Tag Archive: History


The Crown Renews Itself

AMDG

If you are interested in how ancient institutions reform or renew themselves a fascinating case study is the British Monarchy. Currently the House of Windsor is being intriguingly interpreted in the Netflix series ‘ The Crown‘.  I have just enjoyed finishing the second series written as always by Benedictine-educated Peter Morgan. With each new series being released in December it seems to have become a Christmas tradition.  Just in case you don’t know, it follows the life of Elizabeth II, and how this unfolds alongside the history of the UK in the last century.  Written by one of the best screenplay writers in the business, beautifully shot including with some fine acting – it is fast becoming an annual treat.  Like all good drama, it touches on so many themes from our own lives, moral character, love, power, pride, hubris… etc – but essentially it shows the incredible capacity for this ancient institution to adapt to modern times, without giving too much ground (RC Church anyone?).  Morgan skillfully ensures that these explorations into the private lives of royalty never strays into sensationalism although he treads a very fine line at times.

As Santayana warns us about history repeating itself, the themes it deals with are surprisingly ‘contemporary’. In the first series, there is a fascinating programme that covers the Great Smog in London that killed thousands of people and led to the clean air act  …..  In the current series, Elizabeth’s uncle and former King, Edward,  is exposed as having a flirtation with Hitler and fascism that feels all too real in our volatile times.  Fascinatingly, this particular episode is inter-weaved with a story about Billy Grahams first visit to the UK.  The American evangelist is portrayed as making a big impression on the young Queen, his moral clarity giving her the strength to effectively banish her erstwhile uncle Edward.

Part of my conscience does sting a little bit when I think of a 91-year-old Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor sitting at home surrounded by corgies in front of the TV,  whilst her life is being interpreted and distributed around the world.   In an age of self-promotion and carefully curated public images, it takes an impressive detachment from her, not to publically comment on these things, or resist the temptation to set the record right. However, I think it is essentially a compassionate portrayal of Elizabeth.  Morgan himself takes the line that the series is always accurate even if it is impossible to be ‘truthful’. His point is that no-one knows what was said between Elizabeth and Philip on this day at this time, but with his team of historical researchers, he believes they can produce an accurate representation. That leads to another moral discussion, certainly, the BBC would never be able to make a series like The Crown.

It is also interesting hearing Peter Morgan talk about how it is a golden-age for writers…. with companies like Netflix generously investing in such projects and not interfering too much with the creativity of the writers.  I suppose the streaming model is another example of a ‘disruptive technology’ getting rid of all the vested interests of producers, cinemas etc.  They might get booed by the old-guard at Cannes, but it means that for talent such as Morgan – the creative process seems to have become much cleaner.

AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

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,  the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a pattern of men leaving the order soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though, even after the long period of formation, they were expecting something magical to happen at ordination and were disappointed when it didn’t.  Maybe they had a rather superficial understanding of the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued in 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.

PictureWe 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.  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 were expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions so you can see how it can be helpful to have powerful allies.

44423190For 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 countrymen.  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

There seems to be a curious collection of images of Mary that have been maliciously attacked at the height of anti-Catholic tensions.  The famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa 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 vulnerability 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 Czestochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this had become an icon of a 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.

AMDG

cannonizationThere 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!