Saturday 28 June 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part 3

The biography of Pope Paul VI written by Alden Hatch has the title "Pope Paul VI: Apostle on the move". Particularly since the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, we have become accustomed to a Papacy that travels to encounter the peoples of the world rather than a Papacy that resides in Rome and, to some extent at least, waits for the world to travel to meet it. In comparison to Pope John Paul II, Pope's Benedict XVI and Francis were and are not great travellers.

However, it is worth recognising that Pope Paul VI set the precedent for modern Pope's who travel. The Vatican website contains the texts associated with his visits, though not all of the texts are available in English. See Paul VI: Travels. Among these visits, history perhaps takes most note of the visits to the Holy Land and to the United Nations as being of particular significance at their own times and of continuing significance for future times.

Reading Alden Hatch's account of Pope Paul's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is very striking. From the reaction of the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council who first heard of the proposed visit on the last day of the Second Session (they had no inkling beforehand and went wild as they realised the implications of Pope Paul's rather quiet words); to the reaction of the people of Jordan (Pope Paul's vehicle procession had to move at a crawl through the streets of Amman on the way to the River Jordan); to his being completely engulfed by the crowd in East Jerusalem as he followed the Via Dolorosa (the area was then part of Jordanian controlled territory); to the unbelievably moving meetings with the Patriarch of Constantinople; and ending with a rapturous return to Rome (people lined the Via Appia well out into the country towards Ciampino airfield, and Pope Paul was cheered by crowds all the way to the Vatican).
"... we wish to go to Palestine in January to honour personally - in the holy places where Christ was born, lived, died, and ascended to heaven after His Resurrection - the first mysteries of our faith, the Incarnation, and the Redemption.... We shall see that blessed land whence Peter set forth and where not one of his successors has returned. Most humbly and briefly we shall return there as an expression of prayer, penance, and renovation to offer to Christ His Church, to summon to this one holy Church our separated brethren ... to beseech Christ our Lord for the salvation of the entire human race."
Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land this year was precisely conceived to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul's earlier visit. Like that earlier visit, it had at its centre point a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The text of Pope Paul's address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in October 1965 can be found in the original French on the Vatican website; an English translation can be found here. The Catholic Church is unique in the nature of its representation at the United Nations, as a Permanent Observer; and it maintains an extensive engagement with the different organs of the United Nations (as I write I have before me a book containing texts from a visit of Pope John Paul II to UNESCO, and a conference co-hosted by the Holy See and UNESCO to mark the 25th anniversary of that visit). It is useful to read the address given by Pope John Paul II to the UN General Assembly in October 1979 alongside that of Pope Paul.

I would recommend reading the whole of Pope Paul's address. The extracts below are just the passages that particularly strike me, and which indicate something of Pope Paul's specific character.
We are the bearer of a message for all mankind. And this We are, not only in Our own personal name and in the name of the great Catholic family, but also in the name of those Christian brethren who share the sentiments We express here, and particularly of those who kindly charged Us explicitly to be their spokesman here. Like a messenger who, after a long journey, finally succeeds in delivering the letter entrusted to him, We are conscious of living through a privileged moment, however brief, which fulfills a desire cherished in Our heart for nearly twenty centuries. For, you remember, We have been journeying long and We bring with Us a long history; We here celebrate the epilogue of a toilsome pilgrimage in search of a conversation with the entire world, from the day the command was given to Us: "Go and bring the good tidings to all peoples." And it is you who represent all peoples.
Pope Paul's moving appeal in favour of peace was cited again by Pope John Paul II, and more recently by Pope Francis during the vigil of prayer for peace in St Peter's Square in September 2013:
And now We come to the high point of Our message: Negatively, first: the words which you expect from Us and which We cannot pronounce without full awareness of their gravity and solemnity: Never one against the other, never, never again. Was it not principally for this purpose that the United Nations came into being: against war and for peace? Listen to the clear words of a great man, the late John Kennedy, who declared four years ago: "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." ....  No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind. Our thanks to you, glory to you, who for twenty years have labored for peace and who have even suffered the loss of illustrious men in this sacred cause. Thanks and glory to you for the conflicts which you have prevented and for those which you have brought to an end. 
It is Pope Paul's final paragraph that appears to me full of prescience for the future, perhaps having a foresight to the situation of the culture of our modern times. These times combine an increasing secularisation and abandonment of an objective sense of moral conscience at the level of culture with an emergence of the question of religion and its relation to culture as never before. We can recognise in this final paragraph a theme developed in much more detail by Pope John Paul II in his address to the General Assembly, a theme typical of Pope Benedict XVI in his understanding of the importance of religious freedom, and a theme to which Pope Francis has also returned.
Today, as never before, in an era marked by such human progress, there is need for an appeal to the moral conscience of man. For the danger comes, not from progress, nor from science on the contrary if properly utilized, these could resolve many of the grave problems which beset mankind. The real danger comes from man himself, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments, which can be used as well for destruction as for the loftiest conquests.
In a word, then, the edifice of modern civilization must be built upon spiritual principles; the only principles capable not only of supporting it but also of enlightening and animating it. And these indispensable principles of superior wisdom can only rest - it is our conviction, you understand - on faith in God.  That unknown God of whom Saint Paul spoke to the Athenians on the Areopagus? Unknown to them, although without realizing it, they sought Him and He was close to them, as happens to so many men of our times? For Us, in any case, and for all those who accept the ineffable revelation which Christ has given us of Him, He is the living God, the Father of all men. 
Alden Hatch points out an interesting sentence in the address - again, full of prescience for what has happened since in terms of the activity of the United Nations:
C'est dans votre Assemblée que le respect de la vie, même en ce qui concerne le grand problème de la natalité, doit trouver sa plus haute profession et sa plus raisonnable défense. Votre tâche est de faire en sorte que le pain soit suffisamment abondant à la table de l'humanité, et non pas de favoriser un contrôle artificiel des naissances, qui serait irrationnel, en vue de diminuer le nombre des convives au banquet de la vie.  
Respect for life, even with regard to the great problem of the birth rate, must find here in your Assembly its highest affirmation and its most rational defence. Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not to encourage an artificial control of births, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Film Review: Belle

