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Friday, 5 August 2016

1925-1950 - Silver Jubilee of Mgr Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli - future Pope St John XXIII

‘Journal of a Soul’, published eight months after the death of Pope John XXIII, comprises the notes, spiritual thoughts and prayers, recorded by the Pope himself from the age of fourteen until a few months before he died. These notes, recorded in diaries and on loose notepaper, some hand-written some typed, and kept near at hand by the Pope wherever he happened to be, reflect the  thoughts of a most humble priest, bishop, Pope, and saint. After his death they were annotated by his private secretary Don Loris Capovilla and published in book form. Cardinal Capovilla died in May this year, aged 100 years.


  Basilica of San Carlo al Corso, Rome. Father Roncalli was consecrated Bishop here in March 1925, with the title of Archbishop of Areopolis    (wikipedia commons. ack. Livioandronico2013)


The following extracts from ‘Journal of a Soul’, relate to the years 1945-1952 when Msgr Roncalli was Papal Nuncio in France.

Annual Retreat, 23-27 November, 1948. Held at the Benedictine monastery of the Sacred Heart at En Calcat (Dourgne), and given by the Abbe de Floris.

…………‘I have not been able to read much Holy Scripture during this time.  But I have carefully meditated upon the General Epistle of James the Less.  Its five chapters are a wonderful summary of Christian life.  The teaching about the exercise of charity, the right use of the tongue, the power of the man of faith, collaboration for peace, respect for others, the awful fate awaiting the rich, unjust and hateful man, and finally the appeal for trust, hopefulness and prayer …. All this and more make it an incomparable treasury of directives and exhortations, particularly and alarmingly applicable to those of us who are ecclesiastics, and to lay folk of all times.  One should learn it by heart and return to it from time to time to enjoy the heavenly doctrine line by line.  At my time of life, on the threshold of my sixty-eighth year, there is nothing but old age before me. But wisdom is there in the divine book. Here is an example:

 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his good works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, un-spiritual, devilish.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace’ (James 3:13-18)

   Benedictine Monastery at En Calcat (Dourgne). (Ack. Wikipedia Commons Licence. Casablanca1950) 

Extracts  from spiritual notes written during my brief retreat at Oran (Algeria) 6-9April, 1950, Thursday, Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day.

‘The Bishop of Oran, Mgr Lacaste, has welcomed me with brotherly hospitality, for which I am grateful to him. …. It is now a quarter of a century since Holy Church made me, poor and unworthy as I am, a Bishop, and I like to think of my past, my present, and my future.

Holy Thursday:  my past.

I have brought with me on this journey the bundles of spiritual reflections made during these years, 1925-1950, to jolt me out of any complacency and inspire me with repentance and an increase of Episcopal fervour, notes written on the various retreats that I was able to make from year to year in Bulgaria, Turkey and France.  I have read them all over again, with calm, as if in a confession, and I recite the Miserere, which is all my own, and the Magnificat, which is entirely the Lord’s, as my penance and as an exercise in sincere and trustful humility. At a distance of twenty-five years I have re-read part of the notes I made in March, 1925, while preparing for my impending Episcopal consecration. I then resolved: I will often re-read chapter IX, book III of ‘The Imitation of Jesus Christ’:  ‘That all things are to be referred to God as to their final end.’ This has impressed me profoundly in the solitude of these last few days. Indeed, in these few words there is everything! It was on the eve of my new life that I wrote this; I feel the same way now, and so I enjoy returning to that time and reconsidering this teaching of Christ’s after a quarter of a century of trials, weaknesses and recoveries, although, thanks to the Lord, my will has remained firm, faithful and convinced, in spite of all the seductions and temptations of the spirit of this world.


         Mgr Roncalli, extreme right, Papal Nuncio to Turkey.
         Photograph taken in Istanbul, c. 1929/30

 O Jesus, how much I thank you for having kept me faithful to this principle: ‘From me, as from a living fountain, the humble and the great, the poor and the rich draw the water of life.’ Ah, I am numbered among the humble and the poor! In Bulgaria, the difficulties of my circumstances, even more than the difficulties caused by men, and the monotony of that life which was one long sequence of daily pricks and scratches, cost me much in mortification and silence.  But your grace preserved my inner joy, which helped me to hide my difficulties and distress.  In Turkey the responsibilities of my pastoral work were at once a torment and a joy to me. Could I not, should I not, have done more, have made a more decided effort and gone against the inclination of my nature? Did the search for calm and peace, which I considered to be more in harmony with the Lord’s spirit, not perhaps mask a certain unwillingness to take up the sword, and a preference for what was easiest and most convenient for me, even if gentleness has been defined as the fullness of strength? O my Jesus, you search all hearts: the exact point at which even the striving after virtue may lead to failure or excess is known to you alone.

