This morning I went to Mass in my old parish. The congregation is predominantly black African, with the two largest groups being of Ghanaians and Nigerians.
When I lived there, I often complained about the noise level, the number of people who arrived late, the aura of chaos that often seemed to descend whenever there was a 'special' Mass - a First Communion, Easter or Christmas vigil, visit from some group or other...
It's true that the church is often chaotic, and that we used to be driven mad by the use of 'African time' by members of the choir, which meant that choir practice could never start on time. But you know what? The reason they were working to 'African time' is because they're African. And they're the ones who were running the Legion of Mary, turning up week after week (albeit late) for choir practice, producing huge cauldrons of food for the parish socials, and volunteering for all the little things that make parish life tick over.
They would bring their families to Mass, and their children would invariably be beautifully dressed - as would the parents.
They brought to the parish the African habit of celebrating the feast of Mary, Mother of God with a Mass at midnight on 1 January - the perfect way to bring in the New Year, and one which I will miss in my new parish (unless they do it here too...?).
I noticed a family in front of me this morning, all of them bowing deeply and reverently whenever the priest said the name of Jesus. It reminded me that this was the first parish I ever lived in where you could actually see the entire congregation bow during the Creed.
Immigration brings new life to the Church here in the UK - Irish people (including my grandparents and New Man's parents - yes, I suppose I must declare a vested interest in immigration), Africans, Sri Lankans and Poles in particular have been absorbed into parish life in large numbers, and each brought gifts of simple but profound faith which were sometimes at odds with the 'sophisticated' English Church.
As I watched people leave after Mass today, I realised how much I learnt from this community in the ten years that I lived there - about showing reverence in small, simple ways, about never being ashamed to let people know that I believe, about generosity of spirit and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and above all, about what a great gift immigration has been and continues to be for the Catholic Church in this country.