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Text: Fr Dominic Robinson SJ at Service of Commemoration for homeless people who died in past year

Fr Dominic at Commemoration Service

Fr Dominic at Commemoration Service

Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Parish Priest at Farm Street Church and Chair of the Justice & Peace Commission gave this reflection at the Service of Commemoration for homeless people who died in past year, held in St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square.

Palm Sunday 2020. Normally for the Christian community a day of processions often in beautiful early spring sunshine, and with the joyous expectation of Holy Week. A day when our churches would normally be full and we would be looking forward to the busiest week of the year. Not so in 2020. Churches under lockdown, the streets deserted, and a sombre eerie feel of anxiety about what was to come. And yet amidst all this trauma something else, altogether more tragic and desperate. Walking out into the deserted city it became clear there was another population who were being forgotten. As the Christian community prepared to celebrate Holy Week and Easter with what hope we could muster there was a huge number of homeless left on these very streets of London. The usually teeming streets now a ghost town - shops, pubs, restaurants locked up and displaying stark notices along the lines of "closed until further notice on account of the pandemic" and, anticipating the worst, "no cash is held here". All offices closed and no workers on the streets. And in the midst of this, in pockets around the city, the most desperate who, in the panic of the exodus had simply been left behind. This group had no family to lock down with, were without shelter as all the night shelters had closed, and without food as services had had to stop for safety's sake and there were no businesses or people to beg from. In addition no public toilets were open from King's Cross Station to the north to Victoria in the south.

This is my story of the pandemic and it's the story of so many, including many whom we remember today. Being a resident here in the centre of the city, with our wonderful team from across the Churches getting to know many on the streets during the pandemic, and sharing their very particular fear, anger, heartache, desperation, I feel those mixed emotions too. The streets are a place where death is never far away, where loss and abandonment is constantly in view, and yet those who live here in this community speak volumes about hope, hope and faith that God has a place prepared for all of us, that this world in all its anguished injustice and inhumanity, is not the end but merely a portal to a heavenly place where those on the peripheries of the city, scandalously disregarded on earth, are on the high table at the best hotels and best restaurants the city can offer.

Remembering those who have died on the streets tells me life and death are part of a seamless robe. Our ancestors knew this well. If we had been in this church 400 years ago I suspect there would have been many more outside in our city, always with its diverse cultures and faiths, who would resonate with the words from the Gospel. People took seriously life as a preparation for death. Society today simply doesn't think in these terms. Many would comment that that's why we really can't connect with the homeless as they are in a sub culture so removed from the normal everyday life of most of us. When I say I often think it could be me on the streets, with just one or two bad decisions and things going wrong, they don't believe it. But I believe it. It's not them and us. We could all be there. We are all part of the fragile line between flourishing and despair, between life and health and sickness physical and mental and emotional and death. We could all be left alone in our city of so many opportunities yet so much potential for darkness and isolation. We are all on the way to death, we are all between tragedy and hope.

Some ask why the Church should focus on caring for the rough sleeping community? Are we just do-gooders? When it is really the job of the local authorities and national government? It is often framed as part of a larger question of why the Church should be involved in politics, or be involved in the real world, or have a mission. The answer relates to how we view our faith in Christ. For me the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius teach me to find Christ and my calling right in the heart of the now, in the midst of a world where the gap between those who flourish and those who struggle is getting wider and wider. Where human civilisation is under threat. Christ would have been there on the streets. Jesus is there. And to do all we can is simply the call of the Gospel. Christ is not to be found just in our future hope in eternal life but he is the hope of the world in the facts of everyday life in this vale between life and death where dark forces cloud human flourishing and obstructs the soaring of the spirit. Our mission is in the present, in the midst of the battle between life and death, good and evil right now, under our noses as we are led to uncover the truth and discern what must be done to build that future now.

The homeless need food and shelter and deserve to be brought out of the margins and placed right here in the midst of our congregations, not as our guests or clients but as our sisters and brothers in Christ. This human care is why the "everyone in" scheme was successful for those who were given the opportunity to stay in the hotels and B&Bs. We realise that this woman or man in the queue for food could have been me with just a few wrong turns. Everyone has a story. Relationships have broken down, finance has run out, jobs lost, mental health issues set in. And this is the person in front of us. This is Christ in front of us. And we are called to show that person how much they are loved, how much they are worth.

And so, as we lament and we pray and we remember, we have an imperative to hold government to account. As Church we have the duty to advocate for these individuals individually and as society. Here the Church cannot but be involved in politics Looking at the facts and advocating for the weakest is the Church's role as we represent our flock - our parishioners, our sisters and brothers in Christ. It is our duty to show our support for them not just through handouts but by campaigning, and this includes specifics, the most pressing of which as we embark on one of the darkest winters in decades where surely so many will die on our streets, for a further temporary reprieve for those without recourse to public funds who are stuck in the asylum system and forced into poverty and homelessness, real and effective. This is not an issue to be used as a political football but is an issue of profound importance to the Christian who, at this extraordinary time of crisis, needs to put aside political views on benefit eligibility and immigration and show the human being in the midst of this the dignity they deserve. Otherwise, we can be sure, we will be here this time next year lamenting our mistakes again as we mark the death of record numbers on our streets.

May our friends who have occupied these streets know the closeness of our Christian community again today. May they know our unfailing support. May their loved ones be comforted by our prayers and worship. May they rest in peace and rise in glory where we will meet them in the great banqueting hall of the eternal city. And may those we have known continue to teach us who this God in Jesus Christ can be for our city and our world in crisis.


Watch the service here:



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