By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 19, 2010
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict is visiting England this week to preside (today, Sunday, September 19th) at the solemn beatification of the theologian he had admired since his student days, John Henry Cardinal Newman, the distinguished Church historian, preacher and theologian (and in the nineteenth century one of the great lions of English literary style) who sacrificed a brilliant career in the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic. What moved him to do so? He explained in simple words: "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." The hymn he composed as he was prayerfully weighing all of the competing claims for his confessional allegiance has become a favorite of many generations: Lead, Kindly Light!
In Newman's day the Church of England was to some degree a glittering expression of English pride, the pride, the pomp and the circumstance of a nation that ruled a world-wide empire on which "the sun never set". The Catholic Church in England was despised as the religion of ignorant immigrants and day-laborers. Today things are rather different, though the immigrant constituent is stronger than ever. I thought you might be interested in how a secular magazine assesses the comparative status of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England today. May I share with you an essay from the September 4th edition of the British publication (widely read throughout the English-speaking world) The Economist.
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The Fruits of Adversity* * * * *
From: The Economist: September 4th, 2010
To see two faces of Catholic Britain, you need only walk a short way from Parliament. The train and bus stations of Victoria, where many migrants arrive to seek their fortunes, are even closer.
First there is the squat red brick of Westminster cathedral, home of England's Catholic hierarchy; its Byzantine mosaics, glinting in candlelight, are a splendid setting for one of the country's finest choirs. Round the corner things are more down-to-earth at a hostel and day-centre for the homeless (the largest in London, it is claimed) set up by a religious order, the Daughters of Charity. Among the duties of the priests and nuns who work at The Passage is liaison with police, hospitals and undertakers, in the fairly common event that homeless people, often young, succumb to addiction or despair.
Perhaps the distance between the two should not he overstated. For a body that works at society's sharp end, the hostel has many friends in high places, including banks. Staff at Goldman Sachs help in the kitchen; employees at Barclays assist the homeless with tips on how to open a bank account. And for all its splendor, the cathedral is a newish building for a newly revived institution, one that remembers being weak. It was only in 1850 that Catholics felt able, for the first time since the monarchy broke with Rome in the 1530s, to have bishops in England. And 20 years before that, office-holders had to be Anglicans.
Such discrimination may be a fading memory, but then churches have a different way of measuring time. Among the cathedral's treasures are the remains of martyrs who died for the Roman faith at the hands of a Protestant state. (Protestants were killed by Catholics, too, of course, but earlier.) Even in its finest bastions, Catholic England does not feel like a place grown arrogant on a diet of unfettered power.
These days Catholic Britons-who will be welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to their shores this month-have little obvious reason to call themselves embattled. In an historic reversal, adherents of their faith have been named to one top job after another. Chris Patten, a conservative politician (and co-organizer of the papal visit) is chancellor of Oxford University, an institution that Catholics avoided attending (until the pope allowed them in 1896) even after Anglicans admitted them. The previous speaker of the House of Commons was Michael Martin, whose roots are in Hibernian working-class Glasgow. And the head of the BBC, Mark Thompson, is of the Papist [i.e. Catholic] persuasion. Almost the only thing a Catholic (or even the spouse of a Catholic) cannot be, by British law, is king or queen. [And there are proposals afoot to change even that].
But the senior Catholics who are hosting the pope do not talk or act as if they had laurels to rest on. Instead, they point out that their co-religionists worked hard for whatever prominence they now enjoy as the biggest body of churchgoing Christians. Whereas the established Church of England is still trying to reconcile inherited privilege with a shrunken flock, their Catholic compatriots have had their muscles toned by some hard battles.
Nor does the success of individual Catholics mean that life is easy for conscientious believers, insists Charles Moore, a columnist and Catholic convert. Given the liberal, secular consensus that prevails in Britain, it would be almost impossible for a strict Catholic-one who accepted the church's teaching on abortion, homosexuality and stem-cell research-to become prime minister, he thinks. "The old Anglican prejudice against Catholics has been replaced by the secular sort."
It is true that Catholic politicians face hard questioning: Ruth Kelly, a former education secretary, was criticized for her Roman leanings. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism only after he had stepped down as prime minister. John Battle, a Catholic Labor politician, says his biggest act of religiously inspired defiance was not a bio-ethical issue but opposing the Iraq war in 2003. But he thinks his co-religionists have won respect for their willingness to work with other faiths in easing social problems, including the plight of migrants.