            I feel it is right not to boast of anything but to attribute all to your grace ‘without which man has nothing, and very strictly do you demand my thanks in return’. So my Magnificat is complete, as it should be. I like so much the expression: ‘My merit, your mercy’ and St Augustine’s words: ‘When you crown our merit you are crowning your own gifts.’

            My gratitude to you will never cease, Jesus: ‘For divine charity overcomes all and enlarges the powers of the soul. I judge rightly, I rejoice in you alone, in you alone I hope, “for none is good save God alone” (Luke 18:19), who is to be praised above all else, and blessed in all things.’  So, as the conclusion of my twenty-five years as Bishop, I put the last words of the same little chapter of ‘The Imitation’ with which I began them. I still have, to the proper mortification of my spirit, the memory of my faults, ‘in thought, word, and deed’, which are so many, so very many in twenty-five years. But I still have also my unalterable faith in my daily Sacrifice, the divine and immaculate Host, offered ‘for my countless sins, offences, and negligences’. Twenty-five years of Episcopal Masses, offered with all the splendour of good intentions, and all the dust of the road, oh, what a mystery of mingled grace and shame! The grace of Jesus’ tender love given as ‘Bishop and Shepherd’ to his chosen priest, the shame of the priest who finds his consolation only in trustful self-surrender.

Good Friday: my present

Last night I said Matins by myself: this morning in chapel I said the Hours with the Miserere four times and today’s liturgy, uniting myself in spirit as I followed it in my Missal, as if I were attending the ceremony in some great church, or as if I were still presiding over it in Sofia, or in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Istanbul.

            My present: here I am then, still alive, in my sixty-ninth year, prostrate over the crucifix, kissing the face of Christ and his sacred wounds, kissing his heart, laid bare in his pierced side; here I am showing my love and grief. How could I not feel grateful to Jesus, finding myself still young and robust of body, spirit and heart? 'Know thyself’: this keeps me humble and without pretensions. Some people feel admiration and affection for my humble person: but thanks be to God, I still blush for myself, my insufficiencies and my unworthiness in this important position where the Holy Father has placed me, and still keeps me, out of the kindness of his heart. For some time past I have cultivated simplicity, which comes very easily for me, cheerfully defying all those clever people who, looking for the qualities required in a diplomat of the Holy See, prefer the outer covering to the sound, ripe fruit beneath. And I keep true to my principle which seems to me to have a place of honour in the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the suffering and the persecuted. My present, then, is spent in faithful service to Christ, who was obedient and was crucified, words I repeat so often at this season: ‘Christ was made obedient.’ So I must be meek and humble like him, glowing with divine charity, ready for sacrifice or for death, for him or for his Church.

            This journey in North Africa has brought home to me more vividly the problem of the conversion of the peoples without the faith. The whole life and purpose of the Church, of the priesthood, of true and good diplomacy is there: ‘Give me souls; take all the rest.’

  Chapel in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Istanbul. Dedicated to Pope St John XXIII, who as Msgr Roncalli, was Papal Nuncio to Turkey.

Holy Saturday: my future.

When one is nearly seventy, one cannot be sure of the future. ‘The years of our life are three score and ten, and even if we are strong enough to reach the age of eighty, yet these years are but toil and vanity; they are soon passed and we also pass away’ (Psalm 89:10-11). So it is no use nursing any illusions: I must make myself familiar with the thought of the end, not with dismay which saps the will, but with confidence which preserves our enthusiasm for living, working and serving. Some time ago I resolved to bear constantly in mind this reverent expectation of death, this joy which ought to be my soul’s last happiness when it departs from this life. I need not become wearisome to others by speaking frequently of this; but I must always think of it, because the consideration of death, the judicium mortis, when it has become a familiar thought, is good and useful for the mortification of vanity and for infusing into everything a sense of moderation and calm. As regards temporal matters, I will revise my will once more. I am poor, thank God, and I mean to die poor.

            As for my soul, I shall try to make the flame burn more brightly, making the most of the time that remains as it passes more swiftly away. Therefore, total detachment from the things of this world, dignities, honours, things that are precious in themselves or greatly prized.  I want to redouble my efforts to complete the publication of the ‘Visita Apostolica di San Carlo Borromeo a Bergamo’, but I am also ready to accept the mortification of having to give this up.

            There are some who, to flatter me, speak of the Cardinalate. Nothing here of  any interest to me. I repeat what I have already written. Were this not to happen, as is quite possible, I shall think this also was predestined, and thank God for it.

