Catholic Herald, 11 January 1991
The final decade of the last century came to be known as the Naughty Nineties. Flappers danced through the Roaring Twenties, and the Sixties were swinging.
There was an époque de mauvais gout, an Edwardian era, and just recently the Thatcher years. Perish the thought that the current nineties will be dubbed the “generation of the condom” – an ugly word for a device that would sound as nasty by any other name: a device that is shorthand for a whole range of attitudes that today makes up the life-style of huge numbers of people.
The media, and television in particular (the most potent propaganda weapon ever invented), has adopted the word, the object, and everything that it implies, so that any initial shock is gradually eroded.
It has become acceptable, “adult”, to speak or joke about the condom as though it were something perfectly natural.
Personally I find this state of affairs deeply offensive. I refuse to be a compliant member of the condom society.
It is a distasteful scene. A backdrop against which a singer may perform under the name usually reserved for the mother of God and label her latest hits the Immaculate Collection; where an airline is called Virgin; and where young women prance about in tights masquerading as trousers – and then have the nerve to complain of being harassed.
When black or white is in danger of being seen as merely grey, when right is barely distinguishable from wrong, a stand must be made on behalf of our children. I know that there are many people who share this sense of outrage and it is they who will make this stand.
The focus and rallying-call for such a stand could be the Decade of Evangelisation, sober words unlikely to grab the tabloid headlines. Cardinal Hume outlined the aims of the Decade in his introduction which was printed in the Catholic Herald on December 28.
His approach to the challenge of the next 10 years is characteristically pastoral. He urges us to “learn to live consciously in the presence of God, and in a spirit of prayer . . . It is the foundation of the development of the Christian life in our country which we all so earnestly seek.”
If, 10 years from now, the trend towards spiritual pollution and total materialism has been reversed by even a hair’s breadth, that will be cause for celebration.
The Decade of Evangelisation began on January 6, the Epiphany. It is a feast for which I have always felt a special fondness; perhaps other converts feel the same. We didn’t make it with the shepherds but tagged along in the train of the magi, better late than never.
Epiphany means the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and was introduced as a feast into the western church in the fourth century. The first extant representation of this most paintable of subjects is in the Priscilla catacomb and dates from the second century.
Tradition names the kings, or wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, and their supposed relics are enshrined in Cologne cathedral, whither they were brought by Emperor Barbarossa in 1162.
There is a legend or story about a fourth king who somehow became separated from the famous trio. After a hazard and a diversion he arrived in Jerusalem in time for the crucifixion. I wondered if he, too, bore a precious gift.
As the dull January days unfold I am still enjoying my own Christmas presents. The little pudgy hands that once fashioned the half-baked handouts of nursery school days, now present gift-wrapped corkers worth a bob or two. That does not mean that the curiously shaped clay artifacts, the clumsy blotters, calendars and needlecases don’t lie forever cherished in a secret drawer.
The giving of presents reminds me of Kostowiec. Since last I wrote about the home in Poland, several things happened that I am sure CH readers, so remarkably generous in their support for Kostowiec, will be delighted to hear about.
When I visited the girls and the sisters in September they asked if a cassette-player could be found for them, as the girls love to dance. Stanley Kalms of the Dixons Store Group responded magnificently, and a brand new Panasonic player, complete with speakers and tapes, was delivered to the Herald office by Mastercare.
It is now en route for Poland and I only wish I could be there to record the joy and excitement its arrival will cause. Huge thanks to Dixons and Mastercare from the young people skipping about to their new music!
Before Christmas two anonymous donors sent £10,000, a truly princely gift the sisters have ear-marked for expanding the home to accommodate another 30 girls from the long waiting list. This will mean a new start in life, shelter, education and training, for some of the most deprived children in Poland. One cannot put a price on that sort of opportunity; mere words of thanks seem inadequate.
Dziennik Polski (Polish Daily) advertised the appeal in December and Polish readers have responded as generously as Herald ones. This month a further £800 has been sent to Kostowiec.
Another delightful result from the Polish advert was a telephone call from Barbara, a widow living in south London, who knew and lived at Kostowiec during the war. She put me in touch with her Polish/ Jewish friend Janina who, by an extraordinary chain of events, also stayed at Kostowiec in those dark days.
Janina has written her autobiography, Square of Sky, Touch of Earth, published by Penguin in 1980 but alas now out of print. Her entire family (apart from an uncle) perished; Janina, in her early teens, was passed from convent to convent. At the time of the Warsaw Rising in 1944, she, with some nuns and other children, were sheltering in a cellar.
They were discovered by a German officer, a Catholic, who at great risk smuggled the group onto a train – and they ended up in Kostowiec where the sisters sheltered them until the Russians arrived in 1945.
Despite the blast of my opening paragraphs, there’s a lot of it about. Goodness, I mean. What about those kind people who have sent embroidery silks and felts for the Carmelites I mentioned in December?
These are exactly the people who will rally to the call of the Decade of Evangelisation. Happy New Year.