How might it be possible to construct a Christian micro-society?

I have always been fascinated by smallness and intimacy, and by the idea of what I might term a Christian micro-society. I am far from being the first to think of it. We have reams about a socio-political theory called distributism as a kind of modernised version of some forms of medieval social and economic life. Probably the nearest successful embodiment of this kind of theory is the Cooperative Movement. The workers collectively own the means of production and live from their real earnings, at least in theory.

I am not a specialist of politics or economics, and I would make a fool of myself trying to expound on these subjects, but I am profoundly concerned by the inhumanity of modern capitalism and globalism, even, without the conspiracy theories. Modern life is radically incompatible with Christianity. How does a Christian city-dweller, part of the “machine”, manage more than Sunday Mass and a little spiritual reading on the train taking him to work?

In my experience of life, I have rejected city life, but am still dependent on modern technology and means of communication, such as I am using this very instant. At the same time, I have never found a “micro-society” I would ever consider joining, usually because they tend to be totalitarian cults or assimilable to such by their characteristics of absolute obedience to a guru, brainwashing, exorbitant financial demands, etc. The only kind of micro-society I have seen to show any kind of stability and success is the Benedictine monastery. But, monks are men born outside and who freely embrace the monastic life by going through the traditional stages of initiation and probation.

Is such a life possible for lay people? I have read about the work of Eric Gill and Ditchling in southern England, but all that came to nothing. It transpired that Gill was of questionable morals, to put it mildly. There have been various attempts by right-wing people, typically traditionalist Catholics. There was one in Spain run by International Third Position in the 1990’s, but I doubt it has survived a number of scandals in that somewhat unsavoury political movement (founded by a man apparently involved in terrorist acts).

To this day, I have confused political ideas, as no existing ideology or manifesto satisfies me intellectually or in terms of humanism. I have sympathy with any manifesto that promotes the human person and his right to freedom, life and happiness. I am made to think that such utopian ideas are impossible and that human life is all about the dominators and the underdogs, 5% owning everything and squandering it and 95% struggling to earn a living and get by. Do human beings have a right to make slaves of others? These are big questions. I am unable to relate to national and international politics and economics, but I am tempted by the idea of the micro-society. It all depends who is in charge, the method of government, problem-solving, finance and everything else. It all seems a utopian dream, but dreams are the stuff of life.

Here is an article by an author whose name is withheld at his request, with a minimum of edition by me. Though this article hardly concerns “northern” Catholicism, there are traits in common, and the idea is impressive. We should keep these good people in our prayers.

* * *

Our island, erstwhile Isle de France was Catholic ever since the French settled in 1710-1715. The Catholicism which the French brought and a succession of Lazarist Fathers nurtured and maintained was definitely Gallican. The Four Articles were thus part of the Law of this island-of the Mascarene islands in general. The Lazarist Fathers were good pastors, well-loved and respected, who, faced with an acute scarcity of means, succeeded in inculcating the Catholic faith to several generations of islanders, especially, those born on the island. The revered memory of the Supérieur Ecclesiastique, officially, Apostolic Prefect, Father Gabriel Igou endured well into the latter parts of the 19th century. His tomb was recently discovered in the oldest graveyard of the capital, where a tall skycraper now stands. A Latin inscription, also recently discovered, in the cathedral mentions the then Governor and Father Igou. However, the scarcity of priests and the general decline in faith and morals that characterised the last decades of the 18th century led to the spiritual abandonment of the Catholic flock. Even though the cycles of Divine Services and the ministration of sacraments were ensured by a handful of priests, the pastoral requirements of the ever enlarging flock soon meant that many of the plantations and towns were left without proper pastoral care.

Such was the state of things when the Revolution broke out and the Colonial Assembly was first elected and convened. During much of the Revolution, we were quasi-independent from the French mainland; our economy received an enormous boost from privateering (Surcouf…) and the USA and several Scandinavian countries maintained diplomatic missions in Port Louis. One thing must be noted: when the Revolution was declared and the Colonial Assembly was formed, the then vicar of Saint Louis church, suggested the church (now cathedral) as the official venue for the sessions of the Assembly. This was duly adopted and the church functioned both as Church and Legislative chamber. The vicar, as much as most of the members of the Assembly, was a mason, and he was invited to be the chaplain of the Assembly. Church property was nationalised, but the rights of worship and teaching remained intact. The Church was not persecuted during the Revolution in Isle de France.

