Page 4, 5th February 1971

5th February 1971
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Page 4, 5th February 1971 — North's quieter approach to the faith
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North's quieter approach to the faith

IN the centre of County Dui.

hams austere and industrial countryside there stands the grey stone structure of Ushaw, like a medieval fortress against the foe. At first glance it appears rather aloof and cold, yet closer acquaintance reveals an atmosphere of calm— like a summer's morning before the dawn.

The walls are firm and strong, as they must be to keep out the biting North-East winds, and the whole building is set on stout foundations to last the ravages of time. The characteristics of the building are clearly strength, security and permanence.

I know that a large number of Ushawmen will smile when they read this introduction yet the words are not merely a penportrait of the sterling architectural values of the North's principal seminary; the description could be applied equally well to the character of the Northern Catholic,

The late Henry Luce, the famous founder of America's Time and Life magazines, used to say that if you wanted to read the character of the people of any city you should go into the nearest department store. By the same token, if you want to read the character of the Northern Catholic you should start with Ushaw.

In any discussion on the values of Catholicism in the North it is impossible to leave out the institution which for more than 150 years has been turning out priests, bishops and more than its fair share of Cardinals to minister to the needs of the people of England, but particularly those in the North. Ushaw's influence on the North cannot be measured in material terms — sufficient to say that it goes hand in hand with the Irish contribution to the strength of the English Church, and we all know where Anglo-Saxon Catholi• cism would be without the Irish!

Progress and orthodoxy

Ushaw has always been regarded as reliable — a powerful centre of Catholic orthodoxy. So it is today, yet it moves in step with progress and the future priests are destined to be men well qualified for the modern world. The college is now part of Durham University, that traditional centre of Anglican theology, and students commute from seminary to university for daily lectures alongside others of all denominations or no denomination at all. 1 here are fewer rules and regulations within the college walls —it is all part of the quiet evolution which is so important to the North. For in today's Ushawman you sec the future.

Once it was a male sanctum — now the clatter of high heeled shoes worn by the mothers and sisters of future priests can be heard in the long, stone corridors on innumerable visiting days. The modern Ushaw not only exists. it has to be seen to exist.

In the past, Ushaw has produced Men of God, pure and simple. They went into parishes which were predominantly working class in structiire. administered the sacraments, shared the problems of their people --not least of which was the ever running sore of unemployment — a n d generally fed the faith as a loving parent feeds his children.

Their names are remembered with affection in countless parishes where brass plaques have been placed at the base of statues and on the walls of the churches, often near the Stations of the Cross — perhaps symbolic of the many parochial burdens they themselves had to bear. There are also some street names in towns and villages which have been taken from zealous priests whose only ambition was to serve God by ministering to His children, The priest of old was a frequent visitor to the homes of his parishioners. He settled family feuds, stopped the man of the house from drinking heavily. gave consolation in time of sorrow, baptised the baby, buried the dead and generally behaved as a friend, as well as being a Father Confessor.

There were some priests who succeeded in inspiring fear as well as love in the hearts of the faithful. They were autocrats of feudal dimensions. The law of the land was laid down by the man in the biretta and God help those who didn't see it that way!

Then came Vatican II and change — most important of all being a bigger say for the layman and woman in the running of the Church. In the eyes of some priests it was a welcome sharing of responsibility in keeping the Bark of Peter on a steady course; to others it was an inso The way in which Catholics in the North and South of England have reacted to the change highlights the principal difference in the make-up of the two types of faithful. The Northern Catholic is more conscious of the need for rules and authority than is his Southern cousin. Ile may vote Labour in a Government Election, but in matters spiritual he is "conservative" with a small "C".

He is very much a "Pope's Man" and loyal to the death as history shows. He is also intensely proud of his faith and will sing "Faith of Our Fathers" with a gusto equalled only when singing "Hail Glorious St. Patrick". His background is generally working class and some might say his fault is a lack of sophistication compared with his middle class counterpart in the South. Yet he genuinely tries to accept change, so long as it does not offend his deep historical love of all things Catholic.

In the main, the Catholics in the South have adapted more easily to the liturgical changes. They are less rooted in the old traditions than their Northern brethren and thus able to experiment without a great deal of pain (Latinists excepted).

Latin was never popular

Many parishes in the North are still dragging their feet. The reluctance to bring about all the changes varies from parish to parish, but in the worst cases there arc no lay readers, the hosts and wine are not brought down the aisle by laymen for Consecration, and in a few there is no altar facing the people! Other parishes have introduced the new liturgy with speed and considerable enthusiasm.

The North, on the other hand, has adapted easily to the use of the vernacular. Latin was never terribly popular With the working classes and now they thunder out their responses in English with an obvious joy.

Parish life is still the mainstay of Northern Catholicism, though support for dances and other social functions is falling away in face of competition from television and the discotheque. There are fewer people going to confession and the traditional Holy Hour, and Benediction on Thursday evenings has dwindling support. There has been a similar falling away in the South.

Yet the parish in the North is generally stronger and there is a greater sense aaf community participation than there is in the South where so often the people are of mixed races and social backgrounds.

I recall some years ago when I was living in North London I called to see the parish priest near the private hotel in which I was staying to ask if he knew of any family, Catholic or otherwise, who took in boarders. I wanted comfortable accommodation at more reasonable terms than I was enjoying at the hotel.

He shook his head sadly when I put the question. "This is not the North," he replied with a smile, spotting my North Country vowels. "I don't know half the people in my parish, and those that I do know all seem to live in flats."

This, I should add, was no newcomer to the area — he had been parish priest in that part of London for some 25 years.

