By Hugh Kay
WHERE does the Church stand in the world of the Common Market? The real Europe is Catholic Europe. But is the real Europe being rediscovered? Is France, for instance, really rescuing her de-Christianised proletariat?
Two leading French Jesuits, recently in London, told me of present hopes and future prospects. One of them sees Pope John's Mater et Magistra as the key to turn the economic Common Market community into a common market of ideas.
He is Fr. Henri de Farcy. S.J., of Action Populaire, the Jesuit institute of sociology in Paris, whose forthcoming work on agricultural aspects of the Common Market will be of special concern to British farmers.
A noticeable return of young people to the Mass and the tendency of some unbelievers to reconsider, at least, the Church's claims are attributed by Fr. Danielou, S.J., theologian and liturgist, to the liturgical movement, to the growing sense of responsibility among men of action, and to the progress of militant Catholic youth.
And working away at grassroots level are the priest-apostles of the factory and the farm. . . .
Both . Jesuits told me that the attitude of the French people towards the priesthood has improved. Popular papers and periodicals, ever aware of what their readers expect, are giving a good deal of coverage, with marked respect, to the Church.
"It is the politician and the scientist, the man of action, dismayed by the terrifying implications of his responsibility in the modern era, who is turning towards the Church, rather than the novelist or the philosopher", Fr. Danielou told me.
The liturgical movement, grouping the faithful into a sense of the Mass as a family meal and sacrifice, is bringing more people to church, including the younger generation. Results are not yet reflected in an upsurge of attendance at the sacraments, Fr. Danielou pointed out, but it is hoped that this will follow logically and naturally.
While the number of vocations is somewhat down, especially among the secular clergy, said Fr. de Farcy, this may in part be due to the fact that more and more laymen are becoming aware of the apostolic possibilities of the lay status. and realise that they can be apostles without necessarily becoming priests.
More and more young people are becoming militant Catholic action ists. This is particularly noticeable in the agricultural groupings. Priests attribute this development to the work of the Jeunesse Agricole Catholique.
Despite the disbanding of the priest-worker movement in its original form, a number of priests are now walking in industry under similar conditions. In the countryside, clergy of the Mission de France live and work as peasants, side by side in the field with the man who once spurned the clergy as a bourgeois personage linked with the aristocracy, but now sees him as one of his own.
The missionary priests of France are thus slowly and painfully bringing the first batches of lapsed or unbelieving souls back to Christ -using lapsed Catholic mothers to train children for first Holy Communion, involving even unbelievers in Christian social action groups, restoring them through using them as instruments in Christ's service.
Meanwhile, in the factories, the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, usually not known to be the religious they actually arc, continue to Christianise their environment by simply being themselves.
But, if Europe tends more and more to integrate, universities of different countries will be exchanging scholarships, and the flow of continental ideas will wash over Britain. On this level, too, the Church has her opportunities. Fr. de Farcy points out that it is not enough to talk about the faith. The unbeliever must be shown the faith, brought into a point blank encounter with the full richness of its theology, and with the incarnation of Christ in the social order.
"If the Church is to involve herself in the social order at grassroots level, as she must do", said Fr. de Farcy, "she has to manifest an enormous charity in all her members. The agricultural sections of Mater et Magistra bring home to the rank-and-file Catholic his personal obligation to co-operate in this.
"But, besides charity, there runs throughout the encyclical a strong backbone of justice. Just as the Protestant needs to lay more stress on the charity of the New Testament, so the Catholic needs to lay more stress on the justice of the old.
"The time for merely corrective treatment and ambulance measures through charitable service is past. fhere has to be a new social order to render the corrective measure less and less necessary.
"More and more 1 turn these days to the Old Testament for common sense notions of family and community justice, for the sense of responsibility in the patriarchal king. who succeeded only when he walked with God.
"Wherever one goes, as in Mexico which I visited recently, one sees this common Catholic error of concentrating on charity while failing to come to' grips with the fundamental needs of justice."
While an important contribution is made by priests who act as catalysts for grouping local communities into co-operative ventures, Fr. de Farcy laid great stress on the training of the laity to extend Christian justice into the world of commerce, which is the layman's natural environment.
In France and Spain, he told me, Jesuit Fathers are running a few schools of commerce. engineering, and other branches of technology. In France this involves withdrawing a little from the ordinary school to concentrate more on turning out a generation of laymen, desiined to be deeply immersed in the world of business and production, who will bring the real mind of the Church to bear on it.