30 October 2009

The Girl Who Prayed For Her Father's Murderers' Conversion

I got this story at one remove via A Casa de Sarto, to whom thanks. As Rafael says:

"To give one's life for one's friends is something great. To offer one's life for one's enemies is something heroic."

There were many difficulties in the life of this young girl because from an early age she suffered health problems: she was named Maria del Carmen del Sagrado Corazón in an emergency baptism when two days old. Thanks to Bishop Tedeschini, Nuncio in Spain at that time and a family friend, Mari Carmen was confirmed at the age of two years, as sometimes happened, and made her first communion aged six.

Mari Carmen was always very generous. Once, a beggar knocked at the door of her house. She opened the door, gave him all the money she had and said: "now knock again and ask Mummy for something". She knew that her mother used to give used clothes to the poor, and on several occasions said that her almost brand new clothes were old.

Two of her favorite pastimes were keeping holy pictures in a box and giving short retreats to her dolls: teaching them to pray and make the sign of the Cross. Aged four or five she used to lead the family rosary and recite the litanies of the Virgin in Latin, something that her parents were very proud of.

The religious persecution that had begun some years earlier, then became stronger, leading to numerous murders. "We do not believe that there has ever in the history of Christianity been a similar outbreak of hatred against Jesus and against religion, to that which has been manifested in all aspects of thought, of will, and of passion, and in just a few weeks ... The martyrs are numbered in thousands" said the Spanish bishops at the time. Valerio Gonzalez's family was not spared these events because in late August, the father was arrested and taken to prison, where he would make an emotional statement to his wife: "The children are too small, and will not understand, but when they grow up tell them their father has fought and given his life for God and for Spain, so that they can be educated in a Catholic Spain where the crucifix hangs in every classroom." Days later he would be killed.

After the death of her husband, Mari Carmen's mother went to live at the Belgian Embassy: she was in danger because of her family relationship with many political personalities. Her children were taken into the care of her aunt Sofia, who later described the girl's attitude to those difficult times: "during her stay in my house, she recited every day the Rosary of the Wounds of the Lord for the conversion of the murderers of her father." Even for a young girl, the prayers were centred on the President, Manuel Azaña. Mari Carmen later asked her mother: "is Azaña going to heaven?", to which her mother replied that if she prayed for it, he would be saved.

One day, while attending Mass with her grandmother, Mari Carmen asked, "can I give myself?" Her Grandmother nodded, not understanding what her granddaughter meant. "I followed her after her communion, and it was as though the angels were carrying her. She covered her face with her little hands, then spent a moment on her knees in thanksgiving. On leaving the church, she asked me the exact meaning of surrender, and I replied that it means giving yourself entirely to God and belonging entirely to him" says the grandmother.

Her uncle Javier explained: "Mari Carmen wanted the conversion of sinners, and she offered the sufferings of her illness and death for the conversion of Azana, President of the Republic, a symbol of religious persecution and of those who murdered her father." Sometimes she said to her aunt: "Aunt Fifa, pray for Daddy and all of the people who killed him."

In early April to the little one was diagnosed with scarlet fever: it rapidly got worse and she was confined at home. Even during her sickness she gave clear evidence of holiness, something that became apparent when on one occasion, one of the nuns who was looking after her drew the curtains of her room; she replied "Thank you, Mother, may the Good Lord reward you". Soon another sister came and pulled back the curtains to let in more light. Mari Carmen thanked her the same way: "Thank you, Mother, that's just right".

She lost her hearing, and then contracted double phlebitis. She was covered with gangrenous sores, and fainted with pain when her sheets were changed. Only the name of Jesus helped her to endure things, because there were no painkillers. "Mari Carmen, ask the Child Jesus to heal you", her mother told her. "No, Mummy, I do not ask why, I ask that His will be done." She often asked for the prayers for the dying to be read for her, and lived with her thoughts more on heaven than here on earth.

She did not ask for one moment that God should save her, but "to do His will". All attempts to heal her were unsuccessful. One of the nurses said later: "when I had to inject serum into the veins of one of her hands, because those in the other were damaged, she asked us to pray, so we prayed the Creed and Our Father, all together with her. We said them very slowly, but when we injected her then we prayed a lot faster." The sufferings she endured were truly unbearable, but she abandoned herself to Jesus Christ, because only his name appeared to soften the pain. Mari Carmen said that the Virgin Mary would pick the day of her birthday on 16 July for her death. When she learned that her aunt Sophia was to marry that day, she announced that she would die the next day instead. And she was right: on the morning of 17 July 1939, Mari Carmen sat up in bed, something she hadn't been able to do for a long time, and said: "today I'm going to die, I'm going to heaven!" Dona Carmen, her mother, brought the whole family around the child. She apologized for not having been able to love her nurse, and once for failing to say her prayers. Then she asked his mother to sing "How good you are, Jesus". She turned to her and said: "soon I will see Daddy, do you want me to tell him something from you?". Hours later, Mari Carmen surprised everyone by saying: "love one another".

