WITH a feeling of guilt, most people have put Vietnam out of their minds. There is nothing we can do there now. We have had too much done that was bad there in the name of our civilisation already.
And yet one does read news from interested reporters most of it committed and favourable, and determinedly optimistic. But here is a part of a letter from Bishop Seitz of Kontum, of whom many Catholics have heard if only because he was such a determined beggar for his people. • He is a man of great austerity, and I suppose must now be as unhappy as it is morally permissible for a bishoo to be. He writes from Paris:
"Nightmares pass with the night and with the new day comes reassurance, but this nightmare continues for the present generation without any apparent hope of it ever coming io an end.
"The Montagnards, many of them situated in my former Diocese of Kontum, like the rest, floundered in the storm, So another tragic turning in their history opens before them. We know what they are losing; we cannot tell when or how they will come out of it, "The towns of Ban Me Thum, Plei-Ku and Kontum, in the Central Highlands, were the first to be 'liberated': Kontum
on March 18, 1975. One week later, the Doctors Edric Baker and Christian, who had remained at their posts in the MinhQuy hospital, were arrested and interned in a forest camp. "The nursing nuns were submitted to 'psychological torture' by incessant, insidious interrogations. One of them was incarcerated in solitary confinement and finally the hospital was robbed and pillaged. "All the educational and social efforts for the Montagnard race, from the kindergarten to the university students' hostel in Saigon which was in the course of being established, right through the primary, secondary and technical schools, all were closed or plundered.
"The refugees, having fled from Communism during the past years, were categorised as 'enemies of the people' and treated as such. Twenty thousand of them were obliged to return on foot in the majority of cases to their old villages, long ago reduced to ashes.
"Once more abandoning everything, and with only a simple basket on their back, they left for the hard labour of roadbuilding or the communal ricefields. Undernourished, without medical care, rediscovering with shock the cold of a higher altitude at the start of the rainy season, they were ravaged by death; we know of 'villages' where the death rate rose to 30
and 40 per cent.
"As for the foreign nuns and missionaries, we were quickly put under 'house arrest' in Kanturn: we were unable to circulate freely in the diocese any more and therefore unable to practise our ministry. "Not content with reducing us in this way to a powerless state, the new masters sought to discredit us: accused of spying, of political aims, of treason and liable therefore for the penalty of death, we were expelled bishops, missionaries, nuns, doctors we were all expelled almost in secret and expelled only 'thanks to the clemency of the people'."
Cheering news from Portsmouth
SINCE the news of the Church, like that of the world, tends to be gloomy, was positively surprised by what was written by the Vicar Capitular of the now empty diocese of Portsmouth. He is Canon Sidney Mullarkey, who will not thank me for any personal publicity. But in a letter to the diocese he has this to say:
The Universal Church and our Church of the Portsmouth diocese needs more good priests than ever. In this diocese we have been very fortunate. Thanks to our last Bishop, now Archbishop of Liverpool, the number of priests working in our diocese has increased considerably.
"But so too has the need for more priests increased owing to the more varied commitments expected of priests and also to the growth of the number of Catholics in the South of England over the last decade. This year we will have six newly ordained priests, and at present we have 22 students at various colleges preparing for the priesthood.
"During the past 12 months three priests have died and two have been obliged to retire through age and ill-health. Two more of our priests will be going shortly to Africa to spend six years working in the Bamanda diocese." That, 1 believe, is somewhere in the Cameroons. Almost all the figures one sees of the Church seem to suggest that the priesthood will soon be an organisation of geriatrics, Perhaps they work harder and get about more than they used to, but I get the impression of hordes of young priests hard at it and in their. fancy clothing they are not as easy to recognise as priests as they once were.
Speeches and speeches
NIGHT after night people
make speeches. In village halls, of course, in the strong-smelling auditoria of universities, in large drawing rooms, in church halls which look as if they were practical will listen,
Personally experiments in architectural economy.
Some people speak out of doors. A few, preceded by trumpets, speak in great places like Westminster or the Manchester Free Trade Halls. Some talk on the radio. Professors lecture away to themselves at Oxford and candidates will talk to anyone who
1 have long felt that if you have anything to say, it's better to put it down on paper so that it can be read and digested at leisure.
