The Tablet Blog
Dear archbishop-elect, be sure to learn WelshCatherine Pepinster
13 May 2011, 9:00
A letter in this week's edition of The Tablet, written in response to the appointment of Westminster auxiliary bishop George Stack as the next Archbishop of Cardiff, pointed out that Cardiff has not had a Welshman appointed to its see for 72 years. There might be all kinds of reasons for that – and the popularity in Wales of the previous archbishop, Peter Smith, also an Englishman - shows that nationality need not be a bar to effectiveness. But there is one major issue about appointing a non-Welshman to a Welsh see – and that's language.
The Welsh may not be as nationalistic in their politics as the Scots – Plaid Cymru trail way behind the Scottish Nationalist Party in their acquisition of power and influence – but it is in their culture, particularly their language, that the Welsh express their nationhood most powerfully. Anybody who has attended a Welsh rugby international and heard the crowd sing the national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers) will have felt a tingle down their spine.
So what's an English-speaker to do when they take on a particular role in Wales or move to Wales permanently? John Redwood was infamous for failing to learn the Welsh national anthem when he was appointed Welsh Secretary; Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge and likely to one day be Princess of Wales, has learnt the anthem since living in Anglesey. I once asked the former Archbishop Smith, if he had learned Welsh, and he said he'd been advised that there was no need to do so. Not many of the Catholics in Wales are Welsh-speakers, he was told. Well, that might be true, given that the Welsh have a history of non-Conformism rather than Catholicism, but as the number of Catholics grows in Wales, partly through migration, those Catholics will discover that they're living in a country where the use of the Welsh language is growing. It's a living language, an official language, and the Welsh Language Act of 1993 provides that it's treated equally as English in the public sector. It's compulsory to teach it in schools. Then there are the Catholics who are indeed Welsh and attend Mass celebrated in Welsh. And the continuing debates over the translation of the Missal into English highlights how important language is and how each one has its nuances.
But there's another issue here as well. Any Catholic is an ambassador for their faith, and an archbishop with his public role is even more so. If you're English and appointed to Wales, you are doing the nation a great courtesy by learning their language. You are engaging with the culture in a very special way, as any visitor to an eisteddfod would discover, where poetry and song are celebrated. And on a more practical level, you will be able to communicate through Welsh language radio and TV programmes, not just the English ones.
Archbishop-elect Stack, when asked whether he would consider learning Welsh, said he would be prepared to consider anything to enhance his ministry. So as someone with Welsh roots, I would say to him: learn Welsh, and the people of Wales will be delighted. They might even speak of you as someone with 'hwyl'. It'll take a while to grasp its untranslatable meaning, but then you'll discover what an accolade it is.
Catherine Pepinster is the editor of The Tablet.
12 November 2012 18:48 (11 of 11)
A friend of mine, who was educated in Catholic Schools, where they didn't teach Welsh, has recently graduated only to find she can not even get an interview with any Local Government Agencies because they require all their employees to have at least level 2 Welsh. If it is true that Catholic Schools in Wales still done teach in the Welsh Medium, that is going to mean Welsh Catholics not being able to work in community jobs in their own country.
12 May 2011 13:57 (10 of 11)
Unlike my fellow Missionaries of Africa, i am utterly useless when it comes to learning languages. This will sadly not help the new archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack. I have never been to an Eisteddford, but i can very well assure the new prelate that the more Welsh he gets to know, and eventually master, the more he will enjoy Welsh, and their culture, and, i dare say the more people will be inclined to listen and to help him spread the Kingdom of God in that rich and ancient land. So, my best wishes to him and to the Welsh Church. Having said that, i think it high time we seriously looked beyond our 'own' when looking for Church leaders; for we are not members of some golf club. As a matter of fact, i recently told some people that i was looking forward to the day when we in Uganda would have say someone from Karamoja, or wherever else in Uganda for that matter as the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala, our cosmopolitan fast growing massive village. There was a huge and prolonged silence. Aloysius Beebwa, Ruhoko, Rugarama, Rusheenyi County, Ntungamo District, Uganda
9 May 2011 7:33 (9 of 11)
What utter nonsense. We have a Church in Wales that has very few priests, desperately low Mass attendances -only held up by the influx of Asian and and Eastern Europeans - and you think Archbishop-Elect Stack should be worrying about learning Welsh. He should learn about the Welsh culture and Welsh society and seek to promote the Church among those wish to worship through the medium of Welsh but he must keep his priorities targeted on the real needs of his flock.
9 May 2011 0:37 (8 of 11)
Archbishop Smith was badly advised, and it would be good to know who advised him so. I used to teach in a Welsh medium school in Cardiff and about a third of my pupils were nominally catholics (and we had lots of Sullivans, Murphys, McCarthys etc in the school). The home language of my Catholic son is Welsh, and that is also the language of his non-Catholic school. The church needs to face up to the exodus of pupils from Catholic schools into the Welsh medium system and realise that it it an exodus that isn't going to stop. Till now the Church has been willing to congratulate itself on the fact that it still has full schools, and so it does but not as full as they could be and many of them are only full because they cater to the Polish and other new immigrant communities, the more settled Catholic community now thinks of itself as Welsh and is embracing the language and the Archbishop would do well to respond to that and to open Welsh medium catholic schools.
