Goans help put life back into London’s churches
Severely hit by declining attendance by natives, churches in London are getting a fresh breath of life with the pews now being filled by thousands of Goans who’ve immigrated to the UK in search of employment.
The acknowledgement by the Roman Catholic Church authorities in the UK was given to archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao, who is currently on a seven-day visit to London.
“I visited several churches in London. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve been told by various people that the Goan community has contributed to reviving churches in a big way,” Ferrao told a gathering of Goans at a function at Wembley last Friday.
Prior to the function, Ferrao celebrated mass at the St Joseph’s Church in Wembley that was attended by over 2,500 Goans.
“There are several reasons why the number of native church-goers are declining. But, instead of shutting down, many churches are now vibrant. First, it was the wave of Goan immigration from East Africa, now it is the wave of Goans holding Portuguese passports,” says Fr Lucas Rodrigues of the Goa-based Society of Pilar, who runs the Goan Chaplaincy at Swindon-Reading.
“The Goans have revived what was going downhill. The churches in Swindon, Hounslow, Wembley, Heathrow, Hayes, Bridgewater and Southall are now packed,” he said.
Rodrigues has spent the last 13 years in the UK and has observed the decline in the numbers of native church-goers and an infusion of faith by migrants from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. “Goans have rejuvenated the Catholic Church in the UK, similar to what the Irish did before. The Holy Rood Church in Swindon is among the largest churches here. Over a decade ago, church authorities were thinking of shutting it down or celebrating mass once a week. Now, the church is packed. With over 3,500 church-goers every Sunday, it is witnessing one of the largest attendances among parishes. Of those attending church, over 95% are Goans,” Rodrigues said.
Swindon is home to a population of over 12,000 Goans with most finding employment in the factories that dot the town. “They’ve left Goa and come here to find employment. First, it was just job-seekers, followed by their close relatives. Now, their families are here and their children are studying in local schools,” said Rodrigues.
Swindon also has two smaller parishes. “At St Mary’s Church, Goans comprise between 65%-70% of the parishioners, while at Holy Family Church, Goans comprise 50% of the church-goers,” said Rodrigues, who also holds charge as parish priest of Sacred Heart Church, Wootton Bassett, and is the local superior of Pilar Fathers, UK.
“Goans are playing roles in different peripheral committees across the UK. They now serve as catechists, parish council members, Eucharistic ministers, finance committee members, representatives of churches in the diocese,” said Dione de Souza e Barreto, who welcomed the archbishop at the function held at St Joseph’s Church, Wembley.
At the function held last Friday, Wembley parish priest Fr John Menonkari, a native of Kerala, expressed his happiness that the archbishop of Goa had decided to visit as Goans comprise the largest percentage of parishioners. Menonkari is assisted at the church by Fr Joseph Kaduthanam, also from Kerala.
St Joseph’s Church was built by the Irish at Wembley in 1901. Waves of migration by Asians over the last few decades saw most Irish and English move out of Wembley. An overwhelmingly large percentage of the parishioners are now Goans, followed by Sri Lankans, Damanese and Diuese, Irish, English, Malayalis and Tamils.