I always go into churches when I’m abroad. For both religious and cultural reasons. You always find something of interest, even if you’re not religious. In Paris a small South American choir were practising. In Stratford a young group of American gospel singers were giving a free concert. In Venice a trio of violinists were playing Vivaldi. And I’ve heard nuns and monks in monasteries singing the Divine Office. A little bit of calm and culture amidst the hustle and bustle of what may be outside.
I usually start by reading all the notices and leaflets around to get a sense of the church, the parish, the people. You can quickly tell their priorities. It might just be to remain open, a sign of the times. You see many churches turned into homes, offices, restaurants, art galleries. Better any of these than to remain closed. In a sense churches are usually art galleries, even when still consecrated. In L’Eglise de la Sainte Famille in Le Touquet there is vibrant modern stained glass. The thing about stained glass is that the hues change depending upon the time of day and the way the light falls. You are drawn to revere the art and the artist for making this happen.
I always light candles. Proper candles, not those electric ones that health and safety madmen favour. And I pray for the people I know in the most need. This is sometimes a long list. And it’s often a desperate plea, seemingly unanswered, or at least not in the way you expect.
In this church I came across a prayer to St Rita, ‘Sainte de Impossible’. ‘That’s worth a try’, I thought, ‘for all those seemingly impossible requests’. The instructions tell me that I have to say a specific prayer to her. And photocopy the prayer 25 times and leave for other people. Then wait for the fourth day… I’ll let you know how I get on.