited yet calculated energy!
To-day as Directeur de L' Union des Oeuvres Cathaliques de France, he is virtually ,the " Commander-inChief " of the highly-organised army of French Catholic Actionists. And, despite the outward difficulties besetting France in common with other countries in Western Europe, Fr. Courtois believes that "a great spiritual revival is now on which may go far towards transforming the whole nation."
I asked him to give the reasons for his optimistic outlook. In reply he outlined the three broad fronts on which Catholic Action in France is operating " with marked success."
" I don't have to tell you of THE CATHOLIC HERALD about that extraordinary experiment, the Mission de Paris, which was founded in the gloomiest period of the war—when priests risked their lives to accompany forced labourers to Germany.
" Today in some forty parishes there are at this moment 250 priests reaching the lost proletariat in their own surroundings. These priests are only attached to the parishes lying nearest their factories.
" But I can tell you they are getting results—quietly and unspectacularly. " What will perhaps surprise you is that when these priests leave the Mission to resume ordinary parish work—as some do—their influence as organisers of Catholic Action locally is considerable."
But important as the Mission de Paris has proved itself in the crowded industrial belts, Fr. Courtois considers that the spontaneous efforts of Catholic employers in " assuming publicly a role that many have shirked in the past," is an equal factor in the nation's spiritual revival.
" It has been heartening to see how many have joined in," be told me. " They are taking their new found responsibilities seriously and many workers are becoming aware of the new conception of human rights and dignity that appears to have changed the outlook of some Catholic industrialists."
However, it is in the home that the ultimate battle for the soul of France will—in Fr. Courtois' opinion—be won or lost. And that brought him to " Home Front," where Christian parents are striving to bring back Christ first into their own homes and later into their street and neighbourhood.
THE HOME FRONT
" In a matter of a few years this Christian Home Movement has multiplied its branches all over the country," he said. "It's great strength lies in the number of young couples who belong to it.
" Our chaplains are highly-trained men—specialist training for priests is an essential part of present-day Catholic Action—and I have often been moved by the saintly approach to marriage of more and more young Frenchmen and women. For them, it is in no sense an egoismfor-two.
" It is rather a kind of priesthood, with the home as a sanctuary—and I am happy to know that a whole ' network of such Christian homes is growing up in France to-day.'"
Finally, Fr. Courtois had a serious request to make. It concerned the Catholic Church in England, and its apparent remoteness from the problems and great experiments that are afoot a few miles south across the English Channel.
LET'S GET TOGETHER
'I often ask myself what it is that keeps French and English Catholics so far apart. You so often seem to find out about us the long way round — via the United States. With the Western world gradually drawing into a closer unity, I think the time has come for French and English Catholics to know each other better—and to work together to solve problems which are not as different as are sometimes suggested.
"The Catholic France that was— when many English Catholics last knew it well—has changed. We have shed a tot of our chauvinism. We have shown our resilience. We want to share our victories and difficulties, and I believe French and English Catholics have a good deal to teach each other."