“We pray that parishes, placing communion at the centre, may increasingly become communities of faith, fraternity and welcome towards those most in need.”
Pope Francis, February 2023 prayer intention
Our Love in Action programme can certainly help parishes become “communities of faith, fraternity and welcome”.
One of the parishes which ran this programme during 2022 was Our Lady of the Rosary, in Staines. Their parish priest, Fr Philip Dyer-Perry, began discussing the possibility with Caritas’ CST Lead, Sr Silvana Dallanegra, in the spring. He was keen to run Love in Action as a response to the parish consultation on the Synodal Pathway in early 2022, which had identified poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, the role of women and inclusion of LGBTQ persons as top priorities for the Catholic Church going forward. Love in Action, with its focus on Catholic Social Teaching, seemed to be the ideal next step.
Love in Action introduces 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 are led through a process of reflecting on the needs of their community, and starting or reinforcing their own social outreach projects.
During the summer the parish assembled a small team, coordinated by Tricia Roper. Sr Silvana visited twice to introduce and explain the programme, bringing banners and good wishes from White City, which had recently completed it. Starting in September, the parish concluded the whole programme by the end of November. Wherever possible during the liturgical cycle, visual displays, and activities for the children were included, beginning with the very first Sunday, when, with Dignity as the theme, parishioners arriving for Mass were ushered into the church via a red carpet and a floral arch!
The parish’s Eucharistic Bears, awarded at each Mass to the child who has been most attentive and participatory, have long been a feature of life at Our Lady of the Rosary. During Love in Action two parishioners dressed them in the colour matching the theme of the week, thus reinforcing the message for the children who took them home.
The parish primary school also took part using the resources for themed assemblies, and began to run Caritas Ambassadors for children in Year 5. This created a seamless connection for the children, between Sunday and the rest of the week, with the Caritas Ambassadors now leading the school in their own outreach and concern.
Sr Silvana reflects on what made this parish’s Love in Action programme unique:
Two things in particular stand out for me: Firstly, the Love in Action team’s WhatsApp group, with people gladly offering to help with all sorts of things, and sharing photos and updates. The team’s generosity was a real joy! And then there was the whole experience of accompanying what felt like a Love in Action Plus-Plus-Plus – with all the bells and whistles, plus some extras! The weekly visuals and activities and the link with the school all contributed to the real sense of an entire community journeying together, culminating in a large number coming to the final meeting, despite the heavy rain!
Parishioners attended two meetings in November, during which they identified some commonly agreed priorities, and split into smaller groups to discuss them further. They formed a standing Love in Action group – which is still going strong – and began with a few initiatives: establishing better links with other Christian churches in Staines, for the purpose of coordinating social inclusion and outreach; supporting the Manna foodbank more effectively; promoting the parish’s ‘Gresham Junction’ community café to a wider clientele; and establishing a regular coffee morning for parents of children with additional needs.
Events can have a way of overtaking our intentions. Within a short time of these meetings, the growing Cost of Living Crisis led to the Gresham Junction being registered as a warm space, and consequently a greater cross-section of the local community dropping in. The coffee mornings for parents and carers of children with additional needs take place monthly, and are open to all parents and carers in the area, not just parishioners. The synodal pathway’s exhortation to ‘widen the space of your tents’ is certainly happening in Staines!
Summing up the parish’s experience, Fr Philip says:
Love in Action was a great way of challenging the parish community to reflect on those final words of Mass ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. We are usually very good at talking a great social Gospel, and indeed we’re very critical of others who do not practice what they preach. This was a huge opportunity to put words (and The Word) into action – and it was exciting to see our focus change – and some recognition that we can’t simply expect ‘the Church’ to do things, as WE are the Church and it’s up to us to get on with it!
Visit the Love in Action page and sign up for free resources for your parish. Parishes in the Diocese of Westminster can request support from Caritas Westminster – contact Sr Silvana firstname.lastname@example.org
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