Catholic Life

Archbishop Nichols celebrates Mass for 30th anniversary of the Passage

Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Sister Ellen Flynn slice a 30th anniversary cake

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has celebrated Mass at Westminster Cathedral to mark the 30th anniversary of the Passage.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Passage’s work in supporting rough sleepers and homeless people in Westminster. Over the last 30 years the Passage has helped more than 100,000 people. It has served three million meals, found jobs for 2,000 clients and made 90,000 contacts with homeless people on the street through its outreach workers. Archbishop Nichols, patron of the Passage, celebrated Mass at 5.30 pm on Friday, December 3 to mark the anniversary.

At the beginning of Mass two homeless people carried the Passage banner in the entry procession. After the homily three candles were lit, one for each decade of the Passage. One candle was lit by a homeless person, representing all the homeless the Passage has helped, one by a volunteer to represent all who have volunteered at the Passage and one by Mick Clarke, chief executive of the Passage, representing staff that work and have worked at the Passage.

In his homily the archbishop said: “At this Mass this evening, we thank God for the work of the Passage and we seek our own renewal, in dedication and motivation, for its work.

“The story of the Passage day centre, from the first opening of its doors in 1980 to its present day achievements, explains how this initiative is deeply rooted in the tradition, the charism and the work of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul who first came to this part of London, to work among the poor, in the 1860s.

“So here is a first point of inspiration: the figure of St Vincent – my patron saint! He was a man who discovered, somewhat to his own surprise, that the essence of the vocation he had been given was not to be among rich benefactors, as he had assumed, but among the poor and the most vulnerable. He saw that in serving them he was serving Christ himself. It was an identification that shaped his life, his writings and the inspiration that he passed on to the Congregations that he founded. And that is the inspiration and motivation we seek to renew in ourselves, in the Passage, today.”

The Mass was followed by a reception in Westminster Cathedral Hall. Attendees included friends, supporters and benefactors of the Passage as well as Sister Eileen O’Mahoney, who originally opened the doors of the Passage to the homeless in 1980.

[Mick Clarke, Eileen O’Mahoney, first director of the Passage and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, patron]

The 30th anniversary cake was cut by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Sister Ellen Flynn. In the autumn of 1980 the Passage Day Centre first opened its doors to homeless people, continuing a tradition going back to the 1860s of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul providing assistance to poor and destitute people from the Sisters’ House in Carlisle Place.

From the start its founding patron, Cardinal Basil Hume, gave great encouragement, making the Cathedral a partner in its work with the Daughters and then allowing it to open a temporary night shelter in Westminster Cathedral Hall in the cold December of 1990. This developed into a 48-bed hostel, Passage House, which opened in April 2000.

Today, the Passage fulfils its mission of providing resources which encourage, inspire and challenge homeless people to transform their lives through street outreach work, running a busy day centre and two hostels Passage House and Montfort House. The day centre helps up to 200 people each day and over 4,000 individuals each year.

As well as providing for basic needs with cooked meals, showers, a laundry and clothing store, our work is focused on helping people to deal with the problems which keep them homeless, such as substance misuse, mental health difficulties, the need to find employment and training, as well as helping them find housing. It enables them to address these root causes of their homelessness in order to break the cycle once and for all.

The Passage has a three-to-one volunteer to staff ratio. By utilising volunteers, approximately 90p in every £1 of voluntary income donated to the Passage goes directly to the services it provides.