Belle, though not a great film, is nevertheless a very beautiful film. There is some very beautiful location filming, lovely settings in a stately home, quite delightful use of light and shadow in camera shots of faces, very attentive capturing of facial expressions, lovely dresses (the gentlemen's period costume really cannot compete) and a classic love story that threads in and out of the main narrative. It has all the elements of what a certain generation would have called "a date movie".

The director of Belle describes how she came to make the film in this article at the Independent: Director Amma Asante on the inspiration behind her film Belle:
The historical facts such as the painting, the period, and her upbringing within a privileged family that raised her as an aristocrat, compelled me to define my movie as one about race, politics, art and history - but also one that looks at themes of gender, identity, belonging and equality. Being bi-cultural - I was born and raised in London, the child of West African immigrants - I feel at the intersection of all these themes and wanted to place Belle there, too. One element I wanted to explore was the issue of “ownership”. Although the slave's experience was entirely different to that of the woman, both were nevertheless “owned” - the woman being her husband's property, assuming his last name on marriage.
The trailer does not, in my view, give an effective grasp of the film, though it gives some impression of the locations and filming. The review at SIGNIS is more useful in giving some idea of what the film is about - though it commits a quite striking gaffe in omitting the name of the lead actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, at the head of the review. The comparison to the novels of Jane Austen is quite justified, with an elegance and style in dialogue being present throughout Belle, something that I found very attractive in the film. There is also a "question and answer" session with the director and some of the cast at the Toronto Film Festival 2013, during which the director says more about how the film came to be made. Do look out for the contributions of Tom Wilkinson, Gugu-Mbatha-Raw and Emily Watson in this session (starting at 7:10). Listen to these contributions before you read the next paragraphs.

There is a clear historical context to Belle - the strict ordering of the aristocratic society of the time, the slave trade and the case of the slave ship Zong (the most careful source I can find on this is here, though I do not have the historical expertise to authoritatively judge it) and the life story of Dido Belle herself. However, in the same way that the film Philomena has a representative character, Belle explores a range of themes in its narrative, in a kind of representative way. As you watch the film, you can recognise an exploration of the place of women in society (both in the particular context of the 18th century and in the context of marriage such as would still be relevant today), the relationship of rule or order in society to the wishes of the individual (scandal), the question of how a person is to be valued (title, wealth, family) and most prominently the question of racial discrimination.