            For the rest, on my return to Paris I shall resume my ordinary life without impatience, but with absolute fidelity to my duty and to the service of the Holy See, with care, with charity and patience, and in close union with Jesus, my King, my Master, my God, with Mary, my sweet Mother, and with St. Joseph, my dear friend, model and protector.


                          Mgr Roncalli - Papal Nuncio to France c.1945

I must comfort myself with the thought that the souls that I have known, loved and still love are now almost all in the other world, waiting and praying for me. Will the Lord call me soon to the heavenly fatherland? Here I am, ready. I beg him to take me only at a good moment. Has he perhaps reserved for me many more years of life? I will be grateful for them, but always implore him not to leave me on this earth when I have become an encumbrance and of no further use to Holy Church. But in this also the Lord’s holy will, that is enough.

            I end these notes to the sound of the Easter bells ringing from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart nearby, and I remember with joy my last Easter homily in Istanbul, when I preached on the words of St Gregory Nazzen, ‘the will of God is our peace’.

           Coat of Arms - Pope John XXIII.   Motto: Obedientia et Pax

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Poetry - 'Holy Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy...'

The following three poems are taken from 'The Mary Book' an anthology of poems and writings by different authors, assembled by F.J.Sheed, and first published by Sheed and Ward, London and New York, in 1950.

                                  Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

 In a Boat    by Hilaire Belloc

Lady! Lady!
Upon Heaven-height,
Above the harsh morning
In the mere Light.

Above the spendthrift
And above the snow,
Where no seas tumble,
And no winds blow.

The twisting tides
And the perilous sands
Upon all sides
Are in your holy hands.

The wind harries
And the cold kills;
But I see your chapel
Over far hills.

My body is frozen,
My soul is afraid;
Stretch out your hands to me,
Mother and maid.

Mother of Christ,
And Mother of me,
Save me alive
From the howl of the sea.

If you will mother me
Till I grow old,
I will hang in your chapel
A ship of pure gold.
            Hillaire Belloc


Song to Our Lady       -     Medieval: author unknown

Of one that is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella, - as the star of the sea,
Brighter than the day is light,
Parens et puella.  - Mother and maid.
I cry to thee to turn to me;
Lady, pray thy Son for me,
Tam pia.  - So loving.
That I may come to thee,
Maria.  – Mary.

In sorrow, counsel, thou art best,
Felix fecundate:  - Happy and with offspring:
For all the weary thou art rest,
Mater honorata:  - Honourable Mother:
Beseech Him in thy mildest mood,
Who for us did shed His blood
In Cruce,  - On the Cross,
That we may come to Him
In luce.  - In light.

All this world was forlorn,
Eva peccatrice, - From Eve a sinner,
Till Our Saviour Lord was born
De te genetrice; - Of thee Mother;
With thy Ave sin went away,
Dark night went and in came day
Salutis. - Of salvation.
The well of healing sprang from thee,
Virtutis. - Of virtue.

Lady, flower of everything,
Rosa sine spina, - Rose without a thorn,
Thou borest Jesus, Heaven’s King,
Gratia Divina.  - Grace Divine.
Of all I say thou borest the prize,
Lady, Queen of Paradise
Electa: - Elect:
Maiden mild, Mother
Es effecta.  - Thou are become.

Well He knows He is thy Son,
Ventre quem portasti:  - Whom thou didst bear in thy womb:
He will not refuse thy bone,
Parvum quem lactasti:  - Whom thou didst suckle as a baby:
So courteous and so good He is,
He hath brought us to our bliss
Superni.  - Of heaven.
Who hast shut up the dark foul pit
Inferni.  - Of hell.
                                        Medieval - author unknown.


                                                  Caryll Houselander  (1901-1954)

The Reed    by Caryll Houselander

She is a reed,
straight and simple,
growing by a lake
in Nazareth

a reed that is empty,
until the Breath of God
fills it with infinite music:

and the breath of the Spirit of Love
utters the Word of God
through an empty reed.

The Word of God
is infinite music
in a little reed:

it is the sound of a Virgin’s heart,
beating in the solitude of adoration:
it is a girl’s voice
speaking to an angel,
answering for the whole world;

it is the sound of the heart of Christ,
beating within the Virgin’s heart;
it is the pulse of God,
timed by the breath of a Child.

The circle of a girl’s arms
has changed the world –
the round and sorrowful world
to a cradle for God.

She has laid love in His cradle:
in every cot
Mary has laid her Child.

In each
comes Christ;
in each Christ comes
to birth;
comes Christ from the Mother’s breast,
as the bird from the sun
returning again to the tree he knows,
and the nest,
to last year’s rifled nest.

