IT IS BECOMING inc reagingly difficult to remain a moderate over the race issue. And the more involved you are in it, the harder it becomes.
Fr Danny McHugh is therefore an unusual man, and amid growing signs of tension and conflict, the West Indian Chaplaincy in Birmingham, of which he is the head, affords what to many is a welcome glimmer of reconciliation.
He has been in his present job for almost three years. His "flock" consists, technically, of at least 70,000 West Indians.
When he began the chaplaincy centre consisted of two rooms in an old school. Then, recently, the Archbishop of Birmingham opened a new West Indian Chaplaincy House, bought by the diocese in 1976 and since renovated.
Fr McHugh sees his work as having two main aims — the creation of a sense of community and solidarity among West Indians as they build their faith together, and the attempt to forge links between black and white.
"I don't really agree with the chaplaincies which take people completely away into particular group churches," he says. "The blacks are part of a larger white community, and they've got to build relationships with that community, and that community has got to build relationships with black people."
He believes that most West Indians still share his own moderate outlook.
"Most ordinary black people want to live here, want to get on here, want to be accepted here. They don't want to go off into black groups that are antiwhite."
But he freely admits that he could be wrong in his "integrationist" approach. Critics of this kind of attitude point to the continuing discrimination in housing, jobs and education as proof that moderation has failed, and call for a more hard-line and confrontational response from blacks.
Black children in schools are being told not to make friends with whites. A black person thinking of joining the police knows that by doing so he will alienate himself from his own community.
Fr McHugh is not one of those who rejects the "extremists" out of hand.
"Undoubtedly," he acknowledges, "there is an ele
ment which is very anti-white in the black community, and this sort of element has a lot of influence. 1 think there's a growing antagonism to the white. I think they're wrong, but I can understand it."
In the face of this, what can be done?
First, education. Going round schools and churches he has found that the white community still retains its alarming ignorance of West Indian customs and tradition.
"Schools in general, and Catholic schools in particular, have failed to make the effort to learn about the cultures of young people in our classes. The attitude is: 'Well, they're born here, they've got to be like us!'" As part of this educational process, the chaplaincy organised a series of lectures at the centre on "The Black Experience", dealing with various aspects of black history and culture.
Secondly, Church life must reflect the multi-cultural nature of British society. The liturgy. for example, must take on board things which appeal to black people so that they can feel that it truly belongs to them.
Fr McHugh would like to see parishes do more to integrate black people into the work oi their churches.
"We're living in a society where there are people of all different cultures. and in a parish we ought to be trying to cater for all different needs.
"West Indians have got something to give, and white people will be losing something if the blacks aren't there."
Thirdly, people must learn to recognise the deeply-felt alienation of blacks who see at present no alternative to conflict.
Fr McHugh recognises the difficulties in this, but he says: "We've got to try and establish contact with the groups that are anti-white. We've got to listen to them and try and respond to their needs."
It is an enormous task ,hat Fr McHugh and others lise him have set themselves. They need support in the work that they are doing. They need others, in different places, to follow their lead. Above all, perhaps, they need time.
And it's time that may be running out.