I felt there was a subtlety hidden in the way in which the film treated the theme of marriage, though the director does not identify marriage in itself as one of the themes she wishes to explore. In the first place, Belle, at least in the film, is the illegitimate daughter of one of the sons of the family. There is then the question of marriage seen as an institution at the service of wealth or status in society - these are the drivers that lead to marriage rather than the affection of one person for another. And then - shown in the closing scene of the film - there is the love of one person for another, over-riding any considerations of status or wealth, as the key point leading to marriage. (This is compromised, though - if you watch this scene carefully you will see what I mean.) The subtlety lies in how marriage is to be perceived as something pertaining to both an objective institution and arising from an inter-personal affection. The film seems to suggest it is a question of either/or. Gugu-Mbatha-Raw's observation in the Toronto Film Festival "question and answer" that the theme of the film is about being oneself rather than letting oneself be defined by others has some truth to it; but, in the end, I do not think that even the film itself suggests that being oneself is a complete and adequate basis for life decisions.

From a Catholic point of view, the film's portrayal of the institutional dimension to marriage lacks the key components - communion of life for the birth and upbringing of children. Perhaps the film's delineation of how marriage was viewed in 18th century aristocratic society is an accurate one; but the unfortunate aspect of this is that the film too readily suggests replacing that (in itself deficient) view with a view based only on the subjective attraction between people. It misses the point that there is another institutional dimension to marriage.

I suspect that most people who see this film will just recognise it as a beautiful film and enjoy it as such.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Is this really a prank?

I hope that I am not alone in finding it quite horrific that the media are presenting this - World Cup 2014: England team masseur in birthday prank, England players treat masseur 'Smally' to a dip in the ice bath to celebrate 50th birthday  - as a "birthday prank". Whatever the reaction of Paul Small as it appears in the video, to (1) carry out something like this, (2) to film it and then (3) to go further and post it to the web .... well, it does not look to me like an innocent prank.

It looks much more like an instance of workplace bullying, and in just about any other set of circumstances this is in all likelihood the way in which the media would be describing it.

That prestigious England footballers appear to be happy to broadcast their participation in this, and to do so without any censure either in the media or (at least as far as we can tell) through disciplinary procedures, is alarming both because of the example it sets for other workplaces and/or sports related environments and because of what it tells us about their standards of behaviour.

And apart from anything else ... it was an extremely dangerous and irresponsible thing to do. I wonder whether the coverage would have been different had Paul Small suffered a serious injury as a result?

Friday 13 June 2014

Passing by ... Tuam and Invocation for Peace

I returned from holiday (see last post), returned to what would have been in any case a busy professional period, both in the classroom and in my trade union role... and made matters somewhat worse for myself by also engaging in that classic teachers overtime of marking examination scripts for one of the exam boards. I surface from that to observe a couple of things that have passed me by as a result.

The only part of the Tuam mother-and-baby home story that I caught was an interview on Radio 4's Today programme as I drove to school on Tuesday morning, and even that I didn't quite get all of. In that interview, the local researcher Catherine Corless whose research was the basis (with a lot of added gloss) for the story was extremely cautious in just saying exactly what she had learnt and not adding to it the conclusions that others were drawing all too readily. See here and here for more thorough accounts of the story as it developed in the news media during the last week.

I was away on holiday at the time of Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land, and only caught rather in passing the news of his invitation to the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents to join him for an encounter of prayer at the Vatican. My immediate thought was that it represented that quite unique manner of diplomatic activity that is possible to the Holy See but not to nations in the more conventional sense. With hindsight, it also contained a quite personal touch belonging to Pope Francis' himself. Reading the texts of the addresses by Pope Francis, President Abbas and President Peres offers (at least in my opinion) considerable insights into the nature of inter-religious dialogue. As expressions of an encounter that is fundamentally religious rather than political, it nevertheless manifests a certain priority of the religious in relation to the political (and I do think that, quite rightly, the political dimensions can be perceived in the addresses of the two Presidents, particularly in the way in which they talk about the city of Jerusalem). I do suggest reading each of the addresses themselves, and looking at the photo gallery and/or the CTV video-on-demand. This Vatican Information Service news release gives some information about the structure of the ceremony as a whole.

