It has been my great privilege in recent years to visit Grand Lodges in different countries. There, I was able to see Freemasonry as it is practiced in other areas of the world. The basic precepts and philosophies, of course, are universal in our Craft; but the modes of operation vary considerably. This is not only evident within the lodges, but also it is reflected in the attitudes toward them among the respective societies in which they operate.
I found that in most jurisdictions it can take several years to become a Master Mason, a time during which Masonic education is given to each candidate. The Assistant Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge of France told me that, even with this time requirement, their membership has averaged a ten percent annual increase for the last decade.
It is significant that the financial cost to become a member in most countries is much higher than what we are accustomed to in North America, and the dues are considerably higher. The requirement to learn the ritual, the history and the meaning of the Craft is emphasized much more than we emphasize it. And, most important, in some jurisdictions attendance at meetings is not an option.
I have been greatly impressed with what Freemasonry means to those members and the significance that it carries into society in general. It is more reminiscent of the Craft and society of Colonial America. There must be some message somewhere in there for us.
This is not to say that problems do not exist in other countries, but most are of a different nature than those that we face. The members know much more about the Craft than do our members and they show a far greater appreciation for the privilege of being a Freemason. The respect generated outside of the Craft in many instances is more pronounced. This creates a different environment in which to work than the one we know.
On the opposite end of the acceptance spectrum are those jurisdictions where the Craft is repressed by various authorities, yet there remains those who are willing to take the risk to be Freemasons. Our individual appreciation and dedication pales in comparison to the brother in most other jurisdictions. We have no threat of restriction to our freedom to practice the Craft, yet our greatest problem is our inability to even get our brethren to attend meetings.
I am much impressed with most of the Grand Lodges I have visited, especially with the attitude of brotherhood which I experienced. There exists that feeling of camaraderie and brotherly love that at one time must have been more of a part of us.
I am optimistic for the future of our Craft in those countries where it is emerging after years of suppression. They know what it was to be forced to live without it and, subsequently, have developed a greater appreciation for it. We who have had no need to struggle to be Freemasons unfortunately have lost our understanding and appreciation of it.
I also believe a great future for the Craft exists on the African continent where it is just arising. Those brothers are discovering the idealism of Freemasonry and what it means. They have the opportunity to weave the principles and ideals of Craft Masonry into a new fabric, one that can be different and yet the same; one that can help lay the cornerstones of democratic thought as it did in so many nations.
That idealism -- the foundation of Freemasonry which causes us to believe -- is alive. Its influence is still being felt because its purpose of making good men better remains a fundamental purpose. I wish there were a way of instilling it into more of our members who take it so much for granted.