Pray for Spain

News of the death of Adolfo Suarez brought back vivid memories of living in Madrid in the immediate post-Franco era. Everyone seemed to be talking politics, and if you knew where to go, you could hear Basque and Catalan being spoken in various cafes (such national languages were outlawed under Franco). When the first election was called, the Madrid traffic rustled its way through the streets, so thick on the ground were the pamphlets and campaign leaflets. Now, when the property boom has long since turned to bust and the Spanish economy has creaked and wheezed to its present parlous state, the streets are again alive with argument, but this time conducted with angry, not hopeful, voices. Austerity in southern Europe has cut deep, much deeper than in the north, and the bright hope that Adolfo Suarez and King Juan Carlos I seemed to usher in is no more.

Does it matter? I’m inclined to think it does, not only because of the people behind the statistics, but also because a united Europe, a stable Europe, is one of the best protections for all of us against the centrifugal tendencies of modern democracy and the distinctly undemocratic tendencies of Russia. It is a few years since I was last in Spain, but my impression is that it is no longer as united* nor as Catholic as it once was. The Church is no longer the glue holding society together. Secularisation and immigration have together wrought profound changes. Indeed, it is difficult to see any glue, except that of democracy itself; and democracy, as we know, is always much more fragile when times are hard. The temptation to sell one’s birthright for a mess of pottage is never stronger than when one is hungry and has no hope of ever being anything else.

Let us pray for Spain and her peoples, and for the repose of the soul of Adolfo Suarez who managed the difficult transition from Francoism to democracy in despite of the prophets of doom. There are many ways of serving, and politics is not the least noble for those who themselves wish to live nobly.

* ‘united’ is always a difficult term when used of Spain, which is a land of fierce regional pride, at least in my experience.


St James the Apostle, Patron of Spain

Many years ago, when I was living and working in Spain, I was in Santiago on the feast of St James. My abiding memory is of hundreds of Gallegan bagpipes being played, if that is the right word, in front of the cathedral. At the time, the Spanish economy was in the doldrums, the restoration of democracy after the Franco era was still fragile and no one seemed to be quite sure in which direction the Spanish Church was headed. To be young, British and female was to be an object of wonder to the locals, and one quickly learned that using castellano was not likely to endear one! Since then the economy has boomed and busted, there has been an extraordinary amount of immigration, a socialist government has crossed swords with the Church on several important issues, and the Church itself no longer wields the influence it once did. Demonstrations again fill Puerta del Sol, Madrid, and Spain has become, in name at least, a European country whose economy causes heads to shake in Paris and Bonn.

I am naturally sceptical about the legends surrounding St James and Spain, but they are an enduring element in the make-up of Spain’s self-understanding which I find fascinating. Henri Pirenne was only half-right when he said that Africa begins at the Pyrenees, but few would question the truth of the old Spanish tourist office poster slogan, ‘Spain is different’ . A nation with five languages, seventeen local governments, and more unemployed young people than any other country in Europe faces challenges most of us would baulk at. St James the Apostle was not an easy man but he seems to me an excellent patron for Spain. Today my prayers are for the peoples of Spain and their well-being.