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In ‘The Camp Of The Saints’: Novel Popes And Reverends

09 September 2015 @ 20:36

[NOTE on 24 September by Bob: in light of this article (tip of the fedora to Joan Of Argghh), I’m sticking this post up here at the top of the Dispatches column until the Pope leaves America.]

In light of the apparent coming to life of The Camp Of The Saints Scenario, I thought it might be a good idea to gather together some excerpts from the novel that deal with the reaction of the Religious Leaders of The West.

I would urge you to pay particular attention to the Pope because you may notice some resemblance to a certain living Holy Father [although the name he has chosen for him shows that Mr. Raspail, while turning out to be a Prophet, is certainly not a perfect one].

The excerpts are rather long, but, I believe, well-worth your time [WARNING: Have a drink handy]…

[NOTE: Re-paragraphings mine]

-From Chapter Three:

…Then, after a while, there were too many poor. Altogether too many. Folk you didn’t even know. Not even from here. Just nameless people. Swarming all over. And so terribly clever! Spreading through cities, and houses, and homes. Worming their way by the thousands, in thousands of foolproof ways. Through the slits in your mailboxes, begging for help, with their frightful pictures bursting from envelopes day after day, claiming their due in the name of some organization or other. Slithering in. Through newspapers, radio, churches, through this faction or that, until they were all around you, wherever you looked. Whole countries full, bristling with poignant appeals, pleas that seemed more like threats, and not begging now for linen, but for checks to their account.

And in time it got worse.

Soon you saw them on television, hordes of them, churning up, dying by the thousands, and nameless butchery became a feature, a continuous show, with its masters of ceremonies and its full-time hucksters. The poor had overrun the earth.

Self-reproach was the order of the day; happiness, a sign of decadence. Any pleasure? Beneath discussion. Even in Monsieur Calgues’s own village [where The Camp Of The Saints will eventually make their last stand], if you did try to give some good linen away, they would just think you were being condescending. No, charity couldn’t allay your guilt. It could only make you feel meaner and more ashamed.

And so, on that day he remembered so well, the professor had shut up his cupboards and chests, his cellar and larder, closed them once and for all to the outside world. The very same day that the last pope had sold out the Vatican. Treasures, library, paintings, frescoes, tiara, furniture, statues—yes, the pontiff had sold it all, as Christendom cheered, and the most high-strung among them, caught up in the contagion, had wondered if they shouldn’t go do likewise, and turn into paupers as well. Useless heroics in the eternal scheme of things. He had thrown it all into a bottomless pit: it didn’t take care of so much as the rural budget of Pakistan for a single year! Morally, he had only proved how rich he really was, like some maharaja dispossessed by official decree.

The Third World was quick to throw it up to him, and in no time at all he had fallen from grace. From that moment on, His Holiness had rattled around in a shabby, deserted palace, stripped to the walls by his own design. And he died, at length, in his empty chambers, in a plain iron bed, between a kitchen table and three wicker chairs, like any simple priest from the outskirts of town. Too bad, no crucifixion on demand before an assembled throng.

The new pope had been elected at about the time Monsieur Calgues retired. One man, wistfully taking his place on the Vatican’s throne of straw. The other one, back in his village to stay, with only one thought: to enjoy to the fullest his earthly possessions, here in the setting that suited him best … So thank God for the tender ham, and the fragrant bread, and the lightly chilled wine! And let’s drink to the bygone world, and to those who can still feel at home in it all!

-From Chapter Nineteen:

… And so, the press settled down to its cruising speed, cleverly playing on three basic themes, in varying combinations: the paradise of the West, the Last Chance Armada, and the role of Ganges culture in mankind’s ultimate perfection. Meanwhile, public opinion went sailing off unconcerned, especially since three days had gone by with no word of the fleet, last seen by some fishermen from Madras, somewhere along the twelfth parallel north. Sole item of front-page news. Not much, but something the press could go to town on. No visible connection with any earthshaking event—if “visible” applies in the case of such blind opinion. But the beast gloated and rubbed its claws.

