554 - April 2015
March 7th, 2015 - April 9th, 2015

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EUROPE

150th anniversary of the “Kilburn Cathedral”

When they come to write the history of twentieth century English Catholicism, “Kilburn Cathedral” will merit a chapter all of its own. In its 1960s heyday, Sacred Heart, Quex Road (its proper name) in north-west London, run by Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), boasted the largest congregation of any church in the country. There were 13 Masses on a Sunday for the 13,000 who queued to worship here, a feat only achieved by taking over an old Nonconformist (ed. Non-Anglican) hall next door and running extra Masses on the half-hour throughout the day.

For hundreds of thousands of Irish émigrés, Sacred Heart, in what was then known as County Kilburn, provided a home away from home. So there were ceilidhs (ed. dances), hooleys (ed. parties), the St Patrick’s Day concerts at the art deco State Cinema on the High Road and racks of Irish papers. But this extraordinary parish, with its vast Pugin (ed. A famous architect) church, had a mission to integrate its parishioners into their new surroundings. There was a meet-and-greet service for those stepping off the “Boat Train” from Holyhead, hostels for new arrivals, an employment agency and the Marian Housing initiative that enabled young couples to get their foot on the property ladder.

On 21 February, the Sacred Heart began a year-long celebration of its 150th anniversary with a visit from the American Superior General of the OMIs, Fr. Louis LOUGEN. In July a special Mass will be said for all those who were married at Quex Road. When we arrived here 15 years ago, County Kilburn was slowly slipping off the map. The dance halls that once hosted Irish show bands had been demolished or put to other uses. The religious statue shop is now a pawnbroker. Quex Road continues to flourish, with the Sunday congregation still a robust 2,000 spread over five Masses.

Fewer than 20 per cent of those who attend, however, are ethnically Irish, and they are an ageing group. The only times the diaspora gathers en masse these days is for funerals, or Masses of repatriation for those departing these shores to be buried under home turf. There is, inevitably, going to be a whiff of nostalgia about the 150th celebrations, albeit accompanied by a clear-eyed acceptance that things certainly were not all rosy back then.

There was poverty, prejudice against those first-generation Irish immigrants and damage inflicted on some by the Church itself. But the anniversary is also about celebrating the present. Those who fill the pews at Quex Road are from every corner of the globe – Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Somalia, Nigeria and many more. There are currently 58 nationalities in the parish and 38 languages spoken, including in the adjoining primary school where 81 per cent of the pupils are on free school meals.

The church runs the local food bank. We have all heard lately the charge that our Catholic schools, our Catholic parishes, indeed every faith community, are somehow separatist, divisive, intolerant obstacles to multiculturalism, and therefore at the root of today’s problems with fundamentalism. Next time I am challenged with this nonsense, I am going to hold up the example of Quex Road.

With its encouragement, the Irish community gradually merged into broader British society, to the benefit of all. And that is what continues to happen, buttressed by the church’s stated twin commitments to outreach and justice and peace. This is a church that nurtures what unites us because it lives out the values of a Church that teaches the tolerance and love of a neighbour. For 150 years, Sacred Heart has been giving the lie to talk of introspective religious ghettos by being a contributor to the common good of its wider community, and of the nation. Those who decry religion as sectarian would do well to pay it a visit.
(Originally published in The Tablet by Peter Stanford. Reprinted with permission.)



Presenting the Church as a community open to all

NINIWA is a pastoral program for youth involved with the Missionary Oblates. It is active in twenty parishes in Poland. Twice a year, the youth of this movement participate in meetings, in different cities in Poland, in the Zycia Festival (Festival of Life = an evangelization celebration for youth), and in missionary volunteering. At this time there are 1500 participants in the groups. The community center is in Kokotek, near Lublin in southern Poland.


The authors of great musicals such as “Francis - the called one of Assisi” and “Exodus”, together with the Community of Niniwa, to celebrate its tenth anniversary, recently presented the musical “Jonah” - an adaptation of the biblical story of Jonah. In the second part of the celebration, there was a concert by Father Jakub Bartczak, a priest and rap musician. The gathering was held in the city of Katowice, with the participation of 6000 people.


A giant fish, a shrub which grows lettuce, a bicycle that symbolizes the will of God – these are just some examples of the show’s props. The play had 150 participants, including professional theater actors, guest vocalists and youth who prepared for several months in workshops.

The interpretation of the Book of Jonah by the author Mariusz Kozubek demonstrated in an interesting and amusing way the conversion of the inhabitants of a sinful city (Nineveh), as well as the struggle of Jonah with himself and with God. The story of the prophet is presented in nine scenes.


The work was composed of various styles and combinations of musical rhythms and sounds of Jewish origin, rock and pop music, with a very dynamic choreography and humorous scenes. The story was told through dances, songs and recitations presented in scenes such as: the storm at sea, the ship, the belly of the whale or the city full of luxury.

The event was a success. There were several curtain calls. The idea was to convey and stress the simple truth that God is merciful and wants us all to be saved, no matter what we think of the sinners of Nineveh, whether we want to condemn them or give them another chance.

The message of the musical led into the second part of the festival. The World Youth Day Cross was carried onto the stage where there was a prayer of adoration before moving on to the concert by the rapper priest. During the concert, various groups, associations and communities working with youth were introduced.

The organizers wanted to present the Church as a community open to all youth, whose diversity attracts and enriches. (P. Wojciech KLUJ)



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