Into our hands
Mary has given her Child:
heir to the world’s tears,
heir to the world’s toil,
heir to the world’s scars,
heir to the chill dawn
over the ruin of wars.

She has laid love in His cradle,
answering, for us all,
“Be it done unto me”:

The child in the wooden bed,
the light in the dark house,
the life in the failing soul,
the Host in the priest’s hands,
the seed in the hard earth,
the man who is child again-
quiet in the burial bands,
waiting his birth.

Mary, Mother of God,
we are the poor soil
and the dry dust;
we are hard with a cold frost.

Be warmth to the world;
be the thaw,
warm on the cold frost;
be the thaw that melts,
that the tender shoot of Christ,
piercing the hard heart,
flower to a spring in us.

Be hands that are rocking the world
to a kind rhythm of love:
that the incoherence of war
and the chaos of our unrest
be soothed to a lullaby;
and the round and sorrowful world,
in your hands,
the cradle of God.

                            Caryll Houselander
  N.B. If you, like me, enjoy the writings of Caryll Houselander, you will find further works by her on this website (umblepie), with direct link through the sidebar.
'The Rosary' on 18.1.12;  'Philip Speaks' on 4.8.14; and  'Advent' on 18.11.15.                              


'God has created ME to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.   I have my mission -  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
               I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good,  I shall do His work.  I shall be an angel of peace,  a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it -  if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.'
                                                  Blessed John Henry Newman


                                                  'Cardinal Newman' (1801-1890)
                                                             by John Everett Millais

Thursday, 12 May 2016

'The Riddle of the Ivy'

                                            Ivy and fruit (Wikipedia - Roger Griffith 1954)

 'The Riddle of the Ivy' is taken from 'Tremendous Trifles', a book of short stories by G.K.Chesterton, each of which was originally published in the early twentieth century in the American  'Daily News'. In the Preface to the book, Chesterton writes ...'None of us think enough of these things on which the eye rests. But don't let us let the eye rest. Why should the eye be so lazy?  Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see the startling facts that run across the landscape as plain as a painted fence. Let us be ocular athletes. Let us learn to write essays on a stray cat or a coloured cloud. I have attempted some such thing in what follows; but anyone else may do it better, if anyone else will only try.' 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) - taking a stroll in Brighton

 'The Riddle of the Ivy'

More than a month ago, when I was leaving London for a holiday, a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and found me surrounded with half-packed luggage.
    “You seem to be off on your travels,” he said. “Where are you going?”
With a strap between my teeth, I replied, “To Battersea.”
    “The wit of your remark,” he said, “wholly escapes me.”
“I am going to Battersea,” I repeated, “to Battersea via Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort.  My remark contained no wit. It contained simply the truth. I am going to wander over the whole world until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which I wish to find: an island with low green hills and great white cliffs.  Travellers tell me that it is called England (Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it there is a beautiful place called Battersea.”
“I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you,” said my friend with an air of intellectual comparison, “that this is Battersea”
“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue.  I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England.  I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair; because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes.  The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea.  The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’, I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”
    But when, after only a month’s travelling, I did come back to England, I was startled to find that I had told the exact truth. England did break on me at once beautifully new and beautifully old. To land at Dover is the right way to approach England (most things that are hackneyed are right), for then you see first the full, soft gardens of Kent, which are, perhaps, an exaggeration, but still a typical exaggeration, of the rich rusticity of England.  As it happened, also, a fellow traveller with whom I had fallen into conversation felt the same freshness, though for another cause. She was an American lady who had seen Europe, and had never yet seen England, and she expressed her enthusiasm in that simple and splendid way which is natural to Americans, who are the most idealistic people in the whole world. Their only danger is that the idealist can easily become the idolator. And the American has become so idealistic that he even idealises money. But (to quote a very able writer of American short stories) that is another story.
    “I have never been in England before,” said the American lady, “yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time.”
    “So you have,” I said, “you have been away for three hundred years.”
    “What a lot of ivy you have,” she said, “it covers the churches and it buries the houses. We have ivy, but I have never seen it grow like that.”
    “I am interested to hear it,” I replied, for I am making a little list of all the things that are really better in England. Even a month on the Continent, combined with intelligence, will teach you that there are many things that are better abroad. All the things that the Daily Mail calls English are better abroad. But there are things entirely English and entirely good. Kippers, for instance, and Free Trade, and front gardens and individual liberty, and the Elizabethan drama, and hansom cabs, and cricket, and Mr. Will Crooks. Above all, there is the happy and holy custom of eating a heavy breakfast. I cannot imagine that Shakespeare began the day with rolls and coffee, like a Frenchman or a German. Surely he began with bacon or bloaters.  In fact, a light bursts upon me; for the first time I see the real meaning of Mrs Gallup and the Great Cipher. It is merely a mistake in the matter of a capital letter. I withdraw my objections; I accept everything; bacon did write Shakespeare.”
    “I cannot look at anything but the ivy,” she said, “it looks so comfortable.”
    While she looked at the ivy, I opened for the first time for many weeks an English newspaper, and I read a speech of Mr Balfour in which he said that the House of Lords ought to be preserved because it represented something in the nature of permanent public opinion of England, above the ebb and flow of the Parties. Now Mr Balfour is a perfectly sincere patriot, a man who, from his own point of view, thinks long and seriously about the public needs, and he is, moreover, a man of entirely exceptional intellectual power.  

