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Friday, 20 September 2019

Holy Ghost Genoa: an interesting past and an important future

Newly baptised and confirmed receive candles - the light of Christ

At one point in the 19th and early 20th centuries there were about a half dozen Church of England parishes along the Italian Riviera. When founded they tended to serve well-heeled British who would come to the region for sunshine and culture, especially in the winter season. The Anglican demographics of the region have changed and there are now only two communities remaining. Monthly services are held in Bordighera but the only community with a regular permanent week to week Church life is Holy Ghost Genoa.  

There has been an Anglican community in Genoa for over 200 years. An early member, who has a commemorative plaque in the Church, was James Smithson, F.R.S, who founded the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC (he lived in Genoa for three years prior to his death in 1829). The building, which was designed by G.E. Street, one of the greatest English architects of the time, was consecrated in 1872. It was badly damaged in 1942 when it received a direct hit from an RAF bomb. Much was destroyed: stained glass, roof, flooring and the organ. There was a restoration in the 1940s and 1950s, but still much remains to be done to restore this unique architectural gem to a fit condition, to serve its present community.

Fr Tony finds jobs for all in the parish. This young member rings the bell at the appropriate times in the mass.
That community and congregation have changed radically in 200 years. Fr Tony Dickinson is the chaplain, and he now serves a parishioners among whom are few from a UK background, but a large number from West African countries. His faithful include some who have made the dangerous journey across the Sahara desert, Libya, then risking their lives in overcrowded inflatables crossing to Lampedusa. Others come from North and South America and Asia, Italy and other European countries. 

Fr Tony and the Churchwardens, Mary and Liz
In July I made a brief parish visit to Holy Ghost, where a jubilant service of baptism and confirmation was held, with a festive meal of African and Italian food following. 

But despite the vibrant spiritual life the financial situation of the community is quite precarious, given the profile of most members. Stewardship of time and resources is a major challenge as some of the long-serving faithful volunteers find they are getting older, while many others, even if employed, live in very modest circumstances economically. Fr Tony and the Council will be looking at how to appeal for support for this unique parish with a remarkable history and an even more remarkable present ministry as a home for migrants from around the world. 

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