When she died, Mari Carmen was devastated and physically deformed by the disease, but one of his uncles noticed a startling fact: "look how beautiful she is getting!" he said. Moreover, everybody smelled a scent different from that of the flowers around her. The stiffness of her body had disappeared and was she was transformed into something beautiful.

Very few people know what happened in the moments before the death of President of the Second Republic. On 3 November 1940, Azaña died in Montauban, a city in southeastern France near Toulouse. According to the bishop of the diocese, Monsignor Theas, who at the time gave him spiritual assistance: "he received with lucidity the sacrament of penance, expiring in the love of God and the hope of seeing him". What neither the president nor his friends knew was that a girl of nine years had prayed and offered hardship throughout her life for his salvation.

Mari Carm,en has been declared Venerable, and there are hopes she will soon be beatified.

27 October 2009

(Bad) Book Review

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What couldn't there be to like? The story of the wartime exploits in the British Embassy in Madrid of Tom Burns, friend of Woodruff, Waugh and Greene, erstwhile editor of The Tablet when it was a Catholic intellectual weekly for all.

Written by Burn's son, I had expected the book to offer some illumination of why Tom Burns had joined Sir Samuel Hoare's wartime Embassy to Franco's recently installed government, and what he had done. What I hadn't expected was a book so full of errors in things I understand, that I can't know whether or not it is accurate about the things I don't.

Consider just this, describing his father's First Holy Communion, undated but in context between 1912 and 1914:

"Burns found himself absorbing the mysteries of a faith that had at its core the doctrine of the Real Presence. He munched on his first Communion wafer, and sipped at the chalice, fully believing that this was the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, as recited by the priest, and that the words were part of the same mystification as that experienced by the apostle at the Last Supper."

Or, for those who know a bit about the attack by Oldmeadow in The Tablet on Waugh's Black Mischief, the suggestion that Burns had manoeuvred Oldmeadow into it, and was able three years (sic) later to organise the group which bought The Tablet's owners out.

Add some prurient comment about his father's relationship with Anne Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of the Queen Mother and therefore, in the author's eyes, some sort of scion of the Royal Family; and the (credulity-stretching) suggestion that Philby and Blunt both personally conspired against him; or that he was told that he had been refused a CMG because "too many RCs were getting gongs"; and this reader, for one, ends up feeling that a great opportunity has been missed.



24 October 2009

Degsy The Next Roche?

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Here is some news from a Clifton-based correspondent.

The Bishops' Appointments column in the Catholic Herald doesn't mention it, but on Wednesday, the clergy of the Clifton Diocese will learn how their Bishop intends to "manage decline".

The answer will not be: "by increasing vocations". It will be about increased roles for lay people: ladies in green cardigans to the fore; ever parish has a parish council with a "liturgy committee" which the PP is allowed to be a member of.

It will be about new approaches to parishes; how to cope with a parish structure imposed at a time of lots of priests, when the number of priests will, inexorably, carry on diminishing.

My bet is that rather than try to close parishes - we all know how HORRID people were to +Arthur when he came up with such sensible provisions - +Degsy will come up with a new Deanery-based structure which will leave the Parishes juridically intact, but managed through a new, kewl, team-based structure. It will be the clever version of what happened in Leeds.

It would be awful, though, if people protested. It would be terrible if the news came out in an uncontrolled way.

Dear readers: these people will not admit that they have lost and will keep fighting; and they will be much, much, more vicious than any of you think.

21 October 2009

Not Just About Anglicans

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For most of the world, "Anglican" will be the title of some obscure sect that they no little about, other than that the Holy Father, in paternal love, has worked out a manner in which as many of them as want to can return to the bosom of Peter without having to compromise principles which HH the P believes are on the other side of his line in the sand.

They can have their own liturgy and Ordinaries who are not Bishops (at least in the manner Catholics and Orthodox understand Bishops); they don't have to be subsumed into Latin Rite dioceses; they simply have to acknowledge a Catholic understanding of the Petrine Ministry and accept what (until the end of the 60s) everybody would recognise as "what every Catholic believes".

There is a mood abroad which suspects that this is also an invitation to the SSPX to see that what has been written on a small scale with Tridentine Latin Rite Communities is at least potentially writable large.

But I wonder whether one of HH's eyes might not have been facing East. There is an interesting message to the Orthodox Churches that says that this Pope's exercise of the Petrine Ministry is that of a loving father, and not that of an absolutist monarch.
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18 October 2009

Spain On The March

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Two million people, according to the organisers; one and a quarter million according to the authorities in Madrid.

