Thursday, 9 January 2014

Coming Home at Christmas

Christmas Cooks Tara and Rachel
At Sacred Heart Church, Hove there was plenty of room at the inn this Christmas. Beds were erected in the Parish Room, a Christmas tree glowed in the corner, books and newspapers were set out and there were crackers and small gifts for the expected guests. In the kitchen onions were being chopped for the beef stew, pots bubbled, dumplings simmered and the air was filled with inviting smells and gusts of laughter.

Outside, the cold rain poured down, the wind blew hard. At 8.00 pm the first guests trickled in, cold, hungry and tired. A couple of hours later, warmed and full of good food, they tackled the Christmas quiz, puzzling over capital cities, famous personalities and film stars.

At 11.30 pm three of the homeless men joined us for carols and midnight Mass. It was a sung Mass and an organist, two string players and a dozen choristers squeezed into the choir gallery. On the stroke of midnight the music died away as Father Kevin and five servers processed slowly up the aisle of Sacred Heart Church in Hove.

Early next morning, Christmas Day, the men prepared to leave. The rain had stopped momentarily and I asked the quiz winner whether he had opened his prize, a large box of chocolates. He preferred to talk about last night’s Mass, the first he had attended for nearly forty years. He spoke of how moving it was, searching for words. “The choir singing was really, really beautiful” another man offered, shouldering his rucksack.

As they left, volunteers were busy tidying stuff away, stacking chairs, clearing the tables and cleaning the toilets. Even Father Kevin was busy, vacuuming the floor, his usual chore. I thought how, just a week earlier, on his 77th birthday, Pope Francis had invited four homeless men to join him for breakfast. If he hadn’t been otherwise occupied in Rome, I’m sure he would have loved to join us in doing the washing up.

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