Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Works of mercy

Christ of the Breadlines (1950) by Fritz Eichenberg

Most Monday evenings last semester, the college's Frassati Society (including most of the members of the House community) would take flasks of tea and coffee, sandwiches, cakes, and fruit out to the homeless of the local area. We tried Twickenham, Richmond, Kingston and Hammersmith on various occasions - some of them several times. Most of the time, we never met with much 'success' (which, had we been sure there was noone in the area who would have appreciated our meagre offerings, we'd have of course been delighted by). But as the term went on, more and more people joined in. The first time, fittingly on the Feast of St Vincent de Paul (St Mary's was founded by the Vincentians), two people went out. This steadily grew week on week, peaking once at about fourteen, though there were normally eight or nine, and never the same group each week. After traipsing around our chosen location for thirty or forty minutes, we'd end up in a pub.

This semester, however, we tried a change of tack. Back in January, two members of the House, Dan and Shaun, decided to turn up one afternoon at the Missionaries of Charity's community in Lambeth to find out what we might usefully do with and for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Sisters. Since then, a group has gone out each week on a Monday night to help the Sisters with their 'soup run' to Spitalfields and Victoria, taking tea, soup, sandwiches, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, clothes and conversation to those who feel in need of them. (And dozens upon dozens, in one of the world's richest cities, sadly do).

All of which is a preamble to noting the sad fact that Westminster council is currently proposing both a) to ban rough sleeping in a large area around Victoria; and b) to outlaw giving out free refreshments there too. This would, of course, criminalize the wonderful work which the MCs - and a large number of other groups - are doing there (and with which we, in our meagre and inadequate way, are privileged to help). It would also, more importantly, further displace the large number of vulnerable people for whom Victoria is something like a 'home'. All in all, it sounds a terrible idea - and one which I'll no doubt be writing more about in due course.

But until then, I'll leave you with today's Evening Standard's article on the controversy. Two members of the community, along with a further friend of the house, were out helping the Sisters last night, when the Standard's journalist came to visit - and one of them, Dennis, was interviewed.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I'm very proud of our students.


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