By Michael Emly, Our Lady of Kirkstall parish

Nearly 200 parishioners of Our Lady of Kirkstall, Leeds, came together on June 25th for an afternoon that celebrated God’s creation. Inspired by Pope Francis’ teaching in Laudato Si’ and organised by our parish Live Simply group, the event was intended to bring people from the parish together for a fun afternoon inspired by the beauty of the world around us.

Parishioners were asked to contribute an item illustrating their love of nature – a photo, a poem, a painting, an artefact –that we could organise into a display.  Over 50 contributions were received, and the variety and creativity displayed was amazing: including needlework, ceramics, dried flowers and objects crafted from wood.  There was even a poem in the form of a Japanese haiku!  The display formed one of the focal points of the afternoon.  One of our more senior parishioners told us: “I was sceptical when I first heard about it, but it’s really been an outstanding success!”

People were also invited to try out various creative activities, all of them linked to the theme of nature – such as making bees and flowers from paper, painting pebbles or sowing salad seeds.  The children in particular threw themselves into this, and several told us that the afternoon had been “Great fun!”.  Meanwhile those more advanced in years were able to sit down and chat while they enjoyed a cornucopia of cakes, scones and strawberries.

Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was a visit by ‘Wise Owl’ birds of prey.  The keepers brought five beautiful owls, varying in size and species, as well as a Harris hawk.  Each was displayed in turn, while something of its rescue history was told. The children – and indeed the adults too – were rapt. Those who wished were able to don a leather glove and hold one of the birds.  One grown-up told us: “I’d always wanted to handle a bird of prey and it was such a pleasure to hold little Gizmo” [the name of one of the owls].

Throughout the afternoon, there was a real party atmosphere and a feeling that parishioners were not just ‘visiting’ an event but were owning it by their enthusiastic participation in all that was happening.  With all ages represented from across our 3 church communities, the celebration bore witness to a real sense of unity across the parish. Truly a gift and a blessing!