Love in Action – Live to Love’ are displayed in large letters on an arch greeting people entering the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in London’s White City. They were immediately welcoming to myself and to Colette Joyce, Co-ordinator of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, as we visited the parish to assess it for the LiveSimply Award on 17 November. The award is given to Catholic parishes and schools in England and Wales which commit to live more simply and sustainably and to act in solidarity with the world’s poor.
We soon realised that we were in a beacon parish, with multiple initiatives for social justice and care of God’s creation. The parish has now become the seventh parish in Westminster Diocese and one of more than 70 parishes in England and Wales to achieve the award.
So much impressed us as we were shown around by parish priest Fr Richard Nesbitt – who is a trained Laudato Si’ animator – and parishioner Hilda McCafferty, who coordinates justice, peace and ecology work. The space around the church, once fairly bare, has been transformed into a beautiful green oasis which is prized in a built-up area with blocks of five-storey flats surrounding. The garden has been developed, “to increase biodiversity supporting a greater variety of wildlife and an environment where parishioners of all ages can enjoy nature and get more involved in ‘hands-on’ gardening.” Evergreen laurels are supplemented with flowering plants which are friendly to pollinators. In fact, several small insects landed on my glasses as we toured. A water feature and composting bin were nearby. Benches made from recycled plastic welcome parishioners to sit in the parish grounds, where one side has a Grotto and on the other a statue of St Francis with birds. Even on a soggy Autumn day the garden was inviting. We saw photos of a pet blessing in the local park of seven dogs and a cat.
Inside the church doors was a display of the parish LiveSimply project, including posters of a ‘Care of Creation Quiz Night’, a ‘Green Living Fair’, a parish viewing of ‘The Letter’, and ‘We are proud to be a Fairtrade Parish.’ The parish commitment of prohibiting disposable plastic was highlighted. Indeed, the parish has banned the use of throwaway crockery and cutlery in its parish hall and insists on the use of eco-detergents. Battery recycling was available by an entrance. Fair Trade products were on prominent display in the repository, alongside Archbishop Romero crosses produced in El Salvador. This demonstrated that while the parish maintains support for communities in the global south – with volunteering, fundraising and awareness raising for CAFOD, Mary’s Meals and linked parishes in Tanzania and Nigeria – the LiveSimply journey has led it to a commitment to the local community in White City. There are good links with Caritas Westminster and the Catholic Children’s Society.
There is a weekly sale of second-hand clothes – stored in the parish garage – and an annual ethical fashion show is very popular with the young people of the parish, especially Confirmation Candidates who are involved in its organisation. Walking, cycling and car sharing are promoted. In fact, the parish organises free cycling, maintenance and safety awareness classes for people of all ages, as part of an initiative to encourage parishioners to reflect on their transport choices. The Caritas ‘Love in Action’ programme gives parishioners a deeper understanding of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which guides work in the parish. There are regular ‘Live Simply Challenges’ in the parish newsletter and online to encourage consuming less and living more simply and sustainably, such as ‘less wasteful Christmases’ and aspiring “not to have more but to be more.”
Parishioners get involved in supporting on-line and local campaigns on environmental, trade justice and poverty issues. This time last year – during the UN’s COP26 on Climate in Glasgow – a ‘Parliament in the Parish’ was organised involving local MP Andy Slaughter. In April 2022 parishioners joined CAFOD’s Walk Against Hunger. More recently, Hilda joined Westminster Justice and Peace at the London march for the Global Day of Action on Climate, linked to COP27. Around 15 parishioners meet regularly in a ‘Care of Creation’ zoom meeting.
On ‘Living Sustainably’, the parish has established an annual Care for Creation month (mid-September to mid-October) with a variety of events finishing with a parish Creation Mass. This aims to inform, educate and inspire the parish community to the “ecological conversion” which Pope Francis promotes in ‘Laudato Si’. It is also part of a desire for the parish to highlight environmental action within the wider local community. After a carbon footprint/energy usage audit, the parish has insulated buildings and changed all lighting to LED systems. There is an annual parish trip to a local recycling centre and new initiatives considered all the time.
The parish aims to make its parish centre a community hub and has resisted lucrative offers to rent which would have reduced access to the local community. This means regular classes and groups, as well as the Thursday Club for elderly parishioners, organised by Laura Allison, the parish’s Community Support Worker. She told us it was, “the highlight of my week,” and it was great that our visit was on a Thursday. We met senior citizens knitting squares for blankets for Ukraine and one was teaching seminarian John Casey to knit! Anastasia, aged 91, was crocheting a shawl to donate to the cause. Other rooms were used for keep fit classes for seniors, IT training and a ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ upcycling centre run by a Colombian parishioner called Marisol, who has received National Lottery funding to teach sewing and upcycling classes.
A culture of neighbourly care has been developed, with home visits for the housebound, elderly and isolated and transport for housebound parishioners. Weekly vegetarian meals are provided for the wider community, with 70-80 people of all faiths attending regularly. Surplus food is distributed in partnership with charities FoodCycle, Felix Project and City Harvest. The parish newsletter and social media provide regular feedback on the activities.
But back to the church, Colette and I were so impressed by new stained-glass windows in the church, created by London artist Mark Cazalet. Images contained faces which reflected the multi-cultural nature of the parish and background outlines of the White City landscape. Contextual theology was the inspiration, where theology has responded to the dynamics of this specific context. In two collages, saints of colour – such as Josephine Bakhita, Martin de Porres and Andrew Kim Taegon – were honoured alongside Bernadette of Lourdes and Maximilian Kolbe. Just last year the parish produced a book ‘Rooting out Racism from our Parish,’ with the desire to celebrate the diversity of the congregation and counter racism.
A young person in the parish – Alessandro, aged 10 – had been given a wall in the parish centre to decorate on the theme of ‘Love Creation’. The central globe was made of recycled materials; the land area with green bottletops from milk containers. Alongside drawings of flowers he wrote, ‘Save our Colours’. A power station belching out gases was among ‘The Causes of Global Warming’, and a cause of pollution, recognising that air quality is an issue in the area. It was life-affirming to see a young artist given this platform.
Hilda felt the award “will help us appreciate what we have done over the years.” Laura explained that “so many people have put such hard work into building up the parish and community, it is nice for everyone to celebrate.” Fr Richard took the view that, “all this work is an expression of living the Gospel in this real and raw community.”
The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, meeting in Leeds last week, commended the LiveSimply Award as a response to Pope Francis’ invitation in Laudato Si’ to “work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us”. They encouraged all parishes and schools to consider signing up to the award “as a sign of their solidarity with the poor and their desire to live in harmony with God’s creation.”
The programme is administered by CAFOD and first award was given ten years ago, in 2012.
LiveSimply Award – https://cafod.org.uk/Campaign/LiveSimply-award