I leave my flat (7.20am) and start the cycle-ride to Victoria. Thursday is usually an easy day at The Passage. This morning is dry and bright after much November rain. It is busy on the A22 but at Clapham I turn into the Common. This part is like a lung-full of clean air. I continue and cross Chelsea Bridge – three bridges up from Wordsworth’s “Westminster Bridge”:
“ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie,
open to the fields and to the sky,
all bright and glittering in the smokeless air …”
It is more hectic, cranky and polluted now on Chelsea Bridge. Cyclists take risks in attempting to turn right at the north bridge-end. I manage it.
I arrive at The Passage, sign myself in for 8am and find a parking space for my bike. Tom, a volunteer, tells me that a rough sleeper died during the night on the cathedral piazza. The chaplains take care of deaths and funerals of clients. I go out to investigate. Today I don my clerical shirt and collar for we are expecting a visit from Archbishop Vincent Nichols – his first to The Passage. On the hundred-metre walk to the Piazza I meet Rose, a former client of The Passage. Rose is usually cheerful; today she looks dazed, tells me she was beside the young man who died. No, she was not drinking. She just awoke and found him dead, right beside her. He was Irish, only just arrived here and tells me his name. I continue my walk to the Piazza, but promise her I will come back quickly and get her into the Day Centre (The Passage is the umbrella name for the organisation which has two hostels and the day centre). There is a disturbed scene on the Piazza, of blankets, sleeping bags and beer cans cordoned off with police tape. No one is around. I go into the cathedral and Carl, security, tells me that Fr. Christopher anointed the man, that the paramedics took his body and that the police had arrested two of the men for disorderly conduct.
I return to the Day Centre. I get Rose into the place to get her something to eat. She is living (when not sleeping out) in a hostel on Stanford Street near to Waterloo Station. Someone gets her a taxi back there.
Sister Rosalie (the other chaplain at The Passage) and I have a meeting to write up our contribution to The Passage Annual, also to discuss the chaplaincy room which we have had decorated, and to get ourselves ready for the visit of Vincent Nichols. Alongside that I telephone the police, St Thomas’ and Guys Hospitals, two Coroners courts to find out about the man who died. No one can give me information. Too soon ? The issue for now is to discover whether this man was one of our clients. No one seems to know – no word along the grapevine of the 200+ people who come to the Day Centre today.
We get on with our meeting and our preparations for the Archbishop’s visit. He is to arrive at 11am, meet Mick Clarke and Roger Clarke (CEO and deputy) for about thirty minutes. Then he will come and meet us at the Chaplaincy room/chapel. We station ourselves there and wait… and wait. He does not arrive until 12.15pm. We greet him and invite him into the small chapel space. There is a Rublov Ikon of Hospitality on a plain wall; the Bible, Koran and Bhagavad Gita for our multi-faith room, much used by clients and location of prayer meetings and a Wednesday Holy Mass. We tell the new Archbishop about our work at The Passage, including hostels, Montfort House and Passage House. It is a pleasant, relaxed meeting with Mick and Roger present. Vincent Nichols appears in no rush. They move on and so do we.
I normally visit the residents at Montfort House on Thursdays. Today I am late. I visit four of the residents before and after lunch. I try to restrict these visits to about one hour. Some residents like the visits and would have me stay longer. They offer me coffee and sometimes food. Other residents will meet me at their door and talk with me there. Some (two at present) do not wish me to call on them.
I respect their homes and their wishes
At lunch someone tells me that Rose was upset while in the day centre and asked to see me. They promised, as they packed her into the taxi to Stanford Street, that I would call on her. I telephone the hostel and send word to Rose that I am coming down. I cycle there as winter darkness envelopes the city. Fortunately, I have my light in my bag. I need it. It is a short bike-ride to Stanford Street. I meet Rose in her room. She still is somewhat shocked and talks about what happened late the night before. There were drugs … and when she woke up, and the ambulance, and Father Chris, and the police and the arrests … She is still upset, and no wonder. Afterwards, she shows me around the hostel and we have a cup of tea in the dining room where she introduces me to other residents. Mick, worse for wear, looks up “Who the f… are you”? Rose remonstrates “He the priest at The Passage” and he becomes friendly. Two others join us; one young man tells me he is Catholic and Michelle tells me her mother was Irish. I enjoy these moments of friendship. There is something homely and human in the weary atmosphere of this sad place. Time for me to return to base. I give Rose and Michelle a hearty hug and shake the young man’s hand. (My earlier interrogator has disappeared). Rose sees me out – graciously and asks me to keep contact.
Back at The Passage I have only twenty minutes to jot down some notes for Mass of the Miraculous Medal to be celebrated with the Daughters upstairs (St Vincent‘s). I wondered if “leaving God for God” i.e. going to the poor, would exonerate my ill-preparation. The celebration goes ahead and if the sisters notice they are gracious, even grateful. Anyway, what mattered was the worship of God in the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar. There followed a generous and enjoyable meal together.
I put the bike on the train at Victoria station and travel to Balham and cycle the three or so miles back to Grenfell Road. It was a busy day, an eventful day, but not a normal day in my life at The Passage.