Friday, 22 June 2012

Localism and Scottish Christian Democracy: Neither Berlin nor Vienna. Neither Westminster nor Edinburgh

Earlier this year I had the privilege of acting as an election agent and election campaigner for my Dad who was re-elected for another 5 years as an Independent Councilor for our town. He was elected with nearly 2000 votes, an amazing result if you consider the fact that it's a small town and he does not belong to a political party. It was also a great result considering how dirty and negative the campaign was. Among the many slurs and insults directed his way (some sectarian in tone) was the claim that he is "parochial" and only concerned with serving his own small community where he grew up.  Although meant as an insult, this tag of Parochialism was actually a compliment to an Independent Councillor since his job is to serve the needs of the community first and foremost. Indeed, Parochialism is a by-word for Localism. The political principle of Localism is that which supports local production and consumption of goods, local control of government, and local culture and identity. Localism can generally be described as in opposition to centralism which is exactly where an Independent town councillor should be. (And lets not forget that it was localism and local democracy which defeated centralist-secularism on the issue of council prayers at Bideford Town Council in Devon.)

 Furthermore, one of the main aspects of Christian Democracy is the idea of "Subsidiarity" developed by the German theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning and mentioned by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno. It states that the functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. Indeed, one of the main concepts which underpins Christian Democracy is the subsidiarity based idea of devolving power to local level.  This however, is not necessarily an endorsement of Scottish Independence since Scottish Independence can be seen as a movement towards Centralism and a negative expression of Nationalism which goes against the Christian Democratic principle of Common Good and Solidarity. (A claim which I think is most unfair since it is a civic-nationalism which is being offered not a race based one.)

Nonetheless, the new Christian Democratic movement which seems to be forming in Scotland is against Scottish Independence. According to the SCO

The problem with new Scottish Christian Democratic movement's opposition to Scottish Nationalism is the fact that it sounds like a de facto endorsement of Unionism and Westminster Rule. This type of Unionism ignores the fact that many of the original Christian Democratic Parties in Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands were perhaps not Localist but certainly Regionalist in ideology.

However, the original Christian Democratic Parties emerged from the Rhenish and Westphalian Catholic heartlands in the second half of the 19th century as a response to Bismark's Kulturkampf. But these people had no strong attatchment to the concept of a unified Germany as we know it today. They were very Regionalist (or Parochial if you like?) in outlook. They had no desire to be ruled by either Berlin or Vienna. The same can be said of early Christian Democratic Parties in Belgium who had Flemish interests at heart or the CD parties in the South Netherlands. Parties such as
Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams in Flanders. A leftwing CD party with links to the Labour Movement and Trade Unionism. Or even the Katholieke Staatspartij) (RKSP) in The Netherlands or the Confessionele Katholieke Partij all with roots in the teaching of the Papal Encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno    

So in conclusion, any authentic Scottish Christian Democratic Party should be as hostile (or at least as ambivalent) to Edinburgh rule as it is to Westminster rule. Indeed, such issues should almost be rendered meaningless by the Christian Democrats desire for a State which create the conditions for civil society to flourish outside the boundaries of the state. We should seek to live a Christian life beyond politics and national borders. Also, the other concern I have about the new Christian Democratic Movement is it's complete lack of Working class credibility.  It's vital that we build up support from working class Christians within the Trade Union and Labour Movement just as the orginal CD parties did. The new movement seems to have overlooked CD's strong emphasis on the community, social solidarity, support for a welfare state, NHS and support for strong regulation of market forces. We must have an emphasis on the fact that the individual is part of a community and has duties towards it. The economy must be at the service of humanity not a vehicle for obscene greed and materialism as it is today.


Totus Tuus : Fr. Kentenich and Schoenstatt Scotland

The negotiations with the SSPX seem to be drawing to a close but before we welcome people like the holocaust denier Williamson back into the fold. Please give some thought to yet another group German Catholics who suffered under the of Nazis and went on to serve and influence us here in Scotland and the rest of the UK.  The Schoenstatt Movement was a lay inspired, Catholic Social movement devoted to our Blessed Mother established in the Rhineland in 1914 by Fr. Joseph Kentenich who himself was also born near Cologne in 1885.  Fr. Kentenich was a great man and a brilliant thinker, in 1940 he was was sent to Dachau concentration by the Nazis. As was another Rhineland born Schoenstatt Priest Karl Leisner who died of tuberculosis shortly after being liberated from Dachau. 

Fr. Kentenich describes Schoenstatt as, "a universal vision, comprising time and eternity, this world and the next, the economic, social, ethical, political and religious needs of all people, including the dispossessed, the millions of masses… It wants to help redeem the world not only from its earthly sufferings, but also from sin and from its alienation from God. It tries to do this under the guidance and in the school of Our Lady by applying the original principles of Christianity in a new way to restore the disturbed relationship between the individual person and society, the person and business, the person and technology, and the person and social advancement."

Fr Kentenich was years ahead of his time with regards to the reforms which came later at V2, but he was also part of that great Rhineland-Catholic Social tradition which was forged during the struggles of the Kulturkampf. The tradition which gave us The Centre Party and great men like Adolph Kopling, Josef Frings and the Catholic Trade Unionist and Leftwing Christian Democrat Adam Stegerwald

One of the most important parts of the Schoenstatt Movement is the Shrine to Our Lady. The Shrine is a fundamental part the movement's faith.  There are dozens of replicas shrines all around the world based on the first shrine in Schoenstatt where the movement started. Even here in Scotland we have a Schoenstatt Shrine, today the Schoenstatt Pilgrimage and Retreat centre is based in the beautiful Campsie Fells not far from Glasgow. According to the Schoenstatt Scotland site...

"Sr. Xavera. She was asked by the German Bishops to establish a centre for German catholics resident in Scotland and the North of England. She was joined later by Sr. Vincetas and they worked for many years from Ardmory on the south side of Glasgow. Their work covered an area from the north of Scotland down to Manchester in the north of England.

As well as looking after German ex-soldiers they worked to promote Schoenstatt and slowly but surely a small family Movement began to emerge. In the 1960s some members even travelled to Germany and met Fr. Kentenich. The desire for a Shrine also began to grow, encouraged by Sr. Xavera's irrepressible energy. "

The shrine itself is very much in the tradition of the shrines to Our lady found all over Flanders, South Netherlands and Germany.  Like the Kevelaer shrine near the Dutch-German border in North Rhine Westphalia for example. It's the most visited  pilgirmage location in northern Europe. More than 800,000 pilgrims, mostly from Germany, Flanders and The South Netherlands visit Kevelaer every year to honour the Virgin Mary.

Totus Tuus!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

German trained Dutch Master Brewer making Trappist Beer for the Benedictines in the UK

Very exciting news from the Benedictine monks at Ampleforth Abbey who are launching a Trappist Beer.  Actually, that should really be re-launching since it was once produced before in France. You can read about it here in this article from The Guardian

And also find more information here...

Also interesting to note that the Beer is actually being produced on behalf of the Mokns by a  Master Brewer Wim van der Spek. Dutch-born Wim qualified as a Master Brewer at ‘Doemens World Brew Academy’,in Munich, Germany. He runs Little Valley Brewery is West Yorkshire and is a specialist in the monkish tradition of  Trappist Beers.

Pre-orders for the Beer can be placed here at the Abbey shop...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Weiße Rose and Spekpater: Remember the Dutch Priest who saved ethnic Germans after WW2

It's The Netherlands v Old Man Germany tonight in Euro 2012, another bitter footballing rivalry coming right off the back the hotly contested Poland v Russia game last night. Hopefully there will be no trouble, the links between history, nationalism, war and sport sometimes get a little mixed up. Especially between The Dutch and The Germans. 

However, it's worth recalling some of the people who have worked towards peace and reconciliation between these two nations. One such man is Father Werenfried van Straaten.  Father van Straaten was a Catholic priest from Mijdrecht in the Netherlands. In 1947 he appealed to all faithful to help the fourteen million German civilians displaced from the east at the end of World War II, six million of whom were Roman Catholics. These refugees and expellees resided in very primitive camps, mostly former Nazi concentration camps or Allied POW camps located in the western occupation zones of Germany and - for a minority - in the Netherlands and Belgium, and suffered from malnutrition and lack of medical care.
The response to the article of Van Straaten was unexpectedly generous, proving charity still existed and hatred was lessening towards the former enemies.
He earned his nickname, "Bacon Priest" (Dutch: Spekpater) due to his appeals to Flemish farmers for contributions of food for the German refugees, appeals which met with considerable amounts of meat being donated.
This initial work led to the formation of Aid to the Church in Need (Kirche in Not), centered in Königstein, Germany. In later years he was active in demonstrating and speaking out against abortion in Western Europe and the United States.He died in 2003 at Bad Soden in Germany at the age of 90 years old. 

