At the start of Lent 2020, Our Lady of Fatima Parish in White City, West London, began to go through our Love in Action programme. Little did they know the twists and turns that would happen on their journey, meaning this three-month programme took them over two years to complete!
Love in Action is designed to introduce a parish to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). For six weeks, different principles are embedded in the Sunday liturgy, via the homily, bidding prayers, choice of hymns and displays in the church, with take-home materials and activities to deepen reflection throughout the week. After this, parishioners reflect on the needs of their community, and consider starting or reinforcing their own social outreach projects.
Parish priest Fr Richard Nesbitt, recalls why the parish began this journey:
We wanted to follow the Love in Action programme so that parishioners would have a greater understanding that so much of what we do in the parish in terms of justice and peace, care for creation and social outreach work is deeply rooted in Catholic Social Teaching. So, it is all about living out the Gospel, not simply ‘doing good.’ I also wanted parishioners to understand the moral principles which underpin so much of the Church’s teaching on contemporary ethical issues such as euthanasia and our attitudes to refugees and asylum seekers.
The parish were halfway through the liturgical part of the programme, with activities planned and Love in Action banners around the church, when, on 23 March the Prime Minister announced the full national lockdown and all churches were closed.
Over the following months, instead of following the programme, the parish stepped up, and started to increase its social outreach. They began to host a foodbank in the parish centre, which still serves the needs of up to 100 people each week. When it was safe to do so, they invited FoodCycle to use their centre for a weekly community dining initiative, and in 2021 three parishioners took part in Caritas Westminster’s Firm Foundations training for community Money Champions.
As a very diverse parish community, they responded to the outcry over the death of George Floyd in the Summer of 2020, by embarking on their own process of listening, reflecting and working to root out racism. They have also become increasingly environmentally conscious, and in 2022 received a CAFOD Live Simply Award. By then they had also received funding from the St John Southworth Fund with which to employ a part-time Community Support Worker, and begin to turn the parish centre into a real community hub.
But all this wasn’t enough for Fr Richard, and in Lent 2022 he re-started the programme, because the journey needed to be finished and, indeed, the pandemic had made many of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching such as solidarity, community and participation, and the dignity of workers even more relevant and urgent.
The parish was supported throughout by Caritas Westminster’s CST Lead, Sr Silvana Dallanegra. During Eastertide she spoke at Masses, led some reflections on the parish journey, and encouraged people, in the light of this, to consider what gifts and talents they could offer. And on Sunday 22nd May she was present throughout their Love in Action Commitment Weekend, during which parishioners were presented with the many opportunities for service in all areas of the parish’s life, and invited to decide how they could each live Love in Action.
More than eighty parishioners signed up for a whole range of roles and activities. Of these, many are still actively engaged in the parish, as new readers, members of the parish tech team, musicians, gardeners and volunteers in the parish community food-share project.
Looking back on all that has happened, Sr Silvana reflects:
So much has happened, in and around White City, since that first Sunday, back in early 2020, when I led an introductory session! I already knew the parish, both through personal contact, and as their local Caritas Development Worker, supporting the creation of their community hub. But being able to accompany and get to know the community better, especially by joining them on Sundays, was a great privilege and a joy, as was being warmly welcomed and embraced by everyone. It also enabled me to see how the programme could be tailored to their specific needs: whatever a parish’s starting point might be, whatever engagement and growth they might hope for, Love in Action really can be flexible, and a powerful tool for individual and community renewal.
Reflecting on the whole experience, Fr Richard says:
The Love in Action journey has been a real gift to the parish, especially in helping us to reflect on how we can put the Gospel into action in very tangible ways in our parish and wider local community. Restarting the programme coming out of the pandemic really helped us to re-engage parishioners in the life of the parish as well as deepen our commitment to social outreach to the wider community. And it has given us a richer vocabulary as a parish community to explain why we do what we do.
One of the social action projects of White City featured in a series of videos “The People of Caritas” which you can find on our YouTube channel, or click below to watch just this one: