It was a rainy spring morning in Wallingford, a charming grey stone market town in Oxfordshire, bordering the meandering Thames. I slipped out of a friend’s house on foot, headed for morning Mass. The wet streets were practically empty, save for a few early Sunday shoppers.
Finding the church was a little tricky, as its location in an un-charming, new-brick edifice around the corner from a street ATM was more than discrete; a tiny sign was the only indication of its presence. Inside, however, were pews filled with Catholics, standing room only. I looked around me in wonder – the place was filled with people from every continent and walk of life. From my cramped seat in the back, I listened carefully. The priest was an Irishman, and his homily was forceful and direct.
In the last 15 years, I have attended Masses all over England, and what has struck me most about English Catholics in the pews is how similar they are to Catholics in the United States today. In the suburbs, you find the churches filled with older people, there out of long habit and young families, trying to pass on the Faith. There are almost no single young people. In the big city churches, a grand mix of types of all races and nationalities – singles, couples, old and young, plus a sprinkling of tourists. And in the solemn Latin Masses, the pews are filled with a creative minority of intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs and young families with lots of children.
So who are they, G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Secret People,’ the Catholics of England?
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