By Fr. Anthony Hulme
TURVEY . . . I don't know how many of the readers of "The
Catholic Herald" know Turvey, delightful little Turvey, tucked just inside the Bedfordshire border, but the stones are still there of the house in which Bishop Richard Smith lived, and from which he held sway in England and, for good measure, had the rule of the United States and the rest of the Americas thrown in.
Turvey was one of the few centres which held on in the underground Movement during the penal days. Then even those centres saw the lamp extinguished one by one. So that when Bishop Challoner visited the county, be found a handful of Catholics at Shefford and Chawston under the same priest, and that was all.
Then in the 1860s there was a handful of Catholics in Bedford itself. That handful has now grown mightily, whilst the few in the county have become nearly as many thousands. The same is true of our other rural counties.
Cambridgeshire had no priest at all, just over 100 years ago. Northants had at one time last century one priest hidden at Kingscliffe. In 1828 there were 170 Catholics in the whole of Suffolk. The tide had turned under Archbishop ChalIoner, but what matters is that the increase has taken on quite a new tempo this last few years.
The travelling missioner can go to any village now and muster a congregation greater than the total Catholic strength of the County of Bedfordshire in Archbishop Challoner's day,
Mass has been said in 116 centres in the last 12 months, and never without at least a snug little congregation. Remarkable. too, in some instances is the number of children, though Wotton Underwood is exceptional; it is scarcely more than a hamlet, yet there are 55 Catholics there, the majority not yet of school age. But it is interesting, and not without its significance. that the lower down the age range we go, the greater is the proportion of Catholics. It augurs well for the future.
The question is often asked, "Where does the increase come from?" Catholics have come in late years from over the seas, from the East and from the West. Conversions have been steady. There has been the natural increase. The regionalising of jobs has meant Catholics moving into other counties from the northern ones, where our numbers are greater. Petrol has meant ease to move to another place and the ability to live away from the place of work.
The travelling missioner is still breaking new ground. It is invariable in such cases that Catholics themselves are surprised to find that their numbers in the district are more than they thought. Isolation there still is. Buses for Sunday Mass are in some
places quite unheard of, In others, local attempts are made heroically to arrange for buses to cover great distances, taking in an extreme case almost an hour and a half in the full single journey-returning the opposite way round. so that those who got in first get out first. or else Mass would mean a four-hour trip for them!
But mostly, centres mean old friends and new. Over a period of four years it can be accepted that at least a third of the congregation have left, others coming in their place. And even in that time the numbers are noticeably greater.
To live is to change, and the travelling mission is constantly striking out along new lines. Perhaps the most striking of all has been the travelling crib at Christmas time. Credit has been given elsewhere to all those who got it on the road. The crib was shown over 200 times in hamlet, lonely farmstead, squatters' sites, on village greens, in market squares and amid housing estates. The short doctrinal talk over the loudspeaker was "good news" indeed to thousands,
A similar experiment was essayed on Good Friday with outdoor Stations of the Cross, pictures of the stations being thrown on to a screen. whilst the loudspeaker meant that many followed the prayers apart from the small crowd which braved the weather by the slump of the old village cross.
In the autumn. Bishop Parker launched the Friends of the Travelling Mission, with its centre at Fox Den, Burnham, Bucks. This may well be the means of intensifying the work done, providing funds to multiply Mass centres and to redouble the "weeks" of the summer campaign. Week by week Our Lady's Catechists have more and more children enrolled for their courses by post. And now. last thing. comes an invitation to take the trailer chapel to Olympia during the Exhibition, V53.
Where there was a tiny Catholic community there is now a wellestablished parish. Take any central village. and the travelling missioner finds more than a tiny Catholic corn.munity. Is it, then, too much to look forward to the promise of wellestablished parishes all over our countryside?