Catholics flock to meet ‘celebrity’ Bishop at St Anthony’s in Forest Gate

Left to Right, Fr Thomas, Br Mairesean, Bishop Alan Williams SM, Super General Thomas Joachim, Fr Be

Left to Right, Fr Thomas, Br Mairesean, Bishop Alan Williams SM, Super General Thomas Joachim, Fr Benedict, Fr John Moloney - Credit: Archant

Worshippers turned out in their thousands to meet the new Bishop of Brentwood on his first visit to Newham, as local Catholics were overcome with “Bishop-mania”.

Bishop of Brentwood greets a baby

Bishop of Brentwood greets a baby - Credit: Archant

St Antony’s Church in Forest Gate was packed to capacity by parishioners keen to touch the hem of his garment, as newly ordained Bishop Alan Williams led Sunday mass in scenes reminiscent of a boy-band concert.

The Bishop also met with parish priest Father John Moloney, Superior General Thomas Joachim, Father Benedict Bedingfeld and Deacon Mairesean O’Leary from the Community of St John’s, who run the church.

One attendee is reported to have said it was like meeting a “spiritual boy-band”.

“It was a comment made by a parishioner,” said Olivea Ohonmele, media and web administrator at St Antony’s, “because she was so moved to see so many men of the cloth in the same place at one time.”

Olivea said there were more than 2,000 people inside and outside St Antony’s, the borough’s biggest Catholic church, to catch a glimpse of the new Bishop.

“It’s the very first time he’s actually come to the borough,” she said. “I think people came out especially because of his visit. There were people kissing his hand. They were treating him almost as if he was the Pope.”

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Olivea added: “The people were overwhelmed because he was quite humble.

“Even though he’s what would be considered a Catholic celebrity, he spent two hours outside meeting and greeting everybody, and laying his hands onto people to extend blessings.”

Father Moloney agreed: “He’s very simple and humble and down-to-earth, and they were touched by his kindness.”

St Antony’s is home to the prayers of Catholics from all over London, who come for a special Tuesday service called the Novena, where people’s prayers are read out.

“St Antony is a Catholic saint who is very powerful,” said Father Moloney, explaining that Catholics believe if you ask the saint for something, he will grant their wish.

“People have a great devotion to St Antony. Lots of people write in to tell us that a prayer was answered.”

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