Not your average Friday night!
On Friday March 5th, the first Friday of Lent, over forty young people and leaders spent the night at St Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan all to raise awareness of the plight of homelessness in Ireland. They slept out, in the same conditions that thousands of homeless people sleep, leaving the comforts of home behind. It’s not exactly what you expect from a group of teenagers - yet together they have answered Pope Francis’ call to ‘swim against the tide’ and stand up for those most in need.
The group were joined by Fr Peter McVerry, the founder of the Peter McVerry Trust that works with thousands of homeless people across the country. In his presentation Fr Peter talked about the beginnings of the Trust and what drives him to work with the homeless. He reminded the group of Jesus’ command not to judge (Matthew 7:1) when thinking about the individuals and families who are homeless. Importantly he spoke of the importance of our anger at injustice - that we should be angry that so many of our brothers and sisters live lives on the edge of poverty. He warned that if we don’t find ourselves angry at the epidemic of homelessness we have ourselves become sanitised by society, we become those individuals who will look anywhere else than at a homeless person who might be in need on the street. He challenged us to really SEE people in need, to SEE them as people - not invisible, to SEE them as our equal and to SEE their God given dignity.
Fr Peter’s journey all started with meeting a young boy on the streets, this drove him to set up an initial house to home a small group of boys aged 12-16. The need continued to grow and more homes were set up. Now, in 2019 the Trust works with thousands of individuals and families, has over 200 housing units and provides over 32,000 support visits across the country.
Fr Peter’s thought provoking, and eye opening, talk provided the perfect background to why The Big Cathedral Sleep Out was organised. It was clear to all the group that more awareness is needed to help those most in need in our country. With all the stories of individuals Fr Peter has met throughout his time working with homeless people the group moved to a time of prayer. In this time of prayer the group were led through reflective prayer stations based on the Corporal Acts of Mercy, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, bury the dead, comfort the sick and to visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). Together, they also spent time in Adoration, lifting up in prayer all those who are homeless and asking for the Lord’s help throughout the night.
Armed simply with cardboard, their sleeping bags and many layers of clothing the group set up their sleeping stations outside of the Cathedral walls. Together the group braved the elements, with the temperature hovering around 3 degrees. As the night progressed a classic mix of Irish weather (rain, hail, snow, thunder and lightning) forced the group to pick up and move their camp to inside. All were thankful to have this option and were conscious of those who don’t have that option in poor conditions. Come 6am, the clean up began before celebrating the break of the new day with Mass.
A huge thank you to all the participants of the Big Cathedral Sleep Out, to our wonderful volunteers, to Fr Peter McVerry for his input and to Fr Leo Creelman for leading Adoration and Celebrating Mass. It was wonderful to be able to welcome Bishop Larry for part of the evening too!
Together the group raised nearly €2000 to be forwarded to the Peter McVerry Trust. Our hope is that this will become an annual event in our Lenten calendar - keep an eye out for the Big Cathedral Sleepout 2020!!