Leyland is a charming city of Lancanshire, near Preston (UK), which grew quickly after 1950 because of the expansion of the automobile industry and others. Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and other Christians have lived together in this area for more than three hundred years.
“In the 1980’s,” John recounts, “some people from St. Mary’s parish attended a Mariapolis and were so well impressed by it that, afterwards, they invited more parishioners to attend. In order to pay for the registration fee they sold sandwiches after Mass! Some people were curious and offered their talents organizing celebrations, music nights, quiz games, and theatrical performances that all helped to gather funds, but also brought the people of the parish together. And so each year the number of people attending the Mariapolis increased and when they returned to the parish they tried to live the spirit of unity that they had experienced at the Mariapolis, in the parish.”
Leslie continues: “Evangelization is not a theory, but a way of life that engages everyone: those who go to church regularly, those who go seldom and also those who are not interested in religion at all. Each person is appreciated for who he or she is and is involved in this joint venture like Julie who does not talk and finds it hard to move around. She helps with the cleaning at the parish and offers hope and encouragement to the people who work with her. Julie, who found the faith a few years ago, is truly a symbol of what is happening here: welcoming everyone, welcoming the poor and needy, caring for the sick, the elderly – all in a spirit of joy. The Church is open to everyone. It once hosted a Hindu funeral, because the family could find no other place to have it. Many of their family and friends attended, and they were all very struck by the welcome they found.”
“This year, there were two hundred Confirmation candidates,” John explains, “and preparations for the Sacraments required a huge amount of work, but the unity among the animators allowed us to overcome all the obstacles. As a service to the local population we have special ceremonies for pre-school children in wheelchairs and for those who take care of them. In this way we meet many people who do not attend church. We join with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in caring for the elderly, the sick and the lonely, visiting them and bringing them material assistance that is often the fruit of the communion among nearby parishes. Recently the Newman Fund was instituted, sponsored by our parish with the goal of helping people in need. This help covers the cost of school transport for some of the children who live in this area. It also administers the communion of goods and the distribution of furniture and clothing to families in need.”
John continues, “The pastoral council is attentive to the local population and supports people’s participation and the communion among all, with the help of many volunteer animators. They also collaborate with ten other churches nearby. The ecumenical group that began spontaneously is very active. When the wife of a lay Methodist preacher died, the first one to call on him was our parish priest. Many of us Catholics attended the funeral in the Methodist church. These kinds of relationships are the order of the day now.”
“On the exterior of our church,” John concludes, “there is a Latin phrase that says: ‘Where charity and love are, God is there’. It’s quite a programme! Indeed we would like our parish to be a spark of light for the world around us.”