By: Jo Siedlecka
Hundreds of members of the Traveller Community from many parts of the country gathered at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon for a special Mass, celebrated by Bishop Paul McAleenan, an Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and Bishop with oversight for Ethnic Chaplaincies, together with several priests, including Fr John Maloney from Forest Gate, Fr Des McGillcuddy MHM, and Fr Dan Mason, National Catholic Chaplain for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. The music was led by Traveller Margaret Doran from Hertfordshire.
In his homily Bishop Paul praised the community for their strong family and community ties and the way they were bringing up their children, strong in faith and knowing their prayers from a young age. Travellers live close together, which is good, he said, but sometimes people can get angry with each other and cut people off. Bishop Paul warned against this, referring to the day's Gospel (Matthew 5:43-48) in which Jesus tells the disciples, that they must not only love their neighbours - but must love their enemies as well. Even tax collectors or the gentiles love their own families, Jesus said - but the challenge to Christians is to love people we don't like, even people who have treated us badly.
Bishop Paul said many Travellers have experienced discrimination and rejection - something Jesus experienced also - but he said God does not reject anyone. "We are called to try to be like God, who never rejects us." Bishop Paul said: "If we are to try to be like God, we must forgive each other." Bishop Paul encouraged them to go the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Bishop Paul went on to praise the devotion of the Traveller Community, saying: "it's wonderful to visit a Traveller's home and see the crucifix and holy pictures of Our Lady and the Saints in every room. They remind us that we are never alone. That we are always loved.
At the end of the Mass two people gave testimonies about their faith. Eileen Gavin, from Birmingham described how she had been having some personal difficulties and was feeling very depressed, but during a pilgrimage to Medjugorie she had a powerful dream which turned her life around.
Luke Delaney from Hertfordshire spoke about how, about five years ago, he had been a lukewarm Catholic - just going through the motions with his wife and children, but really thinking about joining a different denomination. "My faith didn't mean anything to me. But one day it dawned on me - Its this all there is to life - a black hole at the end?"
Luke said his wife was a firm Catholic and took him to Walsingham. He didn't expect much, but went to Confession and tried take it more seriously. He said he asked some searching questions to the priest, and to his surprise he said "suddenly I could understand… All you have to do is say yes. There is a power in the Sacraments. During the prayer of absolution Luke said he had a real sense of the Holy Spirit coming down on him. "Forget about being born again" he said. "God loves us. He gave our priests the power to forgive sins. Our priests are spiritual doctors."
Father Dan Mason commented: "It was wonderful to see so many families gathered in the Cathedral for the Mass. My hope is that this will become an annual event in order for us to celebrate the contribution that members of the Travelling community make within our church."
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