Page 4, 7th March 1958

7th March 1958
Page 4
Page 4, 7th March 1958 — Understandin The Welsh

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Organisations: Catholic Church
People: Henry Edwards


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Understandin The Welsh

Last Saturday was the feast of St. David. The feast of the patron of Wales has stimulated Henry Edwards to delve deeply into the problem of the conversion of Wales. He believes this to involve the conversion of the people of a country, not the conversion of so many individual units in it, abstracted from their Welsh roots.

By Henry Edwards

"1DO not understand Welsh men. I think that the great majority of Englishmen have no real notion of the Welsh type whatever it is. This state of non-understanding (as dis tinct from misunderstanding) of the Welsh seems to be just now not only unique but important and rather serious."

So wrote G. K. Chesterton in 1912. I select this quotation chiefly because I believe he was correct in speaking for a large number of Englishmen who do not understand the Welsh, but who do not realise, as he realised, that the failure is serious.

It is especially serious whenever We come to consider the conversion of the people of Wales to the Catholic Church of their forefathers.

Unaware THERE are, I am quite sure,

many sincere and deeply sympathetic Catholics who pray fervently and possibly daily for the conversion "of Thy people who dwell in Wales."

But from what they tell .me (I meet several of the well-wishers) they are by no means aware of

the full meaning of their prayer. They pray, it seems, for the conversion of two and a half million individuais who happen to live in a geographical area called Wales and who are thereby known as " Welsh ".

When I start talking about Welsh people, and Wales as forming a nation, a society, which possesses a form and a character and that the prayer for the conversion of Wales is the prayer for the conversion of people belonging to that social entity, they look at me as if I am talking double-Dutch. Perhaps, after all, I am talking a species of double-Dutch. At least, I do find it hard to describe to most Catholics, either in or out of Wales, what is involved in the conversion of Wales.

Opposition poR example, there exists in I Wales to-day, powerful and nation-wide opposition to projects aimed at rooting out rooted folk communities in Wales for some alien conurbation.

There exists also similar opposition to the planting of several thousand aliens in a predominantly Welsh-speaking community simply in order to meet certain economic needs, even if those needs are thought to benefit Wales.

I believe I could shorthand this by saying that the very nation that Chesterton did not understand happens to be the most disposed towards his own " distributist " teachings, a circumstance which has been noticed by some English distributist friends of Wales.

This essential distributism may be seen in the social tone of the agrarian regions, where very few farms are more than 100 acres and most round about fifty.

Disliked IT may be seen in the industrial regions where there is a renewal of something like the old "syndicalism" or corporate ownership of, say, the mines, by the miners. It may be seen in the quite remarkable protests by

townsfolk against planners—a recent protest by 17,000in Aber dare having completely upset planning arrangements.

The notion of " mobility of labour " is always bitterly disliked by Welshmen. of whom some 500,000 have been virtually forced to leave Wales since the hungry twenties. We love home and hearth and " bro ". We are intensely parochial and conservative.

I sometimes suspect that our religious well-wishers are looking for a miracle. They have taken it for granted that the conversion of Wales is the hardest of mission tasks, but they never seem to ask themselves why.

If they did, it might occur to them that the real reason is that they have made precious little

effort to understand Welsh people and especially the Welsh cornmunity.

Government .1••■■••■•■■■■•1.-4../..."-•■■•••■■•••••.

THE conversion of Wales cannot begin until 100,000 Catholics in Wales genuflect

before Welsh ideas. I do not ask my fellow Catholics in Wales to study them with any great care, or even to attend the new con

versational classes in Welsh beginning here and there.

I do ask them to bow to the fact that Wales exists as an entity, has a right to its own national existence and may claim in temporal matters the right to bring all its citizens under its sway. At present, I admit, Wales as a nation is unable to make this demand in full simply because it lacks responsible government. But here 1 make no apologies for introducing what to most people is conceived of as simply a political question, that of self-government.

To many Welshmen self-government is much more than a political question in the common sense of politics as an art of the practical order. It is to them a political question in the sense of a moral question. And to them the question has to be answered by considering whether a given community of people may claim as a moral right the power of conserving itself as a community and protecting itself from dissolution by the action of some exterior forces.

Protection ,M10.411.-.1.-■■•■•••■•■• pROM this point of view, Welsh Nationalism is the reverse of chauvinistic. It is simply the use of a political weapon to protect itself from


This cause is today a very serious onc in the life of Wales, and no well-wisher who seeks to have any intelligent understanding of the needs of the people whose conversion he prays for dare avoid it.

It is wrong for him to say, as sometimes he does say, that it is a cause not by any means assented to by the Welsh people. I pointed out that we are a conservative people, and this conservatism has the had result nowadays of making the average Welshman pause before rejecting political factions to which he has become accustomed.

It is, of course, by no means improbable that, were the nation of Wales to dissolve, the problem of the conversion of a disintegrated people would cease to be the problem it now is.

And I have met "realists ". as they call themselves, who believe that this is, after all, the right solution. Let Wales as a distinct nation fall to pieces: let her language, her customs, her oddities, her rigorisms, her parochialisms disappear.

Let it be true at last what a Welsh M.P. and enemy of Welsh national life once said in the heat of debate: " There is no Welsh land. Land is land."

But, of course, if that ever came to pass, David would be no longer the patron of a community, and there would be no point in praying for the conversion of the people of Wales.

The solution is like that described by Chesterton as " cure by amputation". Or compare P. U. Wodehousc: " The guillotine is a good cure for dandruff ".


HE problem is in fact that of converting a people to the Faith so that, when they have become Catholics, we shall see among them at least as sound a culture and as abiding a tenure as before.

If anyone dare propose; for example, that we should make even the slightest demands or hints to Welsh-speaking Welsh that their conversion is liable to lead to their loss of language, he is not proposing what he is praying for.

A Welsh-speaking child who has the great grace of becoming a Catholic must have precisely the same chance of keeping his language as the child next door who goes to the Welsh school. It really implies all that.

The problem of the conversion of Wales is, then, far more a sociological problem than a religious one. It is, moreover, a problem that cannot be solved until Catholics in Wales start thinking enough to hurt.

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