BEFORE COMING to Britain last week, Israel's Prime Minister, Mr Shimon Peres, visited the Hague. There, an historic meeting occurred celebrating not only the establishment for the first time of diplomatic relations between Israel and Spain, but also the first official re-encounter between the Jewish people and Spain for nearly 500 years.
For Mr Peres, while in the Netherlands, met Sr Felipe Gonzalez, the Spanish prime minister, and the meeting was extremely cordial.
Sephard was the Hebrew name for Spain. Many "Sephardic" Jews came to England after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.
Spain, thanks largely to its success, stability and prosperity under its young and popular King (see below) has of recent years made giant strides right to the middle of world events.
At a reception earlier this month at the Spanish Embassy in London there was a greater crowd present than I had ever seen in the spacious reception rooms of that magnificent embassy in Belgrave Square.
The occasion was to celebrate the entry of Spain into the EEC but it was also the day of one of the most crucial British cabinet meetings over the Westland affair with a tense debate expected that evening in the House of Commons.
Nevertheless the Prime Minister managed to be present for an hour and charmed all who spoke to her. One Spanish lady who did not even know her kissed the startled Mrs Thatcher. The former afterwards said "I couldn't resist. Don't you think she's wonderful"?
Juan for the diary
TALKING of the King of Spain, his visit to Britain with his delightful Queen in April will be one of the most important and memorable state visits for many a year.
The last Spanish monarch to visit our shores was Alfonso XIII in 1905. He was corning to look for a bride and his choice fell on the beautiful Princess Ena of Battenberg.
Thanks largely to the immense popularity of the present Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St James, Sr Jose J. Puig de la Bellacasa, paths have been effortlessly smoothed in preparation for the visit of the King and Queen.
It has just been announced that King Juan Carlos will
receive a honorary degree from Oxford University. He will have to fit this engagement into a mass of others, one of the main ones being the banquet to be given in his honour by the City of London at Guildhall on April 23.
A similar banquet was given for Alfonso XIII at which the King spoke of being received with "an enthusiasm which reveals that which was evident on the occasion of matrimonial alliances celebrated between Spain and England in past centuries."
Actually there had only ever been one of these, the somewhat ill-starred marriage of Mary Tudor to Phillip II. The latter, after, spending only a short time here, left for Spain without his bride, never to return.
No reigning Britjsh monarch has ever officially visited Spain, but it is confidently expected that our Queen will soon make such a visit; and it is sure to be greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm.
In the Fast lane
IT IS NOW a quarter of a century since Family Fast Days first made their appearance. I am indebted to Mrs Elspeth Orchard for some fascinating facts as to how the idea began.
"It is," she writes, 25 years since the Catholic women's organisations of Great Britain, under the auspices of the National Board of Catholic Women, held the first Family Fast Day. The hierarchy had not yet set up the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.
"Through Mrs Jacquie StuytSimpson (as she was then), the board's representative in the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations, we learned of what the women of Austria had done to help the underdeveloped peoples of the Third World. We gave this some careful thought and wondered if we could organise a similar project over here."
Eventually, under the chairmanship of Miss Evelyn White—with Elspeth Orchard as treasurer of the Board and Nora Warrington as secretary—it was decided to organise a "Fast Day" in England and Wales on the Ember Friday in Lent.
The idea of a Family Fast Day took off, and after three years it was taken over by the hierarchy, who had by then launched the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. The rest is history, and very splendid history at that.
The most memorable "event" of 1961 with regard to the Fast Day, Mrs Orchard adds, was the publicity received through Mitzi—the pampered poodle. It all began with an appeal made by Cardinal Godfrey in a pastoral letter to the Archdiocese of Westminster. In it he reminded us humans that not only were we well-fed ourselves but even our dogs were pampered. To quote: "We propose to respond to the appeal for a Family Fast Day on Ember Friday, February 24. What we save thereby can be offered for the hungry and the starving. Such a sacrifice would be very much in the spirit of Lent, for it would touch both palate and purse. Something could be saved too in our care of pets. They also could benefit by being fed with less expensive foods. A plump and pampered poodle might run all the more gaily after a reduced diet on simpler fare and, perhaps, a denied visit to a hair stylist. If this suggestion seems odd, turn to the third chapter of the Book of Jonah in which we read that, at the thought of impending disaster, the Ninevites, at the bidding of the King and his nobles raised a cry: 'A fast for man and beast' (Jonah iii, 7)."
On February 24, 1961 a letter was sent to the Catholic Herald by a Mrs Joan Burn:
"Dear Sir, "I am writing on behalf of my poodle Mitzi, who hastens to say she is not pampered, although her hair-dos cost 25/a time and are necessary as poodles hair just grows and never falls out.
"As she is expecting her third family to arrive on Easter Sunday, she feels that it would be most unwise for her to fast even for one day a week, and as we have the children at college everything we manage to save goes to pay their bills and clothes and books.
"We therefore suggest that as we all wish to help this fund, Mitzi offers one of her puppies, which will be ready to go to a new home . . .
"If your Ladies Committee could arrange a dutch auction or something of that kind, no doubt they could make more than 25gns for the fund . . ."
The puppy was duly sold for £25, though subsequent perusers of the official records were puzzled by mention of the importance of "Peer Gynt" in the accounts of that year. For Peer Gynt was the name of the puppy in question.
Blowing our trumpet
THE CATHOLIC HERALD will be mounting a stand even more spectacular than that of last year at the coming Christian Resources Exhibition.
The Rev Frank Topping, Methodist Minister, broadcaster, actor and author, is to officially open the Exhibition on Wednesday, February 5 at 1 o'clock in the Royal Horticultural Halls, Westminster.
Frank Topping is known to millions through the regular contributions to Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2. A brilliant and inspiring Christian communicator, Mr Topping also reaches people through his acting and writing.
He will tour the exhibition which has 276 stands in two, halls, a programme of over 80' lectures and a Christian music, drama and dance programme.
The exhibition runs from February 5-8 opening at 10 a.m. On Thursday, February 6 the exhibiton stays open for an extra two hours to 8 p.m.
On Friday, February 7 the singer and harpist, Mary O'Hara, will be signing copies of her anthology Celebration of Love published by Hodder and Stoughton.
The lecture programme is probably unique in its scope and content. Among many notable lecturers will be Rev David Dale, Moderator of the United Reformed Church, who will be speaking on the Healing Ministry. On Saturday, February 8 Professor John de Gruchy, Head of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, will be speaking on Christian Spirituality in the Southern African crisis.
Further details may be had from Gospatric Home on 024 028 675.
White Paper washout
I HAVE JUST heard news of an interesting but unusual event in Australia, namely the blessing, for the fourteenth year, of the animals of St Anthony's Shrine in Hawthorn, Victoria.
In the accompanying picture, Fr Luciano caresses the donkey "Boots" while the Salvation Army Band (on the balcony) play "All Creatures of our God and King."
The event is recorded in that very lively and interesting periodical The Ark, the journal of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare.
The latest edition of this journal contains an urgent note from Ark President, Bishop Agnellus Andrew:
"As President of the Catholic Study for Animal Welfare . . . I am very concerned about the inadequacies of the present White Paper Scientific Procedures on Living Animals". My own understanding, both of the Incarnation by which Christ identified Himself with all creatures, and also my belief that we are, before God, Stewards of Creation, lead me to feel very deeply that experimentation on animals should be cut down and that everything possible should be done to find alternative methods of research, and in the meantime to abolish the element of needless cruelty and pain."