I’ll admit that before going to the Westway Travellers site my only knowledge of the travelling community had been gained from watching ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ last year whilst still at uni, probably in bed with a hangover, sipping a black coffee and mustering the energy to lift a spoon full of cereal to my mouth as it gaped open at the ten year olds gyrating in brightly coloured mardi-gras style outfits.
What a misconception.
The Travellers I met at the Westway site this week were some of the most friendly and hospitable people I’d ever encountered, not to mention religious. Everywhere I looked pictures and statues of saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary adorned doors, walls and car rear-view mirrors. Sr Petronia, who had organised the visit, also told me about the travelling community’s generosity in giving to the Church and charities.
The excitement of the Bishop’s visit was palpable in the crowd that had gathered to greet him, as we got out of the car and began shaking hands with young men and women, small children and older members of the community.
Not everyone was as keen on meeting the Bishop face to face, but as we made our way through the site pristine net-curtains twitched in the front of caravans veiling those inside too shy or suspicious to come outside.
Mass was held in a porter-cabin that is normally used as a crèche or nursery. Around twenty people were waiting for us, having set up a small table as an altar. Generations of the same family sat side-by-side with grandmothers cooing over newborn babies and young mothers fussing over toddlers. Heavy gold jewellery clinked against each other as late comers hurried in and by the end of Mass the congregation had almost doubled.
After Mass, Bishop Hopes went to see each family and blessed their homes, cars, pets, children, unborn babies and religious figurines. As we got in the car to leave he turned to me and said, with a smile, “That’s what it’s all about, Lucy, you can’t be a Bishop from behind a desk.” I am really glad my first encounter with the travelling community was such a positive one.