Children from the Salesian parish of St James, Bootle, accompanied by the head teacher of All Saints RC School, Angela Holleran, teachers, Lynn Carsley and Catherine Eccleshall, together with their parish priest, Gerry O’Shaughnessy sdb were special guests of the Royal and Commonwealth Society at a special service of worship in the historic Westminster Abbey to celebrate the Commonwealth.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Countess of Wessex and 1,000 children for the packed event. All major religious faiths across the Commonwealth were represented including Cardinal O’Brien from Scotland, Archbishop Nichols of Westminster (England) and Archbishop Stack of Cardiff (Wales).
The royals were treated to a performance of Hallelujah by Canadian singer Rufus Wainwright, the sounds of a South African township from the legendary Hugh Masekeli and a wild chimpanzee call from primatologist Dame Jane Goodall. Soprano Laura Wright, 21, from Sussex, also performed the diamond jubilee song Stronger As One. The song was mentioned in a recorded message by the Queen that also called on people to celebrate the Commonwealth’s ‘extraordinary cultural tapestry’. Alaya Girvin aged ten and a pupil of All Saints School, Bootle, described to the congregation the joy of her first Holy Communion Day at St James, while eight year old Charlie Fitzimmons, a fellow parishioner, presented a posy of flowers to the Countess of Wessex.
‘This year, our Commonwealth focus seeks to explore how we can share and strengthen the bond of Commonwealth citizenship we already enjoy by using our cultural connections to help bring us even closer together, as family and friends across the globe,’ the Queen said in her message. In a special exercise after the event, the Bootle children were able to work out that there was a Salesian presence in 48 of the 56 Commonwealth nations.
The day began with a tour of Parliament from our local Member of Parliament, Mr Joe Benton, who was the first ever lay chair of Governors of the Salesian College in Bootle. We were treated to a lovely lunch by Mr Benton MP and the Speaker of the House of Common, Mr John Bercow MP, who spoke to the children of need to be involved in the democratic process. At the end of the day Mr Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African musician and opponent of the inhuman system of apartheid, spoke to the children and posed for photographs with them.