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Alison Figueiredo: Two papal heroes who helped me embrace my Catholic heritage


I was born, raised and schooled a devout Catholic but fell away from my faith in my twenties. It had nothing to do with creeping secularism.

I grew up under Thatcher where standards of living vastly improved. Shopping malls became the new cathedrals and a culture boom placed music artists like DJs front and centre and on virtual altars to worship. Living briefly in Spain led to a fascination for all things Catholic when I experienced Semana Santa. And a horrible road accident involving my mother both simultaneously pushed me away from and then brought me back to the Church. Faith remained a place I would occasionally retreat to for meditation, an outlet for frustration with a world I was increasingly at odds and angry with. I was married, in church, and to a Catholic as I had always wanted. Marriage without church wasn’t real marriage in my eyes. Looking back, I was still clinging to my faith in many ways though never fully practicing it. I am one of the much cited stats.

It wasn’t until the visit of Pope Benedict that I truly felt like I had come home. I was horrified by the atheist hatred I saw in the run up to his visit. It stopped me in my tracks and made me think about the importance of my faith in shaping who I am. I also felt protective of it.

I needn’t have worried. There was a huge outpouring of familiar and powerful love for PopeBenedict when he finally set foot in the UK. The same cathartic feeling I have at Mass washed over me. Ultimately, the outreach of love and acceptance by fellow Catholics through an exceedingly tough part of our journey towards starting a family was the acceptance I needed. It was fellow Catholics who sought to make me feel whole again. A comfort and love we had struggled to find in secular Britain was surprisingly within our grasp within the Catholic community, some of whom provide continuing support.

I took up reading Pope Benedict’s outstanding works on moral relativism and I learned the great history of the connection between science and faith that many exploit to sow ignorant divisions. I am far from being an ‘academic’ Catholic fully versant in every aspect of our rich and beautiful faith but simply attending Mass gives a sense of peace and perspective on life, a chance to reflect on what truly matters.

With a family, Church is now increasingly a big part of our lives. Since my son’s baptism into the faith we are seeking to encourage meaningful connections with Catholics who will help our son down this path as we weave it into his education and upbringing. We do not want him to miss out on this remarkable experience and loving community.

I have particularly fond memories of school life and of the acts of charity towards the elderly, which were front and centre in my education and which continue to be important to me to this day. I want my son to experience the seriousness, kindness and rooting in the human experiencethat this exposure brings. Remarkably, there is a strong presence of Christian faith in Tower Hamlets where we live, in the friendly and wonderful Christian playgroups that run virtually every day of the week. So much so that I remain totally unconvinced by the sway of militant atheism. I meet people every day with whom I feel comfortable sharing my beliefs, including the dominant Muslim community here with whom I see some shared values in the upbringing of their children.

The canonisation of two Popes last weekend, who worked tirelessly to foster better understanding between the Jewish and Christian faiths, feels especially timely, a reminder to tap into what we share, not what divides us. As does the significance and importance of family life in their teachings. The new prayers to both saints encourage us to reflect on this: the “beauty of the family gathered around the table to pray” and to “protect the family from the assault against this precious and indispensable divine spark that God lit on earth”.

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Alison Figueiredo
Alison Figueiredo
Alison Figueiredo cares for her son at home

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