Welcome to the St Nicholas of Tolentino Web site.
Whether this is your first time to our Church family, or you have been coming here for many years - all are very welcome to be part of this wonderfully multi-cultural and diverse community of faith and friendship. This parish has been witnessing to Christ and serving the people of this part of Bristol since 1848. We are a 'Communion of Communities in Mission' with more than 60 nationalities who gather each Sunday to celebrate God’s great Love for the world in our Mass. Our commitment is to be a people at the service of the poor, both locally and globally; to be a community of warmth and welcome; to be a community of healing and hope. We are committed to work for the unity of the Church with our brothers and sisters of other Christian traditions, sharing mission and worship together; and to seek to build a fellowship of all believers among the many world faiths in our area. In other words, we have long been seeking to grow as the kind of community that Pope Francis envisages in his Letter 'Joy in the Gospel'
You are welcome to become part of our community through our website or in person - whatever is best for you!
The recent Synod of Bishops on ‘the New Evangelisation’ said in their closing message to the People of God: ‘If people are going to see in us the face of Jesus Christ, then they have to see a Church that is reaching out to the poor, that is caring for the sick and the marginalised, that is providing for children the next step in their encounter with Jesus’. This is precisely the vision that animates St Nicks and its life and mission in Bristol’s inner city.
As a parish, and as their priest, we and I take very seriously ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’, as taught by the Church’s social teaching. This teaching is enshrined in the Scriptures from the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt in Exodus (a story of abused refugees), through the Law of Sinai that was on the side of the poor and ‘the stranger among you’, and the Prophets who challenged the People of God to live justice rather than hide in ritual and sacrifice, to the birth of the Saviour in the poverty of homeless Bethlehem, escaping as a refugee from Herod’s terror and growing up in the poverty and squalor of Nazareth. His great parable of the Last Judgement asks nothing about religious belief but about our compassionate and caring humanity (Matt 25).
But this must never remain teaching - there is no ‘orthodoxy’ without ‘orthopraxis’ - living it in practice! The Church has always valued (even canonised!) those who practice such an option for the poor. Here are two stories from our faith Tradition.
St Lawrence was a deacon of the Church in Rome in the third century. The pope and the other deacons had been martyred in the catacombs, but the Governor of Rome heard of the riches of the Church - chalices, vestments etc. So he instructed Lawrence to bring these riches to his residence within two days. In fact Lawrence had already sold them to give the money to the poor of Rome - with the now martyred Pope’s approval. So two days later he arrived at the doors of the Governor’s residence with a crowd of the impoverished and the beggars of Rome and presented them to the Governor with the words: ‘Here are the riches of the Church’! He was grilled alive that day!
Our parish patron saint (who lived in Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries), St Nicholas of Tolentino as a young child was brought up by his parents to share their love and concern for the poor, going with them to the homes of poorest with food and clothes. When he was a young novice with the Augustinians, he would give the monastery’s food away to the poor. The community became angry and the Prior forbade him to do so. However, he knew a higher obedience and a more authentic voice, and continued to do so. One day the Prior intercepted him on his way from the kitchen to the monastery door, with a cloak full of bread for the poor. When challenged to reveal what he was carrying, he opened his cloak and it was filled with roses! The Prior recognised the sign from God, instructed St Nicholas to continue giving the food to the poor and instructed the community to support this work and not grumble. From that day, the community was never again hungry.
OUR PARISH MISSION
Almost all the ministries and charisms of our patron saint are being served by St Nicks 650 years after his death. We have long given food to the poor and homeless (now mainly but not exclusively through working in partnership with the Wild Goose Café), and now increasingly provide food and sustenance for those so-called ‘failed asylum seekers’ whom government policy makes homeless and destitute. Especially during the winter months we are often approached by those who have no money for heating and light in their flats etc and assist them by putting money on their ‘energy keys’. We support addiction self-help groups (AA, NA, Over-eaters Anonymous) by providing low-cost venue for their meetings. We have parishioners involved with One25 (a Christian organisation caring for street sex workers), and with One25 and Alabaré CCC established the then only hostel in the country for women seeking to leave the sex industry (the Well). Many of those we support are also ex-prisoners (Fr Richard and a parishioner were RC chaplains to Bristol Prison for over 13 years). Our premises are used by a wide variety of migrant groups for meetings and gatherings that build their communities (eg the Ethiopian Orthodox Church meets weekly for worship at St Nicks). Our now well-known work with asylum seekers and refugees lies at the core of our parish’s identity and mission. It is also by far the most costly in terms of finance, time, energy and emotional stress.
In addition to the above we support mission globally through CAFOD, Mission (The Red Mission boxes) and our homegrown ‘One World Schools’ (an initiative of some parishioners supporting a school in each of Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia). These of course are not a drain on parish income. In these and other ways we seek to be ‘Good News to the Poor’ (Luke 4). All this is in addition to the normal round of parish work and the costly maintenance of Victorian church buildings etc
The community that carries forward this mission is rich in faith, joy, celebration, diversity, commitment and enthusiasm: but poor in finance. Most of our parishioners who have work are in low pay occupations (often as Care Assistants). Many of our parishioners are still seeking safe asylum and are either on very minimal (sub-poverty) NASS (National Asylum Support Service) support, or are totally destitute by government decree. This means they have no roof over their head, no warm winter clothes, no food, very minimal health care, no money for personal or transport needs etc etc... unless we, their brothers and sisters in Christ, support them. Where one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer in the Body of Christ, teaches St Paul.