I’m exhausted! The annual Towards Advent Festival at Westminster Cathedral Hall is always a great event, and this year’s was the biggest yet.
The Cathedral Hall was packed all day. Catholic groups and organisations from across Britain take stalls and display stands. Groups promoting good church music, natural family planning, pilgrimages, and parish catechetics are all there, plus Catholic publishers and booksellers, religious orders, and charities working for people in need at home and abroad. There were craft stalls, and groups selling statues and rosaries and holy cards and Advent calendars. There was a group supporting the English College in Rome where our young men study for the priesthood, and there was the St Barnabas Society which helps those from other denominations who come into full communion with the Catholic Church. The Association of Catholic Women served tea and coffee, sandwiches and home-made cakes all day. The Society of Catholic Artists had a magnificent display of paintings.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols opened the Festival and the Gallery Choir of the Cathedral’s Choir School sang gloriously. Huge crowds attended the talk given by our special guest speaker, Mgr Keith Newton of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – it was standing-room-only for this event, with people perched on window ledges and crowding round the door. His description of his own journey from the Anglican Communion, and his joy at being in full unity with the successor of St Peter in Rome was moving and his message was positive and full of hope – echoed in the warm and sustained applause which followed his talk.
There was a full house again for the next event which was a celebration of the life of Blessed John Paul by the “Divine Comedy” youth drama group from Oxford. Their play “The Quality of Mercy”, featured on EWTN, tells the story of a group of pilgrims who are accompanied by “Karol” who shows them how God is at work in their lives. Describing how they came to present the play the group, led by Tessa Caldecott, gave an inspiring message showing the impact made by Blessed John Paul on a generation of young Catholics.
The Towards Advent Festival began in 2000, and so it is now launched into its second decade. It has become a focus of unity in the Church – all sorts of groups come together in the Cathedral Hall and people get a vision of the wide range of Catholic activities. It is inspiring to meet people who are helping blind children in India, and young women who have joined a new religious order, and talented musicians who are helping to teach young children to sing and to enjoy glorious music…and to recognise the stalwart service given by well-established groups such as the Knights of St Columba and the Catenians. It is wonderful to meet members of new movements, to linger at a craft stall, to meet and chat with friends, to dip into books and pamphlets and publications.
As the day finally drew to an end, I was busy helping to clear up, tackle litter, sort out final minor muddles, and then lock the empty hall behind us. There was an evening Mass in the Cathedral. It was a joy to enter under that great dome and hear the timeless words of the liturgy, and to give thanks for all the work and dedication and care that people had given so generously to make the Festival a success.