Magazine article The Spectator

Easter Thoughts after One of Nature's Miracles in Madrid

Magazine article The Spectator

Easter Thoughts after One of Nature's Miracles in Madrid

Article excerpt

This is Holy Week, so I refuse to write about the election. All those topics on which I am bursting to deliver - the curious links between the Guardian, Harrods and the Paris Ritz, the mysterious fact that homosexuals and transvestites are rooting for John Major, and the secret of the New Putney Debates - will have to wait until after we celebrate the risen Christ. I am writing this on Palm Sunday and remembering that exactly a year ago I was in St Peter's Square, in blazing sunshine, attending the Pope's mass, along with nearly half a million other people from all over the world, most of them under 25, in a great joyful surge of youth stretching to the banks of the Tiber. Afterward I presented His Holiness with a copy of my A History of Christianity in Polish and received from him one of his heart-warming smiles.

Last week I was in Madrid and again got my religious batteries recharged. I admire the Spanish for all kinds of reasons. Along with the Americans, Italians and Danes, they are my favourite people. I like their beauty and elegance; their warm reserve, not untinged by fatalism; above all their dignity in adversity and their strong sense of honour. But my chief reason for liking them is that they love to talk about God and the next life. Spain is the only country I know where it is not only possible but easy to have a serious religious conversation. In England people are too embarrassed, in France too cynical, in Italy (as a rule, not always) too frivolous, in America too folksy and cracker-barrel charismatic. But in Spain they really care: they love God, or in some cases hate Him, from the depths of their sombre, passionate hearts. Given a group of the elite - academics, politicians, media people, financiers, etc. - sitting around a table over tapas and manzanilla, it is not difficult to precipitate an uproar by some well-chosen verbal provocation: `The hierarchy was right to back Franco', `The Socialists have destroyed Spain by banning religious instruction in schools , After all, Torquemada was a great man', or `There may be such a place as hell but there is no one in it'. To the Spanish these and countless similar topics are living, important issues, worth getting heated about.

I was in Madrid to promote the Spanish edition of my little tract A Quest for God and had some wonderfully animated discussions with the journalists who came to interview me, or rather to argue. One incandescent, red-haired lady, who had entirely covered pages of my book with tiny writing in scarlet ink, told me she had become an atheist 'when God cruelly took away my tiny brother'. She was furious that I had not included a section on the plausibility of the old Catholic belief in a place called Limbo, where the souls of the innocent wait: I had some difficulty in calming her down. Others, chiefly men, were outraged that I had raised the possibility that, after the death of the present Pope the Church would ordain women priests. We had lively talk on Opus Dei, which divides the Spanish as it does English papists, on the new super-order the Legionaries of Christ, likely to become the Jesuits of the 21st century, and on the need to have large families - the Spanish are, by instinct and conviction, philoprogenitive, but now have one of the world's lowest birth-rates. Some Spanish pundits are worried that the soul of their country is being submerged in a flood of television porn, propaganda in favour of divorce, contraception and homosexuality and militant secularism, promoted by the much-hated Felipe Gonzalez; others fear the vast surge of Muslim Arabs infiltrating through every fissure in Spain's notoriously leaky immigration controls; yet others believe that Spain, with its long memories of the Reconquista, will have to put itself at the head of a new crusade to rebuild Europe as Christendom - that is one reason they like the European Union and the idea of a federal state which could be evangelised and transformed into a new Holy Roman empire. …

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