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Confirmation group experience Cardboard City

A group of young people from a west London parish became homeless for a day as part of their preparation for being Confirmed this year.

Annette Brazier, who leads the catachetical programme at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Acton, explained: “our young people have a real concern for social issues. They often challenge us to look after the environment, speak out for the poor and needy and challenge racism. The project started with a reflection on the gospels and the call to reach out to the marginalised in our society. A number of the sessions focused on social justice and how as Christians we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The group responded well to the challenge presented to them and after a talk from Ian Breen, the director of the local charity Acton Homeless Concern, they decided to go homeless for a day and to do a sponsored fast during this time.”

One of the local schools, St Vincent Catholic Primary, offered their grounds on a Saturday and the group of 32 Confirmation candidates, plus their catechists gave up their usual comforts and lived on the school grounds for the day.

Many of the young people found bits of cardboard to sit on or make temporary shelters so that they could gain a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless.

Parish Priest, Fr John Leahy, said he was really impressed by their efforts. He said: “the group have really thought about those who are marginalised in our society.”

The project, which was called, Cardboard City, raised over £1000 for Acton Homeless Concern.

One of the candidates, Christopher Pereira, said the experience made him more aware of those in need. He said: “In the past I’ve felt quite negative about homeless people thinking that they were homeless because of their own fault. I’ve changed my mind now after seeing what it feels like and and looking at some of the Church's teaching on social action and how Jesus responded to people who are marginalised.”

Our Lady of Lourdes Parish is served by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and this community has always been one that lives out the preferential option for the poor. This year the Pope will canonise Blessed Damien of Molokai, who was also a member of the Congregation. Blessed Damien, who is sometimes referred to as the leper priest, took up the gospel challenge and has continued to inspire many across the world. It was his influence that first challenged the Acton community to work with the homeless.

Under the leadership of the then parish priest, Fr Pat, now Bishop Pat Lynch, the homeless centre was opened. It is now providing over 200 meals per day at Emmaus House, its main centre, plus hundreds of cups of tea and coffee and much more at its other centre, The Damien Centre.

One of the trustees of the homeless centre, said that the project would not survive without the goodwill of the people who give up so much of their time and money to keep up the day to day running of Acton Homeless Concern.

It is great to be in a parish where people genuinely love their neighbours.