Catholic Culture(s): Here Comes Everybody Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 19 October 2007 08:01
The huge influx of Poles into Britain since 2004 when Poland was admitted into the European Union is changing the face of British Catholicism and British life in dramatic ways. The New York Times has a colorful multi-media piece on Polish immigrants in London this morning.

500,000 Catholic immigrants over the past few years have made Catholic Church attendance take off. One London congregation was down to only 20 parishioners but suddenly had 1,400 in Mass on Sunday when they added a Portuguese Mass! In northern Ireland, where the police had been attempted to recruit more Catholic police officers because local Catholics mistrust the largely Protestant force, nearly 1000 Poles solved the problem by signing up.

Per the Washington Times:

"It is very, very good, but sometimes it can be difficult" to have so many parishioners, said Tadeusz Wyszomirski, a parish priest at Our Lady Mother of the Church in west London.

Even though he recently added a seventh Sunday Mass -- all of them are in Polish -- the large church with grand stained-glass windows still overflows at most services. Some people kneel in the aisles, others stand outside even in London's cold winter rain. Crowds also flock to the church's three daily Masses in Polish on weekdays.

"I hope it continues to grow," he said. But the five priests are very busy, he added, trying to keep up with all the weddings, baptisms and home visits to the sick.

At Sunday's 11:30 a.m. Mass, Marszalkowska stood outside, listening to prayers over loudspeakers with her 9-week-old baby and her father, who is visiting from Poland. She said she speaks both English and Polish but looks forward to hearing the Mass in her native language.

Afterward, she joined other churchgoers in the basement for tea and Polish pastries -- including huge slices of a very popular apple cake.

Monika Swierczyusko, who came here two years ago from Poland, was working behind the counter. She said she works in a factory six days a week and helps out at the church every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"I don't understand people who don't like to go to church," she said, as another thousand people settled in upstairs for the next Mass.

There was much speculation last spring that Catholicism might become the dominant religion in Great Britain after 500 years of Protestant dominance.

Whether or not that happens, the new British Catholicism certainly won't be the Catholicism of, say, Brideshead Revisited. For one thing, the liturgical debates that have convulsed the Anglo world in recent decades have very little resonance for Poles. The Mass has been celebrated in the venacular in Poland since the 1940's with very little trauma. Just surviving in those days was traumatic enough. Dealing with the Nazis and the Communists and the death and deportation of 1/3 of your population tends to change your perspective on such things.

A lovely practice among Poles is to celebrate Christmas (and sing Christmas carols) for 40 days through Candlemas Day (February 2). What a wonderful thing it would be if that practice began to permeate the English speaking Catholic world!

One of the consequences of being a member of a truly world-wide faith at a time of globalization is change. The Poles and Portuguese are changing the face and practice of Catholicism in Britain today just as Hispanics and Vietnamese immigrants are changing the face of American Catholicism; just as Irish and German immigrants put their stamp on the American Church of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our priorities, our debates, our practice and devotion will all be slowly transformed by the presence of the same faith shaped by a different historical experience and culture as their practice will slowly be changed by our traditions.

There is one Catholic faith but there are probably hundreds of Catholic "cultures" or "sensibilities". To talk of a single unitive Catholic "culture" as is so often done around St. Blog's is simply nonsense and is certainly not catholic.

There are as many Catholic cultures as there are Catholic peoples attempting to live and apply the one faith in the context of their own unique culture, history, time and place. Each unique Catholic culture will see, treasure, highlight, reverence, and celebrate different aspects of that one faith.

This wonderful diversity in a single communion is one of the great riches of living as a Catholic today. Catholicism in the 21st century does literally mean "here comes everybody."