Church reaches out

2009-02-13 00:00

Poverty and homelessness are a way of life for parishioners of Durban’s majestic Emmanuel Cathedral as well as those trying to survive in the grimy streets over which it looks. Yet it is these people who have pledged to raise R1 million over the next three years to support a community project and crisis centre that will be launched in the church’s peaceful gardens tomorrow afternoon.

Father Stephen Tully, the Cathedral’s administrator, said this week that the parish played a major role in reaching out to victims of xenophobic attacks a few months ago. More than 400 people were housed in the dilapidated, 105-year-old parish centre alongside the cathedral. This will now be transformed into an innovative outreach centre, capable of not only morphing into a full-blown crisis centre should a similar incident happen again, but housing homeless support and feeding projects, a refugee centre and a nursing and HIV/Aids programme.

The next step will be improving facilities for the local street vendors who sell anything from fruit and vegetables to rosaries from the paved area between the imposing red brick cathedral and run-down parish centre.

Tully said the vision is to make the cathedral a spiritual sanctuary for all, and the community centre a practical helpmeet.

“We need to have an open door policy for victims of rape or abuse, for refugees and the homeless. They need to know that if they need help, they’ll find it here.”

Already, the parish is a living example of what can be achieved when locals — white, Indian, coloured and Zulu-speaking people — join with those from countries like the Congo, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

Tully said that many of the refugees who were now living on the city’s streets and car guarding were actually teachers, lawyers — even doctors. This centre will utilise their precious skills even though these are probably not yet officially recognised by South African authorities.

The parish centre, on the corner of the busy Denis Hurley Street (Queen Street) and Cathedral Road, with its graffiti-clad walls and sagging doors, will receive a major facelift in coming months and will be renamed the Denis Hurley Centre in memory of the Catholic cleric and anti-apartheid stalwart who opened the very first refugee centre in the same area. He retired to the cathedral for the last 10 years of his life and became a parish priest for the first time.

Father Tully will receive a sizeable donation towards the project from the Anglican diocese tomorrow. The balance of the funding will “come from God via the parish”.

As parish member Edith Ngoni explains: “The people are very willing to participate. We are not used to selling cakes. We organise ourselves and take [the money] out of our pockets. We take from what we have. We don’t need something back for it.”

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