There’s incense in the Big Smoke

Student Orla MacIntosh-Graham has just discovered how different it is being Catholic in The Highlands versus being Catholic in London.

In September last year, I made a move to the Big Smoke, leaving behind a life shared between Ayrshire and Lochaber.

I knew it would be a very different life but I was not prepared for the sheer number of differences between being a Catholic in the Highlands and being a Catholic in London.

Scattered through the glens of the western Highlands are small but mighty communities of generational Roman Catholics. And for them, there is one choice: one priest, one Church, one Mass. That is it for the day unless you are willing to travel.

The story is different in London. There are at least two Masses a day on my university campus alone. When I venture into the city centre for lunch, countless churches have doors open, ready to welcome the faithful passing by.

This is the nature of a city. It’s big. It’s busy. Therefore, so are the parishes.

Yet this quick-to-hand nature of Masses and Offices, I believe, allows us to slip into the worrying habit of discarding opportunities to meet with our Lord through the Eucharist and prayer without any real thought as to what we are missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to walk through the city and nip into a Mass spontaneously, but I miss the tradition and community of

the same priest and same parish. Whole communities in the Highlands can maintain

their identity through close-knit families. You can take it back to the Highland Clearances. From 1770 to 1810, many Catholics emigrated from the Western Highlands, but those left behind raised families in the Faith – families that are still practising Catholics more than 200 years on. Yet part of that legacy is that faith is a private matter in the highlands.

In contrast people openly talk about and display their faith in the city. I’m not saying this applies to everyone but I meet people every day who are more than happy to talk about their love of Christ, their on- ward journey of vocational discernment, and the importance of taking part in the Sacraments. It is beautiful.

“Don’t talk about politics or religion at the dinner table.” How many times have we all heard that? But in recent months, I have spent countless meals discussing the Church and her teachings, prayer, and the struggles we have with the

big, unanswered questions. We are happy to share the highs and lows of our faith, the understanding and the confusion. I often ponder the dramatic decline in the proportion of people who identify as Christian.

Yet the differing attitudes towards faith between the Highlands and London fills me with hope. Hope that, despite this growing intolerance towards religion in contemporary society and culture, we are keeping true to our regional practices while joining together as a universal Church in the Sacraments.

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Get the latest Scottish Catholic news. Sign up today.