Today marked the launch of a major Olympic event that you won’t find in the official Games brochure: 24-hour Eucharistic adoration.
“We’re flying the flag for Christ, if you like,” said Franciscan Father Francis Conway of St. Francis of Assisi Friary in Stratford, the Catholic church closest to the Olympic Village in London’s East End.
“We will have Eucharistic adoration from 9am to 6pm, when another East End parish will take over from 6pm till late, and then a third parish will continue through the night until we take over again at 9am,” Father Conway explained.
The two other parishes participating are Our Lady and St. Catherine of Siena in Bow and St. Antony of Padua in Forest Gate.
Until Aug. 12, London is hosting more than 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries, along with an estimated 5 million to 6 million visitors from the United Kingdom and beyond.
Father Conway explained that the parish has drafted in extra priests from Portugal, France, Colombia, Singapore and elsewhere to cope with the expected pastoral demand from both Olympic participants and tourists.
“We don’t really know what to expect, but we’re ready,” he said. Yesterday, for example, “we had an archbishop from Puerto Rico arrive, along with the Puerto Rican athletes, to say Mass.”
“Obviously, a lot of people have come to Stratford, and we felt we had to offer them a place of rest and hospitality.”
The parishes of London’s East End have the advantage that they are already multicultural and multilingual, since many recent immigrant communities have settled in the area. In fact, St. Francis kicked off the Olympics with an “international evening.”
“People were invited to wear their national costumes, and we had festivities and games as we watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony on television,” Father Conway said.
Over the next two weeks, the parish will hold a series of events, including prayer evenings and healing services. It is all part of the Catholic Church in England’s wider initiative to mark the 30th Olympiad.