Letters & Emails

Comments of the week

Letters should include a genuine postal or email address, phone number and the style or title of the writer. Email: [email protected]

Due to space constraints, please keep correspondence below 250 words, longer letters may be published online

How to save our religious orders

SIR – I am afraid it isn’t quite true that “Buckfast will survive as long as there are any monks at all because it draws a large income from its most famous products” (Ann Widdecombe’s Charterhouse, April 20).

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the survival of a monastic/religious community is not a matter of finance. Once the number of religious under vows reaches a certain low – I think it is three, but am open to correction – the Holy See steps in and says that that community may no longer receive postulants. Having already watched the closure of five contemplative orders in our diocese (which is also Miss Widdecombe’s), I have been told that these ommunities were not short of funds as most of them are very well endowed from centuries past. It is the man- or woman-power that is lacking. Are there now no young people who love God enough to give their whole lives to praising and serving Him alone? Serving God in a charitable organisation will never supply the depth of prayer that a religious community with regular times of prayer can give.

The “temporary vocation” is already available in a sense: it is probably true that no religious order would accept a postulant who asserted from the beginning that he/she only wanted to stay for a limited time. Having said that, many people who think they want to stay for ever will have left before they come to solemn vows, which can be as much as seven years after entrance.

This is sometimes called, informally, a “temporary vocation”, as it can be of great benefit to the person concerned, and indeed to the monastery or convent, but it does not, in the long run, add to the number of professed monks or nuns.

Ruth Yendell

Grave shortage of priests in Germany

SIR – Jon Anderson’s cover story (April 13) was excellent and perfectly reflected the situation of the Church here in Germany.

The only thing that may be missing is the matter of Protestant spouses/remarried Catholics being accompanied by their local priests regarding discernment.

In my Berlin parish we have one Mass a week with a retired priest who offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month after said Mass. Where my son lives, in the Frankfurt area, south of Germany, there is often only Mass on a Sunday every two weeks and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not offered. Our administrator, now responsible for five parishes, has been off sick for months. This is not unusual.

I find myself wondering exactly who and where the priests are who are supposed to accompany people.

Gabrielle Fey

Souls in peril

SIR – With the first effects of the restoration of two of the Holy Days of Obligation being felt on May 10, I have a question.

My parish, as I am sure is the case in many others, has pre-warned us of the new arrangements but also with the “encouragement” of pointing out the penalties which are incurred by our failure to attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation.

For 11 years we have not been required to attend Mass on Ascension Thursday. Last year when I did not go to Mass on Thursday May 25, I committed no sin. If I fail to attend Mass on Thursday May 10 this year, potentially I commit a mortal sin.

Can the Bishops of England and Wales, by what was in effect an administrative act, put so many souls in peril?

Martin Clitheroe

Neanderthal cuisine

SIR – It would be interesting to know how Quentin de la Bédoyère, in his article of April 27, chooses to believe that Neanderthals, however well developed, were still creatures emerging from some brutish state, when all the evidence is that they were in reality the same complete human beings as we are today.

I keep a print of one of their fine cave paintings on a wall at home, and the latest I read concerning those multi-skilled people is that they also had a highly developed cuisine using many of the herbs from the local countryside. Nor would it surprise me to learn that they also played music, told stories around the fire, sang and danced.

More and more evidence shows that Neanderthals bore no resemblance to the dim-witted creatures we used to see in those museum dioramas. It is also possible that they were monotheistic, having a belief system evidently predating all the others.

Francis Reilly
Orpington, Kent

Bear witness

SIR – Cristina Odone’s insightful article about the passing of public religion (Books, April 20) brought to mind a visible way to bear witness without the need for words.

Whenever passing a Catholic church, we can make the Sign of the Cross. As explained by Bert Ghezzi, this ancient prayer is “a confession of faith; a renewal of baptism; a mark of discipleship; an acceptance of suffering; a defence against the Devil; and a victory over self-indulgence”. Making a little Sign of the Cross with your thumb and forefinger on your forehead is also a good idea. Try it on the bus or on the tram.

Benjamin Hazard
By email

The death of Alfie

SIR – It is so sad that a country that calls itself “the mother of parliaments” and has been an icon of democracy for many centuries (in spite of the fact that a Catholic cannot ascend the British throne) has “put to death” the child Alfie Evans who was being looked after at a child hospital in Liverpool.

The Holy Father had offered to continue looking after the child at his hospital, the Bambino Gesù in Rome, next to Vatican City. The Pope’s plea was rejected. In Britain, ironically enough, it is the state, and not the parents, who have the last word concerning a child who is in need of medical help. I would have expected HM the Queen, head of the Church of England, to intervene. However, the country which looks so well after animals removed the life support for Alfie Evans and the child died last Saturday morning.

Do I perceive here a case of British pride trying to be dominant over universal common sense and Christian morality? So much for the notions of British justice and fairness. Where are the English gentlemen of the Victorian era? Death seems to have triumphed over life. Kyrie Eleison!

Fr Geoffrey Attard
Gozo, Malta

SIR – The Catholic Church presumably hopes and believes that Alfie Evans is now in a far better place. Although the Church is properly concerned about preserving the sanctity of life, it seems somewhat strange that, particularly with the medical evidence, prominent Catholics tried so hard to prevent this coming about.

Michael Hoddinott
Llangarron, Herefordshire