John Medcalf's thoughts from his parish in Shoreham to former parishioners in Latin America
Epiphany is a good time for writing to friends overseas. Transatlantic jets, like winged camels, will carry my words to you in Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but I'm afraid there will be no gold, frankincense or myrrh.
Here in England the Three Kings have a low profile, as if people suspected their authenticity. The poetry of the story has been overlooked.
But I know how important Epiphany is to the people of Lima and other South American cities. Every barrio will select its "Gringo" King (any pale-faced boy will do), its "Sambo" King (boot-polish on his face if there aren't any real black boys available) and the "Cholo" King
(90 per cent of Lima's children are "mestizo" or mixed-blood "cholos"). The Boy-Kings will cavort through the streets dressed in coloured ponchos, wearing paper crowns, and usually end up in the church at the beginning of the Epiphany Mass.
And we all know what it means. The world is one, but diverse. This planet of ours is multicoloured and beautiful and God is colour-blind (except in South Africa).
A few weeks ago I visited a
Catholic Secondary School in a town called Slough. I talked about the Third World, but a fifth-year boy from Jamaica objected to his country being called a Third World country.
On my way back to Shoreham-by-Sea I travelled in a third-class rail compartment (officially called "standard" by those whose job it is to paper over the cracks of this very class-conscious country), and I understood what the Jamaican boy was getting at. "Third World" means for him, and for many others, third class, third rate, standard.
The carriage was overcrowded and friendly for most of the journey, whereas the next carriage (first class) had scarcely half-a-dozen passengers, all of whom were sleeping or reading. I began to think that perhaps things weren't too bad; after all, we'd all get to our destination at about the same time. Perhaps the world was like that.
And then I was jolted from my reveries by a train roaring past in the opposite direction, and my image changed. We are not all on the same train, albeit in compartments of differing comfort. We are on different trains, going in opposite directions. The rich nations of the world are getting richer, and expect always to get richer, without let or hindrance. The poor countries of the Third World get poorer, and have no other expectations.
How far we are from the poetry of the Epiphany! The Three Kings are like the three worlds into which economist,, and politicians divide our planet. There is no time to look for three boys of different colours in Shoreham-by-Sea this year.
Perhaps I'll be content to put a large globe on the alter for the Mass of Epiphany, and I'll lift it up together with the host and the chalice and pray that there may one day be just One World.
Affectionately John Medcalf