AMONG the many bodies of which Cardinal Hume is president is the Catholic . Writers' Guild. It meets from time to time whenever, in fact, it has enticed a speaker likely to attract a crowd.
It hears Mass in the Crypt of Westminster Cathedral, which is half-lined with the tombs of Cardinals, and then it moves to the new Conference Centre which has been gouged out of the earth beside the Cathedral facade.
Usually, once a year, in January. the president attends the heginning of the annual general meeting which, as any member of any properly run society will know, is an enjoyable tussle likely, if allowed, to extend far into the night.
For the last three years Cardinal Heenan was too ill to attend. So this year Cardinal Hume caused his own subterranean halls to he filled with what the Vatican calls "communicators-.
The Cardinal was asked about Prince Philip's "society upside
down" speech. 11 sounds like a rash question about a speech which itself was considered rash, even if it pleased a majority of those who read about it.
The man who asked the question recalled that a few years ago the Cardinal appeared on television when he was the Abbot of Ampleforth. Then he had re-stated the old Benedietine principle: "Do not overwhelm the weak. Do not frustrate the strong."
This time the Cardinal replied, relying on the Rule of Si Benedict: "You cannot treat all men equally".
Some men, he said, needed more food than others, or more sleep. But they had to understand that this was a weakness, not a privilege.
"Those to whom concessions are made must, according to the Rule, acknowledge their weakness. Those who are not so privileged must not become jealous of them. This is good sixth-century wisdom."
He added that the Benedictine Rule was essentially for men rather than for angels. The effort to follow it meant that Benedictine monasteries tended to he rather chaotic places because they were very human institutions, Reformers, he said, always tended to exclude those who could not cope.
Asked whether a clearing of the obstacles to inter-communion would help Church unity, he said there were some who saw the Eucharist as a means to unity; others who saw it as the sign of unity.
He himself saw it as an important and precious sign. There had to be a total faith in the Real Presence. He observed that thc Orthodox were much stricter on this than we were. The Eucharist was the pinnacle of all the Sacraments, the high point in the life of the Catholic community.
The purpose of dividing up the Westminster diocese had been to make it more efficient, more personal. He wanted the bishops to have closer contact with the priests, and so with the people. They were still waiting for Rome's appointment of the two new auxiliaries.
He saw his second year in Westminster as one of pastoral reflection nothing grandiose or spectacular, a great deal of hard thinking on how to communicate the Gospel, a study of why the Gospel is not communicated in many parts of Society.
"A Time For Building" should be the foundation document for these reflections.
The time for imposing changes from the top had probably passed. There was a great danger now "of lots of bishops and people talking in commissions, and it doesn't get
much further than that. We must start drawing it out from the bottom, through parish priests and parish councils.'
And the first unit of the parish was the family. A strong affirmation of what family life was and should be was needed.
The sort of questions they asked him about sex on television could be negative and boring if he got no opportunity to put our teachings in their positive context, the Cardinal said. "We must affirm the family and family life."
He was perfectly happy with any
movement which helped people to pray, for example. with the Charismatic Movement, even though he had no particular ambition to he involved in it personally. On unity, he said, it was one thing for the Churches to pray for it. It was obviously desirable. But it was a different thing to think that unity would come through prayer alone.
A centre with
THERE are several places like Park Place serving the Church in this country. The one I am writing about enjoys a healthy independence under the umbrella of the diocese of Portsmouth.
I don't know how you define such places. Leeds has one. Westminster has a vast one that used to be an Anglican nunnery, and is a honeycomb of comfortable cells done in a Tudor sort of style.
It is as if the builders were torn between building a Cambridge college a hundred years ago or the offices of a neurotic American insurance company anxious to reassure. These places are usually described as centres, and their precise function is hard to define.
Park Place is a meeting place where people can come and at least temporarily establish that sense of community for which the Church to-day is reaching.
There is certainly nothing narrow about it. Anglicans take it for study days, for team ministry meetings, for parish renewal days. Methodist and Moral Rearmament people use it, and use the modern chapel too, and everyone, without giving anything essential away, seems happy. Part of the secret of its success is the service of the nuns. This is still something that in practice still profoundly impresses non-Catholics more, I think, than does any other part of the structure of the Church.
If they hesitate to commit
themselves to the efficacy of the priests at their altars, there is no doubt about the authenticity of the
work of these bustling and neartotal Christians.
The Order here is of French origin. They are the entrepreneurs of the place. They rejoice in the title of Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady Queen of All Angels. (Phew! But then it has a tine and devoted ring to it.) There are 14 of them here, of whom two are retired, sturdy figures in black and grey with, I was glad to see, sound warm white
Park Place is a solid stucco house overlooking a park near Wickham, which has a tremendous town square the Hampshire equivalent of the Piazza Navona.
It is run by Fr Tony Cashman, who comes from Cork and sounds it, which is all right with nie. They even have a bar for occasions, and the place flows with tea and coffee as somewhere else once did with milk and honey.
Fr Cashman says he provides the cheapest respectable bed and breakfast in England. I wouldn't know, and I am not advertising the place. You probably have one of your own anyway.