  Rt Hon Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) . 1st Earl of Balfour.

But alas, in spite of all this, when I had read that speech I thought with a heavy heart that there was just one more thing that I had to add to the list of the specially English things, such as kippers and cricket; I had to add the specially English kind of humbug.  In France things are attacked and defended for what they are.  The Catholic Church is attacked because it is Catholic, and defended because it is Catholic.  The Republic is defended because it is Republican, and attacked because it is Republican. But here is the ablest of English politicians consoling everybody by telling them that the House of Lords is not really the House of Lords, but something quite different; that the foolish, accidental peers whom he meets every night are in some mysterious way experts upon the psychology of the democracy; that if you want to know what the very poor want you must ask the very rich, and that if you want the truth about Hoxton you must ask for it at Hatfield. If the Conservative defender of the House of Lords were a logical French politician he would simply be a liar. But being an English politician he is simply a poet. The English love of believing that all is as it should be, the English optimism combined with the strong English imagination, is too much even for the obvious facts.  In a cold, scientific sense, of course, Mr. Balfour knows that nearly all the Lords who are not Lords by accident are Lords by bribery. He knows, and (as Mr Belloc excellently said) everybody in Parliament knows the very names of the Peers who have purchased their Peerages.  But the glamour of comfort, the pleasure of reassuring himself and reassuring others, is too strong for this original knowledge; at last it fades from him, and he sincerely and earnestly calls on Englishmen to join with him in admiring an august and public-spirited Senate, having wholly forgotten that the Senate really consists of idiots whom he has himself despised; and adventurers whom he has himself ennobled.
    “Your ivy is so beautifully soft and thick,” said the American lady, “it seems to cover almost everything. It must be the most poetical thing in England.”
    “It is very beautiful,” I said, “and, as you say, it is very English.  Charles Dickens, who was almost more English than England, wrote one of his rare poems about the beauty of ivy. Yes, by all means let us admire the ivy, so deep, so warm, so full of a genial gloom and a grotesque tenderness. Let us admire the ivy, and let us pray to God in His mercy that it may not kill the tree.”

NB.   'Structural strength of a tree can be overwhelmed by aggressive ivy growth leading to death directly or by opportunistic disease'  -  'Several ivy species have become a seriously invasive to property' (wikipedia).

 An ivy-covered apartment house in Cambridge, Massachusetts   (ack. Daderot (Wikipedia))

Mr Will Crooks - Londoner, born 1852 died 1921 London. Member of Parliament, noted trade-unionist and Labour politician, member of the Fabian Society. Particularly remembered for his campaign work against poverty and inequality, notably with regard to reform and improved conditions for those in the 'Poor House'. (wikipedia)

    Mr Will Crooks - by Spy 'Leslie Ward' -Vanity Fair (April 1905)

Mrs Elizabeth Gallup  - born 1848 Paris, died 1934 New York. American educator and exponent of  Francis Bacon as the true author  of much of Shakespeare's work. She based her belief on the basis that a 'biliteral cipher' was used in the original printing of these works, to conceal messages concerning the authorship, and other statements about the secret history of the times. (wikipedia)  (Her views were clearly not shared by GKC!)

Portrait of  Elizabeth Gallup as a young woman - taken from the frontispiece to 'Concerning the Bi-Literal Cipher'


'If a sinner, though he may not as yet have given up his sin, endeavours to do so, and for this purpose seeks the help of Mary, this good Mother will not fail to assist him, and enable him to recover the grace of God.'
Ack. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus'

Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven - Diego Velazquez (1645)


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Salamanca 1936 and 1999 - War and Peace

This year sees the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, a particularly cruel and barbaric war which involved the martyrdom of tens of  thousands of Catholic clergy and lay persons, and the pillaging and destruction  of thousands of Catholic churches, chapels, and shrines. We are reminded of  the physical and spiritual suffering of today's persecuted Church, especially in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, India, Burma, China , and not forgetting the suffering of the faithful in the so-called free world, Europe, the Americas, Canada, Australia, who are threatened and intimidated by anti-God legislation and powerful secular forces intent on destroying Christianity. Since the time of Christ, the Christian Church has been persecuted and vilified, and  will continue to be  until the end of time.
 'If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also' (John 15 v18-20)                                                                                                           

