More than 30 organisations that feed, shelter and clothe thousands of Sydney’s marginalised across every day of the year congregated together for lunch at St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt on 15 November for the second annual ‘Street Feast’ hosted by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
The Saint Merkorious Charity of South Strathfield, a group that makes 4,000 meals a week for the elderly, homeless and disabled, provided a generous lunch of grilled meats, hot bread and salad as well as cool refreshments for the hundreds in attendance. Sydney’s struggling bonded over lunch with their friends- as well as volunteers- to share a common humanity as social distinctions gave way to genuine human connection over the breaking of bread.
The initiative for ‘Street Feast’ came from Fr Peter Smith from the Justice and Peace Office in the Sydney Archdiocese, who, in February 2018, was inspired by Pope Francis’ World Day of the Poor.
“Pope Francis announced World Day of the Poor and I was thinking ‘what can we do in the Archdiocese?’ and I thought why not come together and help the struggling in our own city?” he said.
Fr Peter emphasised to The Catholic Weekly that while ‘Street Feast’ was a public event, the work of comforting the downtrodden was a daily ministry in Sydney and more support needs to be given.
“Today we are showing the poor in Sydney that we care. Of course, the Church in Sydney does this every day of the year”
“I hope this event raises awareness that we need more support services in Australia and wider recognition from the government.”
Sue Buckingham, a community member from David’s Place -a support and friendship group located near St Canice’s Church in Darlinghurst- spoke of the emotional needs that such organisations also provide; a vital component that is often overlooked. “A lot of people on the street or in public housing have a mental or physical disability and often don’t feel accepted by mainstream society,” she said. “So it’s not so simple to say ‘you now have a roof over your head and food so you’re fine’ – you need a community and emotional support as well.”
A significant number of Australia’s struggling consist of the elderly- in fact, Australia’s elderly poverty rate is double the OECD average. Sue spoke of the loneliness many impoverished elderly feel and the importance of the communities like David’s place being a second family to them.
“A lot of older Australians live in alone in this city; they may not have any living family or close relatives and there’s nobody to give them a sense of belonging,” she said. “So at David’s place there is a family- we are all part of it and the distinction between ‘volunteer’ and recipient loses all meaning when we get together and support one another.”
Paul Sumner, a visual artist who helps with the Exodus charity, shared his art with The Catholic Weekly, in which he captured the struggles of his friends on the street.
“All I do is tell the story of the people on the streets- I tell their story in my art because we all have stories to tell,” he said. “They are my friends and I feel more comfortable with them than many in my own neighbourhood. So my art brings my friends to life and gives them a voice- it gives them some justice.”
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who dined with those present, reminded all gathered of their inherent dignity and as human beings worthy of love.
“I say to every brother and sister of mine here today who is struggling- God loves you,” he said. The Church loves you. Your Archbishop loves you”
“Know deep in your hearts you are loved. We want to be there for you. God Bless every one of you.”
Fr Peter spoke of his aim to have a Street Feast in every diocese in Australia.
“This is a celebration of inclusivity in our streets and we’re going to do this every year. This year we have expanded to Parramatta. And we hope over time it spreads to other dioceses in Australia,” he said.