Before the pandemic (March 2020) our children would come around the altar at the beginning of mass, receive a blessing and go to their liturgy – always beautifully prepared and with originality by our wonderful team. When they returned they came in procession to the altar, stood facing and smiling at the people, knowing how glad we were to know about what they had been doing. Some of the children would read prayers. They knew we loved everything they did. Then, back to their families they would go.
The children’s families came from many countries – the Philippines, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Cameroon, Nigeria, Poland, Germany, both parts of Ireland, etc. – but when they spoke they all came from Leicester! Close your eyes and listen – Leicester. Whatever the family backgrounds they were now at school here and learning to pronounce words as the local girls and boys did. It was fascinating. The schools had made them members of new communities and they could slip easily from home (and the language of their parents) to school (and the language of their friends). Easily, easily, they belong to the two worlds.
A girl or boy could come to school with no English and be speaking fluent Leicester by the end of the school year. That is a wonderful achievement. Few adults could do that, most children can do it easily.
Strangely, I knew, there were tensions – but between the children from Netherhall and from Thurnby Lodge. I never talked about that at the school with the staff and certainly never with the children – but I knew. I discovered “upper” and “lower” in Netherhall and in Thurnby Lodge and separations on the two estates. Houses snapped up or not selling were clues, so were the state of frontages and front gardens. “Not what it used to be,” I would hear from the elderly and housebound.
Where I saw people, people saw “others”. One side of the road might be “upper” and the other “lower” – the look of the houses reflected image. The Hamilton estate developed and relatively quickly became “upper” and “lower”, I saw, and the streets and roads took on different looks, reflecting different expectations of home and environment. I felt comfortable in every part of the parish because I always saw people and families, the loved and the lonely, the neighbours and those simply next door or across the street. St Joseph’s parish was like our world: living near someone did not make them neighbours – you might not even know their names.
I can still name every family and every person in our street in Cardiff (numbers 17-47 and 18-52) in the years I was growing up. Can you do that? Can your children? Does it matter? Would you borrow money for the meter, lend half a bottle of milk, a cup of sugar, organise a charabanc (coach) to take the children away for a day, help in a foodbank, learn the names of the people you see at mass every week and from over the years? “I’m hopeless at names, I’d never remember even if I asked, so I don’t ask.”
Perhaps the other people are like you. The same lacking confidence. Try this once: “I know you so well by sight, but I’ve never known your name. My name is ….. What’s yours?”
No, please, you say. I couldn’t do it. I don’t come to church to be friendly, I come to church to pray. Try the other way round. Pray at home, come to church to be friendly. The children have no problem. Look what they can achieve. Children of God, so can you.
God bless us to love one another.
(26th June 2022)