The Pope published a tear-jerking message. A few social-minded bishops made something of a stir (in the spirit of Vatican III, they explained), along with the various world committees and philanthropic leagues, worked up by the usual troop of the beast’s unflagging faithful.

-From Chapter Twenty-Four:

It had become clear that, as it crossed the equator, the Ganges fleet would pass close to the African coast. Or, more precisely, to the island republic of São Tomé, that former Portuguese colony that the United States Air Force had used until recently as a base, and whose airport was still pretty much intact. The Commission decided that supplies would be airlifted out of São Tomé, and dropped to the armada.

Where South Africa had failed, there would be another try, but this time by selfless and generous people, acting in good faith. They would show those poor wretches—and the whole world, in fact—what the white race was really like!

In no time the São Tomé airport was buzzing, besieged from all sides. The great mercy-go-round. A hundred planes circling the leaden equatorial sky, waiting their turn to land. The mad scramble was on! Choice morsel of noble emotions. Monumental confection of selfless ideals. Magnificent antiracist pastry, filled with the cream of human kindness, spread with a sweet egalitarian frosting, sprinkled with bits of vanilla remorse, and on top, this graceful inscription, in flowery caramel arabesques: “Mea Culpa!” A cake to tug at the heartstrings, if ever there was one. And everyone wanted to get the first bite … Don’t push! There’s enough to go around! … What a party! As long as you were there, as long as you were seen, that’s all that really counted …

The white Vatican plane was the first to touch down, winner by several lengths. No matter where or when, it always managed to get there first. As if they kept it ready, night and day, for instant takeoff, loaded with medicines, with Dominicans in jeans, and with pious pronouncements. It must have flown faster than sound, at the speed of symbols, no doubt. To equip it, Pope Benedict XVI, impoverished by his predecessor’s whim, would sell his tiara and his Cadillac.

But there still were places, here and there, full of simple, superstitious Catholics who couldn’t conceive of a pope without a tiara or a fancy car—the really backward parishes of Corsica, Brittany, Ireland, Louisiana, Galicia, Calabria, and the like—and it never took long for the money to pour in. The Pope, dejected, would give in to those poor, dear souls, and buy back his car and tiara, only to sell them again with great delight—humble saint that he was—the moment world opinion or the pressure of events called for the white plane to fly a new mission.

But alas! They kept making him rich. How distressing. He did so truly want to be poor! Lucky for him that the white plane was there to help him out in his hour of need! … A pope in tune with the times, congenial to the press. What a fine front-page story! They described him living on a can of sardines, eating with a plain tin fork, in a makeshift kitchenette up under the Vatican eaves. When you realize that he was living in Rome, that city bursting with health and wealth, chock-full of centuries’ worth of well-gotten gain, you have to admit that this one and only malnourished Roman was giving his all for the cause. (A few diehards in the city even held it against him, for some vague reason …)

And so, his plane was the first to arrive at São Tomé. And the Breton villages, with their roadside shrines and their crosses of stone, took up a collection to buy him a tiara even finer than the rest.

Coming in second, but not far behind, the eternal runner-up: the gray World Council of Churches plane. Unlike its papist counterpart, the Protestant craft was very selective in its choice of flights. Each one was a battle, with its planeload of shock-troop pastors, righteous in their loathing of anything and everything that smacked of present- day Western society, and boundless in their love of whatever might destroy it. In a recent message that caused something of a stir, the Council had voiced its conviction that “present-day Western society can’t be saved, but has to be torn down so that we can build a new world of justice on its ruins, with the help of God …”

Charity is a very convenient weapon, especially when used with singleness of purpose. You never saw the pastors fly their missions of mercy when no radical issue was at stake. For an earthquake in Turkey, say, or a flood in Tunisia. But they would always be there to answer the call, with supplies for the Palestine refugee camps, the Angola freedom fighters, the Bantu liberation armies—in fact, wherever the voice of hate was as loud as the voice of distress. And if most of the pastors had long since stopped packing in copies of the Gospels with their cases of food, they didn’t bat an eye. No, this was their Gospel. They were living it now. As the Council explained, “Christ spent his life in a struggle against established religion and temporal power.” So the pastors, too. Espousing vicarious woe and despair. Marching against white power and the Church. While off São Tomé an army was sailing to wage a great war … The Protestant plane touched down with a thump, crammed full of calories to the tips of its rudders …

On São Tomé, Monsieur Poupas (Stéphane-Patrice) holds forth for the press, along with the millionaire singers. For the twentieth time he repeats his gem: “There are no more Hindus, no more Frenchmen. Only Man, and that’s all that matters!” Applause and cheers.

