Page 8, 3rd September 1976

3rd September 1976
Page 8
Page 8, 3rd September 1976 — A Pope's impatience with St Augustine

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A Pope's impatience with St Augustine

THERE IS a story about St Augustine of Canterbury which is not particularly edifying. He did not really want to come to England but had to be pushed from behind, metaphorically, by Pope Gregory.

And when he was established here and in no danger of the tiresome details of martyrdom, he wrote some very fussy and meticulous letters to Pope Gregory.

In the replies one can detect traces of impatience with a prelate who was so preoccupied with such things as the exact limits of the consanguinity that made marriage legal and found it difficult to make up his own mind.

He was far from being the first Christian to set foot on this island, but the pagan and doubtless pleasantly beery Saxons had driven away the Christian Celts, largely into Wales, When news of Augustine's arrival from Rome reached them, they sent a delegation of bishops to meet him.

On their long journey to Kent, they stopped to ask a holy man how they should recognise the validity and worth of this Italian Benedictine prelate. He replied that if he rose to greet them as brothers, he would be both good and worthy of their obedience.

When they met St Augustine at last he was clearly in a somewhat Roman mood and remained seated, thus confirming the mood of the Celtic Church which was eccentric rather than disloyal or disobedient. And the Celts went back to their valley unimpressed.

It took St Wilfred to bring them back into line. But that is another story altogether and, anyway, it all belongs to the Venerable Bede.

All this is leading to the fact that there seems to be a good deal stirring among the Catholics of Wales, who have not had an easy history. Despite the fact that the country once abounded with saints and holy places and despite their share of martyrs at the Reformation, they took to the fervour and austerities of the Chapel like birds to the freedom and the width of the air.

Not for them the solid decorum and hieratic good taste of the Ecciesia Anglican's. Perhaps this was a reaching back to the history of their once highly individualistic Celtic Church.

Someone has sent me a copy of the Order of the Mass in Welsh and English. I cannot give the slightest idea of its merit as a piece of writing, and this is only a pamphlet. A Sunday Missal, in Welsh only, is nearly complete and it is hoped that Rome will approve of it in the next six months. It should help to consolidate the Catholic community inside the growing self-consciousness of the Welsh.

But who on earth is there in Rome remotely qualified to pass judgment on such a document? No Welsh cardinal and no Welsh college (though they did once take over the English College for a rather bitter and unhappy time in the years of persecution.)

Richly fed on immigrants

The Welsh Catholics have been richly fed on immigrants from abroad, and not only from Ireland. The tragedy is that a large number of these strangers integrated themselves so successfully into the powerful culture of Wales that whole groups of them were lost to the Church.

I am told that there should be almost as many Catholics of Spanish extraction in a centre like Dowlais as there are Irish. But they have almost entirely disappeared.

Even the Irish who went to the slate quarries in North Wales seem to have turned Chapel in the last century. Survival, as is usual, depended on the fact that they should have their own priests with them. But it is still hard to see why Wales did not remain as blissfully Catholic as Ireland.

There has, however, been an influx recently of Greek Catholics, most of these of the Latin Rite. Many of them are from the Island of Corfu, and were once Maltese taken to the island when it was governed by the British and taught how to play cricket and make ginger beer, Greek Catholics are not common in Greece. They are not popular with the Orthodox and

are regarded as the result of "poaching" by Rome. They tended to have a bad time under "The Colonels" who were nothing if not nationalistic.

Some survive in the Peleponnese the result of Venetian rule. There is a considerable number of them in Athens, and five islands in the Cyclades have been Latin Rite at least since the eleventh century.

The Catholics dependent on the Crusaders, who once flourished in Cyprus with great French cathedrals and at least one marvellous monastery, have disappeared. But Cardiff is taking its new guests seriously. A Jesuit from the Island of Syros is soon to take over the care of the new Greeks in that cosmopolitan city. Sounds admirably enterprising to me.

Wales in a giving mood

SOMEHOW, religious tolerance is not the impression that strangers get from Wales. Their God seems to be a particularly jealous God, But this is one of those dreary, cliche-haunted quarter-truths which haunt all nations. Chapel religion has had more than its share of being "sent up" by sophisticates.

The fine public fruit of this version of Christianity has of course been Welsh singing. I read a pleasant thing about this the other day. Someone, with more courage than I have, was driving the Italian portrait painter, Annigoni, through Wales recently.

They passed a bus which, naturally, contained a Welsh choir. They stopped and the man asked if they would sing for the painter who has become as famous as Deli and who vies with him in the smoothness of his technique. The choir debussed, stood side by side of the lane and sang their heads off. Annigoni was delighted. And so he should have been.

Now, of course, the Anglican Church in Wales is disestablishei. This has led to the word, "antidisestablishme ntarianistr,", which is not one that I ofter. have occasion to use. It also led G. K. Chesterton to write his poem, "Chuck it, Smith!" when that great lawyer

who became Lord Birkenhead tried to resist the change.

The Church of Wales is going to allow the 'Catholic parish priest in St Asaph to say Mass each Saturday evening in the Church of St Margaret at Bodelwyddan, on the A5, There are some 40 Catholics in the parish and because they are so scattered, this Saturday attendance will satisfy their Sunday obligation.

Its an 1850 church built by Lady Willoughby de Broke as a memorial to her husband, There are the graves of several Canadian soldiers in the churchyard who died nearby during the First World War. If the ecumenical movement had only produced an access of such Christian courtesy and held no further promise, it would already have justified itself. I hate hatred,

Modern pattern of appeals

THINGS have changed a good deal since the time when I was an adolescent. Then the priests used to preach at much greater length, and they always seemed to be talking about money or in a roundabout manner sex.

Now, when society has turned permissive and money is short, they seldom dwell on these subjects except in an embarrassed sort of way. And yet there have probably never been so many appeals.

There is one for that vast, roundish church in Ireland dedicated to Our Lady of Knock and to one of the most curious miracles ever recorded.

Nearly a hundred years ago, the bright picture of Our Lady and St John and the Lamb standino on an altar were projected, in the pouring rain, onto the gable of the old parish


It was seen by a considerable number of people, and the immediate explanation was that someone had been playing the fool with a magic lantern. Anyway, the Irish believe in it and intend to make it their chief national shrine.

The old church is to be retained. The new church is being built to hold thousands. It consists inside of five chapels each with its separate entrance to make crowd control easier.

Then a block-buster of an appeal is awaited from Westminster Abbey and our own Westminster moves in a steady and stately manner towards its goal of one million. On the subject of appeals, the Editor of the Catholic Herald received this account from someone who must surely be described as "Faithful Reader": "Having been a Catholic Herald seller at two of London's well-known churches over a period of 26 years one gets to know the regulars and what some of them can achieve.

"For instance, early this year it became known that the Shrine of Our Lady at Holesford was £5,000 in debt, and they decided to help by circulating the news to their friends and relations Christians of all denominations and Jewish friends.

"All were fired by the enthusiasm of the First of the Few. They began to move like an army of ants collecting everything saleable for a bazaar. The Westminster Conference Centre was booked

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