On the longest night of the year, Sydneysiders gathered to pray for all those who have died on the streets, often ignored and unknown by our society.
“The death of a person that goes unnoticed and unmourned diminishes all of us,” said grief counsellor Patricia Thomas at a memorial service for those have died homeless in Sydney in the past 12 months.
More than 100 people gathered for the Homeless Memorial Service held in St Mary’s Cathedral Square on the 21 June winter solstice, the longest night of the year, in honour of those who died, often during the night, on the streets, in crisis shelters, and insecure housing.
The names of 20 of them were read out in a simple, moving and at times uplifting candlelit service hosted by the End Street Sleeping Collaboration which includes the Archdiocese of Sydney, CCC and Grief Care, music offered by the Sydney Street Choir and the Honeybees, an acapella community choir.
Ms Thomas, Grief Care managing consultant at Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria, told the gathering, which included members and friends of Sydney’s street community, civic and religious leaders, and representatives of charities and advocacy groups that “people who have died on park benches, under trees, and in streets, in places unknown are our brothers and sisters”.
Estimates of the number of people sleeping rough varies. A February count by the City of Sydney found 225 people and a further 269 who were spending the night in crisis and other temporary accommodation.
Recent End Street Sleeping Collaboration survey data shows that of people affected by homelessness affects all ages across New South Wales with 53 per cent aged over 45, while acute and chronic illnesses are common.
Sydney Bishop Terry Brady said it was a “special and sacred” night not only to honour those who have died but to commit to remembering that many are sleeping rough throughout the city and greater Sydney this winter.
“For Christians, these are people who give us an opportunity to communicate very closely to the Lord,” he said.
“I know that it’s in meeting and speaking to people on the streets that I’ve seen Jesus, and we pray for those people tonight as well.”
Following a reflection from advocate Talie Star on the complex challenges for the homeless and a call for improved responses to street sleeping, students from Bethlehem College, Ashfield, and St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, read prayers of intercession.
This was the second memorial service to be held in Sydney and part of a growing movement worldwide, said archdiocesan Justice and Peace Promoter Fr Peter Smith, adding that he was grateful to ESS collaborator the PAYCE Foundation for supporting the event.
Marilyn Rodrigues is a journalist for The Catholic Weekly (print and online). She has worked as a journalist and columnist for the paper intermittently since 2000 and sees the CW team and readers as part of her extended family. Her special interests are spirituality, psychology and mental health, and life issues. Marilyn blogs in her five minutes of free time a week about faith, family, work and life at marilynrodrigues.com.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.