Nightfever: Catholic mission in the heart of Soho
"Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all; he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love."
These are the words of Pope Francis, which so aptly set the context for a Nightfever mission.
Young, vibrant Catholics have started running Nightfever events in cities across the UK during which they invite people off the street to enjoy a time of quiet worship and reflection.
St Patrick's Catholic Church in Soho is the London location for the evening initiatives that go to the heart of the Christian mission – bringing people to Christ.
Candlelight and gentle worship music create a peaceful atmosphere, and anyone is welcome to come inside and enjoy the stillness and beauty in the presence of Jesus. Volunteers are sent out bearing lanterns to offer people the chance to experience it for themselves.
"Some stay for a few minutes, others the whole night," the team say.
"People of all ages and creeds come together in prayer, music and conversation."
The event was first pioneered in Cologne, Germany, after young people from all over the world came to the German city to celebrate their faith at the Catholic youth event, World Youth Day in 2005.
Andreas Suss, now a chaplain in Düsseldorf-Garath, was amazed by the number of young people who came to worship and organised a one-off youth event called 'Nightfever' following the gathering.
Spurred on by the popularity of the event with local Catholics and an enthusiastic team, Nightfever has become a popular regular event. The initiative has since spread to cities all across Germany, Europe, and now even to North and South America, and Australia.
St Patrick's in Soho first held an event in February last year and aims to create a welcoming environment for people to feel at ease to think about their life and faith. Priests and volunteers are available throughout the evening for prayer, support and counsel.
The team behind Nightfever hope that passersby will be encouraged to discover God's love by providing a space for reflection, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
"Nightfever is intended to be a door opener. For those who once had faith in God we hope they will be renewed through their experience at St Patrick's. For those who have never met Christ we hope this becomes a moment of fruitful encounter," says Zyg Rakowicz, of Nightfever UK.
The response to the event has been fantastic, he notes. "On a typical Nightfever evening in Soho we have over 300 visitors who accept the invitation to come inside and light a candle in the church.
"Each evening our volunteers are struck by the openness of those passing by and what has moved them to come into the church. Visitors comment on how they have been touched by the evening, the prayerful atmosphere, the beautiful music, the stillness and openness of the evening.
"Some visitors have never have been in a church, others have been long absent. Many ask questions about faith. A number return the following Nightfever, start coming to Mass or show up at parish events and courses where they can learn more.
"Many also express surprise to find that Christianity is alive – and especially in the heart of Soho!"
The hope is that non-believers will experience the peace and love that comes with knowing God. The Nightfever team also hope that the welcoming atmosphere might challenge those with negative perceptions of the Catholic Church. "At Nightfever our volunteers are reminded of the core Christian values and witness – to extend Christ's love and welcome to all. Accordingly we welcome everybody and we make no judgements," says Zyg.
"This can pleasantly surprise those whose understanding of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, is based on the, often distorted, message they hear in the mainstream media. The reality they find here is very different – they discover the peace the Lord offers."
The Nightfever team in Soho has expressed a commitment to help the start-up of new Nightfever missions and provide support to those they encounter in their faith journeys.
"The rest is in God's hands!" Zyg finishes.