                                             Christ before Pilate -Munkacsy (1881)

I must confess that I have always found the history of the Spanish Civil War (1936- 1939)  confusing, although less so after reading ‘The Last Crusade’ by Warren Carroll, published by Christendom Press. This account of an extraordinarily complex and ruthless war, superbly written by an eminent  Catholic writer, provides a welcome and refreshing antidote to the anti-Catholic bias adopted by so many contemporary historians. Carroll defines ‘Crusade’ as a ‘war for the sake of the Cross, a war to protect Christian people from persecution and death on account of their faith in Jesus Christ’. The Spanish Civil War was certainly this.  In 1936, the first year of the war, in just six months a total of thirteen Bishops and nearly seven thousand priests, seminarians, monks and nuns were martyred by the enemies of the Church. It was the greatest clerical blood-letting in so short a space of time since the persecutions of the Church by the ancient Roman emperors. Tens of thousands of churches, chapels, and shrines in Spain were pillaged or destroyed. In response, faithful Spanish Catholics proclaimed a crusade against the anti-religious government  and the militarist international communist and anarchic forces backing it. In turn the former, the 'Nationalists', received substantial military support  from Germany and Italy, with history revealing that Germany, under Hitler, regarded the War as an ideal opportunity for executing and perfecting military manoeuvres,  to be subsequently used in World War 2. Additionally, it was important for Germany's future expansionist plans that Communism was defeated in Spain, for if Spain succumbed, so inevitably would Portugal.  Matters were complicated still further by internal divisions  on both sides, leading to fierce in-fighting and factional atrocities.   After three years, and initially against all the odds the crusaders triumphed, and the Church and the Faith in Spain were saved. By astute diplomacy General Franco ensured the basic  'neutrality' of Spain during most of World War 2, thus depriving Hitler of vital sea bases and virtual control of  the Mediterranean. This book, in paperback format (232 pages), once started, is hard to put down.


'In Franco's Spain' by Captain Francis McCullagh, is another book on the Spanish Civil War which I strongly recommend. Published in 1937, this book is effectively primary source material on those aspects of the war personally experienced by McCullagh, an Irish Catholic journalist and renowned and respected war correspondent. I have other excellent books by McCullagh, all of which were based on personal experiences, these include the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, also the persecution and martyrdom of the Catholic people in Mexico by their anti-clerical and masonic  government. In all his writings I have found McCullagh objective and outspokenly honest, which  includes his obvious loyalty and devotion to the Catholic faith. 'In Franco's Spain', is written in  a 'grainy' and anecdotal style which adds authenticity, and includes some remarkable photographs, some lent by the 'Universe' and 'Catholic Herald' of the day. Salamanca was chosen by General Franco as his G.H.Q. base.

Rescued from the Grave - Parish Priest of St Ana, having been buried alive by the Reds, was  rescued by the Nationalists, and is here shown describing his terrible experiences to a sympathetic group of Spanish Legionaries.   Photo taken by correspondent of 'Diario de Noticias' of Lisbon.

The Corpse of a Nun - 'Dug up by the Reds and placed against a wall to be scoffed at.'

At one time, the author had been offered a bed in a building attached to a convent. The author's impression when meeting the two nuns deputed to welcome him,  had been 'of faces as innocent and serene as the faces of the two angels who came to Sodom at even. They had the pure eyes of little children.  These young women know nothing of the iniquity of the world.' 
McCullagh very soon changed his mind, having spoken to the resident Padre, who had this to say:-
    'These nuns belong to an Order which looks after lunatic girls and women. There are fifteen hundred inmates, nearly all of them from off the streets in Madrid. You have no idea of what a vicious city Madrid was. Many of these unfortunate women were caught young, and deliberately trained up in every form of depravity.  The human brain cannot support such a life for long: their brains gave way.  The Reds treated these nuns badly at first, but in the end even they began to realize what noble work they were doing, so they allowed them to carry on as long as they did not wear their habits.They even spared the convent chapel, though they destroyed every church in the town.They also destroyed another convent, down near headquarters, belonging to a different Religious Order, contemplatives I think, murdering the nuns. We dug up one of the corpses the other day while constructing a communications trench. It was by the habit she wore that we recognized her as one of those  nuns. Probably the naked corpse we found at the same time was also that of a nun . Many were taken into Madrid, and we don't know what has become of them. One went mad, and is confined in this house.' .............
 'Although these nuns here have probably never been outside Spain, they would not have been so shocked as you think by the terrible reality of Golgotha.  They witness every day the state of utter degradation to which man is reduced by sin...... I know that they have seen their patients in the last stages of degradation, and that they have had to listen to unutterable things from women in whom mental disease has killed all will-power, all reticence, all self-respect, and all shame, while leaving the memory intact, and increasing tenfold the rapidity of the tongue. These nuns have heard more horrors in this quiet convent than a priest hears in the confessional of any seaport from Suez to Santa Cruz........... Probably that accounts for their perfect calm, in presence of the fire now raining down from Heaven on Madrid. They expected nothing less, any more than the two angels who came to Lot, expected less than fire and brimstone on Sodom. This war is only one more ill, and not the worst; the worst ills are hidden: there are more terrible things in peace than there are in battle, even in that peace which is marked by a brighter tone in the stock markets, and by quiet conditions in the foreign exchanges. Some people in England and America have started a crusade against war: why do they not start a crusade against sin, the cause of war?  But let's say no more about it. In this world which looks so pleasant, there are, beneath the surface, horrors too awful for words.'

