By Henry Edwards
Tomorrow is St. David's Day
HE conversion of Wales is as difficult as the con
version of Islam." How true is that kind of commonly reiterated statement which you may hear from time to time.
Perhaps we would begin to do something about the problem if we stopped saying how difficult it is.
This difficulty is simply that of bringing Catholics in Wales to the status of Welsh Catholics.
The Bishop of Nienevia has recently pointed out that in the 18th century there were fewer than 800 Catholics in Wales. He goes on to tell us that there are today in Glamorgan and Gwent alone no fewer than 93,000 Catholics.
No one should quarrel with the statistic, which tells us that -there are more Catholics in Wales today than there were two centuries ago.
But take a look at those 800 Catholics (I believe there were as many again, but that the Vicar Apostolic of the Western District knew nothing of them) who kept the Faith in 18th century Wales. There is plenty of evidence that shows that the hulk of them not only kept the Faith but the Welsh " way ". They were not merely Catholics in Wales but Welsh Catholics. They spoke Welsh, they possessed Welsh priests as often as not.
I am sure that in this sense alone Wales was then in a happier position towards receiving the Old Faith than it is today.
Irish in Wales
THERE are probably fewer Welsh Catholics today than in 1800. That is, there are fewer Catholics in Wales today who belong to the Welsh way of life than in 1800. Moreover, their presence is lost sight of and their influence frustrated by the overwhelming mass of Catholics in Wales who, for no fault of their own, lack the Welsh traditions.
To be quite frank, the majority of those Catholics in Wales are of Irish or part-Irish stock. They live in Anglicised areas or form Anglicising enclaves.
How often when talking to some good Catholic about Welsh needs I have been answered in an Irish brogue that the Faith is universal.
" Take off that shamrock badge then," I feel inclined to say.
0Icourse, the universality of
the Faith is not that false universalism of cosmopolitans who would reduce national differences to nothing. The Catholicity of the bulk of the Irish seems to charge their national consciousness with fresh meaning.
How is it then that the Irish in Wales regard the national consciousness of Welshmen as an affront to Catholicity?
At this point the Catholic in Wales for in some other lands) might well take a look at Welsh history, which is not English history with a Welsh angle. He might examine the circumstance that the Irish arrived in Wales as cheap ballast when Wales was suffering also from rack-rent and landlordism and when S.R. and Hiracthog were waging a tithe war as well as writing hymns and ministering to their Chapel flocks. The landlords in Wales tended towards the Tractarian position, and to Welshmen that was prac: tically the same as tending towards Rome. Wages were a fighting matter. But here come the starving " Gwyddel " anxious to keep body and soul together. The result? They depressed wages.
Moreover, the Welsh struggle or that era was also a cultural and national struggle.
No wonder racial riots broke out here and there.
In self-defence the Irish began to live together. And they are still to be found in strength in certain streets and wards of certain towns and urban districts of Wales.
But the paradox is that these Irish folk brought with thern an equally powerful national consciousness. so strong that while many other immigrants into Wales have become assimilated or partlyassimilated into the body politic. they have for the most part remained stubbornly outside.
WHEN a good priest told me
that he felt he ought not to learn Welsh—" Such a Protestant language "—he was as curiously right in one way as he was terribly wrong in another.
The Welsh language, if I may once again quote the Bishop of Menevia. is the language the Welsh chapel people pray in. It is more than that. Because of the religious tradition of Welsh education it is through the classic Welsh of the Welsh Scriptures that Welshmen have learned the excellences of their language. It is true to say that Welsh has in Wales the status of a liturgical as well as a vernacular language.
Again, although this consideration is liable to lead to sharp controversy, I do not believe that it is possible to translate the full thought of a people from their own medium to another.
This partly explains why some Catholics who have attempted to grasp the meaning of certain Welsh hymns have come to the eonclusion that they are. after all, rather empty and that the Cymry are obviously a superficial. emotional people.
As it is, most of us cherish the thought that because nearly all Welshmen can speak English. there is really no need to bother about the language problem. But that is a blunder of the first magnitude.
But that Welshmen arc so polite as to learn your language ought, I should have thought, to have earned reciprocal courtesy. And it is beyond our comprehension to understand that if the Welshman is prepared to sign the Government forms in English. he is not prepared to think about God and his soul in that language. Indeed. he cannot think so well about God and his soul in any language but his own.
PERHAPS this is the point to mention a matter which has already caused controversy in one or two places.
Suppose that a Welsh-speaking
family does by a special miracle become Catholic. Where shall the children go to school? Shall they go to the Catholic school? Both common sense and more than common sense tell us that such attendance would be wrong. The children would possibly understand nothing. They would stand in jeopardy of losing their mother tongue. In addition, they would be surrounded with all kinds of un-Welsh ways.
This consideration helps to explain why Welsh Protestant objections to certain Catholic projects such as extended Catholic education has reached such a pitch of fervour. Those objections would have no force whatever if it could be shown that the project would help rather than thwart the Welsh way of life.
The mass of Welsh antagonism towards the Faith is not so much religious as cultural-religious. The fact is that Welsh people possess a possibly unique thing. a Protestant religion-culture. Catholics in Wales have per se no religionculture.
LAST year a Welsh university
lecturer in medieval Welsh history was walking with rue in a Rhondda -street when we passed a famous Welsh chapel. He pointed to it and said :
.' rhat's the chapel for me. That's my home."
That he was a decided convert to the Faith I knew. I also knew what he meant when he said that that was his chapel. The tragedy of several Welsh converts to the Faith is that they are strangeie only too often in their true home, while they reasonably sigh for a chapel Gymanfa Ganu and the " hwyl " of the Welsh religious tone.
On the other hand, the Irish (Red or Green) may even regard him with suspicion. He does not belong to the enclave. He is on familiar terms with those who belong to what I have frequently heard a good priest deccribe as " false religious ", as if the Christians of Libanus and Bethania sacrified to Baphomet, Y Cylch Catholig Cymreig has a herculean task in destroying these suspicions and bringine an end to the iron curtain in Wales Without making the slightest doctrinal concessions it is already preparing Catholics in Wales for an entry into the Welsh religionculture.
Unfortunately, as I know only loo well, it is hard to find much support among Catholics in Wales for this remarkable form of Catholic Action which is, of course directed by the Archbishop of Cardiff, himself a distinguished member of the Welsh religionculture.
Perhaps this very lack of support deserves to be more closely investigated. But I think I have already indicated the main reasons. They are reasons which ought to make many Catholics in Wales thoroughly ashamed. I have even heard it advanced by a cleric that his parishioners were simple people who could not reach to any mental heights. which is a sad commentary, if it were true, upon our schools. But I do not think it is true.