Et avec votre esprit

It was before my family left to live in the United States and so I can’t have been more than 8 years of age. My uncle, a Catholic priest in a Benedictine abbey came to visit my family who were stationed in France. I went on a road trip with him and my mother. We stopped at a church. It may have been France but just as easily Switzerland. Without saying a word we entered this sacred Christian space. It was empty and my mother sat in a pew. My sister, a year younger, was usually at my side but not that day. I was spellbound by the order of the mass, the ease with which my uncle did it, as if he was of the stained glass. As if he had forever walked under the stations of the cross on the brick walls. As if the heavy wooden doors had always closed behind him.

“Do this in memory of me,” he says

I asked to go again but the call went unanswered.

My first teaching post was in a Catholic school in Bethnal Green, London. My fiance was working in China. We were to have a civil wedding in Hackney and a Catholic one in his native Venezuela. He had been educated in an all boys school run by Jesuits. I went to the church attached to the school and there met Father Tom who prepared me for my confirmation. It took three months.

“What if I have doubts?” I asked him on the last day

“Like Doubting Thomas?”

He told me of this disciple

‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’

I became upset

“I have reminded you of something?” he asked

“Yes,”

11 years later I am here in the northwest of England where Catholic churches have long stood but been embattled and restored through the ages. The writer Peter Ackroyd is very mindful of England’s Catholic past. He notes that it has been a Catholic country for longer than it has been a Protestant one. My relative in Lancashire often takes me to different ones. She grew up in Peru but visited my grandparents in Northern Ireland. She told me that my grandfather would take her every morning to mass in a different town.

“What an incredible thing to have done,” my older sister remarked

It was. He was a Protestant vicar and an Orange Order scarf found amongst his belongings when he passed away.

“Every day I cherish it,” my relative told me. “I love to wait until we all stand and the priest approaches the altar and the songs begin…”

“Do you miss the churches in Peru?”

“No. It’s the order of the mass. That’s what matters,”

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