 Captain The Rev. Father Mulrean, Chaplain of the Irish Brigade, which numbered some 700 troops. The losses it sustained were relatively light, seven killed and about twenty wounded, with four of the dead shot accidentally by Spaniards who took them for Reds. Of the remaining fatalities, two were due to shells fired from a great distance, and one to a sniper, also afar off. The Irish never even saw the enemy, and in fact went home before the end of the war, as did many German and Italian troops. McCullagh complained that the Germans and Italians did something to help Franco, whereas the Irish did nothing. This was not deliberate or intended, rather a geographical and logistical accident, reflecting the chaotic and uncertain pattern of the war.

The 'Salvo-Conducto' of G.H.Q. - issued to the journalist Francis McCullagh prior to leaving Spain in 1937. Theoretically,  this document guaranteed the holder re-admittance to Spain with a minimum of bureaucratic red-tape. In fact McCullagh did not return to Spain during the the war, not least because he suspected that he had been black-marked by the Spanish authorities who would likely refuse him entry anyway.

          'Holy Spain, set square at the extremity of Europe,
               concentration of the Faith and the sun-baked Sierra,
               invincible fort of the Virgin Mother,
          Ultimate stride of Santiago the Apostle, stride which
               ends only with the end of the world,
          Land of Dominic and of John, of Francis the Conquerer
               and of Teresa,
          Arsenal of Salamanca, and pillar of Saragossa, and burning
               root of Manresa,
          Unconquerable Spain, where refusal and half-measures
               have ever been unacceptable,
                        .          .   .   .        .   .    .
          In this hour of thy crucifixion, holy Spain, in this day,
               sister Spain, which is thy day,
          My eyes filled with enthusiasm and tears, I send thee my admiration and my love!                        
                                      Paul Claudel - French poet (1868-1955)


(The item below is reproduced from a post written some eight years ago - my excuse is that it brings back very good memories! I have added a few photographs.)

Still with Spain in mind but in a rather different context and on a personal basis, I have to admit that I have only visited Spain once - about 17 years ago. At that time I was a member of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir, about 100 strong, and we went to Spain to give two concerts, one in Madrid at the Auditorio Nacional, and the other at Salamanca in the Old Cathedral. Our Conductor and Master of Music was Raymond Calcraft, who as a young man had attended the University of Salamanca and who had been a lifelong friend of the world-famous Spanish composer and musician Joaquin Rodrigo(1901-99). It was undoubtedly through Raymond’s knowledge of all things Spanish and his contacts in the Spanish musical world, that we had the pleasure and privilege of performing in Spain. The first concert was in Madrid and was recorded live on Spanish radio. What I particularly remember about the Auditorio Nacional was the acoustics - or perhaps I should say, as far as it appeared to me, the lack of acoustics. In England many of our concerts were performed in Exeter Cathedral which is one of the largest and most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in Europe, with huge, high roofing-vaults which echo and carry the human voice as ‘on the wings of a dove’. In the Auditorio Nacional it was as though the walls were encased in cotton-wool, you could not hear yourself singing and you could not hear your colleagues, which I found quite off-putting.

