Influx of immigrants overturns picture of declining Church
posted on 15 February 2005
DECLINE, WHAT DECLINE
Massgoing is in decline, and the Catholic Church in Britain is shrinking. Those are facts few people question.
But a Westminster Cathedral ceremony last Sunday suggests that in London, at least, those assumptions may need to be revised – along with the idea that Britain’s Catholics are almost always white.
A record number of adults choosing to be Catholics gathered at the Cathedral for a “Rite of Election”, an ancient ceremony in which catechumens (those who are preparing to be baptised) and candidates (those who are already baptised) are “sent forth” by their bishops to prepare to be received into parish churches across the diocese at Easter.
They are part of a programme known as the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults”, which prepares people in small groups for reception into the Catholic Church.
This year there were 770 catechumens and candidates - the highest number of adults to be received into the Church in Westminster Diocese since 1993.
They were joined by their godparents, sponsors, catechists, clergy, as well as friends and families at the celebration, which was presided over by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.
The numbers of the unbaptised - people who have been brought up with no religious faith at all – have been steadily increasing each year over the past 15 years or so.
The figures confirm the perception that faith is an increasingly a matter of personal choice, rather than custom.
The numbers of new Catholics drawn from ethnic minorities has also increased dramatically in the past decade or so. To reflect this, the prayers of the faithful at the Rite of Election were read in different languages.
As many as a third of those who will be received at Easter will be either newcomers to Britain or their descendants, Diana Klein, catechetical adviser to the diocese, said.
“Twenty years ago you seldom saw a non-white face in our churches. Now they make up anywhere between a third and a half of congregations in many of our parishes.”
The changing ethnic face of the diocese may be one reason why congregations in Westminster are remaining steady – or in many cases increasing slightly year-on-year.
Anthony Clark, Director of Lifelong Learning and Catechesis in the diocese, said he was humbled at the long procession of catechumens and candidates being greeted by the bishops. “It’s really humbling,” he said. “They’ve come to join the Church I sometimes just take for granted”.
He added: “It renews my determination to help the Church they are joining to become a sacrament of God's presence.”