It was once known as ‘County Kilburn’ in view of the many Irish who settled in this North London borough in the post-war years. They would once have filled Sacred Heart Church on Quex Road, so it was a very appropriate venue for a mass on September 24th to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Irish Chaplaincy. The church is still filled on a Sunday, except that today there are 62 different nationalities who have found a home in the parish and who, like the Irish before them, help to make London such a vibrant and multi-cultural place.
It was also appropriate that the main celebrant at the mass was Bishop John Kirby who chairs the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants. It was the Irish Catholic bishops who, in 1957, sent nine Columban missionary priests over to Britain to walk alongside the thousands of Irish who had come to find work. This marked the beginning of the Irish Chaplaincy and we continue 60 years on to reach out to Irish in need. We are mainly lay people now doing the work but we continue to be inspired by Catholic Social Teaching which says that each person is of unique and sacred value. And just like those first 9 Columban priests, we continue to walk alongside people who may have nobody else to walk alongside them; and we continue to be a voice for those who may have no voice.
As I said to the congregation on Sunday, the 60 anniversary is a time to look back and give thanks for the good work that has been done, and for those who have carried out the work; and it’s a time to look ahead with hope.