These places seem admirably suited to act as way-stations for a Church which has come to a rather sticky patch in its endless pilgrimage. And they are fine places where the laity can burgeon and flower and find their real and special way to enrich the Church. When 1 went to Park Place last week there was a "Wednesday Talk" by Canon Terry Walsh of the teachers training college at Southampton, La Sainte Union. He is the Head of Divinity there, and it cost 50p. at the door to hear him and then take your ego for a nice walk in the subsequent discussion. It was well attended.
Appropriately, he was talking about community. He liked reference to the Kingdom rather than the Church, and he emphasised the servile role of the ministers.
He approved diversity. Some think uniformity is what matters and that the meaning is secondary. Thus the Chinese were made to wear white at Christmas though for them white was the .colour of death and desolation. Uniformity is still
the ideal for many.
He did not equate the community with the avant garde; they are out of sight and in no position to lead. Nor did he call down blessings on the die-hard conservators. They had abdicated any claim to leadership.
He also talked about his students. Now there is a national cottage in dustry interested in hand-forging
generalisations. about the young. How much wiser were our fathers
than we who, in our turn, ire stranded on peaks made up of passed years.
Our fathers simply dismissed the young as loud and ignorant and as people destined to make a mess of their lives and a muddle of the world. And I, in my turn, cannot say that 1 see much hope in the present slogan-happy, semi-literate lot.
Al La Sainte Union Canon Walsh found the young far more interesting in the actual community of , the Church rather than in its institutions. The forms of the liturgy were their last concern.
They were impatient of the old
rules, of rules such as govern the marriage or gender of the clergy. And they were tolerant. If some senior souls held out their hands in longing towards the Tridentine Mass, why should they not have it? This is not precisely how he phrased it I have never seen a gilded lily, although I expect I would like it but I think 1 have got it approximately right. He also said that the young were short on solutions. But then who isn't?
Chinese view of Christianity
AN OLD REPORT from 1975 has just been published here of some interesting research being done In the Chinese Peoples' Republic. A group of metallurgists who attend the philosophical faculty of the Workers' University of Plant No 3 in Shanghai announced that they had re
evaluated primitive Christianity.
They declared that they had discovered that "primitive' (which presumably means "early") Christianity was not a religion, but the philosophy clan exploited class, "a philosophy of slaves".
This was said to represent a profound reassessment of the origins of Christianity from the Marxist viewpoint. The Chinese commentators on the metallurgists' discovery said that it was opposed to the traditional and simplistic idea that religion was the opium of the people.
They went on: "The truth is that under the conditions of that era, Christianity placed its hope fur social transformation in the masses and its hopes for liberation from a sea of griefs in a Saviour ...
"The powerful reactionary classes changed the God of the poor
into the God of the rich and transformed the militant faith of protoChristianity into an opium which poisoned the working people." If it is not too late, I would advise the metal workers to drop that line of inquiry. They have started on research which may reach an unacceptable conclusion. Starting off from where they have, they may end up standing face to face with dangerous truths.
Still, they can comfort themselves as they are led away for reeducation with the memory that the Communists have succeeded as far as any human power can in stamping out the Church in mainland China.
In October, 1949, Mao proclaimed the Chinese Peoples' Republic. There were then some three and a half million Catholics in China not much out of a population of 800
They were ordered in 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses and 39
apostolic prefectures. All the
foreign missionaries were expelled. The Patriotic Catholic Association was set up and all contact broken with the Holy See, which maintained a gentle and wise silence.
The Vatican diplomatic and missionary support to Taiwan is of course resented, and presents Rome with s horrid dilemma. • There were nearly 3,000 priests active in 1948. It is thought that
about 500 remain. They are not allowed any ministry. The Jesuits in the Philippines think there are 123 Jesuits alive in China, most of theni in prison.
Ten bishops arc thought to be alive. One church remains open in China, in Peking, for diplomats, tourists and students. Communist guides laugh charmingly when asked about religion.
The Church in Japan suffered a similar eclipse. Catholic mis sionaries, and St Francis Xavier, entered Japan in the 16th century. They converted some 300,000, including leaders of princely families. The Japanese were tolerant, but
eventually decided that Christianity created dissension and encouraged foreign invasion. The Shogun, or ruler, leyasu Tokugawa, finally ordered the eradication of Christianity in 1614.
A singularly and exquisitely cruel persecution followed, and Japan was closed to the world for more than 200 years,
In 1865, French missionaries came to Nagasaki one of the atom bomb targets and were accepted by some surviving
Japanese Christians. They recognised the foreign priests by three signs their acceptance of the authority of the Pope, their veneration of the Virgin Mary, and their celibacy.
They reckoned that 50,000 Catholics still kept the Faith
without priests. It is an extraordinary story.
A long time ago a friend of mine who was French, who spoke Japanese and was a correspondent of Le Monde, was travelling in some remote islands of the archipelago. He was certainly not pratleaat and only very faintly, if at all, ceoyant, but he used to wear a gold crucifix round his neck for less than religious motives.
On one island he noticed that the very isolated people were agitated by him, and particularly by his cross. They told him, at last, that they thought it a madness, almost an indecency, to display so holy and dangerous a symbol.
There had been briefly a renewal of persecution in 1867, and these were descendants of some who had been exiled from the cities for professing their religion. They were still Catholics and without the Sacraments.