But the other day, Mrs Shirley Williams came and spoke to the Guild of Catholic Writers about the state of the country. 1 have never heard anything so swift and lucid. I once heard Nye Bevan speak in a theatre in Blackburn. it was like great music but I could not remember what he had been talking about. I can remember Shirley Williams, Unfortunately, it was off the record.
Austerity that pleases no one THERE used to be a number of religious inessentials that were beautiful or
gave delight. Increasingly these are being swept away in the floods of the new Catholic puritanism.
Once upon a time, bishops wore rings of glittering
magnificence and the more agile laity knelt to kiss them. Now bishops wear something
that looks suspicidusly like a cigar band and osculation is actually discouraged.
I understand that those unwearable cardinal's hats with their 30 tassels have been abolished. They still hang over the tombs of dead Cardinals until they disintegrate. Some of the early ones in Westminster Cathedral do not look as if they have long to go. The ones in St Patrick's Cathedral in New York look a positive menace. They are so high up in the roof behind the High Altar that if one, overripe with age, should fall, it could give a. passing cleric a nasty fright if not a thick ear. Then those fine great fans that used to wave beside the Pope have gone. Their origins, I am told, were from the Persian Empire via Byzantium and the Pope only now uses his portable chair when his arthritis is bad and it is carried by men in lounge suits. The silver trumpets in the Dome of St Peter's are mute. You never now see one of those preposterous embroidered umbrellas carried over the Sacrament. Sub-deacons are as rare as counter-tenors. I cannot see what is being achieved by this move towards a visual austerity that pleases no one. It used to be the custom for bishops and cardinals who had been members of Religious Orders to continue to wear the colours of their Orders. Thus the late Cardinal Browne, who was a Dominican, wore a white cappa magna. At the opening of Aylesford Priory, a Carmelite cardinal wore brown. Benedictine cardinals used to wear black. It was all very traditional, well mannered and pleasantly confusing. Now I hear this particular ecclesiastical rainbow has been cut off.
The future Cardinal Hume is going to wear the scarlet just like the others, at least on solemn occasions.
All the fun of the Congress
THE thing about Eucharistic Congresses is that they are rather fun. They are joyful events. I went to the one in Bombay when Pope Paul turned up and it was a riot, with Indians of every faith treating it with a most moving respect.
One of the Masses was said by some ancient Indian version of the Universal Church and they spent a long time incensing the great, towering altar in front of the Pope, dressed in copes and bejewelled smoking caps, chanting: "Outside the Church there is no salvation." You can't keep a good heresy down. I do not think that anything quite so exotic will happen at
the 41st International Eucharistic Congress which will open in Philadelphia. There will he a Catholic Herald Group going from July 28 to August 12.
The Congress is going to take its part in the bicentennial of American Independence. And it is to be dedicated both to the Holy Eucharist which is the core of the sacramental life of the Church and to feeding the hungry in countries where hunger is a way of life. Philadelphia is the sacred city of American Independence, and the tour, which is going to cost £389, includes two days in New York and the "ancient"
towns like Richmond, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and of course that great shrine to the pride and aspirations of a nation Washington.
A special hymn and a special prayer has already been corn
posed for the Congress. Mass in
Irish is going to be celebrated by Cardinal Conway. More than 20 National Heritage Masses will be celebrated around the city to demonstrate the universality of the Church.
And if it sounds like a multitudinous Babel, it will be. But it
will be run by American clerics
who some years ago in a national survey came second only. to General Motors as the most successful corporation in the country. Practically every hall and stadium has been booked for some occasion. The Church has come a long way since Bishop Carrol was consecrated as first bishop for the United States in
the family chapel of the Welds at Lulworth Castle. But don't
and I am an old hand at
American conventions expect to slip quietly into a small
family hotel at the last moment. You will have to he organised to survive. I can't think of a better
way of seeing the quintessence of America in a comparatively few days. It will be hottish, so travel as lightly as a soul aiming for heaven,