8 May 2011 17:14 (7 of 11)
Learning the language of the country in which one resides is is a matter of courtesy, if one is there to serve the people it is more than courtesy. I worship in a parish where we have Norwegian, Polish, Czech, and English Catholics. They have leart Welsh and frequent the celebration of the Mass in Welsh. I wish the new Archbishop well and hope he will emulate these members of his flock.
8 May 2011 14:05 (6 of 11)
There are interesting historical precedents for use of languages other than English in the English and Welsh Church. Shortly after his appointment as the first Vicar Apostolic (Wales) in 1840, Bishop Brown appealed, in Britain and Ireland, for money to support 1 or 2 Welsh-speaking priests to minister to the monoglot Welsh-speakers in Wales. This appears to have been the only such appeal made for non-English speakers in the Catholic Church of England and Wales. In 1847 a mission with priests from Brittany was established at Aberystwith. In the Catholic Directory, it was commented 'The affinity between the Breton and Welsh languages, and the better feelings of the Welsh people towards the Breton Priests, than towards the English and Irish, earnestly recommend the experiment that is making here to the zeal and charity of English and Irish Catholics, without which it must be abandoned.' In the early part of the 20th century, dioceses published information as to where confessions could be heard in 'foreign' (i.e. not English) languages. At that time three missions (they were all missions rather than parishes then) in Menevia offered confession in Welsh. They were Caernarvon; Llanrwst and Llechryd. Besides Welsh, Menevia diocese also offered confession in French (6 missions); Italian (4); German (1); Breton (1) and Dutch (1). Newport Diocese did not offer confession in Welsh at all, although it did offer French (4); Italian (4); Flemish (1); Spanish (2); German (4); Dutch (2); Portuguese (1). Other nationalities were considered in Britain. In 1810 an appeal was made for a chapel for 'poor Germans', mainly seamen. These appeals continued in one form or another throughout the 19th century. Confessions, sermons and discourses were offered in German at this mission. As early as 1842 a Fr Brzezinski was working in the mission of St George's Southwark 'for the Poles'. Later in the century when there was a migration from Lithuania, missions for the Poles and Lithuanians were established in various cities across Britain. Interestingly, although it has been estimated that the majority of Catholics in England and Wales were Irish or of recent Irish origin, scant regard or official recognition was made of this in terms of consideration for language difficulties which the Irish migrants may have had. For a brief period (1851-1857) a 'Discourse' in Irish was given at the 6.30 a.m. Mass at St George's Southwark. In the early 20th century confessions were heard in Irish in five missions - one in Tyne Dock and four in London (Bow, Islington, Bermondsey and Camberwell). Might this, at least partly, explain the very high leakage of Irish migrants who were at least nominally Catholic and which concerned the hierarchy so greatly?
8 May 2011 12:40 (5 of 11)
Whilst agreeing that the new Archbishop should learn Welsh I believe that he should firstly concentrate his efforts on the survival of our Catholic Schools. There is a concerted attempt at the present time to reduce Catholic Schools and their influence on society. An example of this is the decision by the Welsh Assembly Education Minister to support the Merthyr Council in their decision to take 6th Form Education from Bishop Hedley School. This decision will have serious repercussions for the survival of the school and its Catholic feeder schools in the Heads of the Valley area. I am also of Irish origin and have achieved a level 2 qualification in Welsh and can therefore speak a little of ther language. However I would urge the new Archbishop to put more efforts into the survival of our schools (where the Welsh language is taught and held in high esteem) at the present. Phil O'Connor
8 May 2011 11:28 (4 of 11)
I wholeheartedly agree with the editor's comments. If the Catholic Church fails to engage seriously with the Welsh language it will be swimming against the tide in Welsh society, and will become increasingly marginalised and irrelevant.
Harri Pritchard Jones
7 May 2011 18:25 (3 of 11)
What a welcome lettter. Archbishop Peter Smith was most suppportive and had started using some Welsh in the liturgy. Bishop Regan, our only ordinary who is Welsh-speaking is retiring, and we direly need at least one Welsh-speaking bishop. I'm sure Bishop Stack will try to become part of Welsh life both cultural and religious, and hopefully learn our history and language.
6 May 2011 21:59 (2 of 11)
I too hope that the new Archbishop will learn some Welsh. We have a Welsh missal, thanks to the work of Bishop Daniel Mullins, who was taught Welsh by Saunders Lewis, well-known poet, playwright and politician. The Church should proclaim its continuity with Celtic Christianity and not ignore the distinctive culture and language of Wales, even if most of the faithful are monoglot English speakers.
6 May 2011 17:38 (1 of 11)
As a Catholic citizen of Canterbury, I rejoice in our Welsh Archbishop. The first holder of his office notoriously slighted the bishops already serving the British (or Welsh) church. A missionary bishop in Africa would learn the languages of his people; the same should hold in Britain, where every single Catholic should be a missionary.
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