But he doesn’t stop there: “There are no more English, no more Swiss …” Etc. etc. He’s ecstatic … Meanwhile, Leo Béon is kissing the princess’s hand and gazing at the tents that have sprung up along the runway. It’s time for another of his memorable mots: “‘Operation Heart of Gold,’ that’s what they should call us!” The phrase is picked up by twenty special correspondents. The mercy-mongers pat each other on the back. They decide on an emblem: a yellow cloth badge in the shape of a heart. Five hundred chests sporting five hundred yellow hearts. Even the secret agents, close by on the beach with their glasses, scanning the horizon, or bargaining away their eyeteeth for the last few fishing boats still to be found. (The Rome Commission has commandeered everything on São Tomé that has a motor and can stay afloat.)

Everyone is ready. The atmosphere is tense.

Dominicans and pastors agree on a common service. The island blacks, unwittingly ecumenical, wiggle their rumps to the pop group’s impromptu hymns. Monsieur Poupas (Stéphane-Patrice) reads a passage from the Gospels. Asked to comment on the text, he draws this moral: “There are no more Hindus … Only Man, and that’s all that matters The crowd begins to sing (“With the pieces of the cross / Built themselves a boat / For now the thousand years are ended / Yes, the thousand years are ended now …”), while the old duke, the princess, and most of the Catholics present, take communion at the hands of a Methodist preacher, who views the Host as a symbol and no more.

But every heart soars up as one in a Heavenward surge, every face is wreathed in smiles or moist with tears, every soul feels the swell of emotion, ripe in the tropical heat, like a fruit about to burst. So much so that, finally, when a lookout on the beach cries “Here comes the fleet! Here comes the armada!,” every voice rings out in one single reply: “Thank God!”

What happened after that was like something from a nightmare, or at least a bad dream. The long-awaited encounter took place two miles off the coast of São Tomé. But it soon became clear that the Ganges fleet had no intention whatever of stopping. The India Star even seemed to change course, heading straight to ram one of the barges! Indeed, the Knights of Malta owed their lives to the presence of mind of their pilot, who was able to throw the engine into emergency reverse practically under the steamer’s prow. For a moment the old duke imagined he was back in the days of the Order’s intrepid galleons, doing battle with the Turk.

As for the “poor dears” the princess was after, the only thing she saw, as she thought herself doomed, was a hideous, misshapen, convulsive dwarf, with a sailor’s cap, and two stumps outstretched, as if ready to open the gates of Hell. She murmured a mea culpa and fell forthwith into a graceful swoon.

At this point, since none of the mercy-mongers would dare to imagine the impossible—to wit, an openly hostile act on the part of the Ganges armada—they assumed it was an accident, happily avoided, and sent their barges off once more to pull alongside the ships and board with their provisions. Attempt abandoned no sooner than begun. Three boxes of rice, deposited somehow on the low-slung deck of a rusty old torpedo boat, lasted less than ten seconds, as hundreds of arms sprung up and flung them back into the water. And little doubt this time that the act was deliberate.

On another ship, one of the French secret agents was received in a forest of fists, some brandishing knives. He had hoisted himself up on deck by a cable dangling over the side, and managed to save his skin thanks only to his commando training, with a fancy jackknife flip back into the water.

Meanwhile, English fireworks fell thick and fast on the pop group that had so generously supplied them, thwacking the drummer square on the head, and cutting a gash in the lead singer’s shoulder.