The Constitution Civile du Clergé has less impact on the Mauritian church than in France. The only noticeable change brought about by the constitution was the nationalisation of church property and other material arrangement such as salaries for vicars and chaplains. The ecclesiastical mindset remained Gallican and this even after the execution of the servant of God Louis XVI. Article VIII of the Capitulation stipulates that the inhabitants shall preserve their religion, laws and customs. Now, the law was the Concordat, but the custom was Gallicanism. The Colonial Assembly did not expressly abrogate the Four Articles and the clergy would tenaciously hold to the gallican constitution as being part of the custom or common law of the island.

This situation of relative political and economic autonomy was imperilled by the Treaty of Amiens and the subsequent rise of the Corsican [Napoleon Bonaparte] to the apex of power. He speedily dispatched a new governor, General Decaen, to dissolve the Assembly and implement the new political system he had instituted. He reintroduced the colour bar which had been abolished by the Assembly (though the Assembly resisted the abolition of slavery by the Convention, it did suppress the distinction between free whites and blacks and mixed). At the same time, Decaen brought in the Concordat and the new ecclesiastical regime. He did not immediately apply the new ecclesiastical laws and the Church of the Isle de France remained in its functioning as much as in its teachings, Gallican. The Decaen governorate lasted until 1810 when the British conquered the island. At first, the British, having pledged themselves, in the Treaty of Capitulation, to respect the language, customs and religion of the islanders, did not meddle with the Church. The senior-most priest was still known as Supérieur Ecclésiastique / Prefect Apostolic, functioned as a Dean and managed the affairs of the Church. A Petite Eglise, in some way.

The Gallican system was officially ended in 1820 with the arrival of Mgr Bede Slater, an English Benedictine suggested by His Majesty’s Government and nominated by the See of Rome. The existing Clergy and the Notables protested vigorously against this nomination which they considered to be a breach of the British pledged and a violation of their ancient Gallican ‘liberties’. The confusion and incomprehension was increased by the fact that the new nominee was officially styled ‘Vicar Apostolic’ and Bishop in partibus of Ruspa. Press articles and private letters of the period indicate that the people at large did not consider Mgr Slater to be a proper Bishop. Slater was much criticised and it must be said that he himself attracted this criticism by his lavish lifestyle and the frequent display of disdain at the boorish flock he had been sent to tend. He was highly unpopular and even incurred debts. He had to flee, died on board ship and was buried at sea. His successor, Dom Placidus Morris was also an English Benedictine, but was more lenient and tolerant than Slater. He would rather instruct than coerce. Dom Bernard Collier, who followed Morris, was the last Vicar Apostolic and the first Bishop of Port Louis. He was at once the renewer of Christian life on the island and the hangman of Gallicanism, as it were. From Slater in 1820 to O’Neil in 1916-approximately one century, the church in Mauritius was governed by English or Irish Benedictines. Collier was followed by Scarisbrick who did much to establish charitable institutions and schools. Hankinson who succeeded Scarisbrick participated in the First Vatican Council. He is presumed to have voted with the majority. But the one to have truly established ultramontanism in the diocese is the Alsatian Jesuit, sometime missionary in India, and great enemy of Masonry, Mgr Leon Meurin, our only Jesuit bishop up to now. Leon Meurin fought against the Alliance Francaise, meddled in the Royal College curriculum and with its teaching staff. Meurin wanted to completely bring the diocese in line with ultramontane catholicsm and he succeeded. Bilsborrow who succeeded him was a mild and affable monk who in some respect reminds one of those quiet Victorian prelates. O’Neil, his successor was the last Benedictine on the throne. Murphy, the first Irish Spiritan bishop imported what may be termed Irish Catholicism and a large number of Irish Clergy who reshaped Mauritian Catholicism considerably. The Irish Bishops, Murphy, Leen and Liston, respectively, brought in things like devotions to the Sacred Heart, novenas, and a host of  highly unliturgical devotions, and filled our churches with ugly statues. The positive aspects of the Liturgical Movement did not even reach us. After decades of re-education, the catholic flock exhibited all the characteristics of good, compliant Irish Catholics. Gallicanism was a mere memory – a chimera of the mind. Even the liturgical endeavours of the English Benedictines were not taken up and any trace of their legacy has been eradicated. The last Irish and colonial Bishop was Dr Daniel Liston, c.s.sp. He was one of the fathers at the last Vatican council. He retired in 1969, leaving the diocese to the Vicar Capitular who was to become the first Mauritian Bishop of Port Louis.

