Virginia Barton

Newman, the Catechism, Durham, and Kostowiec

 

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Catholic Herald, 9 November 1990

 

The centenary year of Cardinal Newman’s death is drawing to a close. The public celebrations culminate with an ecumenical service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s cathedral on November 23.

The fall-out from the year has been considerable: lectures, special masses, conferences, summer schools and exhibitions. Several new books have appeared and some of Newman’s own titles have been reprinted. The immensely popular series of public lectures given in Oxford in the spring has been published in Newman: A Man for Our Time (SPCK, £5.99, reviewed in the CH on September 14).

 

Catechism

Those who were unable to attend the lectures, and those who were, will seize upon it to relish at leisure the well turned phrases, skilful arguments, and diversity of views presented by the distinguished contributors. Those involved in the shaping of the new Catechism will find Eric D’Arcy’ s chapter particularly interesting.

Archbishop D’Arcy chose to focus on an issue of great contemporary importance, and he proffers Newman as an effective guide in the vital task of forming the new Catechism. Dr D’Arcy’s pastoral approach – head and heart, intellect and imagination – reminds us that the Catechism is intended for everyday folk as well as theologians, teachers and the like.

The many-faceted paperback (with incidentally a fine introduction for anyone exploring Newman for the first time) was edited by David Brown, recently appointed Van Mildert professor of divinity at Durham University. He concludes his introduction to the book with a suggestion that Newman be added to the list of “lesser festivals and commemorations” at the beginning of The Alternative Service Book of the C of E.

Did you know that some post-reformation saints including Francis de Sales and Teresa of Avila are listed there? We might reciprocate by finding in our calendar an ecumenical niche for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

 

Durham-Location-SR

 

Dusky vaults

It was David Brown’s installation as canon that took me to Durham and its magnificent cathedral. Towering above the river Wear, this vast Norman building, majestic on a craggy bluff, was completed in 1133. Because of an early ruling that no one might be buried in the church where the body of St Cuthbert lay, the interior is remarkably uncluttered in comparison with other cathedrals. There have been exceptions to this rule, but the soaring heights of the massive columns fly unbroken to the arches above in the dusky vault.

From floor to ceiling the eye may travel in undistracted lines. By contrast, the Galilee chapel at the west end is quite low; here lies the venerable Bede, shining light of learning in what we mistakenly call the Dark Ages – I bet Bede never thought of his own times as dark.

Durham is an enviable place to hold a canonry; ha1f way to heaven thanks to its location, and conveniently placed between York and Glasgow. I would love to be there for the grand miners’ service on gala day, with bands, banners and a procession through the winding, hilly streets.

 

Bookery Nook

It is likely that the Newman book I referred to will soon feature in an exciting new column in the Herald. Yes! Bookery Nook is to stand on its own two little feet! Look out for details on November 23.

Thanks to more elbow-room, and the added prominence of a special corner in the paper, the hunt for readers’ requests for secondhand and out-of-print volumes should be easier. It is also hoped to arrange for the collection and dispatch of unwanted or spare books to the missions.

And there will be a selection of new religious paperbacks for you to buy directly by post. Such armchair shopping could solve at a stroke the vexed question of what to give Aunt Mabel for Christmas.

Don’t tell me it’s too early to write of Christmas – the first catalogue of cards, crackers and candles arrived on my desk on July 14. Traidcraft’s CAFOD catalogue (nicely timed at the beginning of September) displays a tempting array of presents to buy from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Buying from a charity not only contributes to their work at home and abroad , but eases some of the guilt that spikes the season of peace and goodwill – when we who seem to have so much receive yet more, while so many others have so little, and even that dwindling.

But before you spend your all on the CAFOD wares (or one of the others), do allow me to describe another worthwhile Christmas cause.

 

Loving Care

About 20 miles from Warsaw, set in wooded ·countryside, is a home for abandoned and orphaned girls. There are 130 of them, aged between 12 and 20.

Since 1877 the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Mary have given such girls loving care, an education, training for work, and the nearest thing to a real home that they can create. Looking after this difficult age group is their particular vocation, and the 28 nuns at Kostowiec are helped by a lay staff of 40.

Some of the girls have behavioural problems, some are handicapped, others have been malnourished, ill-treated or simply neglected. The government subsidy barely covers the cost of food. The order has about 30 similar homes, and sisters in Brazil and Lvov. There is a small farm at Kostowiec: hens, a few pigs, vegetables, fruit trees and beehives.

The buildings have suffered (like so many in Poland) from lack of maintenance, and there aren’t even covered walkways between them. Everything is spotlessly clean inside and despite spartan conditions (by our standards) the atmosphere is merry and busy, and the girls obviously loved and cared for as individuals.

 

Costly repairs

Thetiny chapel at Kostowiec is too small to hold everybody (including local villagers) so mass is celebrated outside in fine weather. The sisters make the very best of what they have, brave and devoted women who have shared in Poland’s sufferings.

Between 1950 and 1957 they could neither teach nor wear their habits, and their land was incorporated in a state farm.

Times are more hopeful now, but they are desperately short of money. They want to convert from coal-fired beating and cooking to gas. They must repair the sewerage. They need to repair the older buildings, and expand to take in more girls from the seemingly endless demand for places.

No state system can give these girls the kind of selfless care these “mothers” give their “daughters”; I saw the devoted work and urgent needs, and I saw the reward of smiling faces and healthy bodies.

If you have anything to spare this Christmas please send me a cheque c/o the Catholic Herald, made out to “Kostowiec”. Not only will I make sure it arrives safely in the hands of these excellent women, I will let you know what they spend it on – enlarging the minute surgery perhaps, or repairing the chapel roof.

 

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