One of the things that strikes me about the event is the obvious personal warmth between the two Presidents and Pope Francis - perhaps a manifestation of the meaning of the term "brother" to which Pope Francis refers. I offer the excerpts that I found most thought provoking. First, from Pope Francis (with my italics added):
We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples. We have heard a summons, and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word “brother”. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father.
Next from President Peres (again with my italics added - the last section indicating the significance of inter-religious dialogue in the context of the wider dialogues in society, suggesting that it has a certain "foundational character" for all dialogue):
I have come from the Holy City of Jerusalem to thank you for your exceptional invitation. The Holy City of Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish People. In Hebrew, our ancient language, the word Jerusalem and the word for peace share the same root. And indeed peace is the vision of Jerusalem. ... 
During your historic visit to the Holy Land, you moved us with the warmth of your heart, the sincerity of your intentions, your modesty, and your kind ways. You touched the people’s hearts — regardless of their faith or nation. You emerged as a bridge-builder of brotherhood and peace. We are all in need of the inspiration which accompanies your character and your way. Thank you....
On this moving occasion, brimming with hope and full of faith, let us all raise with you, Your Holiness, a call for peace between religions, between nations, between communities, and between fellow men and women
And finally from President Abbas (my italics, again):
It is indeed a great honor for us to meet again with His Holiness Pope Francis in fulfillment of his kind invitation to relish his spiritual and noble presence, and listen to his opinion and crystal wisdom, which emanate from a sound heart, vibrant conscience, as well as an elevated ethical and religious sense....
As well let us remember the words of Saint John Paul II when he said: “If peace is realized in Jerusalem, peace will be witnessed in the whole world” ...  
One cannot read these words and go away thinking that the Papacy, both as an objective office and in its subject of Pope Francis, is irrelevant to the modern world. They manifest its relevance beyond any possible doubt.   

A Letter from Lake Como

Romano Guardini's Letters from Lake Como were written as a series of articles, the first appearing at Pentecost 1923 and the last in 1925. In late 1926, they were first published in a book with the aforementioned title; Guardini's preface has the dateline "Varenna on Lake Como, September 1926". The theme of the Letters is the relationship of technology to human culture; Guardini suggests that we face the danger of our adoption of technology creating such distance between us and the natural world around us that it constitutes a domination of that nature rather than the collaboration with it that makes for a genuinely human culture.

A particular passage from Guardini's book has always struck me, a passage in which he compares the (former) sail boats that would have plied the lake to the diesel engine boats of more recent provenance:
.... in the finished sailing vessel, a certain distance from nature has already occurred. We have both withdrawn from nature and mastered it. Our relation to it is now cooler and more alien. Only in this way can any work of culture, of mind and spirit, be done. Yet do you not see how natural the work remains? The lines and proportions of the ship are still in profound harmony with the pressure of the wind and waves and the vital human measure. Those who control this ship are still very closely related to the wind and waves. They are breast to breast with their force. Eye and hand and whole body brace against them. We have here real culture - elevation above nature, yet decisive nearness to it.
Perhaps more than a sailing vessel, this is true of the traditional fishing boats of Lake Como, rowed from a standing position. Zero and I did see one of these boats on the lake during our recent visit.

Guardini goes on to contrast the sailing vessel with diesel engine boats:
... It grieves me when I see built into one of these vessels, these noble creations, a gasoline engine, so that with upright mast but no sails the vessel clatters through the waves like a ghost of itself.... In the sailing ship we had a natural existence, for all the presence of mind and spirit in the situation. We had our being in a natural culture. In the modern steamer, however, we are in an artificial situation; measured by the vital elastic human limits, nature has been decisively eliminated .
In the twenty-first century, Lake Como is criss-crossed by ferries such as that shown in the picture above. We might not now see them as being alien to a human culture in the way that Guardini did. One might instead apply his analysis to the numerous speed boats that move noisily around the lake during weekends, or to the servizio rapido. Whilst the ferries do at least respect the zig-zag geography of the lake and its landing stages, the hydrofoil appears (at least seen from above the lake on the road that runs down its western side) to challenge that geography, trying its best to simply forge a straight line from one end to the other.

On one day of our stay, Zero and I took the conventional ferry from Caddenabia down the western arm of the lake to Como. It is a wonderful way to appreciate the lake. If you do a Google search for "Lake Como" and select images, you will see something of the beauty of the lake and its shores. Como itself has a lovely mediaeval centre and a Cathedral. It is the home city of Alessandro Volta, and there is a museum near the harbour dedicated to him (I missed this - I should have read the tourist guide ...but have since been advised by a fellow physics teacher that it is actually worth missing).

On another day, we went on an excursion on the Bernina express railway. Views were spectacular. Movies here (short) and here (long, but with more views). St Moritz ... we can say we have been there now but, out of the ski-ing season, there is not a lot happening there. At the Italian side, the railway begins at a town called Tirano, which has a Marian shrine in the centre of its main square. The Church itself is baroque-to-be-missed; the guide for our excursion diplomatically advised us of the primitive nature of the public "facilities" in the square.