What I like about Father Van Straaten is the fact that he appeals to our Catholic identity first and foremost not our national identity. He draws upon the strong links between Catholics from all around the Rhine area. He himself is a Dutch Priest asking the Catholic farmers of Flanders to help the Germans. 

Similarly, Willi Graf who was a member of the White Rose (Weiße Rose) resistance group in Nazi Germany came from a strong Catholic family from Euskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia. Willi Graf could never be brainwashed by Nazi ideology because like Father Van Straaten he put his Catholic identity first. And the reason his Catholic identity was so strong was because at the age of eleven he joined the Bund Neudeutschland, a Catholic youth movement for young men in schools of higher learning, which was banned after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933. In 1934, Graf joined the Grauer Orden ("Grey Order"), another Catholic movement which became known for its anti-Nazi rhetoric. It, too, was banned and for this reason.  Willi Graf was beheaded by the Nazis on 12 October 1943 in Munich, after six months of solitary confinement

The primary focus of this blog is on authentic German, Dutch and Flemish Christian Democratic politics. The blog also explores Working Mens societies, movements, guilds, youth movements and cultural identity. (see post on Kopling and Social Clubs). Van Straaten and Graf are excellent examples of how such a strong culture can save us from giving ourselves over to the folly of ultra-Nationalism.  Having said that, good luck to Germany tonight ;) 

Below is a good wee video about Fr Van Straaten

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From the Deer Hunter to Franz Jägerstätter. Why do so many working class men feel alienated from the Church?

From the Deer Hunter to Franz Jägerstätter. Why do so many working class men feel alienated from the Church?

 One of my all time favourite films is the Deer Hunter, my mates all complain that it’s too long but I like to think of it as a few different films all rolled into one big long movie. (Sometimes I watch The Deer Hunter and Godfather 2 over a week like a mini series).  I actually enjoy the first hour more than the Vietnam War scenes. If you’ve never seen the Deer Hunter it’s about three 2nd (or 3rd generation?) Rusyn-Ameircan steel worker friends living in a small Working Class town in Pennsylvania who end up fighting in the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.  What I love about this film is the depiction of life in this small Industrial town; it’s almost like a documentary at some points and what I find especially interesting is the Russian Orthodox Wedding Scene. (It’s been suggested that they are in actual fact Lemko people not Russians and the wedding scene is not Orthodox but in fact Byzantine Catholic). The characters appear to be wreckless and wild young men. They work hard, drink lots of beer (mostly Rolling Rock) they fight and still have time to shoot some pool in the pub and shoot some deer in the Mountains! Great stuff! Yet, we get the impression that they still maintain an air of respect for the Church and its traditions, the church appears to be at the heart of the community in this movie.

 The day in day out lives of the main characters presented in this film are distinctly American, yet, it also feels as if they still have one foot in Europe.  The small town steel works set in the middle of a rural landscapes could be Wales, Motherwell, Yorkshire or Greenock. To me, the culture shown in this movie has especially strong similarities to the culture of places like Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr valley and the Industrial towns around the Cologne area of Germany in the 50’s. (Gelsenkirchen being the place where our own Father Hilgers at St. Ninian’s came from) These are areas which were known for three main things…

1. Catholicism

2. Heavy Industry from Mining to Steel Works.

3. Beer (See blog on Kolsch)

As such, many different Catholic working men’s associations and guilds rose up around this area (See blog on Kopling) the point is that their identity and social life was defined by many different things including the Church, it was not a choice between one and the other. Men could still be men without feeling out of place at Mass. So the question has to be, when did this all change? When did so many working class men stop going to Mass?