Persistent, the papal barge held out longer than the rest, like a stubborn sheep dog prodding the flock. Abreast of the Calcutta Star, she was making her third attempt to board, when a naked cadaver, hurtling down from the deck, fell with a heavy, sickening thud at the feet of the Dominican friars. It was still soft and warm. White skin, blue eyes, blond beard and hair. The man had been strangled. When they loosened the rope eating into his neck and took a good look at his face, they were stunned at the sight: it was one of the great Catholic writers of the decade, lay member of the Council of Vatican III (at the Pope’s own invitation), outstanding reformer, and religious intellect par excellence, known far and wide. Converting to Buddhism one fine day, he had vanished from the Western World without a word, and never wrote another line. From then on, he was known in some quarters as “the renegade writer.” The last white man to see him alive had been Consul Himmans, at the Consulate General of Belgium in Calcutta, a few days before the fleet had set sail. All we need add here is that, as soon as it was dark, they buried him in secret—the Dominicans, that is—on one of the island’s deserted beaches, and that news of his death was never made public, on São Tomé or anywhere else. Such was the decision of the handful who had witnessed his murder. The Vatican, consulted in code, wholeheartedly concurred.

Could it be that the Pope was afraid? Did he feel that so foul and unprovoked a deed, against one of the century’s most intelligent figures, whom the whole world had followed in his staggering quest for Truth, might change Western opinion, and turn that distressing demise into a crime of collective proportions? Indeed, we might well assume that a surge of spontaneous indignation would have roused the Western World to condemn the thoughtless wretches in toto, to turn its Christian love to hate, and to close its doors to them once and for all. … No, the Pope had prayed God so long and hard to enlighten the West. He couldn’t be wrong. That could be one explanation …

When the last ship of the armada dipped below the horizon, leaving São Tomé behind, every tent by the runway was engulfed in that bewildered silence that comes in the wake of an unexplained defeat. Everyone agonized to find the answer. Actually, it was staring them in the face. But minds back then were too warped and worn to admit the inevitable truth when they saw it. It never occurred to a soul that the Ganges fleet had just waged the first battle in an implacable racial war, and that nothing on earth now could stem the power of weakness triumphant. From this point on, it would give no quarter. …

And so, the discussions in the tents on São Tomé gave rise, above all, to a vast confusion. But not for long. Suddenly there it was: the explanation! Inspired, more than likely, by the Protestant pastors (or maybe the Catholic priests), and welcomed as a kind of deliverance, as an end to the torturous round of banal clichés and barren solutions:

“Of course! It’s obvious! The poor devils didn’t trust us! They thought we wanted to poison them! Of course, that’s it! How pathetic!” No one went on to say it was all the South Africans’ fault, but some thought so, and some even hinted rather broadly. And if many, in their heart of hearts, had glimpsed the gaping chasm, waiting to swallow them, conscience and all, still, once back in the West, each one in his respective country gave the selfsame account of the event. Yes, surely it had confused them. That much they admitted. But now it was clear that only a nasty misunderstanding had held back the outpouring of brotherly love.

At the airport at Roissy, before the members of the press assembled, Leo Béon tossed off yet another of his mots. Managing to flash his famous smile, with just the appropriate tinge of sadness, he told them:

“We’ll have to bring the poor souls to their senses.”

Thanks to that idiot and his constant need to shine, the beast got a new—and unlimited—lease on life….

-From Chapter Thirty-Three:

“… In another development,” the voice continued, “Vatican sources have just released to the media, no more than ten minutes ago, a statement by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, the official text of which reads as follows. I quote: ‘On this Good Friday, day of hope for Christians the world over, we beseech our brethren in Jesus Christ to open their hearts, souls, and worldly wealth to all these poor unfortunates whom God has sent knocking at our doors. There is no road save charity for a Christian to follow. And charity is no vain word. Nor can it be divided, or meted out little by little. It is all, or it is nothing. Now, at last, the hour is upon us. The hour when all of us must cast aside that halfway spirit that has long caused our faith to founder. The hour when all of us must answer the call of that universal love for which Our Lord died on the cross, and in whose name He rose from the dead.’ End of quote … It has also been learned that His Holiness has ordered all objects of value still contained in the palaces and museums of the Vatican to be placed on immediate sale, with the proceeds going entirely to aid and settle the Ganges refugees once they have landed. … This concludes our eight o’clock summary of the news. Our next bulletin in fifteen minutes …”

