Fr Pedro Arrupe
I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits, noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained. It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant. So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.
We are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid. It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK. It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits, although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain. Their portraits line the corridors. In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence. Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada. A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh …. but we will come to that in a minute. The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family. When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies …. things can change however.
For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel. After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596, some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue to the market square where they desecrated it. The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600. They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men. Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College
A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike. The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox. Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities. Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day celebrations, I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.
There are a small group of students and myself getting ready to travel to Tanzania and help out at one of the Jesuit schools in Dodoma. Tanzania is a relatively stable country in East Africa thanks to the legacy of their great president at the time of independence, Julius Nyerere. Amongst that generation of independence leaders in Africa,Kenyatta, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe – Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere stands head and shoulders above them. He became a Catholic at the age of 21, and when independence came in 1961 it was achieved without bloodshed, partly due to Nyerere’s widely recognised integrity and respect and also his good relationship and co-operation with the British Governor Sir Richard Turnbill. Although many would argue that his policy ‘ujamma’ (extended familyhood) was economically disastrous, as were his links with Mao’s China. However he relinquished power peacefully, unusually for that generation of leaders, and although Tanzania was a poor and one of the least developed countries in East Africa, it was peaceful and has since proven to be safe from the bouts of tribal violence that have affected surrounding countries and is threatening to rear its ugly head again in neighbouring Burundi.
The capital Dodoma is in the center of the country (275 miles away from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest and richest city and economic hub). Nyerere moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma in 1974 in order to create a centralising force in the country to unify the different tribes so they didn’t feel isolated from the coastal Dar. In January 2005 the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a case for the beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently. Last years visit by Pope Francis rekindled hope that Nyerere may be one day declared a saint – link. The Jesuits have established a parish and schools in Dodoma, and when I used to visit with groups of sixth formers from London we would stay with the Jesuits and help out in the school. The last time I went in 2011 we were privileged to have an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Tanzania Mizengo Pinda. Pinda, an ex-seminarian would attend Sunday Mass at the Jesuit Parish and then had the reputation for being clean, and straightforward. He retired in 2015 from being prime minister and political life after allegations of corruption (BBC link). Maybe my question at the beginning of the interview, although uncomfortable was a little prescient? The video quality isn’t great but the questions and answers are informative. When we put the video on YouTube back in 2011 on returning to the UK is was rapidly taken down by someone …. maybe it will stay up this time!
*Hagiophobia, I have just discovered is the fear of saints or Holy things…. ok so we are all familiar with Vampires cowering from crucifixes, or troubled by holy water, but I am thinking about a more subtle and perhaps more serious form of cultural hagiophobia.
Christopher Hitchens’ almost visceral hatred of Mother Teresa would be an example of this, his book the Missionary Position, is a classic case of a hatchet job. But at least Hitchens described himself as a polemicist and was quite open about this. However Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall and its sequels contain a more subtle but equally relentless character assassination of St Thomas More. Her distorted and cruel caricature of one of the great figures of the Tudor times, is a great calumny.
Mantel, raised a Roman Catholic and educated at convent school, has turned her back on the church of her youth with an unusual and unbalanced venom. In an interview in the Telegraph she said “ I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” With the stroke of a pen she condemns 1.2 billion people. At the time I remember reading many comments expressing relief that we have been saved from the ‘respectability’ that Mantel obviously craves. And she has achieved that respectability in glorious fashion with back to back Booker Prizes and now wall-to-wall gushing praise for the BBC adaptation of her books.
This leaves me very uneasy, as one of the biggest problems that a post-Christian culture faces is a cultural amnesia. A lack of historical grasp can be dangerous, repeating mistiakes and underpinning prejudices. This portrayal of More as a zealous monster, and Cromwell the destroyer of the monasteries, as a hero, flies in the face of history. This is important as so many of viewing the series will see this as history, my atheist sister after reading the books declared with a certain provocative pleasure – what an unpleasant character More was. The vast majority of historians describe More as one of the intellectual greats of Europe, a renaissance man, the author of Utopia, great friend of Erasmus who worked for the reform of the church from the inside. As the newspapers are full of gushing praise about Wolf Hall – they focus on the lavish production values, the great acting, its what the BBC does best, historical dramas – and I can see the producers eyes filling up with dollar signs as they anticipate the DVD box sales, and BBC Worldwide licks it lips anticipating the sales to foreign broadcasters. The problem is the History Sucks – and we will be exporting it around the world and most people will be watching it as fact.
The series has just been reviewed on Thinking Faith