Young people help tackle homelessness at St. Eugene’s Cathedral ‘Big Sleep Out’

Some of the young people gathered at the Cathedral on Friday night.
Some of the young people gathered at the Cathedral on Friday night.

Young people from across the Derry Diocese have spoken of why they were moved to spend the night at St. Eugene’s Cathedral to highlight homelessness and raise funds for local charities.

Despite heavy showers and cold conditions, around 70 young students from Derry, Donegal and Tyrone turned up to take part in the ‘Sleep Out Stay Awake’ event at the cathedral.

Some of the young people in their sleeping bags outside.

Some of the young people in their sleeping bags outside.

Many of those gathered told the ‘Journal’ they welcomed the move by the diocese to team up with young people to help highlight social issues, and said they would like to see further work on other issues affecting local communities.

The all-night vigil began at 8pm on Friday and finished at 8am on Saturday and young people were invited to stay awake for at least some of the night and to stay outside for at least one hour.

Youth co-ordinator for the Derry Diocese, Padraig Delargy, said the event came about during discussions with local young people undertaking the Pope John Paul II Award.

Those taking part raised funds for four charities working locally to address homelessness: Damien House, Depaul, the Simon Community and St. Vincent dePaul.

Rossa (18) a pupil at St Joseph’s Boys’ School in Derry, said he became aware of the event after seeing a poster in the Sixth Form. “I thought it was an interesting way of raising money for charity and thought I’d join in.

“Derry, in particular, has a big problem and there are very few charities that actually try to tackle it.”

Rossa said it was important to show that young people were actively engaged in social issues and determined to help contribute positively to their community. “There’s a lot of stereotypes that go about but it’s a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, a couple of people get involved in anti-social behaviour and that changes perceptions for everyone.”

Rossa said he would like to see young people and the Church also working on other social issues. “Mental health is a big one,” he said.

Donna (16) from Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana agreed that young people often get a bad press and that it was good to see young people from across the diocese coming together at events like this.

She said homelessness was something that was concerning to young people “when you see people out on the streets” across Ireland.

Fellow Scoil Mhuire pupil Michelle (16) said: “This is good because it raises more awareness for us. We’re doing social awareness in school and ours is actually homelessness. I think the other class is mental health.”

St Joseph’s Boys’ School pupil Jack (17), aid there were a raft of social issues the church could be working on.

Jack, who found out about the Sleep Out through participating in the Pope John Paul II Awards, said: “I don’t see many young people volunteering for charities or anything like that. I think it’s a brilliant thing to do because of the problems with homelessness.”

He also said he would like the church to tackle other issues: “I would say drugs, sensitive issues that the church could get involved in like homosexuality, abortion to bring it up to date, make it relevant for this generation.”

Jackson (17), also from St. Joseph’s said homelessness shouldn’t happen in this day and age.

Jackson said that there were social issues that stemmed from the legacy of the Troubles which had caused “societal pain in this city in particular”.

“I always thought the church could open it’s doors more for homeless people, to open the doors of the actual chapel to have a place where they can stay if they needed to get off the streets, turn them to God. I think there would be more popularity if they done that because the Catholic Church is under a while lot of scrutiny in modern days because of scandals etc., and it’s creating a lot of lapsed Catholics as well. I wouldn’t be, but it is shocking to see how many young people are turning away because of unreformist, unmodernised ways of the Catholic Church. It needs a revival, re-evangelisation.”

Jackson said he believed Pope Francis was the right person to lead such change. “I really like him. He seems quite reformist and modern thinking and seems to be focusing on young people. At the end of the day we are the next generation of Catholicism and religion needs to keep going. It’s needed more than ever in such a bleak society.”

Jackson said he would also like to see the church convincing more people by being more proactive around scandals such as sex abuse and young women in the Magdalene laundries. “It’s not enough to say sorry,” he said. “I think if the church was to do that and reach out to more young people to get more young Catholics involved, there’d be some sort of change.”

Padraig praised all those young people who took part in the event at St. Eugene’s. He said: “We were delighted with the turnout especially with the weather on Friday. It is an absolutely brilliant group and it shows their commitment to the social justice issues.”

He added that the children were mixed into different groups outside their immediate parish or school to help them engage with each other and build up friendships.”

So far this year, 542 young people from across the Derry diocese have finished the Pope John Paul II Award with 840 enrolled for next year