A young Catholic priest will wake up on Christmas morning at a condemned apartment block in Ennis frequently used by heroin addicts as a squat.
Fr Ger Fitzgerald, 34, from Castleconnell, Co Limerick, is set to brave the stormy conditions on Christmas morning by sleeping at the Fairways apartments in a show of solidarity with the poor in the town.
Explaining the motivation behind the sleep-out, Fr Fitzgerald said: “It is to show that the Church is serious about identifying with the poor, being with the poor.
“The new Pope has laid it on the line that Our Lord came upon us as a poor person and that we should be more in tune with the needs of the poor. Here in Ennis, we have had our own tragedies during the year, Joseph Pavelka was one and Jimmy Sherlock was another.”
Last May, Fr Fitzgerald stunned mourners at Czech national Mr Pavelka’s funeral Mass by saying he would be burying his ordination vestments with the homeless alcoholic in Drumcliffe Cemetery, Ennis.
Mr Pavelka’s plight received national attention when Judge Patrick Durcan described his living in a public toilet as a scandal, while the body of double amputee quadriplegic Jimmy Sherlock was found in the grounds of Ennis golf club last August.
Homeless at the time and suffering from chronic drug addiction, Mr Sherlock had squatted during the summer at the now boarded-up Fairways apartment block.
Asked what made him choose the Fairways apartment complex, Fr Fitzgerald said: “I chose it because it is the poorest place I know in Ennis and I wanted to come to the poorest place, because Our Lord was born in the poorest place.
“It is to show unity with Our Lord, but also unity with the people who used to stay here. Jimmy Sherlock stayed here numerous nights and I know that Josef stayed here one or two nights.”
Ordained in 2011, Fr Fitzgerald said that he will be staging the sleep-out from 12am on Christmas Eve to 7am on Christmas Day.
The complex is boarded up and Fr Fitzgerald will lay his blankets down on a concrete area just outside the back door of the apartments.
In an interview outside the apartments he said: “I hope it will not be too windy or too cold, but if it is, it is.” He said he will be joined by three others.
After midday Mass at the Cathedral in Ennis on Christmas Day, Fr Fitzgerald will travel to his family at Castleconnell for Christmas dinner. Asked what his family said when he told them he was sleeping at the condemned apartments for Christmas morning, Fr Fitzgerald said: “I haven’t actually told them yet.”
Speculating on what they might say, he laughed and said: “The same as when I told them that I wanted to be a priest: ‘He’s a bit mad’.
“I am hoping that by spending the night here, it will be raising a little awareness about the poverty here and make the people who have the power to notice the plight of the poor do more.”
He added: “This is also about the poor that aren’t noticed by media — poor living in houses who can’t afford to pay their bills. It is trying to show some unity with those people.
“Locally, what I see is that people are finding it hard, especially around now. I would see an awful lot of people who are worried about Christmas and worried about their meals and what is going to happen into the new year.”
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