Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Jesuit's Christmas In Ireland

THE Christmas season is a joyous celebration for Catholics so it may come as some surprise to hear that dedicated Ballymun priest, Father Peter McVerry, hates this time of year. He hates the commercialism and the pressure a lot of people succumb to.This year, as with many other years, Fr McVerry spent his Christmas Day helping youths in need.“I will be working over Christmas thankfully,” he told Northside People.
"I hate the Christmas period though as it puts so much pressure on people.“People feel like they have to spend money they don’t have on a new outfit. It’s like their dignity and self-esteem is undermined if they don’t have something new to wear. Other people feel like they have to buy lots of presents for people regardless of whether they can afford to or not. They feel like they couldn’t possibly turn up to visit their family empty handed. It’s very unfair.” Fr. McVerry has been a member of the Jesuits for over 40 years.
He started up the Jesuit’s first homeless hostel for youths almost 20 years ago in the inner city. “Many of the youths we cater for have no family but for those who do we usually spend a few hours at Christmas ferrying them around to visit their loved ones as there is no public transport on Christmas Day,” he explained.
"Then we will usually try to make things as normal as possible with a big dinner that day, but really it is not the same as having your own family to spend Christmas with.” There are now six Jesuit hostels, treatment and detox centres throughout the Northside; in Cabra, Glasnevin, Ballymun, Santry, Drumcondra and another in North County Dublin.
"I opened up the first hostel thinking that would be it but then the problem of homelessness grew and combined with drug addiction over the years,” he said. “We try to help youths to overcome life’s difficulties and we help them to establish a drug free independent life.” Fr McVerry also goes beyond his call of duty to provide support and character references to some youths facing criminal proceedings. “A lot of the homeless youths and drug users come to us with criminal proceedings pending,” he said.
“If I know them, I will furnish the court with a report or I will speak as a character reference for them.I am happy to do that. In principal I will always try to help if I feel that going to prison would not be the better option for them.”
Fr McVerry is a familiar face around Ballymun and inner city. He lives in a flat on Shangan Road with some of his fellow Jesuits and of course his dog, Jack, who goes almost everywhere with him. “Ah sure he’s great company and I try to take him everywhere I can,” he said affectionately.“I’ve been very lucky in life. I have a job that I really enjoy. I’m not in a dead-end job that I hate going into every morning. I have great job satisfaction and I feel like I have a purpose in life.” Fr McVerry is a modest man with a simple wish for the new year. “I wish people would have a positive attitude towards the homeless,’ he said.“I hope people will acknowledge a homeless person if they pass them on the street. Give them a smile and recognise that they have hopes, joys, dreams and fears like everyone else.” The Jesuit centres depend almost entirely on generous donations. Donations can be sent to the Peter McVerry Trust, 26 Upper Sherrard Street, Dublin 1.

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