During a visit to Milan, the Cathedral was a joy - Gothic not baroque. The arrangements for the celebration of the mid-day Mass (a rather temporary arrangement of chapel, altar and Tabernacle hidden behind the main sanctuary) lacked inspiration. The opportunity to recognise the subtleties of the Ambrosian Rite was spoilt by a priest who appeared, so far as I could tell at least, to ad-lib all round everything that was specific to that Rite.

Around the central part of the lake itself, it was easy enough to take a short ferry ride to visit other places along the lake for a walk or a sit and read of a book. It is a beautiful place to spend some time ...

Monday 2 June 2014

Pope Francis and the Charismatic Renewal

I have more than once noted on this blog that there exists a profound influence on Pope Francis of the movement Communion and Liberation. This influence originates in his encounter with the movement in Argentina, before his election to the see of St Peter; and it enables us to understand a number of his more challenging remarks since that election. [Enter the term search term "Pope Francis Communion and Liberation" in the search box of this blog to see relevant posts.]

Pope Francis participation on Sunday in a meeting of the Charismatic Renewal in the Olympic Stadium in Rome reveals the influence of another of the ecclesial movements. Abbey Roads has some coverage of this meeting: The Pope and the Holy Spirit and Pope Francis at the "Renewal of the Spirit" Convocation in Rome. An English language report is here: Francis at Rome’s Olympic Stadium: “The devil wants to destroy the family. This latter report appears a little out of sequence when compared to the original text of Pope Francis' address at the Vatican website (at the time of posting, only an Italian version available): Discorso del Santo Padre ai partecipanti alla 37ma Convocazione Nazionale del Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo.

There is a very tangible warmth in the meeting of Pope Francis with the members of the Italian Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a warmth that can be seen in the Vatican Insider report linked above and in the words of the full Italian text. One thing I particularly noted - and it is reflected in my own experience of Charismatic Renewal - is the way in which Pope Francis places the particular gifts of the movement in the context of the Church as a whole.
When I think of you charismatics, there comes to me an image of the Church itself, but in a particular manner ...
I was particularly struck by Pope Francis account of how his own understanding of the Charismatic Renewal grew over time:
Come voi forse sapete – perché le notizie corrono – nei primi anni del Rinnovamento Carismatico a Buenos Aires, io non amavo molto questi Carismatici. E io dicevo di loro: “Sembrano una scuola di samba!”. Non condividevo il loro modo di pregare e le tante cose nuove che avvenivano nella Chiesa. Dopo, ho incominciato a conoscerli e alla fine ho capito il bene che il Rinnovamento Carismatico fa alla Chiesa. E questa storia, che va dalla “scuola di samba” in avanti, finisce in un modo particolare: pochi mesi prima di partecipare al Conclave, sono stato nominato dalla Conferenza episcopale assistente spirituale del Rinnovamento Carismatico in Argentina. 
[As you probably know - because the news reports carried it - during the first years of the Charismatic Renewal in Buenos Aires, I did not love much these Charismatics. And I said of them: "They appear like a Samba school". I did not share their way of praying and the many new things that occurred in the Church. Later, I began to know them and, in the end, I understood the good that the Charismatic Renewal does in the Church. And this history, which goes from "Samba school" onwards, finished in a special way: a few months before taking part in the Conclave, I was nominated by the bishops' conference as the spiritual assistant to the Charismatic Renewal in Argentina.] 
The report from Vatican Insider describes something that I too have encountered with the Charismatic Renewal - that is, a direction of praise towards Jesus Christ rather than towards an individual speaker or personality (I recall vividly seeing Fr Cantalamessa turn towards an image of the face of Christ at the end of a talk and join in with the applause of his audience, thereby redirecting that applause towards the Lord and away from himself):
Francis crossed a section of the stadium pitch on foot to get to the stage. He was accompanied by the president of RNS, Salvatore Martinez and the Regent of the Papal Household, Fr. Leonardo Sapienza. Some of the delegates who stood along the course which had been marked out for the Pope, shook his hand. In the meantime, the crowds cheered, sang and called out Francis’ name. In his brief greeting to the Pope, Martinez reminded faithful that Francis wanted them to call out Jesus’ name, not his.
Martinez started singing “Jesus is Lord” in Spanish and Francis joined in.....
And a final thought from the words of Salvatore Martinez to Pope Francis, a thought which reflects the experience of a generation in the life of the Church:
We were born with Paul VI, we grew up and matured with John Paul II and now here we are with you.