EIGHTY YEARS AGO
Catholics could buy a compendium of international political news, home news, literary gossip and the latest local church news for one old penny with 16 closely packed pages of minute print, the Catholic Herald of 1897 was certainly good value.
In the issue of September 3, 1897 pride of place was given to the preparations for the 13th centenary celebrations of St Augustine's landing in England to convert the heathen British of the south. But it would be wrong to give the idea that the paper was an antiquarians haven, it had its eye firmly on the future when the world of journalism would be bedevilled by telephones, telegraphs and telexes.
"Signor Marconi," it reports, remarkable discoveries with regard to telegraphing without words so much has been written, has lately been travelling various European countries with a view to exploiting his system of wireless telegraphy. Sark and Aldeney are to be connected on the Marconi system and doubtless other experiments will be made in other parts of Europe," Doubtless.
The Herald also kept its readers informed of the movements of contemporary musicians. Faure had been well received during a recent concert tour of Russia, The enthusiasm was most marked at St Petersburg where the French composer's popularity extended to a group of unmusical and very bewildered French sailors who found they were continually being given standing ovations by the locals. The Herald reporter describes the scene, "They were applauded
wherever seen, carried in triumph and kissed by women in all stations of life twenty times an hour."
On the letters page there is a sharp reminder that life at home was not always so jovial. Fr MeGarrick, a priest of Our Lady's Nuneaton writes bitterly. "The fears expressed in my letter last week have been realised, The young man to whom I administered the Sacraments in a foetid and polluted stable died of pneumonia a few hours after I despatched my letter.
"Death under such pathetic circumstance is truly tragic. A young life has been sacrificed to the unjust social conditions of the nineteenth century's civilisation.
"The casual farm labourer receives such a miserable wage and lives among such unhuman surroundings, that his life is but a constant struggle against starvation and death."
The Catholic Herald print has now grown to a more reasonable size but the price had doubled. The major preoccupation was the advisability of repatriating the Basque children separated from their families by the Spanish Civil War.
The news pages carry ominous rumblings of a larger war. In Danzig there was mounting anxiety about the Nazi suppression of religious schools. German Catholics were being dissuaded from going on pilgrimages to Rome for fear they might pick up "anti German" ideas.
The official Nazi newsheet had made their disapproval clear. "The Third Reich can no longer tolerate the journey of citizens to Rome when it is known they will be subject to unfavourable influences there,
in their feelings for the State, and they will return to Germany less well disposed towards the State and the Government than on their departure for the Eternal City." Visible manifestations of Catholocism could also get you into trouble in parts of Spain as the Vicomte de RodezBanavent found when his plane made an emergency landing at communist-held Alicante.
The Herald reporter describes the Vicomte's plight. "He had no visa for Spam and was locked in a devastated house while his possessions were thoroughly searched. Suddenly one of the officials discovered the rosary beads. "The chief of police was then sent for and decided to consult Valencia whither the Vicomte was taken and kept in prison for eight days pending a court martial for having in his possession 'religious explosive contraband.'"
On the letters page liturgy was being as hotly debated as often it is today. "Is Latin mumbo-jumbo?" asks J.E.N. of High Wycombe. "The very idea of a vernacular liturgy indeed l", thunders D. Battigan Verne, "Not by such twilight methods is the Kingdom of Heaven born into the souls of men. Let's have Latin first last and all the time."
Readers of the September 3, 1937 Herald had one further similarity with their modern counterparts. They too were preparing to celebrate the 80th birthday of their Pope. Dcsio, the birth place of Pius XI was planning a "Crusade of Prayer" and a "Social Week".
Herald readers then were promised an account of the events but present readers of the Herald do not have to join in the Pope's birthday celebrations second-hand, by contributing to the Catholic Herald Pope Paul birthday Fund.