|Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, West London|
Fr. John Leahy SSCC
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, is situated in west London, but has many characteristics of an inner city parish. Because of its close proximity to London Airport and its situation at the economically poorest end of London Borough of Ealing, it has a relatively high number of refugee families, and also is home to many families who are inadequately or poorly housed either living in run-down Local Authority high-rise flats, or in Local Authority-run Bed and Breakfast accommodation. Poor single people do not even have this 'luxury' and many, particularly those with social problems of drink, drugs, or mental ill health, find themselves homeless and sleeping rough. However, the northern part of the parish is affluent with largely owner-occupiers or privately rented housing stock.
All this makes for a parish of enormous contrasts; an older population of people who have lived in Acton most or all of their lives - young people who are 'passing through' the parish and will stay for a few months or a few years; settled middle-class families with disposable income - those living well-below the poverty line; 1500 regular mass attendees many of whom are involved in various aspects of parish life - those (Catholics and non Catholics) who rarely attend mass but frequently visit the church to pray or light candles; and forty-five different nationalities who bring the richness of their language diversity and culture to the parish. Additionally, Our Lady of Lourdes has become 'home' to the community of Travellers (Gypsies/Romanies) scattered through the West of London who use the parish as 'their' church for weddings, funerals and baptisms, and whose children are prepared in the parish for First Communion and Confirmation. The presbytery is seen by them as a source of advice and advocacy for problems of benefits and housing, and for help in all aspects of their often difficult and marginalised lives.
Emmaus House Good News to the Poor
All of this provides a rich opportunity for both priests and laity to respond to the challenge of the gospel and the call of Jesus Christ in His mission statement to be 'good news' to the poor, which here in Acton we too hear in our hearts. Next door to the presbytery is Emmaus House - a drop-in centre for the poor and homeless where those who Western society would choose to ignore or institutionalise can be met with dignity, fed, clothed and receive other services. Emmaus House began as the response of the Sacred Hearts Community and a group of parishioners who worked as volunteers, and although it is now funded by the local Council and the Irish Government together with continuing generous donations from parishioners and individuals in the area, it retains its spiritual heart ably led by the Director Sister Aileen Kennedy, a Sister of the Sacred Hearts, who is assisted by Sister Martin, a Sacred Heart of Mary Sister.
A new development of Emmaus House has been the purchase by the parish of a property just round the corner from the church to provide a place of welcome and companionship during those hours when Emmaus House is closed. Known as the Damien Centre it was opened and blessed on 5 November 1999 by Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue. The Centre is open from 4-8pm on weekdays and is staffed by a paid project worker and volunteers from the parish. It provides a much-needed shelter from the harsh weather for those who are homeless or inadequately housed, or indeed for anyone who would like light refreshments and to socialise.
The late Fr Joe McGeady SS.CC. who formerly worked in this parish, and Rosie Stevenson, one of our parishioners, left this parish in 1998 to work in Mozambique. Mozambique is a country which has suffered greatly: in the aftermath of its sixteen-year civil war, the trap of International Debt into which it has been drawn, and most recently through the dramatic flooding which destroyed much of the rebuilding work which had begun to take place. The parish has been constantly generous in raising funds for the Mission in Mozambique and takes a deep and personal interest in what is happening in that country.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place four days a week. The life of the parish flows from and is animated by Adoration, and the spirituality of God's unconditional love - the God who has a heart for the world; and devotion to the Sacred Heart which is the source of compassion for the poor. Fr Damien of Molokai is honoured in our church with a special shrine and is a symbol and inspiration to our parishioners to care for the marginalised, excluded and rejected in our society. Because the church is situated right on the pavement of a busy high street many non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) pop into the church during the week to say a prayer and light a candle.
As well as the Sacred Hearts Community we are blessed to have in our parish two other religious communities: the Medical Mission Sisters and the Sisters of Charity. The parish is also home to the Servants of the Word, a number of members of the Antioch Community and some members of the Emmanuel Community, all lay communities who enrich the life of the parish.
Social and Faith Formation
Parish Dances have a strong tradition at Our Lady of Lourdes and are held regularly, providing a useful source of income and occasions of great fun when the parish comes together. The Alpha Programme, an ecumenical evangelising experience, is well supported by the parish and there is a programme of Parenting which, throws up leaders for future programmes so that Parenting is continually valued and supported by the community. The catechetical programmes too are well supported with lay catechists, including marriage preparation courses, confirmation, first communion and R.C.I.A. It has been many years now since the parish has celebrated an Easter Vigil without the reception of new adults into the church, who have prepared for this night over a period of at least a year- a sign for all of us of the need to renew our own baptismal promises and the power of the Risen Christ.