One of the pleasures of a London summer are the parties. A green swathe of lawn, a glass of ice-cool prosecco, and catching up with people one’s not seen in a while. Perfect.
Last week at one such gathering I bumped into the poet Michael Glover. He has been researching a book on 101 little-known places in London where you can find great art. Top of my suggestion list was the church of Notre Dame de France, or the French Church, tucked away behind Leicester Square, where you can find Jean Cocteau’s stunning murals of the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Assumption. Cocteau was commissioned as part of the rebuilding of the church, damaged by bombs during World War II.
The church is a place of sanctuary for those escaping the West End crowds, but it is also sanctuary for the homeless, often people who are refugees, who rest there away from the chill in winter and out of the heat in summer.
As well as Notre Dame, other Catholic organisations helping the homeless include the Passage, Providence Row and the Cardinal Hume Centre. Last week, friends, staff and volunteers of the Cardinal Hume Centre attended Mass at the Sacred Heart Church in Victoria, just around the corner from the centre, to mark the anniversary of the death of Basil Hume, and to say farewell to Cathy Corcoran, retiring after 15 years as the centre’s chief executive. These organisations are clearly as much needed now as they were in Cardinal Hume’s day, when he opened Westminster Cathedral’s hall to the homeless, after he was shocked to find them sleeping in the nearby piazza.
On my way back from the Mass, I walked past the Cathedral, where people were tucked into sleeping bags on the steps. Plus ça change. At least nobody officious was telling them to clear off, as happens so often to the homeless.
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