Cardinal gives thanks for 25 years of 'The Passage'
posted on 23 September 2005
The Archbishop of Westminster has paid tribute to The Passage, the centre for the homeless near Victoria Station founded by Cardinal Basil Hume 25 years ago. Speaking on Thursday night at an ecumenical service of thanksgiving at Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor described The Passage as “a powerful witness to the love of Christ” which contradicted the idea of London as selfish.
The Silver Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving on 22 September, which was based on the theme of transition, was celebrated by the Cardinal in the presence of Westminster’s three auxiliary bishops and the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain. Also attending was Canon Robert Wright of Westminster Abbey. The Orthodox were represented by Deacon Meliton.
There were readings by three longstanding celebrity supporters of the centre: the actors Anthony Andrews and Deborah Moore; and the MP Ann Widdecombe. The service was attended by the Duchess of Norfolk and the deputy Lord Mayor of Westminster. There was music from the children of St Vincent’s Primary School and a performance by the ‘Streetwise Opera’.
The Passage, which began in 1980 in a basement in the house of the Sisters of Charity, is now one of the largest day centres for the homeless in Europe. Each day hundreds of homeless people come to the door in expectation of a welcome and assistance. The Passage has 100 staff and over 200 volunteers, and a budget of £3.5 million a year.
In 2004 it received almost 50,000 visits from nearly 6,000 homeless or insecurely housed people. The homeless are these days more likely to consist of drug users and the mentally ill. There is a high proportion of penniless immigrants arriving at Victoria Station from Eastern Europe in search of work and a new life.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that The Passage offered not just practical help but a new vision. Homeless people learned there that “God has compassion and respect for the dignity of every human being,” he said, adding:
“The Passage was born out of inspiration, and continues to be a source of ‘refreshed vigoour’ for our city and our Church.”
The Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donoghue, who as administrator of Westminster Cathedral in 1980 was present at the birth of The Passage, said the centre showed vividly how “society’s policies affect the most vulnerable in society”.
But if The Passage was “a microscope”, it was important also “to use a telescope”, he said: “We must keep the wider picture”.
He recalled Cardinal Hume telling him: “Our cathedral should sing with both lungs: the beauty of our liturgy, and giving voice to the cry of the poor”.
Bishop O’Donoghue said he had been converted by contact with the homeless, learning that “the poor have more to give us than we do to them”.
To illustrate his point that homelessness can happen to anyone, he recalled one night when he received a phone call from the police. A man had choked to death on his own vomit. In his pocket was a piece of paper with the names of Fr O’Donoghue and Cardinal Hume on it. The man turned out to be a priest.
Sr Ellen Flynn, The Passage’s current director, said her five years at The Passage had been an “incredible journey” – of both “heartbreak” and “privilege”.
“I have seen violence, aggression and human suffering”, she said. “I have witnessed extremes of goodness – and evil. I have seen vulnerable people, succeed, grow and realise potential. I have seen others die. I have watched homeless people caring for each other in the midst of so much fear and insecurity – in a way that many of us have much to learn from. The Passage has the power to touch the lives of all of us who play a role in it.”
The Service ended with the staff, volunteers and supporters of The Passage being blessed by the homeless assembled at the front of the altar.
For further information on The Passage: tel. 020 7592 1850, email firstname.lastname@example.org, website www.passage.org.uk.