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"Magnificent Moment of Communion" at Ordinariate Church
The Ordinariate's central church in Warwick Street, Soho, celebrated its historic links with Portugal on 15 June with a Mass and reception attended by the Portuguese ambassador, His Excellency João de Vallera, and other prominent members of the Portuguese community in London.
Several pews were filled with Portuguese children and adults dressed in colourful regional costumes; the music featured works by Portuguese as well as English composers and some of the prayers were in Portuguese.
Also present at the Mass were His Most Eminent Highness Fra' Matthew Festing, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who is an honorary vice-president of the Friends of the Ordinariate, and His Excellency Fra' Ian Scott of Andross, Grand Prior of the Priory (Order of Malta) of England.
The church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory - which was dedicated to the life of the Ordinariate in 2013 - was built in the late eighteenth century on the site of a Catholic chapel which had served the Portuguese Embassy earlier that century, at a time when Catholic churches were not generally permitted in London.
The Mass, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, was celebrated by the Rt Revd Monsignor Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, who explained in his sermon that embassies built during those penal times - when Catholics were excluded from public life - provided a refuge for English Catholics at their time of need.The embassies, he said, provided priests and opportunities for Mass, which exceeded the particular needs of the Embassy staff. At one point, there were no fewer than five chaplains serving the Portuguese Embassy.
Mgr Newton went on: "I assume they did this because they shared a common faith, were in communion with their Catholic brothers and sisters and expressed that in a tangible way, which was entirely legal but also providential. That idea of communion with eachother across the Catholic Church is at the very heart of what we celebrate today; our belief that we worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
The ambassador picked up the theme in a speech he delivered at the reception following the Mass. João de Vallera described the occasion at Warwick Street as "a magnificent moment of communion" between the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory and the Portuguese community. "The Portuguese provided English Catholics with a refuge in Warwick Street in difficult times. I see what happened today - your opening of the doors of the church to the Portuguese community - as a return gesture, which, to me is the most significant and emotional aspect of the event", the ambassador said.
The parish priest at Warwick Street, Fr Mark Elliot Smith, who played the organ at the Mass, also spoke at the reception, recalling how the site of the Warwick Street church had "demurely and beautifully" witnessed three hundred years of history, including the anti Catholic Gordon riots of 1780. He said that the present church had been built on firm foundations, both architectural and spiritual, with "the prayers of the Portuguese community soaking the brickwork". Fr Elliot Smith said that where there was a shared history that united rather than divided, as was the case here, this should be fostered and cherished and that where there was friendship and hospitality, there was - as well as a shared past - the possibility of a shared future.
Areas under discussion for the future development of ties include making the Warwick Street Portugal Mass an annual event, the use of Warwick Street for Portuguese associations' events and developing musical links.
The Portuguese ambassador presented the Ordinary with a gift of Tawny port from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal and toasts were proposed to Portugal, Warwick Street and Anglo-Portuguese relations.
The event was organised by a member of the London (Central) Ordinariate group, Diana Morphew, who worships at Warwick Street.
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