By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 April, 2017
This week a parish in the heart of Belfast will host a special ‘Mass of Hope’ for the city’s homeless community after which a new soup kitchen will be opened.
The initiative by St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street is a response to Pope Francis’ appeal for concrete acts of mercy towards those experiencing poverty and homelessness.
The Mass takes place on Wednesday 26 April at 7 pm and music will be provided by the Belfast City Gospel Choir.
According to organisers, Belfast’s homeless will be provided with an opportunity to gather and give their testimony in an atmosphere of faith and friendship.
St Patrick’s, founded in 1815, is one of Belfast’s oldest and most historic city centre churches. In 2015, it hosted a historic royal visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
In February, Pope Francis gave a wide-ranging interview to the Italian magazine run by the homeless, Scarp de’ Tenis or Sneakers.
In 2008 Scarp de’ tenis entered into partnership with the Italian arm of the Vatican’s charity organisation, Caritas.
In the interview, the Pope explained how the Vatican’s initiative to welcome the homeless had inspired parishes throughout Rome to join the effort.
During the interview, the Pope also joked about people’s attitudes concerning giving money to those who live on the streets.
“There are many arguments which justify why we should not give these alms: ‘I give money and he just spends it on a glass of wine!’ A glass of wine is his only happiness in life!” Pope Francis quipped.
The Pope told a story from his time in Buenos Aires, of a mother with five children.
While the father was at work and the rest of the family ate lunch, a homeless man called in to ask for food.
Rather than letting the children give away their father’s dinner for that evening, the mother taught the children to give away some of their own food: “If we wish to give, we must give what is ours!” the Pope said.
Earlier this month, the new ‘Pope Francis Laundry’ opened in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood for the city’s poor and homeless.
A statement from the Office of Papal Charities said the initiative stemmed from Pope Francis’ invitation to show “concrete” acts of mercy in response to the Jubilee of Mercy.
The free service allows the poor – especially the homeless – to wash, dry and iron their clothes in the San Gallicano centre run by the Sant’Egidio community.
For over a decade, the centre has been assisting the homeless of the city by providing showers, clothes, medical assistance and food.
The new washroom includes six washers and dryers donated by Whirlpool, while Procter & Gamble donated washing detergent to the project.
Procter & Gamble were also involved in another of the Pope’s initiatives to help the homeless of Rome. The corporation supplied shaving equipment for the washroom and barbershop the Pontiff established near the colonnade of St Peter’s Square in 2015.
Free shaves are given by local barbers on Mondays, the traditional day that barber shops are closed in the city.
Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, is a well-known figure among the city’s poor, often personally delivering aid.
He has said that when he was appointed to the position, the Pontiff told him to “sell his desk” because he wasn’t going to need it.
He followed the Pope’s instructions to go out into the city and find those who need help, and personally brings food to homeless shelters, delivers thermal sleeping bags to those sleeping on the streets in the winter, and organises social activities – such as concerts and visits to the Vatican Museums – for the needy.