One theory I’ve heard suggests that the reforms of the Vatican II meant that more women rightly took on more roles within the Church.  From Parish council members to altar servers, from readers to children’s liturgy leaders and Eucharistic ministers etc…As is they way of things, these tasks fell mostly to women. Another theory suggests that women felt compelled to take on these roles since they could not become Priests? Regardless of how it happened, you sometimes hear a wild claim that "some Sanctuaries look like a meeting of the Women’s Guild". Certainly, if you go to some Churches now you’ll find that it is mostly ladies who continue to occupy many of these roles today. Again, nothing wrong with this you might say, and you’d be right as these wonderful women do a great job keeping the place going, nobody else is going to serve God and the community in this way? Indeed, they are literally the salt of the earth and the light of world. That is unless you hold to the theory that such female dominance over Parish life has subsequently driven men away from Mass? You might say, well these men who left over such issues are lazy and  chauvinistic. The theory goes on to ask, subconsciously or consciously, what males in adult life really want to continue to be bossed about the Church by their Mums and former high school Home Economics teachers?  (Especially if you hated Home Economics) Personally, I don't agree with this idea, I think it is truly a sexist idea. There are only women running the church if you are looking for women and not identifying such people as individual Catholics. To make such a claim is to defy personalism.  It's like a racist identifying Black and Asian Catholics as somehow different. Plus, plenty of my former teachers, both male and female now perform various roles within the church. They are wonderful people who serve us well, so that theory can be ignored too. Rather I think the reason for the male exdous can be found in outside societal pressures and the lack of a strong male catholic cultural identity.  

 The other downside caused by this trend is that some of the working class men who drink in the various social clubs which are vaguely affiliated to the Church (and sometimes attached to Parish Churches) no longer go to Mass or have any link with Parish life. As such they no longer feel bound by any sense of moral code or standards of behavior associated the Church. This in turn then leads to a situation where one of my best friends was recently verbally abused by a guest, at a christening no less, in a Church related club. Similarly, a few weeks back, two wee drunk neds rolled out of another Church related social club and spent the next 20 minutes effing and jeffing at various parents picking their kids up from Scouts. But it seems that Christenings attract the most trouble. Indeed, Gourock can be a bit of a no go area on a Sunday night if there have been a few christening on. Imagine a situation where Pubs are declining entry to Christening parties, could this then be rolled out to First Holy Communions too? We may soon be "persona non grata", judging by how hard it was to book a venue for our own kids First Communion. Think of the polite declines dished out on a weekly basis on the TV show known as “Big Fat Gypsy (Lapsed Catholic) Wedding” and you get the idea.  

So what is the answer? Well there are a few (tongue firmly in cheek) options…

2.      We could ignore the Temperance movement within the Church. Leave this to the Puritans; our monks have been brewing beer for a thousand years. Beer is a gift from God and drunkenness is a gift from Satan
 3.      Just along the road from most Churches you’ll find a Masonic lodge where men only, act out a set of fictional rituals and rites which are a parody of Holy Mass, then get together for a beer afterwards. All sounds good, but the heirarchy are not fans of these guys and they are not so keen on us either, so sadly it’s not an option.     
4.      The one exception to this trend is the great body of fine parish men within the St. Vincent De Paul and the Knights of Saint Columba (Not sure AOH, perhaps more interested in Irish republicanism than anything else) Join them?
5.     What would also be good would be a male pilgrimage to Carfin rather than the retreats which are normally offered. Again, diocesan pilgrimages to Carfin are generally all female affairs.   

6.   Support our Priests when they gentley challenge our lapsed Brethren who think it’s okay to just turn up for Weddings and Christenings then behave however they like outside (and even sometimes inside) the Church. This is cultural Christianity at its worst. Yes it may mean that we are a smaller community but we would be a more faithful and sanctified one 

Also, interesting to note that the decline of working class Christian identity is not just an issue in our own Catholic Community. I read recently that Church of Scotland are making cuts (who isnae) and sadly closing a few local Parishes. The suggestion is that they are making them in the poorer areas leaving the posh areas like the west end alone. From the outside it all looks pretty blatant unless someone inside this community can tell me otherwise? This is the last thing the Kirk should be doing, it's most important work must ALWAYS be in the heart of the community with the biggest problems.  There was even a great quote from local Rev in the Greenock Telegraph protesting about the favouring of rich parishes over poorer ones ..."Meanwhile, the rich parishes will continue on their sweet way". 

So let us pray that upstanding working class lay men will once again return to the fold.  And perhaps, if we are looking for a lay patron then we could do worse than the great Austrian Conscientious objector blessed Franz Jägerstätter. In his youth, Franz gained a reputation for being a wild fellow, but, in general, his daily life was like that of most Austrian peasants. He worked as a farmhand and also as a miner. Later he got married and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and worked as a sacristan at the local parish church, Jägerstätter was sentenced to death and executed by the Nazis. He was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Church.

Come back to me with all your heart. Don't let fear keep us apart