                                                         Auditorio Nacional, Madrid
 I remember that our main programme comprised a Psalm set to music by Gustave Holst – starting off very gently, and ending in a thunderous hymn of triumph ; then followed a relatively short choral work, I think for women's voices only, by Joaquin Rodrigo; and finally Dvorak’s 'Mass in D' for four voices with Organ accompaniment. We were told later that the broadcast had been well received, so clearly (forgive the pun!) my perception of the acoustics was not reflected in the quality of the broadcast!
        Our second Concert was in the Old Cathedral in Salamanca. We travelled by coach from Madrid to Salamanca and I remember thinking how bleak and inhospitable much of the countryside appeared. I recollect small hamlets just off the main road, apparently abandoned with no sign of life except for the storks nesting in the roofs. Salamanca was different altogether, with a wide river and green pastures, and a huge, magnificent central square surrounded by ancient stone buildings and small shops. Dominating the city are the two Catholic Cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and the New, virtually side by side. The former is now used primarily for artistic events such as concerts, and the latter is the main place of worship.

                                                    New Cathedral,  Salamanca

 Our concert was in the evening in the Old Cathedral, and when the time came I was amazed to see that the building was absolutely packed, with people standing in the aisles and right up to the front of the stage where the choir were. It seemed as if the very walls of the Cathedral were bulging! I later discovered that entry to the Concert was free and that it was traditional that all the locals attended such events – which they certainly appeared to have done!      
     The audience comprised people of all ages and walks of life, all of whom showed genuine excitement and pleasurable anticipation. The extremely close proximity of the audience - you could almost shake hands with those in the front, and the attention, concentration, and appreciation that they showed, was something never to be forgotten. We performed the same programme as at Madrid, with everything going well up unto the interval. Unfortunately when we returned to the platform some 15 minutes later, we found that large numbers of the audience had disappeared! We then learnt that many people had left because they thought that the concert had come to an end, apparently not being familiar with the concept of an 'interval'. Although I’m sure that programmes were available, it may be that most of the audience did not avail themselves, or it may have been that the interval was not clearly indicated. Whatever the cause it was clear that drastic steps had to be taken. The choir then retired for a second time from the platform, and search parties were immediately dispatched to scour the neighbourhood in search of the missing audience. Fortunately the extended interval allowed many, if not most, to be traced and thus return in time for the much delayed second half. Cynics might think that the mystery of the vanishing audience was by design rather than accident, but I really don’t think so. Prior to the start of the concert the audience anticipation, interest and excitement, was palpable, and the enthusiastic applause at the end of the first half was absolutely genuine, as it also was at the end of the performance. 
     In spite of the ‘walk out’, I can honestly say that this particular concert is one that I will always remember and treasure, for to have been privileged to sing Dvorak's magnificent Mass in this historic and grand Old Cathedral, enjoying an unusual intimacy and empathy with a highly appreciative and receptive audience, was an unforgettable experience. A long time ago I know, but I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Raymond Calcraft for making this unforgettable experience possible. Over the years I have lost touch with him, but these memories do not fade. Thank you Raymond!
     I would love another opportunity to sing in the Old Cathedral. Realistically this is probably unlikely, but I refuse to give up hope! Salamanca itself, with its fine University and mediaeval buildings, its history and Catholic culture, is a 'must' for visitors.
                                  Old Cathedral, Salamanca - view of the nave  (ack. anotherheader,wordpress.)

      Prior to visiting Spain, a big mistake on my part was the assumption that many, if not most Spanish people speak English. In hindsight I realise that this was somewhat arrogant, for why should Spanish people be expected to speak English? Certainly in England you would not expect the natives to speak Spanish! I suffered for this misapprehension on several occasions. Once in particular, when after a tiring morning sight-seeing on my own in Madrid, I decided that I needed something to eat. Surprisingly I had difficulty in finding a restaurant, and just as surprising, to me at least, was that nobody I approached for help spoke English.  I eventually came across a ‘McDonalds’ type establishment, and through the plate-glass window I could see displayed on the walls, large coloured photographs of particular meals on offer. I deduced that once in the restaurant, I would be able to order a meal by the simple expedient of pointing at one of these photographs, there would be no need to say a single word – and so it transpired! Such was my first and last experience of eating-out alone in Madrid. This was definitely not the most exotic place in which to dine, but highly recommended for those who do not speak the ‘lingo’!
     A rather poignant memory is that of attending Holy Mass at 8a.m. on a Sunday morning in Madrid and finding that there were perhaps 12 people in total in the congregation. The church probably held 2/300 at least, a lovely traditional Catholic church, and a devout young priest. This perhaps is a reminder that the Church in Spain is still suffering from the long-term effects of the Civil War, wounds since aggravated by the liturgical and associated disasters since Vatican 2. 
In 2001 Pope John Paul II beatified 233 of the martyrs of the Civil War, and in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI beatified a further 498 – the largest group beatification ever. 
It is certain  that the blood of the holy Spanish martyrs will not have been shed in vain.
  ‘Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat’.