London: end of an era at Ely Place

There was standing-room only at St Etheldreda's in Ely Place yesterday, Pentecost Sunday, for Fr Kit Cunningham's final Mass. Fr Kit, a Rosminian priest, served as parish priest there for more than 32 years. Hundreds of people lined up to say farewell after the Mass. Ely Place was decked out with bunting for a street fair in the afternoon with music, a carousel, rifle range, face painters, portrait artist and marquees.

During his homily, Fr Kit spoke of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. The Gospel had described how people had heard the Word of God in many languages on that day. "One only has to look at the crowds in St Peter's Square to see the huge diversity of people around the world who are Catholic," he said. Quoting GK Chesterton, Fr Kit said: "Man finds it difficult coming to God  we find God far too complicated. But the whole point of Christianity is that God came to man.

"God comes to us through the Sacraments and in many other ways too, through art, music, and through this beautiful building."

Fr Kit said people sensed this. During his time at St Ethledreda's he had presided over 796 weddings and 815 baptisms. "St Etheldreda's has always attracted people who come here to pray and people, not even of our faith who come to rest, to take a break from the modern world, so evident just a few yards away." Fr Kit said it was sad that in recent times the Church had not always appreciated its own rich culture.

Quoting from Pope John Paul II's encyclical on Faith and Reason, he urged the congregation to keep the culture of the Catholic Church alive. Fr Kits thanked the choir, the sacristan the trustees and all those who have contributed to the life of St Etheldreda's. He concluded saying: "Long Live St Etheldreda's. God Bless you all." At the end of Mass, after making a presentation to Fr Kit, Fr Dermot Power announced that Fr Kit would be going to Stresa in Italy soon for a sabbatical. He said he would be returning on Pentecost next year to present St Ethelreda's with a new organ. Fr Dermot said: "Father Kit has been a real gift from God to us in his priesthood."

After the Mass, Fr David Myers, Provincial of the English Province of the Rosminians reminded the congregation of the history of St Etheldreda's which is London's oldest Catholic church. The building was returned to the Catholic Church in the 19th century when the Rosminians set up mission there to care for poor Irish and Italian immigrants. "Father Kit has continued to proclaim the Word in an often hostile environment" he said. He also completed a major restoration programme during his time there.

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