McVerry was down with us to launch Volunteer Day at the Institute where students, and others, are encouraged to give a bit of time to Fairtrade; or horse-riding with the disabled; or meals on wheels; or the local hospice; or sorting books for Oxfam. He started off by explaining why he had given a life-time to others
- it was the christian, or at least the humanitarian, thing to do
- to express gratitude for the fortunate circumstances of his birth which gave him huge potential . . . if I hadn't joined the Jesuits as a young man. The obvious way to express his thanks was to give back.
- He noted that these push-pulls had been widespread among the religious in his time. Sadly the implementation of humanitarian protocols had been completely un-audited and so had too often degenerated into abusive relationships.
- every day he gets some rewarding feedback. Those endorphins are their own reward. Heck, they'd have to; because these guys aren't driving BMWs between their homeless-hostels.
Later with a rhetorical flourish the old chap (he's 74 but definitely not retired) asked us what was, for those directly affected, the hardest part of homelessness:
- not the absence of a regular bed;
- not the boredom of endless days sitting around without purpose;
- not the hunger or junk food.
- phone calls are always returned;
- stories are always listened to;
- respect is always shown.
Challenged by change
Now let's be a bit critical of the PMcVT and its work: they're big enough. In 1980s Britain, the weekly satirical cartoon programme Spitting Image mercilessly guyed the royal family, celebrities and, in particular Margaret Thatcher's conservative government. A case has been made that Spitting Image, which had HUGE viewership each week, acted as a safety valve that prevented a revolution against the divisive changes that were being imposed on the British people. If Peter McVerry and his Trust did not exist, maybe the government would be compelled to vindicate the constitutional rights of all its citizens. That would require a revolution, of course, we'd have to pay more tax, and the useless mouths of the quangocracy would have to find useful work outside the public service. I've been agonising about the ethics of the voluntariat since at least May 2014. But then you may not believe that the government is capable of organising anything more challenging than ordering posters for the next election. If homelessness hurts then you just have to roll up your sleeves and do what you can. For Peter McVerry, like fellow christian Martin Luther [prev], he can do no other.
Fr McVerry talked about how the people in his Trust, by giving time, respect, homes, support, food and hope to the dispossessed, receive as much back in self-esteem and a sense of worth. Thus give and take become an exchange. That resonated with me strongly because last week I'd seen a fascinating video about Proto-Indo European and what we can deduce about the culture of these our ancestors from linguistic analysis. It turns out the PIE word for give is the same as the word for receive/take! Exchange to mutual benefit is in our DNA. I barrelled up to him after his talk and shared this insight to him, which meant I got to shake his hand - an honour.
The Peter McVerry Trust is in the middle of a fund-raiser: