The first IVE popular mission to take place on British soil began on Palm Sunday, in the parish of Saint Margaret of Scotland in the city of Stirling, Scotland. We were invited by Father Joseph Millar, a member of the Saint Patrick's Missionary Society, and a good friend of the Institute having visited Segni on occasion and having had many of our priests to stay with him over the past few years. The parish is also home to one of our Novices. It was the novitiate class from Segni, Italy, which made up the majority of the missionaries.
To say that the people were ready for us coming would be an understatement. From the moment we arrived in Edinburgh Airport, the welcome from the local parishioners was incredible. We were greeted in the parish with beautiful food from the local ladies and we were told that this hotel-like treatment would continue for the duration of our stay, with different people volunteering to come in each evening to cook for us. No complaining there!
Our first apostolic work took place in the evening of our arrival with the Holy Mass and the introduction of the missionaries to the faithful. They were delighted to see us and gave us a lovely welcome. The Mass also gave us an opportunity to invite the people to the local parish hall for some entertainment and refreshments which had been prepared. They were very responsive and appreciated greatly that we had made the effort to learn some Scottish songs on their behalf; they also liked our Italian and Irish ones, with there being strong ancestral connections with these countries amongst many of the people. We also had the chance to meet the vast amount of children and young people there who were happy to hear about the activities we had planned for them for the week ahead.
Although visiting houses didn't start until the Monday, the two days in between gave us the opportunity to check the place out and to spend some time with the kids. We also welcomed four of our sisters to the fold, as well as Father Luis de la Calle, who made the short trip over from Ireland to help Father Emanuel Martelli, master of novices and the principal preacher during the mission.
Monday came along and instructions were passed for the house visits. For many, it was their first time on mission, although we had some experienced seminarians in our team to guide them along. Being a predominantly protestant country we were aware of the difficult job that we faced. The area itself was also an extremely poor area, it is government funded and has a very infamous reputation for anti-social behaviour, particularly in regards to drug related offences and alcohol problems. With this in mind we approached with caution and prudence. Feedback from the groups was as expected, a mixture of no replies, some interest and some obvious abuse. The first day, however, provided great optimism when a family of around five came over to the church to discuss baptism for both the parents and the kids, which we hope and pray will take place in the coming months under the instruction of Father Millar. Thanks be to God, this trend continued throughout the week with tremendous fruits occurring: including many confessions of lapsed catholics who had been away from the church for many years. A particular highlight was the baptism of a dying man on Good Friday, which in a sense was miraculous, given that the family were completely against the idea of him seeing a priest. It was one of our sisters who entered the hospital and by sheer chance the family of this man were not present at the time of her visit, which gave her the opportunity to speak to him personally. Because of the person's extremely poor state of health, she asked him to clasp her hand if he wanted to receive baptism. He duly responded, was baptised and he died two days later on Easter Sunday. These are just a handful of cases during an incredible week of grace.
The youth work was extremely fruitful, one of the most predominant apostolates of our week. Each afternoon at five o'clock we had a get-together with many kids and young adults who responded very well to our games and to our talks. We organised a football match against the older boys of the parish who were desperate to beat us. Luckily team 'IVE' came out on top, though not without a fight! On Easter Saturday we went on a day trip to Edinburgh with some of the teenagers, and did some Catholic sightseeing - which was difficult considering the very few churches and religious places left post the Reformation in Scotland! - and we did some fun things, like visiting the National History Museum and eating some ice-cream together. We left the mission with many young people interested in the Institute and many expressing their desire to come to Segni to find out more.
Other highlights included the visits we made to the local Catholic primary and secondary schools, which Father Millar kindly organised prior to our visit. Our first stop was Saint Modan's High School, where we were treated to a tour of the school and then invited into some of the older children's religious education lessons. We gave them a brief talk about our mission and our Institute, and afterwards performed a few songs and magic tricks which they enjoyed. The most memorable part of that particular visit was during the class break when, by sheer chance, we managed to play a couple of songs to literally the entire school, roughly 1,000 students! We later played with the special needs children, those suffering from autism etc, and they and their teachers appreciated our presence greatly. The primary school visit to Our Lady's Primary in the Raploch took place on the Thursday and we started it by saying Holy Mass in the Church Hall. We then played a bit with the children as well as those with special needs.
Ultimately, a principal aim of the mission is to get the people to come to the preachings in the evening. Come they did, and in great numbers too. Listening to feedback post preaching, many people were just so pleased to be reminded again of good, solid catholic doctrine. The songs afterwards helped greatly to gain the trust of the people and from the first evening onwards the parishioners took us to their hearts. Many even started to come for the early morning rosary and adoration with the missionaries and some even joined us afterwards for breakfast. They also offered their services for lifts and gave us anything that we needed. By the end of the mission, people constantly reiterated how our presence had given their lives and their parish a huge lift. We have since heard that many new initiatives are being considered for introduction in the parish, initiatives based on the missionary practices: more adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, Rosary before Mass, catechism of the youth, visiting houses...the list goes on. Not only, with the grace of God, have we had an influence on Saint Margaret's Parish, but also on other parishes too, with two priests already asking for a mission in their area.
So, the first mission in Great Britain was a success. People's faith had been strengthened, and other people's faith had returned. We hope to return in the future and who knows maybe on a permanent basis. We left the country with a providential meeting with Cardinal O'Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, at the airport in London, who heard about our work and sincerely thanked us for coming and doing mission in his diocese. That really put the seal on what was an incredible and memorable week.
Simon Willis | Novice, Segni
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