.ACharterhousek, *Chronicle sr
THE POPES visit to Britain is seen by the BBC as an event of great international signifi
cance, judging by the amount of air time that the World Service is allotting to it.
The May edition of London Calling, which gives advance
notice of programmes for listeners overseas, devotes the whole of its cover page to a colour picture of the Pope.
Inside, it shows that the Religious Broadcasting Depart ment particularly will be heavily
engaged. It is to broadcast a halfhour documentary on the
Catholic Community in Britain on the three days before the Pope arrives.
The weekly magazine programme. Report on Religion,
will include a feature, presented by Ronald Farrow, on the style and significance of the present Papacy; and while the Pope is here, the daily "Reflections" will comment on the theological and spiritual significance of each day's events.
There will be special coverage of the Pope's visit to Canterbury, of his celebration of Mass, and of his preaching.
When the tour is over, Christian church leaders will assess its impact on Britain as a whole, with the Department's chief, Pauline Webb, in the chair.
I've no doubt that this creative and efficient lady has had to give thought, as have others in the 'media, to the possibility that all such planning could be upset by the events that have been taking up most of the front-page space recently, and which have caused the BBC to step up its service to Latin America, including Argentina, by an extra hour daily.
Religious Broadcasting Department, I'm told. has been playing its part in providing that
"warts-and-all" kind of coverage on which the World Service
prides itself. and which gave it its "finest hour" at the time of the Suez crisis.
For instance, one recent Reflections contributor expressed his complete opposition to Britain's taking military action over the Falklands affair. The totality of World Service reporting will enable people abroad to judge for themselves to what extent this view, represents more general British opinion.
Since the Catholic Herald published a month or so ago its report of demands within the
Guild of Our Lady of Ransom that the executive committee should be more frank about the way they run things, there has been plenty of evidence that a good many feathers were ruffled.
I was interested by the letter from Dr Micklewright, who wondered if the time might have come to ask if the Guild, as it stands, is right for our present circumstances, and to consider if its considerable funds might be better used in some other manner.
I have heard similar comments made about the Converts' Aid Society, which also, I am told, handles a good deal of money.
I have no inside knowledge of either charity, so I venture no opinion. Nevertheless, it is an obvious fact that charities can become out-of-date, and that troubles and even injustices and absurdities can result if nothing is done about it.
A lot of people will remember the heartache that something of this kind caused to the scrupulous, gentle and retiring clergyman, Mr Harding, in the first of Trollope's Barsetshire novels, The Warden.
I think that fewer nowadays will have read a once well-known trilogy by a Catholic novelist in which a similar theme is important.
The three novels are Coggin, The Hare and Wildfang, which appeared between 1919 and 1922 under the name of Ernest Oldmeadow, who for 14 years in the 'twenties and 'thirties was Editor of the Tablet.
I've heard him recalled as a many-sided man, who had a considerable reputation as a music critic and as a wine and food expert, in addition to the one he achieved as novelist and journalist.
I notice that in the Author's and Writer's Who's Who of the period he lists ecclesiology as his recreation.
Something of all these interests is reflected in the trilogy with great charm, as well as a lot of fascinating and detailed knowledge of Europe, especially Germany, in the last years before the First World War.
Its story, though, is that of an English, working-class genius who might have disappeared into obscurity without ever discovering his own gifts had it not been for an Anglican clergyman's determination to use an old charity trust for its proper, intended purpose, in spite of opposition strong enough to change his whole life.
I think these novels would still give pleasure, although anyone thinking of reprinting them might have qualms about present-day attitudes to some transcendental wonders which wind up the whole story.
Such worries might not be justified. There is evidence of a growing appetite for such things, especially if they are presented as something to do with science.
Awareness of this may have influenced the producers of the recent television programme. Ruth. on BBC2, about a woman who had hallucinations which she saw, smelled and felt as complete reality, her senses registering the fact on sophisticated equipment monitoring them.
A Sunday Times Magazine article suggested that her case might hold the explanation of much that has had "an incalculable influence", such as many episodes in the Gospels.
The Christian Church, it says boldly, "owed its initiation to the mass hallucination of the disciples at Pentecost". But is this kind of thing really explanation, or is it simply explaining away?
It will be interesting to see what will be made of the more recent story of what a lot of people said they saw at Fatima; for this will surely be recounted again when the Pope goes there soon.
I've been looking it up, to refresh my memory, in the book the late John Beevers wrote about reported appearances of Our Lady in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including those of Fatima.
I was thinking in particular of
those extraordinary manifestations there, witnessed by more than 70,000 people, when "the sun danced". In The Sun Her Mantle, he notes that not only did those present appear to see them, but others as distant as 30 miles away also did so. All the many who, described what they saw said much the same thing.
They included Avelino d'Almeida, managing editor of 0 Seculo, then Lisbon's largest paper and violently anti-clerical in policy, who up until then had been writing patronising stuff about simple victims of "super
stition or fanaticism". Another witness was a professor of Coimbra University, Dr Almeida Gerrete.
I knew John_Beevers well The many years during which we were colleagues included the time in which he was researching The Sun Her Mantle.
He was a very hard-nosed journalist indeed and one of the most instinctively sceptical men I have ever known. I asked him if he believed that these extraordinary sights of October 13, 1917, had really been seen.
He said: "I don't know. I wasn't there. But not to believe it, on the evidence, is like not believing in the Cup Final even though you_know-how-many-people-were at Wembley."
So far as I know, I've never had a hallucination, or "seen a ghost", even though I once stayed for some weeks in what is reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in England, and I've never had the luck to hear disembodied warning voices or experience a prophetic dream.
But I did once, mysteriously and (so far) unaccountably, behave to very good effect just as if' I had been graced with something of this sort.
I was travelling to Trieste, in thick fog, not long after the Second World War. My driver drove, an American soldier to whom we had given a lift was sitting next to him, and I was asleep in the back.
I suddenly woke from a profound, dreamless slumber, and shouted, "Stop!" at the top of my voice.
The driver brought the car to a screeching halt, which was just as well; for we had missed the turn-off to a temporary Bailey bridge, and were on what was left of the original one, destroyed in the fighting, just about two feet from where we would have plunged straight into a roaring river.
Some people will believe anything, and I have been earnestly assured that, even though I was asleep, my subconscious mind had been taking note of sounds that acquainted me of the danger.
Fat chance; I wouldn't have been able to interpret the sounds even had I been wide awake.
I shall ignore such superstitious notions, and cling to my own conviction that my guardian angle, a steady and experienced worker, had, like the heavenly Jeeves he is, been endeavouring to give satisfaction, as so often in the past.
I have always felt flattered at the idea of having what advertisers might call my own "personalised" angel; so I am a little dismayed to find that my Catholic Encyclopedia (published 1905) says that belief in the existence of guardian angels is not an article of faith. although it is "the mind of the Church".
It quotes St Jerome as saying: "How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has an angel commissioned to guard it." The belief goes back far into antiquity, it seems, and even the Babylonians and Assyrians held it.
I must remember to seek out an Assyrian statue of a guardian angel which_the_ency
tells me is in the British Museum — or was in 1905; perhaps by now they've decided that it really represents a folk-memory of an extraterrestrial visitor, a notion much more satisfying to the modern, scientific mind.
In the meantime, the Features Editor has promised to find a suitable picture to illustrate this theory.