IN a gesture of solidarity with the poor, Ennis priest, Fr Ger Fitzgerald will be spending the night outside a rundown apartment block, beginning at 12midnight up to 7am on Christmas Day.
Fr Ger will rough it at the Fairways Apartments, near Ennis Hospital, as part of what he hopes will be the first of many initiatives in the coming year, which will see a closer union between the Church and the poor. He sees it as part of the Church’s attempts to do what Pope Francis has demanded and go out into the streets and meet the poor and those in need.
He has asked the public to remember him in their prayers that night and welcomes anyone interested in joining him for an hour or half an hour in solidarity. “In particular if you can play a musical instrument or tell a good story,” he said.
Outlining the reasons behind this initiative, Fr Ger said, “Last March, when Francis was elected Pope he immediately set about implementing his vision for a Church of the Poor. Indeed he said during an address at a homeless shelter that ‘To love God and neighbour is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord to be served, and to serve him concretely’.
“Furthermore in a meeting with students of Jesuit Schools he said ‘The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry’”.
Fr Ger said “this righteousness anger is justified” in light of statistics that show one in seven people at risk of poverty has a job.
“Social Justice Ireland noted that 14.2% of people who are at risk of poverty (earning less than €11,000) has a job. Men saw the biggest increase with their risk of poverty rising two percentage points between 2010 and 2011, followed by students, people whose highest level of education attainment was from secondary school, and people living in households where no-one was at work.
Also, it is interesting to note when it comes to not being able to afford the basics, the one that tops the poll is furniture: one in five people said they didn’t have the money to replace worn-out furniture. The same amount of people were unable to afford a morning or evening out, while one in eight people were unable to afford heating at some stage in the past year,” he said.
He was also troubled by reports this week that one in 10 people suffer food poverty across the country.
“This is a scandal. Again the words of Pope Francis resonate strongly in our ears. ‘In the Gospel, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, that speaks of a man assaulted and left half dead at the side of the road. People pass by him and look at him. But they do not stop, they just continue on their journey, indifferent to him: it is none of their business. How often do we say: it’s not my problem. How often do we turn the other way and pretend not to see. Only a Samaritan, a stranger, sees him, stops, lifts him up, takes him by the hand, and cares for him’,” Fr Ger said.
“At Christmas time, the Church honours the birth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God is with us. That means that God has come to visit His people. He has come among us, in the person of Jesus Christ, to walk with us, to unite humanity and divinity perfectly within himself so as to raise us up to be like him. The part that is difficult for even me to understand is that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came among us in a stable, born to a poor young woman, in a poor village and was laid in a manger or an animal’s feeding trough. To my mind, this means that if we are to be taken seriously as ‘persona Christi’ at the Mass, we too must, in imitation of Christ, be with the poor, the vulnerable and those in need,” he continued.
He said he was inspired to conduct the sleep out by Pope Francis who said we should ‘not place ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, place ourselves at the service of the poor, make ourselves small and poor with them’.
Quoting Matthew 25: 35-46, the pontiff said, “Whoever has nourished, welcomed, visited, loved one of the least and poorest of men, will have done this to the Son of God. On the contrary, whoever has rejected, forgotten, ignored one of the least and poorest of men, will have done this to God himself”.
The pontiff added, “Let us act so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone! Our presence in solidarity by their side expresses not only through the words of but also through the eloquence of deeds that God is close to everyone”.
Fr Ger hopes that this message resonates with the people of Clare this
Christmas and invites the public to join him at midnight on Tuesday.