As the pope will see, the latest challenge facing his followers in Britain is also a huge opportunity-an influx of Catholic workers from eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Under the impact of immigration, Catholic churches are flourishing-and trying hard to adapt to new languages and styles-in greater London and other southern places such as Reading and Southampton. Further north, some old Catholic areas-like Lancashire and Liverpool-have seen church attendance plunge, but there are pockets where particular groups of migrants have settled. In bits of Lancashire there are lots of Indian Christians from the state of Kerala.
Most of the migrants who throng London's churches are doing better than the occupants of The Passage, but sometimes not by much....
For many, hearing Mass in Portuguese or Tagalog was a moment of calm in a grinding existence. In a few cases, new worshippers were instructed to "integrate" with a local flock that was weak and collapsing.
As an example of Catholicism at work in a grittily multicultural area, take the Jesuit church in Stamford Hill in north London, where Hasidic Jews have been joined by Hispanic and Slavic newcomers. Gimcrack shops offer cash-remittance services to distant lands. And on Sundays, mass is said first in English, then in Spanish, then in Polish....
Nor are hard-pressed migrants the only element in Catholic London's rich diversity. Another contingent is formed by young, successful men and women whose style and theology are conservative....
Some have emerged from monastic private schools; others are one or two generations away from roots in Ireland or eastern Europe. Their views are often well to the right of an older group of churchgoers, who sign up readily to green and third- world causes.
Nor should their influence be underestimated. Francis Davis, a Catholic scholar, recalls an earlier cohort of liberal worshippers who reacted with dismay to the Vatican's rigid line on contraception, for example, but stayed in the church. These days such people tend to lapse altogether, leaving more conservative types in the pews, albeit in small numbers.
That leaves wide open the question of how the church will look when today's young fogeys reach middle age. Filipinos and Poles are often traditional in their devotional practices; they are comfortable with statues and saints. Will local conservatism mix with the imported variety to forge a new style of Catholicism, girding for fresh battles with secularism and longing for a reversal of the Reformation?
The steady flow of converts from the clergy of the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church continues. A few years ago a cherished friend of mine, Father Ian Kerr, an internationally acclaimed Newman scholar and himself a convert from the Church of England, effectively brought to conclusion with his theological clarifications the entrance of the former Anglican Bishop of London, Leonard Graham into communion with Rome. The September 16th edition of The Wanderer reported on two of the very latest clerical "crossings of the Tiber." Here is The Wanderer's report.* * * * *
Two Anglican Priests ... Inform Flocks They Are Going To Rome* * * * *
The Wanderer: September 16, 2010
One week before Pope Benedict was set to arrive in England, two Anglican priests informed their flocks in Sunday sermons that they were "crossing the Tiber," reported the Catholic Herald's Anna Arco on September 8.
Rev. Giles Pinnock, the vicar of St. Mary-the-Virgin in Kenton, north London, told his parishioners: "The particular decision to leave this parish has been harder than the joyful decision to be received into the Catholic Church-although the two are of necessity connected, and as the Lord tells us in today's Gospel, we must be willing to change fundamentally the context and the detail of our lives if we are truly to be His disciples.
"That call is always present to all of us, but can present itself more immediately at particular moments in life. This is such a moment for me and my family."
He added: "I realize that some of you may feel that I am leaving just as you most need to be led through the difficult times which traditionalist parishes of the Church of England are to face over the next few years.
"To those of you who will remain as committed members of the Church of England, I am on a path that is for now different from yours. I trust that one day, in God's good time, our particular journeys may reconverge.
"In the meantime, I cannot provide the Anglican leadership you expect and so it would be wrong for me to remain as vicar of this parish. To those of you who are considering becoming Catholics, either as members of the forthcoming ordinariate under the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus [Pope Benedict's recent decree allowing entire Anglican parishes to return corporately to Rome, while preserving their own distinctive (and elegant) liturgy, as a separate entity under the Roman obedience] or in a local Catholic parish, I trust that I am, in the manner of a Middle-Eastern shepherd, walking ahead of the flock, leading you by my example to safe pasture."
The Rev. Robin Farrow, of St. Peter's Church in West Blatchington in East Sussex, who has two children and a third on the way, told his parishioners:
"As what I have preached about many times, this journey toward real unity with the Church from which our own was formed at the Reformation is a biblical priority.
"I cannot read John 17 and believe that our Lord's will is any thing other than the reunion of His broken body the Church .... In conscience then I have come to the point where I cannot in good faith remain as your priest."