LOTS of people came out onto the streets of Madrid yesterday to protest against government plans to allow abortion on demand up to 14 weeks.

I even managed to find a piece of reporting from the BBC: it's here. It's a short piece, which borrows from RTVE, the Spanish state broadcaster. There is also a set of photos in the Spanish newspaper ABC, available here.

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17 October 2009

EF Mass liberates The Laity!

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There have been lots of comments from priests about how the celebration of the Extraordinary Form liberates them: they don't have to perform any more.

There has been much less about the liberation of the faithful: imagine being able to turn up for Mass knowing that you don't have to do anything. The priest says the Mass, the server says the responses, and I ... well, I attend Mass; I hear Mass; I pray the Mass; I participate in Mass; I'm at Mass.

I am entirely free. I could say the Rosary; I could follow the Mass gesture by gesture from my missal so as to be nearly word for word with the priest; I could decide to meditate on something; I could sit/stand/kneel and ask God to fill me with Himself. But it's my conscious choice: it's not imposed.

The point is that it's not about me: the liturgical action happens whether I'm there or not, and my attendance is a privilege, not a right; I'm lucky that the priest is there doing his bit: not the other way round.

It's about God.

16 October 2009

Just A Thought

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).-

Africa's Catholic leaders are facing the challenge of inculturation by discerning which cultural values are compatible with Christianity, said the president of the Kenyan bishops' conference. Cardinal John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi, stated this Wednesday in a press conference at the conclusion of the first phase of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

He affirmed, "We come from far away, we are far away and we are going far: this is the situation of the Church in Africa."

"If we want to be Christians, we cannot choose the values we wish to follow," the prelate stated, and thus we must discern which African values are "compatible with Christianity."

The cardinal discussed the relation between inculturation of the faith and traditional religion.The "relatio post disceptationem" [report after the debate] noted that "fear and uncertainty characterizes the life of faith in many African populations."

This fear and uncertainty cause mistrust, self-defense and aggressiveness as well as recourse to magic and occultism, or an attempt at syncretism between Christianity and traditional religion.

Bishop Manuel António Mendes dos Santos of São Tomé and Príncipe addressed the topic of the persistence of esoteric practices.

He explained: "The relation with mystery is part of African culture. From this perspective, atheism, for example, is not comprehensible for an African."

So why not entrust them to a Uniate Church?

11 October 2009

Flucht Nach Musik

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All sorts of things are going on at the moment and my brain hurts trying to keep up. And a steady trickle of "don't write about this but pray for us" e-mails makes me wonder if a concerted attack on a particular type of Catholic belief and practice in southern England is underway. I have one story of two-faced hypocrisy which would be unbelievable in a Jeffrey Archer novel, but which is positively attributed to a member of the Episcopal Conference. What a world we're in!
So the arrival of two multi CD sets is very welcome, especially as these come from either end (chronologically) of the era of German music which fascinates me.
Telemann's Brockes-Passion is something I've heard of, but never heard, and the six late Haydn Masses (of which I don't think I could ever tire) come accompanied by various motets and the Te Deum for the Empress Maria Theresa. These aren't Classic FM popular classics, but neither are they simple concert pieces for Radio 3 in the afternoon. This is a serious bit of stuff, a world in which I shall be immersing myself from time to time until Christmas.
Is escapism necessarily a bad thing? Well, I've put the question in a way that only allows the answer "No" to justify the fact that I am going to build a little musical hidey-hole. God Help us all that I should need to.
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05 October 2009

What's Happening?

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The signs of the time are worrying.

The swine flu prohibition on Communion on the tongue feels, at least in some parishes in some dioceses, like an attempt to ban the practice completely.

The attacks, or rather the continual pinpricks, against Summorum Pontificum priests seems, if reports are true, to be on the increase: but there are some attacks as well and some of these attacks are vile and potentially high profile.

The staff at the E&W Bishops' Conference continue to plan for an Ad Limina visit which will take the attack to the Pope.

With the exception of the Archbishop of Westminster, not a single Bishop in E&W seems to have welcomed the idea of a Papal visit.

If I can be forgiven the analogy, we are in early 1942. The Americans have finally entered the War but the Japanese have conquered the Pacific and look unstoppable; the Germans still seem to be advancing in North Africa; and as the winter ends on the Eastern Front, everybody is expecting the worst.

Nobody has realised that the enemy has extended itself as far as it is able, and only two things are necessary for its defeat: unity, and a willingness to take all the time final victory needs, whatever the attraction of a negotiated peace.

They can't win. We can win, and we can lose.