The people of the St Nicholas of Tolentino parish in Easton, Bristol celebrated Mass back in their church yesterday morning (7 December) - over a year after leaving it whilst it underwent major renovations.
The joyful and multicultural Mass was celebrated by Parish Priest Father Richard McKay. He said:
"What a day of celebration! The spirit in St Nick's here today was a mixture of excitement, profound thankfulness and unbounded joy, and of course relief that we have at last 'come home'.
"Today was the first time many of our community have seen what the renovated church is actually like. The first thing to strike everyone is that the church is now filled with light. Then there is the baptismal pool as you enter the church. The beautiful wood carvings from Malawi which now adorn the church are stunning, and we are now seated comfortably in a new pattern - facing each other. Now people began to see so much of the original beauty of the church in new ways - the arches and our magnificent stained glass windows.
"After Mass we all crowded into our new Tolentino Hall which was originally one third of the nave - the main body of the church. Here we recognised why we have done all this work - to provide quality facilities to serve the marginalised people of the inner city. Tolentino Hall provides beautiful spaces that are available to all. With joy we explored the four new meeting rooms and the wonderful hall with its mezzanine floor.
"This morning we were indeed a community reborn!"
The Bishop of Clifton, Right Reverend Declan Lang, sent a special message which Deacon Jack Brannigan read to the congregation. Bishop Declan said:
"My prayers and best wishes are with you on this very special day. There must have been times when you wondered whether you would be back in your parish church for Christmas. Today you are back and it is a good day.
"I am sure the new development in the buildings will enrich your own lives and also be a great service to all who live in the area. As a parish you contribute greatly to the life of the diocese and the locality. The new church is indeed a fine and beautiful building but you are truly the living stones of God's temple. You are the Church, God's people for today, living as a joyful community of hope.
"May Advent be a rich time of preparation as you await the coming of God as a human being. Jesus comes to lead us to God and to one another.
"I look forward to being with you for the re-consecration of the church next February."
Among the stunning art work used to aid prayer and worship in the church, the original wood carvings by KuNgoni Art and Craft Centre in Mua, Malawi are perhaps the most striking. The centre is run by the Missionaries of Africa (formerly called the White Fathers) and keeps alive the traditions and culture of Malawi. Pieces from this celebrated art centre are on display in the Vatican Museums - and now in the centre of Bristol.
An afternoon-long feast featuring dishes from every corner of the globe was enjoyed after Mass in the new top quality parish hall facilities.
During their year away the parish community - made up of over fifty different nationalities - worshipped in the neighbouring primary school.
As so much has altered at St Nick's Bishop Declan will rededicate the church during a special Mass in February.
St Nick's is the oldest purpose built Catholic church in Bristol. Located in the heart of Bristol's inner-city the mission to migrants has always been the cornerstone of parish life.
The Clifton Diocese website -www.cliftondiocese.com - recorded the massive changes taking place at the vibrant St Nick's. Throughout the year there have been pictures and podcasts taking you behind the scenes as the changes took place.