On Thursday, 29th of September, the parish of Our Lady & St George’s, Penilee, celebrated the closure of a week long popular mission conducted in the local area. It was the second IVE mission on Scottish soil, following the Easter week mission in Stirling in April 2011. We were invited to the ancient archdiocese of Glasgow by Fr. John McGinley, who had heard about the success of our last visit through the national Catholic newspaper, and to commemorate this current year of faith he considered a mission as the ideal faith booster for his faithful.
Two priests, five seminarians, three junior seminarians, and four sisters made up our team. We were particularly blessed by the great Scottish presence within our group, with there being a total of two major and two minor seminarians from near the Glasgow area. This obviously delighted the locals seeing their own young men in the service of the Lord, especially with the recent difficulties confronting the Catholic Church in Scotland at present. There were also four English religious in the group, who happily made it out of the country alive! We all know the history there!! Father Ernesto Caparros was the group’s head, accompanied by Father Jean-Marie Baudry.
The parish itself was situated in the southwestern edge of Glasgow. It is a residential suburb of mainly working class people, with the area traditionally housing workers of the nearby industries. There is currently a considerable residential development going on in the area, which means that the parish populous is continuing to grow considerably. For this reason we were unable to cover the whole area during our house visits because of its vast size.
It is fair to say that the Catholics of Scotland, although a minority at only sixteen percent, still have a very vibrant and deep faith, especially in the Glasgow area, the most predominantly Catholic zone in Scotland because of the large immigration in recent centuries, particularly from Ireland. For this we were given an extremely hospitable welcome and we all experienced a real sense of belonging and ease at being in their parish community. All that a mission demands did not discourage the people as they flocked in numbers to help us with all that we needed. Except from the fathers and the sisters, we were all generously given homes to stay in which gave yet greater opportunity to do apostolate with a number of families.
Scotland, and Britain as a whole, has not been traditionally Catholic for a long time, with it now being very accommodating to various ethnic groups. For this reason we knew that visiting houses would be a more difficult task. Although most people would not show us any great disrespect, because of the great divide of Christian denominations especially, it was difficult to enter into any great dialogue with the people. Therefore, a great part of our apostolate, which actually came as a pleasant surprise, became our daily visits to the local catholic schools and the chance to teach religious education to the young people. Still to this day there exists the opportunity to attend public catholic schools in Scotland. We entered both the primary and secondary schools and explained the charism and specific end of our order. It was especially pleasing to see the response of the elder secondary school students, many of whom expressed an interest in doing some voluntary work in one of IVE’s current missions. We also had games for the young people every afternoon at the parish, which was slow to take off, but by the end of the week was full of life and full of fun.
The mission preachings were very well attended by young and old alike, with many families coming from different parts of Scotland to listen. There was always some form of social gathering afterwards in the brand new parish hall, where we could chat and have some fun with the parishioners. The seminarians and sisters learnt some traditional Scottish songs which the people appreciated. We also performed some pieces of comedy sketches. We had a curry evening, which actually belongs to the Indian cuisine, yet because of Britain’s reputation of not quite being the most imaginative of cooks, they tend to borrow what is good from those around them!! There was no complaining, however, as everything they set in front of us was more than good and we were spoiled to say the least. We had a pizza night with the kids, accompanied by some bagpipe playing and kilt wearing. We also had a Ceilidh and bingo night which are both traditionally loved in Scotland. A Ceilidh is a gaelic word for a social gathering, and which usually involves a series of traditional Scottish dancing, accompanied by a band playing traditional Scottish music. It wasn’t the easiest to get the hang of yet very entertaining.
At the halfway point of the mission Father John offered us a free afternoon in order to go and see some points of interest in the city. These differed for each of the missionaries, with two of the seminarians being invited to go and see a football match involving Celtic FC, one of the most famous clubs in the world because of their Catholic history. The rest took in some of the popular sites of Glasgow, which architecturally is very beautiful and the people extremely friendly. The next day saw a charity football match organized which they wanted the seminarians and fathers to participate in. This involved a ninety minute game against some former professionals which proved rather exhausting. The game was followed up by a barbecue on the parish grounds which went on until late in the evening and which turned out to be a memorable day, not only because of the rare beautiful weather, but the fact that the atmosphere around the parish was so vibrant and friendly, with the kids playing games with the missionaries and the people just happy to talk.
All in all the mission was a huge success and God only knows the seeds that were planted. Already a young family has come to Italy to visit us, and the parish priest even mentioned the possibility of bringing his faithful over to visit us some time next year. There has also been discussions to perform other missions in different places in Scotland over the next couple of years.
Please pray for Scotland, that fruits will come from this mission, and maybe that one day our religious family can minister there on a more permanent basis.