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Soho: Londonʼs equivalent of the Red Light district – a hot bed of prostitution, drugs and age-old drunken debauchery (as well as some genuinely good bars) – and last Saturday night it was in for a real treat…
NIGHTFEVER came to town!
Donʼt worry, no John Travolta in the shocking white suit and high heels; the stars of this Saturday Night Fever were ﬁfty young Brits armed with lanterns and the love of Christ, advancing on the wild terrain of Londonʼs Soho and its avid party-goers.
I had heard of Nightfever before but could never have anticipated what I was really in for this evening. Originally starting in Cologne at World Youth Day, Nightfever had such a success that it spread throughout Europe, making its way to merry old England, which is perhaps one of the toughest nations to evangelise (being English myself, I’ve had first hand experience of this; it ain’t easy, I can tell you!) But these guys really showed what they were made of.
After arriving by underground at Tottenham Court Road and making twenty wrong turns down Oxford St, Dean St, Regent St and what seemed like every other street in central London, I ﬁnally found my way to Soho Square Gardens.
I passed over the patch of green, ﬁlled with people sitting around drinking, smoking and getting ready for a wild night out, then found myself in front of St Patrickʼs Church directly overlooking the buzzing square.
I walked up to the front steps and was immediately greeted by a handful of smiling young people in their twenties. After explaining that I was joining them for Night Fever they ushered me inside with smiles and handshakes and down to the church’s crypt where more volunteers were whirling around getting tea, biscuits and sandwiches on the go. Laughter and joy thronged the air and a rising excitement brimmed beneath the surface of this beautiful church blinking in the heart of Englandʼs metropolis.
Then the bells struck and the evening began. After the briefing and a blessing from Father Alex, those on music ministry took to the microphones and instruments at the side of the altar. The evangelisation team grabbed lanterns and candles and took to the streets two by two (in true biblical fashion). The welcome team stationed themselves at the great wooden doors standing between street and Church, that were tonight opened wide, beckoning all who passed to the most unforgettable ‘night out’ of all.
This was a night of mercy, a night of evangelisation, a night of charming that tough London crowd with the ultimate superstar: Jesus Christ. This was NIGHTFEVER.
As I climbed out of the crypt and entered the church I was immediately blown away by the scene before me. The grand old church had been plunged into a blissful stillness; darkness surrounded, but was penetrated by a gentle glow seeping out into the crisp night air; lanterns adorned the aisle, lighting a pathway to the splendour that lay ahead; candles were already being placed by praying volunteers at the foot of the altar, the music team had began to sing and play, a celestial melody rising on a mist of sweetened incense, up towards the heavens, transporting my senses along with it.
And then I saw Him. Enshrined in a golden case, no other earthly substance worthy to bear Him to the world: Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Light in the darkness; hope in despair; truth in its fullness; the beating heart of the Church facing the open streets – offering life to His lost little sheep on the outside.
I walked to the front of the church and dropped to my knees. Overwhelmed, I wanted to run and hide before the greatness of His presence, but at the same time I ached with my every fibre to reach out to Him and touch Him who brings this wretched child of darkness into the light of truth; into life. My heart began to soften to the gentle embrace of the Lord, His mercy creeping into the depths of my hardened and unworthy being. My mind passed out of time…
…then I was brought back to the world as the Night Fever team asked me to help the music ministry by praying while they sang.
“Lord” I said, “give me the words you want to tell the people this night.”
I opened the Bible and the page fell on Hebrews 4.14:
As I spoke His words into the microphone and they echoed through the Church, I understood that He was inviting each one of us to come to Him and simply be willing to receive Him and that this was exactly what the volunteers were helping the people to do. They led each person who stepped in from the street up the aisle towards the throne of grace and encouraged them to receive Christ’s mercy. Priests were stationed all round the church, available for confession. Afterwards they told of how touched they were that so many people, even non-catholics had come up to them to confess or simply to speak to them and ask them questions.
After a while I tore myself away from the blissful scene before me and went to check how the evangelisers and welcomers were getting on. As I walked down the aisle I was amazed to see that the benches were filled with people from the streets and volunteers were leading a steady stream of them up to the altar to lay a candle before the Lord and write an intention. It seemed that the splendour of the evening was attracting even the most unlikely of sorts.
Now the welcome team were taking the field like David Beckham. Smiling, chatting and laughing with people from all walks of life, like bees to honey the crowds were growing. With all the good feeling that was floating around you’d have thought Peter Kay was in the house.
Meanwhile out on the streets I expected to see a different story. All those half-drunken scallywags out for a night of wild fun (I’ve had my fair share of that in the past) – I could just imagine the riot they would make on these bright-eyed young volunteers with their good intentions…
But hang about! I couldn’t believe my eyes: the scallywags were stopping; they were listening; they were following these young folk into the Church!
Yep. These Londoners were no rookies; armed with the Holy Spirit, they had super-duper megaphones blaring their heavenly music out into Soho territory and they coated the steps and ground with lanterns and candles; a glittering array of light and sound, instantly disarmed the hardest of hearts.
Can’t argue with sheer beauty.
I saw a couple walk past. They were both dressed to the nines (which actually involved a very small amount of clothing) out for a night of clubbing. Both had clearly started the party early and as they meandered by, one of the volunteers smiled at them and said “hi!”
Both turned around to look at the crazy person trying to make a conversation with them outside a church in Soho on a Saturday night.
“Would you like to light a candle?” continued the volunteer. The boyfriend looked at the smiling young man incredulously. “No!” he snorted.
“Oh go on, I will. Iʼll ʻav a go” says the girlfriend, joking around. So the volunteer guides them both into the church.
He gives them each a candle, they light it and follow him up the aisle, amidst hundreds of silently praying people, a heavenly choir’s song resounds through the air. They approach the candle strewn altar, a mass of flickering hopes and pleas glinting on the marbled ﬂoor and above them sits Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The answer to their hopes, sufferings, longings.
The girl stops, enchanted by the beauty, the stillness, the peace and the light shining from the altar. She kneels down on the ﬂoor and places her candle with the others. The volunteer offers her a basket ﬁlled with little bits of paper, each with a different verse from scripture. She takes one out of the basket and reads it. She looks up to Him on the altar.
Tears begin to stream down her face. Her heart is pierced by the Word, by His love, which penetrates all walls. Her boyfriend slowly walks her back out of the church, her eyes still streaming with tears, clutching the Word of God to her breast.
The ﬁrst seed of Christʼs love was sown in her heart this night. I watched the whole thing in awe and was so completely humbled. How little this volunteer had done and how great the effect! He just invited these people with a simple candle and offered out his hand in welcome. The Lord had done the rest.
As I watched the effect that the evening was having on all the souls coming in and out of the Church I became more and more mesmerized by the power of Christ in the Eucharist and by the power of a simple smile, a kind word, a hand stretched out to the lonely and longing hearts of passers by.
Tears began to fall down my own cheeks. How great was the mercy of Christ, which truly knows no bounds.
At the end of the evening the Blessed Sacrament was put away to the sound of a hundred voices in thankful chorus. Then when the cleaning up and last goodbyes were done, the remaining volunteers (along with myself…after all it was Saturday night) went down to one of the bars and had a drink and a dance all together, which just showed me further how you can be a good Catholic girl and still have fun!
The laughter and joy continued into the night; the zeal of mission resonated throughout the group, uniting us all in a bond of love. What a blast!
I had definitely caught the Night Fever.
I will most certainly be getting my second helping at their special advent edition in December. So in the words of Arnie… “I’ll be back!”
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