By Ann Marie Foley - 18 December, 2019
Jesus was born as a homeless person, and we have a duty to make our voices heard in the debate about homelessness in Ireland, the Bishops of Clogher have stated in a Joint Christmas 2019 message.
“As people of faith we are obliged to draw the attention of our political leaders to the plight of so many people in our country today who are suffering and in distress because of housing insecurity and homelessness. The Gospel inspires us and demands of us that we give witness to the right of all people to have homes to live in,” stated Catholic Bishop Larry Duffy and Church of Ireland Bishop John McDowell.
They urged Christians to stand and work together to show solidarity and pastoral outreach and to give hope to people, assuring them that they do not have to face this problem alone.
“In times of upheaval and uncertainty it is vital that all Christians show forth the light of Christ through our compassion and care of others and by standing together in the public square on questions that impact on our society and our common home,” they stated.
They wrote about the many signs of darkness in today’s world and how people live in “a time of upheaval and fear”. Homelessness, human trafficking, the plight of migrants and refugees, the persecution of Christians and other minorities, the disregard for human life – including that of the unborn – political uncertainty, and personal stress and anxiety, should prompt people to be “bearers of light”.
“As Christians we have good news to tell and we are called to proclaim it together by our actions in the world,” they stated.
The bishops recalled as an example the joint initiative of the churches in Ireland on housing insecurity and homelessness. Last September a series of practical resources around this issue was launched by the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.
This organisation, which brings together church leaders from across the island of Ireland, included in the resources Bible study for church groups to promote critical reflection on the factors and attitudes that perpetuate the problems of homelessness and housing insecurity. They also included a prayer and liturgy resource and a list of questions for voters to put to canvassing politicians.
The Revd Brian Anderson, co chair of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting and President of the Irish Council of Churches, said at the launch that there is a need to identify the causes and decisions behind the problems and to work together to plot ways towards a more just system where the home is a fundamental requirement for fruitful and fulfilling lives.
A man who experienced homelessness, William Blackall, said that for many the word “homeless” conjured up the image of people lying on the streets – some with issues with alcohol and drugs. He said that instead many, like himself, become homeless because of circumstance. His family business collapsed and he sold his house to settle business debts and found himself homeless.
The Revd Ása Bjork Ólafsdóttir talked about setting up the Dining Room in the parish hall in February 2014 after seeing so many rough sleepers in the seemingly affluent area of Dun Laoghaire. That project has since been taken over by Crosscare.
Fr Peter McVerry stated that an estimated 700,000 people in Ireland find that their living conditions are causing distress. Rising rents, mortgage arrears and young people forced to live with their parents because they cannot afford to move out all contributed to housing insecurity. He suggested that church communities can start by saying hello when they meet a homeless person, as this stops the person from feeling invisible as thousands of people just walk on by.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Clogher encompasses all of Co. Monaghan, most of Co. Fermanagh and portions of Cos Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan.
The Church of Ireland Diocese of Clogher stretches geographically from south-east Co. Donegal to north-west Co. Louth, encompassing also parts of Cos Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone and Leitrim.