Faithful queue on the streets to hear Mass celebrated over the Easter season after rising numbers of Catholic migrants place new demand on churches
BY MARK GREAVES
PRIESTS in England and Wales have reported an unprecedented rise in the number of Catholics attending Church this year during Holy Week and over the Easter weekend.
Both urban and rural parishes experienced bigger crowds than they had anticipated throughout the Easter Triduum, and in some parts of the country congregations spilled into the aisles and even out on to the streets.
Many priests say their flocks have been boosted by an influx of immigrant Catholics arriving not only from Eastern Europe but also from Latin America, Africa and Asia — a trend reflected in the widespread celebration of Polish and Indian Mass in the dioceses of Portsmouth, Northampton, Birmingham and Westminster.
At Westminster Cathedral, London, according to Mgr Mark Langham, there was simply not enough room to accommodate the thousands of Catholics who arrived on Good Friday, and many were forced to wait outside in the piazza after the doors were finally closed.
He said: "In common with a lot of places we had a feeling that numbers were high er this year. On Good Friday, there were many people who could not even get in, and we were venerating the cross for two hours after the service."
Mgr Langham. the cathedral administrator. reported that 3,000 people attended services on Good Friday, and only half of those were able to find a seat.
He continued: "The congregation was more mixed ethnically, reflecting all of the new communities corning in. The Polish blessing of food that we had here illustrates how significant their presence has become."
According to Fr . Des Connolly, a parish priest based at St John the Baptist in Andover, Hampshire, the rise in parish attendance over Easter was felt throughout the Portsmouth diocese.
"I've never seen anything like the numbers we had in this parish," he said.
"An elderly lady said to me that she'd been coming to this church for 60 years and had never seen such a crowd.
"People were standing on the stairs and on the balcony, and more than 40 were standing outside in the car park. It was wonderful, and it was mirrored all over the diocese."
For the first time the parish adopted the Polish tradition of bringing baskets full of food to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed before being eaten on Easter Sunday.
Catholic journalist Clifford Longley was sur prised at the size of the Easter Sunday crowd at his parish church in Orpington, Kent.
"It was the busiest Easter morning service 1 can remember," he said.
"I heard a tale about a news editor who wanted to write a story on empty churches at Easter. But when he went round to investigate he couldn't find any — in fact he couldn't even get in because there were so many people."
Fr John Watts, the priest at Orpington's Holy Innocents church, explained that there were more people at the Sunday morning Mass than there had ever been since he arrived at the parish 15 years ago. "You couldn't move," he said.
Other parishes that experienced larger than expected congregations included, in the Westminster archdiocese, St Pius X in Kingstonupon-Thames, St Etheldreda in Holborn and St Bernadette in Hillingdon, and in the Birmingham archdiocese, St Marie in Rugby. A spokesman for the Diocese of Salford also reported full churches.
Meanwhile, in Wales, Cardiff's Metropolitan Cathedral saw a dramatic rise on last year's numbers. According to Fr Peter Collins, around a third of the cathedral's congregation recently arrived from overseas.
Editorial Comment: Page 11