Belfast priest's Christmas feast for vulnerable people
Victims of so-called 'punishment' attacks and people living in hostels are to be invited to a Christmas banquet this winter by a west Belfast parish priest.
Father Martin Magill will provide a turkey dinner for around 50 "poor, crippled, lame and blind" parishioners in the run-up to December 25.
It follows the opening of a new kitchen at St John's Parish Hall this week thanks to a successful lottery funding application.
Fr Magill, who won a standing ovation for his stirring address at murdered journalist Lyra McKee's funeral, said the idea for the feast came from a Bible passage that inspired an event staged during the cross-community Four Winds Festival in Belfast.
"Luke Chapter 14, Verse 13 was the inspiration," he said.
"It says, 'When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind'.
"We've a number of hostels within our parish community and I'd like to invite the people living there.
"I also want to reach out to those who have been beaten or shot by paramilitaries in this area as well.
"People with mobility problems who don't get out much are also welcome, along with pensioners who don't have family or friends and can all too often be forgotten about."
Fr Magill said he hopes to have the dinner "in the week or 10 days before Christmas" and he revealed that Santa Claus may drop in with presents that have been donated for all the guests.
Although there won't be any alcohol on offer out of respect for any guests with addictions, there will be plenty of Christmas spirit and the good news is that the feast will be free.
"I've had an offer from a community group to help with funds so people themselves will not be asked for anything," said the 58-year-old priest, who said he'll be lending a helping hand in the kitchen.
So, why is he putting on the event this year for the first time?
"The parish applied for a grant from the National Lottery for the kitchen to develop relationships with local school and parent groups and we were successful," he replied.
"Then, when I read the Gospel passage which inspired the banquet in Four Corners Festival, I thought I'd like to do it."
Fr Magill won widespread praise for his stirring address at the funeral of Ms McKee in which he effectively criticised Northern Ireland's politicians for their lack of leadership.
And in an interview with this newspaper that was published yesterday, he also encouraged Catholics to take up a career in the PSNI to help redress the under-representation of the community in the police.