Newcomers fill the aisles to overflowing

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Every inch of space inside was taken. Others waited patiently in a light drizzle out in the street with more joining them by the minute.

They had travelled miles to attend services at the Church of Our Lady of Czes-tochowa in north London, a scene replicated at other parts of the capital on Sunday morning. Welcome to London's Catholic revival.

After decades of steadily declining congregations, attendance at Catholic services are booming, almost entirely as a result of immigrants. Such is the demand new churches are being discussed.

Most of the new churchgoers are recent residents of this country, a large proportion of them from eastern Europe, especially Poland, but also from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Other branches of Christianity do not appear to have enjoyed quite such a similar boost.

Elsewhere on Devonia Road in Islington, where people knelt on the pavement outside the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa, an Anglican church had been converted to a block of flats.

A report by the von Hugel Institute, a Catholic research organisation, concentrating on the diocese of Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood, found people from 70 countries attending mass. Half the immigrants came from eight nations which had joined the European Union in 2004 and others from further afield.

These new worshippers also presented a different type of mix from traditional image of families going to church together. More than 65 per cent of them were under 35 and about 40 per cent unmarried. But the study also found that the Church was failing many immigrant workers who had sought help to escape overcrowded, unsanitary accommodations and exploitation by their bosses in badly paid jobs.

Back home, they would receive aid and advice from priests, but here they find the ministries are often simply unable to offer a similar service in tackling complex employment and immigration laws in the face of the swelling numbers of new worshippers.

The von Hugel Institute, based at Cambridge University, evoked the spirit of Cardinal Manning who forcefully made it the Church's mission to take up the cause of a previous generation of migrants, the Irish labourers coming to this country 130 years ago. Their report urges London dioceses to establish a pastoral fund for migrant projects and to liase with other agencies.

Many of those gathered at the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa back this call. Monika Justyanska had travelled from Canning Town in east London with her boyfriend, Jakob Gutowska, and found the morning service was full.

"Things are different here," said Ms Justyanska, 24, from Mogelno near Poznan. "Back home, we would certainly go to the priest to get advice and practical help, especially in a small town like the one I am from But here a girlfriend of mine went to the church and asked for help with her job and she was told they could do nothing. She was very upset."

The partner of Magda Holwa-Kantowiz is a Sikh. Yesterday morning, he had taken their eight-month-old daughter to the local gurdwara in Hackney while she came across town to the Catholic church with their eight and a half year old son Kacpar.

"I was born a Catholic and I am going to stay one", 28-year-old Ms Holwa-Kantowiz said. "There was no question of either my partner or myself converting. It is always as crowded as this on Sunday mornings. You have to get here really early to get a seat.

"I suppose people back in Poland are more religious than English people and we have just continued it here. But there is a different in attitude. In Poland, it is much more informal; you can talk about all things in life with the priest. I am not sure you can do this here."

At the Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Lady Margaret Road, Kentish Town, Father Thomas said: "There has certainly been a pretty big rise in the number of people going to church especially in the Polish areas. A colleague told me they will have to build more churches. We have not had such a big rise, but we have a large African congregation and, of course, we try to help where we can when they have problems."

Even football fails to stop faithful missing Mass

Deng Nhail had taken his seven-year-old brother to Church of Our Lady Help of Christians in North London yesterday. An early mass had been scheduled not to clash with the Carling Cup final on television.

His father, Nhail Deng, was a politician in southern Sudan but came to this country disillusioned with the corruption. "It is sad there wasn't more honesty," said Nhail, 17, who is studying for his A-levels. "And of course if you have Christian values it is very difficult to turn a blind eye to that.

"We always get a good attendance here, and this is despite the fact that there is another, far bigger church up the road and I suppose a lot of people had gone for the football. My mother is in hospital and my father is with her."

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