“How do you like that!” the [French] President exclaimed, over the concerto that followed. “I can just hear the good Lord above, complaining: ‘Et tu, fili?’ What else could you expect from a Brazilian? The cardinals wanted a new-style pope. For the universal Church, they said. Well, they certainly got one! I knew him well when he was still a bishop, badgering Europe with his pitiful tales of Third World despair. I remember telling him one day that by wearing down the wayward mother he would only harm the children all the more. You know what he answered? That poverty is all there is worth sharing! Well, he’s keeping his promise. … Are you a Christian, Monsieur Perret [adviser to the French president; future resident of The Camp Of The Saints]?”

“Not a Christian, monsieur, a Catholic. It’s a basic nuance I insist on.”

“I guess I don’t believe in much myself. Maybe a mass from time to time. Like Henry IV. That’s why I need you. Now that I have to make a choice, I need something to base it on, something to believe in. I’m afraid my choice is bound to be wrong. … And something else too. Now that you’ve become ‘that fascist puppet’ there’s one thing you can count on. With this pope in the Vatican, you’ll be excommunicated for sure.”

“I couldn’t care less, monsieur. In the Middle Ages they would have kicked a few cardinals in the rump, elected a new pope, and declared this one an antipope, just like that. Which is just what I’m doing in my own heart of hearts. Besides, it’s all nothing but words. For six weeks now we’ve been drowning in a flood of words. Your staff is up to their necks, monsieur. Look, in just the last hour alone …” (He was holding up a sheaf of wires.)

“This one is from thirty Nobel winners, in support of the armada. Without Jean Orelle, by the way, but who cares about him anymore? They whipped together all the peace prize names they could find, with old Kenyatta and Fra Muttone leading the pack! … Here’s one from Boris Vilsberg and ten thousand intellectuals, with a petition calling for equal justice … One from the French National Committee for the Encouragement of Immigration from the Ganges, to let you know they’ve got more than two million signatures … The Archbishop of Aix is offering to empty out his schools to house the refugees, and his seminaries too—which, between you and me, are empty already. … And this one from the UN, where they’ve just passed a unanimous resolution to abolish the concept of race. Which means ours, you can bet. And we voted for that? Well, I’m not surprised, what with everything else we’ve voted for in that three-ring circus! … One from Geneva. A hunger strike by the founder of The Brotherhood of Man. Listen to this: ‘Edgar Wentzwiller, Calvinist leader and eminent humanitarian, continuing the hunger strike he began after the disaster at São Tomé, has stated that he will abstain from all nourishment until such time as Western Europe has taken in all of the Ganges refugees, to provide them with food, with care, and salvation …’ This is his third starvation campaign, monsieur. Remember Gandhi and his endless hunger strikes? Still, he lived to a ripe old age, and it took an assassin to get him, after all! …Here’s another good one: ‘Ten thousand souls spent the day Good Friday in fasting and prayer, with Dom Vincent Laréole, at the people’s abbey at Boquen. Dom Vincent, returning from a Buddhist congress in Kyoto expressly for the occasion, recalled a quotation from Gandhi …’ Immortal, monsieur, no doubt about it How can one bask in the warmth of divine sunlight when so many human beings are starving to death?” At the end of the session, a motion was passed by acclamation requesting the government of France to make a firm commitment to the Ganges refugees, and to welcome them en masse …’ The wire doesn’t tell us, monsieur, if, after their flesh was properly scourged, our pilgrims went back home for supper … Well, I’ll spare you the rest …” (The wires went flying all over the carpet.)

“Suffice it to say, everyone’s atwitter. Church leaders, labor leaders, groups of every sort. Why, we’ve even had word from a nursery school in Sarcelles. The brats are staging a marble strike, if you can imagine! ‘In sympathy with all those poor little Ganges children, who can’t feel very much like playing …’ And just one more. The last one, monsieur. It’s worth its weight in God, so to speak: ‘His Eminence the Cardinal, Archbishop of Paris, the President of the Council of Protestant Churches, the Grand Rabbi of Paris, and the Mufti of the great mosque Si Hadj El Kebir, wish to announce that they have formed themselves into a permanent committee …’ ”

“Oh, that bunch!” said the President. “I had to put up with them this morning….”