It was not his fault that he did not know many of his parishioners. They were mainly a moving population, coming in from other parts of London. Ireland and the Cornmonwealth and going out again. They were also difficult to get to know, as the priest had discovered when he stood at the church door after Mass and smiled at everyone leaving — rarely did he get a response.

The typical Northern parish is a closely knit community. Almost everyone knows his neighbour, and newcomers to the parish are quickly absorbed and made to feel at home. Some parishioners grow up in the parish from childhood then marry and rear their children in the same community. Very often there are three generations of family in the parish which, together with long serv ing parish priests, gives a strong sense of continuity. In this sort of atmosphere there is often deep resistance to change.

Northern Catholics from this type of background are intensely loyal to their faith and they take great pride in publicly displaying their Catholicity on such occasions as the annual Manchester Whit Walk and the big open-air Corpus Christi procession through the streets of industrial Middlesbrough.

The many rallies in the North to pray for the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs were viewed with a certain amount of puzzlement by nonCatholics, yet those who took part in the rallies year after year were deep in their conviction that the Forty should be recognised as Saints, and had the canonisation not taken place, as seemed possible at one stage, there could well have been another "Rising of the North."

Just as the Northern sense of community life is less evident in the more cosmopolitan South, so the Southern parish structure is not as strong. Yet there is no evidence that the faith itself is less fervid. Southern Catholics may be more vocal in their criticism of the way the Church is being run. they may take a firmer and more demonstrative stand in favour of the Pill and the right of priests to marry, but this does not in any way detract from their spiritual strength which can be seen in crowded Communion rails and the large congregations, especially in central London. at mid-week Masses.

The fact that the South is more vocal, and perhaps more conveniently placed for London television and radio

studios together with the fact that there are more Catholics of public renown in the metropolis — makes it easier for the Southerner to broadcast views, often offensive to Northern cars. whenever Catholic controversy is in the news.

Irritated by progressives

In my experience and I speak as a former television producer — the continual broadcasting of way-out progressive views as though they were held by the majority of Catholics is a cause of concern to the less vocal members of the Church in North and South alike. Northerners feel more irritated because it makes them conscious of being out on a limb and unable to answer back.

recall watching one of these broadcasts on television recently in company with a group of people from various lay Catholic organisations. There was nearly a riot before the programme ended — not in the studio, but in the room where we were sitting.

No one agreed with the views being expressed in the programme and they seemed to have the urge to break into the television set to put the argument straight. This suggests that it was a highly successful programme, for it is the belief in television that nothing succeeds like controversy.

Yet I do not wish to be flippant about this. There is clearly a case — if only to avoid boring repetition — to put the other side of the Catholic argument on the usual string of topics for debate, covering the Pill, priestly celibacy and Papal Authority. Here the answer lies in the hands of Catholics themselves.

They ni u s t organise

themselves, and, if necessary, appoint articulate spokesmen who are capable of appearing in programmes to put their case. Television companies are always on the look out for new faces and would welcome this sort of initiative. For the Northerner it might mean a journey to London, but if the spokesman is good enough and he really has something to say, then the broadcasting organisations won't begrudge paying the expenses.

The question of Catholic schools is a tricky one, as the teachers themselves are deeply divided on their value to the faith and the community. It has been the basis on which we have built the faith in England over the past century and its critics would say that the "leakage" — the number of young people who leave the Church after leaving school — is a factual condemnation of our costly sectarian education system.

Support for the Catholic schools is strongest in the North. Almost every parish supports its own schools and there are places for most Catholic children from primary to grammar school level. The schools are generally well run and the academic attainments high.

In the South there are fewer Catholic schools and in many instances children have to attend Catechetical Centres, run by the parishes, to receive religious instruction. The Catechetical Centre is a good half-way house to meet an emergency, and no praise is too high for those dedicated laymen and women who so readily give up their free time to teach the children about the faith, but in my view nothing can compensate for the environment of a Catholic school.

I speak as one who has attended both Catholic and State schools as a child, and if the Christian environment was of value in those days before the war, how much more is it of value in these days of the Permissive Society.

Catholic schools in the South are good schools — as good and sometimes better than those in the North, and in my view worth preserving.

Where South has the edge

When it comes to ecumenism, the South may have the slight edge over the North. The famous meeting in Westminster Cathedral between Cardinal Heenan and Dr. Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was something the North could not hope to rival, and the experiment at Cippenham where a single church is being used by both Catholics and Anglicans is a little too progressive for most Northern ecumenists.

Still, there is one area where Catholics in the North are making a unique breakthrough and that is in industry where they are co-operating with Anglicans and Free Churchmen in setting up Industrial Missions to bring Christianity to the men and women on the factory floor.

These Industrial Missions are particularly active on Teesside and Tyneside where the Anglicans already have Industrial Chaplains working in industry. Soon they will be joined by Catholic priests and Free Church ministers so that they can work for Christianity on a broad front.

The idea has been given practical support by the Anglican Bishops of Durham (Dr. Ian Ramsey) and Newcastle (Dr. Hugh Ashdown) together with the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle (The Rt. Rev. lames Cunningham) and Free Church Leaders who met to sign a declaration of intent to work together in the industrial field. The ecumenical aspect of this work is still very much in its infancy, but it opens up great possibilities for a united Christianity in the future.

In the long run, so far as Catholics in the North and South are concerned, I believe the faith itself is stronger than any differences in practice or outlook brought about by the particular part of England in which we happen to live. But where differences do exist, either historically or sociologically, they should be recognised and respected. Let us not forget that we are all part of the Catholic Church in England as established by St. Augustine — or was it St. Aidan?




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