Ties between Malta and Britain go back a long way. Malta was a British colony for a long time. Many British tourists visit Malta every year. Many Maltese people moved to London and other parts of the UK especially in the 1950s and 1960s to settle here. A lot of movement also took place while both Malta and the UK were part of the European Union.
The arrival in London of three Maltese people in August 1988 was rather out of the ordinary. These were not people coming to London for work as is usually the case with most immigrants who move to other countries. They were members of the ‘Society of Christian Doctrine’ – SDC. Franky Chetcuti, Louis Borg and Paul Aquilina were sent to London with a view to attempt setting up an SDC centre. This was the very first ever SDC venture in Europe.
Following sometime of ‘finding their feet’ in this new life in London, which also included some testing times, Franky, Paul and Louis were invited to help out in running catechism groups and youth clubs in two nearby Catholic parishes. This was an especially major step as SDC was precisely set up to work within the field and ministry of catechesis. Things were looking up and in 1990 the three SDC members were even offered accommodation in Brixton, at the Rosary parish house where Fr Bernard Heaphy, parish priest at the time, lived. This meant that they were now living in the same area and parish where the catechetical activity was taking place. More contacts with new parishioners, families, and the parish Catholic primary school developed quickly and so did the teaching and formation of an organised system of catechesis. The First Holy Communion was now parish based rather than school based and the Confirmation course started to be organised over two years rather than just a short crash course of about eight weeks as is the norm in the United Kingdom.
As the years went by some members had to return to Malta and were replaced by new members who carried on and further developed catechetical work at the Rosary Parish itself as well as in other parishes. Today we run all catechism classes for the sacraments of Baptism, confession, Holy Communion and Confirmation in the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary. Every year over a hundred children and young people enrol for these courses. At this same parish we also run an SDC Juniors group which meets twice a month for other gatherings and formation activities with a focus on going deeper in Catholic Christian and SDC formation. Apart from our normal catechises with children and young people we often organise outings and other special activities for groups especially during school holidays.
A big step forward was made when it was decided the time was right for SDC to have its own place. A house was bought in Upper Norwood, south London to where we moved in October 2006.
Since our move to Upper Norwood we also started to make contacts with parishes nearby who have asked us to help out in catechetical work such as our local Parish of Virgo Fidelis, Upper Norwood and the nearby parish of St Andrew, Thornton Heath where we run a group for children and young people who ask to be baptised or received in the Catholic Church.
Besides the apostolate with catechism groups for children and young people, another group that has grown and developed over recent years is that of our SDC Friends group. This group first started as a Bible study group for adults and met once a month. When the Covid pandemic started we then started meeting virtually every Friday. Since then our gatherings continue to be held every Friday evening in a hybrid way where some attend in person while others join us online on Zoom. We continue to place a strong focus on different aspects of Bible Study but also explore and discuss a number of other themes such as History of the Church, Liturgy, Sprituality, Lives of Saints and much more. From time to time throughout the year we also go on trips for other gatherings such as reflection days or day retreats.
The situation in London and the environment in which the SDC members operate is of course quite different from that of Malta where the Society started. Nevertheless, the need of teaching and presenting the Word of God to others is even greater here. Notwithstanding the many limitations and difficulties that must be faced, it is felt that this work is an incredibly positive experience. It gives the opportunity to so many to receive and share in the fruit of this Society that was started by Fr Preca now over a century ago.
For more information about our ministry in London, please log on to: www.sdc.me.uk