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Our prayers are with those in Belfast - and in Pakistan

Black Santa's diary: The Very Rev John Mann

I have made a mistake. I realised it as water trickled down my neck on Tuesday when the rain came and with soggy gloves I ran out of fingers.

I tried counting it again: Friday, when I started as the Blue Plaque to Sammy Crooks was unveiled, then Saturday, Monday (I am not out on Sundays), Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, no Sunday again, Monday, Tuesday and Christmas Eve.

I am telling everyone we are doing 10 days this year, rather than the normal eight. I am a finger short a second time. It's actually 11 days.

Never mind; more chance of hitting the target!

Having the cathedral clergy with me on a rota is a great help; the Bishops of Connor and Down and Dromore come too - it never seems to rain for them - and they know so many people.

They are both on for a while today, so maybe the promised rain will stay away. Meanwhile, the money is continuing to come in and the Belfast humour is in full swing. "Have you got change of a 5p?" says one man, dropping in a note. Carol singing in the John Hewitt raised £100; representatives of charities that benefit from the fund make the point of dropping by and donating; a lady joined us for morning prayer (held every day at 8.10am before the sit-out starts) and slipped me £200 in an envelope - I got two more envelopes with the same amount before 11am.

The children will appear at the weekend and, excited over Christmas coming and the school holidays, will be brought by their parents to give. Many people ask us to pray for them, and we do, or for relatives and friends going through difficult times.

Thinking of such things, our thoughts and prayers are far away too with the people of Pakistan and the terrible attack on the school there. Though most of the Black Santa money stays in our local communities, some has always gone overseas. Five years ago in mid-January the sit-out sent £150,000 via Christian Aid to help rebuilding work in Haiti. There is an exhibition of photographs in St Anne's for the next month on Haiti five years on. Do pop in and see it.

At lunchtime yesterday we had about £69,000.

The Very Rev John Mann is Dean of Belfast

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