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Music, mateship and a meal bring joy to Sydneysiders on the margins

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP was joined by bishops, priests and supporters who provided food, entertainment and a smile for those most in need. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP was joined by bishops, priests and supporters who provided food, entertainment and a smile for those most in need. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

In the forecourt of St Mary’s Cathedral, Shane Foley, wanders across the square carrying a flyer. Its midday and he’s hungry.

Usually, at this time of day he’s emerging from his “hidey-ho” in Martin Place waiting for a food truck for a feed.

But today is different: the Archdiocese of Sydney is hosting its fifth annual Street Feast.
For those on the margins, like Shane, it’s the highlight of his year.

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The annual Street Feast on 17 November was held to celebrate the seventh World Day of the Poor, with the theme, “Do not turn your face away from the poor” (Tobit 4:7).

It’s a day where 300 of Sydney’s homeless are treated to a day of food, music, and camaraderie. Fittingly the date is 19 November, World Day of the Poor.

“This day makes me feel happy,” he said, watching musicians tune up and the food being prepared.

“The Catholic church and all the organisations putting on a feed for us. Yeah, it’s good. It’s a good feeling,” said Shane.

Now in its fifth year, Sydney’s 2023 Street Feast, a response to Pope Francis’ World Day of the Poor, was organised by the Justice and Peace office of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Supporting the archdiocese again this year are partner the PAYCE Foundation and volunteers from the St Merkorious Charity.

“We call it a Street Feast on purpose because it is a feast. When you see the meals come out prepared by St Merkorious Charity it is a proper Lebanese feast!” said Dominic Sullivan from the PAYCE Foundation.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who dined with those present and joined in with the choir, spoke of his recent visit to Rome.

Pope Francis, while sharing a meal with the homeless, asked what they truly wanted.

“They wanted love. They wanted to be loved,” the archbishop said.

“I want to say to the people doing it tough in Sydney, God and his church love you. We love you.”

Also in attendance were representatives from the many service providers that feed, shelter and clothe thousands of Sydney’s marginalised every day.

Helping deliver the food to the guests were 100 volunteers from parishes across Sydney.

Charged with the enormous task of cooking 1000 chicken skewers, kofta and sausages, were the volunteers from the St Merkorious Charity of South Strathfield, a group that makes 4,000 meals a week for the elderly, homeless and disabled.

“We want people to connect and feel that they are loved,” said St Merkorious Charity president and founder, Paula Nicolas.

The Archdiocese of Sydney held its fifth annual Street Feast for those on the margins at St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt on 17 November. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The Archdiocese of Sydney held its fifth annual Street Feast for those on the margins at St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt on 17 November. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“We’re all the same. Theres no discrimination.

“We give them hope and something to look forward to. It’s a great day to share our fortunes with those that are less fortunate than us.”

People like 55-year-old indigenous man, Cecil.

Cecil’s world fell apart three years ago when he found himself out of work and living rough on the streets of Surry Hills. Most days he feels invisible.

“You can feel lost. It’s hard. It’s a hard life in a big city like Sydney,” Cecil said.

But today is Cecil’s first Street Feast experience and he says it’s nice to feel “seen” for the first time in a long time. He hasn’t stopped smiling.

“It’s nice. It’s nice to have a yarn to people who are in the same boat as you. Its nice to feel normal. I’d like to see more events like this. It would help heaps of people,” said Cecil.

That was the goal of Fr Peter Smith when he first came up with the idea for Street Feast as part of the Justice and Peace Office in the Sydney Archdiocese.

“In February 2018, I was inspired by Pope Francis when he announced World Day of the Poor,” Fr Peter said.

“And I was thinking. ‘What can we do in the archdiocese?’”

“I thought, why not come together in the forecourt of St Mary’s and help the struggling in our own city with a sausage sizzle.

“Well, it’s become a lot bigger than a sausage sizzle!”

For Bishop Daniel Meagher, who also sat and dined with the homeless, said this day was about much more than just food.

“It’s the fellowship and the company and the singing and the laughter and the love—we need love in our hearts. That’s what the real gift of today is,” he said.

With the Diocese of Parramatta now hosting their own Street Feast, Fr Peter hopes to see the idea catch on in every diocese in Australia.

“I’d like to see this happening in every single diocese on this weekend, the World Day of the Poor,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be this big but what it does have to have is a love and concern for the poor, outreaching to them and bringing people together.”

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