The British surrendered the powers of government in 1968 making of Mauritius an independent country with Her Majesty the Queen as Queen of Mauritius. The first Mauritian bishop is often presented as the great implementer of the reforms demanded by the late council and as the successful leader of Mauritian Catholics. Indeed, it was he who set the reformatory machine at work in liturgical and disciplinary matters. It was he who ordered the re-ordering of sanctuaries, etc. It was not uncommon, in the first decades of his pontificate, to find priests participating in strikes and leading movements inspired by liberation theology and the neo-marxism then prevalent among the youth. He disciplined one or two priests – merely to be seen disciplining them, rather than really setting his presbyterium in order. He encouraged charismatic renewal movements. In doing so, he unwittingly opened the door to the worst sectarian excesses, especially among the poors in the slums. One group, nay faction, broke away to form a pentecostal sect that is still thriving. In fact, these people saw a continuity from the ongoing and officially supported bouts of iconoclasm to the complete eradication of the cult of saints. At the same time, Afro-elements in the diocese were voicing their discontent at being left out of church offices and celebrations, of being despised by the coloured and the whites. This movement led to the increasing use of the Mauritian creole patois in the liturgy – a trend which has led to the alienation of many of the French-speaking Catholics, whether white, coloured or even black. The first Mauritian Bishop ended his life in the seclusion of a carmelite convent exploring diverse schools of spirituality, ranging from hesychasm to pure-land zen. He co-authored a book with French Benedictine Bishop, Robert Le Gall. The current Bishop, also a Mauritian, is a product of the Irish school, having been a pupil of Dr Liston and being himself a Spiritan. He is deeply committed to novelties, whether pre- or post-conciliar. Within one year of his episcopate, he invited the Communauté du Chemin Neuf to establish themselves in the Diocese. Since then, this communaute has insured the pastoral care of several parishes and is deeply involved in most diocesan activities.  He is also an opponent of the pre-conciliar Roman Liturgy. When the Motu Proprio was put forth by the Roman Pontiff, he did not even publish it in the diocesan gazette and when stable groups of the faithful, desperate for finding a positive response from the Palace turned to the SSPX, he hastened to publish a press notice whereby he declared masses celebrated by the SSPX to be illicit and that Catholics should not attend them. He also advertised that a Latin mass (in fact, Novus Ordo, facing the people, with guitar, communion in the hand, standing, when even the local Anglicans receive communion kneeling in the chancel)  to be celebrated once a month.

This group of faithful, actually comprising of 3-4 families and approximately 30 individuals, now resorts to the services and ministrations of SSPX priests from their African District. A private chapel in the North of the island was lent for use until the diocesan authorities scared the owners into excluding us from it. The group was formally organised into an Association and was registered in compliance with Mauritian law in 2011. The Executive Committee meets regularly at the house of any consenting member. The object of the Association is to be committed to the traditional expressions of the Catholic faith and to the defence and promotion of traditional Catholic liturgy in conjunction with the SSPX. In the Rules, the expression used is the promotion of the traditional liturgical and doctrinal patrimony of the Roman Church, to afford us some latitude. Our membership covers nearly all the ethnic categories of Mauritius: Franco-Mauritians, Anglo-Mauritians, mixed or coloured, Afro-Creoles, Indo-Catholics and so forth. The secretary of the Association is in contact with a very small group of Anglo-Catholics.

The objective of the Association in the next few years is the acquisition of land for development purposes. The Association feels that building a chapel and having a priory established would be insufficient for entrenching Catholic life in Mauritius. The Association is considering two options: applying for state land in which case, such land would be held on a determinate lease renewable at certain intervals, or, to buy land from private persons and carry on with development. Everything is still at a very embryonic phase, but the Committee is motivated to move forward. The need for community building comes from the realisation that dabbling in endless polemics would lead nowhere and would not in any sense advance the cause for Catholic living. The apostolate must proceed from both the temporal and spiritual life of an ecclesial community.

Among our economic activities, the Association is considering the possibilities of the agro-industry: the production of food crops – but beyond mere production, the forging of a definite quality label. Many large sugar estates are dividing their lands and selling them, transforming them in residential land with increased value. The Association will also have to conduct a market-study on the possibilities offered by the agro-industry. Mauritius imports most of its foodcrops – the expenditure for which amounts to a sizeable part of the national budget and national debt. The vision of the Association is to begin small scale production of foodcrops to boost the internal foodcrop market. Again, the Association is currently reviewing all possibilities. Divine Service, Community service and economic activities sustaining the first two form together a single rudder for the direction of the Association.

A last note. The members of the Association pledge themselves to subscribe to the 4 general objects of the Association set forth in the legally approved Rules. Beyond that, they have their own individual preferences and opinions which they are free to pursue and hold. For example, the tacit  preference  and nostalgia for Gallicanism voiced in the early parts of this brief engage only its writer.

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