A Night Under the Stars

 Last Thursday's A Night Under the Stars gala concert at Westminster Central Hall with receptions at the Banqueting House, Whitehall Palace was a glittering event. Hosted by Rory Bremner, in the presence of Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor and Cardinal Pompedda from Rome, the show's celebrity guests included Sir Roger Moore, Aled Jones, Steve Coogan, Louise Hoover and Orchestra, and the choristers from Westminster Cathedral. Bremner was on top form - with breathtaking impersonations of George W Bush, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Nelson Mandela, and many more. Sir Roger Moore gave a very touching recitation of words from the Ralph McTell song 'The Streets of London' . There was a turn by comic Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, and Aled Jones won a huge ovation for his rendition of 'How Great Thou Art'. Louise Hoover and his orchestra, fresh from their sell-out Frank Sinatra tribute tour, then performed several rousing numbers before Sister Ellen Flynn, director of the Passage gave the concluding address. She reminded the audience that more than 220 people sleep on the streets of Westminster each night - 74 of them in Victoria. "I am concerned at the growing public perception that homelessness is a thing of the past, that the people we see now on the streets are there by choice, that rough sleeping is over and that there are no more vulnerable people left. It is true that, in other parts of the country, rough sleeping has been considerably reduced, but it is clearly not the case in Central London." She said: "People become homeless remarkably easily and for a myriad of reasons. They come to Central London thinking that it will be better here. They come to The Passage seeking solace, practical assistance and compassion. We try to provide resources which inspire, encourage and challenge each person to pick up their lives again, make responsible choices, heal their inner homelessness and the intense feeling of lost hope. Each person arrives with their own issues, vulnerabilities, gifts and personalities." "This year we have taken more steps to ensure that each of our 250 day visitors, 53 residents of Passage House and 16 tenants of Montfort House are cared for through personal listening and individual planning." "Our most fundamental value is the respect and dignity we hold for each other. We spend time getting to know the person. People are persons not problems to solve." "We hope our health services, housing advice, training and employment, accommodation, chaplaincy, primary care and assessment services all surround and embrace the needs of each person in a holistic and integrated pattern of rehabilitation." "Tonight I believe we are here to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our concern for homeless people and shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their struggle for a better life. For being prepared to do that, I thank you - on their behalf and behalf of all of us who live and work at The Passage. Someday, somehow, somewhere - there will be a place." There was hardly a dry eye in the house by the time Sr Ellen ended her speech, and angelic-voiced chorister Ewan Philips stepped forward to sing: "There's A Place' from West Side Story. Religious leaders, royalty and showbiz celebrities mingled with supporters, staff and clients from the Passage long into the night at the reception which followed, in the Banqueting House, Whitehall Palace. (There was also a pre-show party in the Undercroft). A Night Under the Stars is the main annual fundraiser for the Passage. This year's was virtually a sell-out. If you would like to go in 2004 - book your tickets early. Cardinal Hume first invited homeless people to sleep in the Cathedral Hall in 1980. The Passage, which he later founded with the Daughters of Charity, is now the largest homeless project in London, providing food, shelter, advice and support for around 400 people each day. For more information on The Passage, visit: www.passage.org.uk

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