-From Chapter Thirty-Seven [on the night before The Armada lands]:

…In Rome, the Pope is kneeling before a cross, a Brazilian crucifix with a figure of Christ that looks like Saint Che himself, while in Paris, the Cardinal, apostle to the poor, wriggles and squirms on his hard wooden stool….

-From Chapter Fifty-Five:

That brief lapse of time caused one final result. Just as the storm was beginning to die down, two planes approached the airport, and prepared for a visual landing. Visual for good reason. It didn’t take long for the pilots to realize that nothing and no one was left on the ground. Not a sound from the tower, not a car in the lots, no approach lights burning, no radio beacon.

Still, in spite of the storm, there was no turning back. Loaded with medicines and relief supplies, cram- packed as well with commandos of the cloth—squeezed between mountains of crates and cases—the two planes, undaunted, banked around for their landing, outlined against the darkened sky. The first one was white. The second one, gray.

No doubt the reader knows already who was in them: our militant musketeers of Christian charity, those all-out sword-rattling Third World do-gooders, the holy heroes of São Tomé. Number one, the Pope’s white Vatican plane! Number two, the gray plane of the World Council of Churches! Not a one of the flying padres had been able to resist the tortuous call of justice. As ever, their cargoes were nothing but a pretext. What really mattered was to get there first, and by their symbolic presence to give up the keys to the West, to offer them up in joyous abnegation, and let the new world come to life at last.

But cyclones’ tails can play treacherous tricks. The storm, as it died, struck one last blow. A thick black cloud swallowed up the mini-squadron, and sent its thunderbolts crackling around it. Every light went out, every instrument dial took a sudden plunge to zero. What one does in such cases is to step on the gas and head for open sky. Which is what the pilots tried to do, as the blackness hemmed around them.

But the eye of the cyclone was watching and waiting. Gigantic air pocket, shaped like a chimney. At such a low altitude, rare as it is, it never spares its victims. One after the other, almost docile to a fault, still respecting their traditional order of arrival, the two planes went crashing down onto the runway. Number one, the white! Number two, the gray! Explosion. Fire. And no witnesses to see it, except old Monsieur Calguès, that is, behind his spyglass, smiling. No survivors either. God had denied His people their few miserable minutes of grace, yet He claimed His due in lives all the same …

Afterwards, certain historians—though only a few—put forth a startling theory. To wit, that Pope Benedict XVI was aboard the white plane, and had died in the crash. Since only charred bones were found in the wreckage—no clothing, no personal objects of any kind—the speculation remained just that. (Wholly unsupported, except for the fact that His Holiness, indeed, was never heard from again. It was as if he had vanished into thin air, somewhere in the maze of the Vatican’s garrets. After that Good Friday message of his, dripping with brotherhood and universal love, he had simply and literally dropped out of sight. We were told at the time that he was closeted in prayer, in a self-imposed exile under the eaves.)

In point of fact, a spur-of-the- moment trip wouldn’t really have been out of character at all. Three times in the past, in an effort to restore the faith in his office lost by his less-than-adventurous predecessor, this pontiff had manned the white plane himself, and flown to some battlefield to land in the thick of the fighting….

-I leave you with a quote from the author, Jean Raspail, made in his introduction to the 1985 Edition of The Camp Of The Saints:

For the West is empty, even if it has not yet become really aware of it. An extraordinarily inventive civilization, surely the only one capable of meeting the challenges of the third millennium, the West has no soul left. At every level — nations, races, cultures, as well as individuals — it is always the soul that wins the decisive battles. It is only the soul that forms the weave of gold and brass from which the shields that save the strong are fashioned. I can hardly discern any soul in us….

I can…in those few of us who have made our home in The Camp Of The Saints and The Beloved City.

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