London celebrates the Faith

It began as a venture to celebrate the start of a new century, a new Millenium.  The TOWARDS ADVENT Festival is now an annual event at Westminster Cathedral Hall  and brings together a  range Catholic groups and organisations – together with music, talks, and a great sense of celebration.

Billed as a “Festival of Catholic culture”, this year’s Festival will take place on Saturday November 28th, and will be opened by Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

There will be music from the choir of St James’ School Twickenham – whose choirmaster will also be giving a workshop during the day for anyone who wants to learn Gregorian chant. Winners of a young people’s writing project (topic: “The real meaning of Christmas”)  will be presented with their prizes. Other events include a lively talk from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who now have two houses in England and work extensively with young people in deprived inn-city areas. And there will be first-hand and up-to-date news from the “front line” of the Church, with a presentation by John Pontifex of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about events in the Middle East and militant Islam.

The hall is filled with stalls and displays by Catholic groups –  Knights of St Columba, Catenians, the Association of Catholic Women, pro-life groups, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham…and stalls offer monastic produce,  Advent calendars, hand-made rosaries, Catholic newspapers and magazines, craft goods, projects for schools, books, DVDs…

First organised in 1999,  by a consortium of Catholic groups including the Catholic Writers’ Guild and the Catholic Truth Society, the Festival has grown and flourished and a planning committee, headed by members of the Catenian Association and the Knights of St Columba, now works year-round to ensure its continued success.

The Festival always begins with music: over the years choirs from a range of Catholic schools have sung, and the standard is invariably high.  The ever-popular Panis Angelicus, and  Mozart’s Ave Verum are among the favourites.   Then after welcoming speeches and the official Opening by the special distinguished guest – this year it is the Cardinal – the choir leads everyone in singing the Advent hymn “O come O come Emmanuel”. The first verse is solo, and then the hymn is taken up by everyone in the hall, stallholders and members of the public alike (hymn-sheets having been widely distributed as people arrive).

Organisers of the first-ever Festival hoped that it might prove popular for a few years at least – over a decade later it has become a tradition embedded in London’s Catholic calendar.  Doors open at 10am on Saturday November 28th  and the coffee will be freshly-brewed and the rolls and biscuits ready.