The Archbishops of Armagh have pleaded with parishioners not to allow increasingly depressing statistics about homelessness to dull the reality that behind each of these numbers lies a personal story of distress and hardship.

In their joint Christmas message released this week, Archbishop Eamon Martin and his Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop Richard Clarke have highlighted the urgent needs of homeless people, especially families.

They said, “There is no place quite like home – especially at Christmas time.  Many people who are working and living outside of Ireland are already counting the days before coming home to spend the festive season with their families and loved ones.  These days will be amongst the busiest of the year in our airports and on our roads as individuals make that special journey.

“Home is a place of memories of years gone by, filled with familiar sights, sounds and smells and, of course, with the people who are most special to us.  Home is not only a place of security and love, but having a home also gives each of us a sense of personal dignity.  No wonder they say home is where the heart is.  Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin!”

The Archbishops went on to say, “Think for a moment of what it would be like this Christmas to be without a home.  To be without a place of shelter.  To be out in the cold.  To be on your own, living on the streets.  Sleeping in the shelter of a shop doorway.  Not knowing where your next meal is going to come from.  Not sure whether or not someone is going to attack you or abuse you for no other reason than the fact you are destitute or “look different”.  Sadly that is the reality for many people in Ireland today who are homeless.  The endless repetition of statistics about housing and homelessness, particularly at this time of the year, should not dull the reality that behind each of these numbers lies a personal story of distress and hardship.

“Jesus readily identified with the homeless.  He said, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ (Luke 9:58).  For much of His ministry He was a wandering preacher, travelling here and there without a permanent home, healing, teaching and bringing comfort to others.  Even at the beginning of His life – in the story retold in the Christmas Gospel – He was born and laid in a manger, not within the warmth of a human home.”

Recalling the words of Pope Francis in the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin last August, the Archbishops said, “Jesus said that when you and I reach out the hand of friendship to those in need, it is the same as reaching out to Him, as much as reaching out for Him.  During the summer, speaking to those who avail of the services of the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in Dublin, Pope Francis said: ‘Do you know why you come here with trust?  Because they help you without detracting from your dignity.  For them, each of you is Jesus Christ.’

“May Christ find a place in your heart and in your home this Christmas.”

ENDS