The Image of God

“From the moment we walked up those stairs it was amazing,” said one of our carers, giggling with some friends as they had their photo taken with the Lord Mayor. And to be fair Belfast City Hall has as fine a set of Marble Stairs as you’ll find anywhere in the country. As our guests arrived into the Rotunda they were greeted by live music and a drinks reception. Behind the scenes the lovely people from Root Soup were preparing a fabulous meal and the atmosphere was amazing.

Every year as part of the festival we organise a banquet at City Hall in honour of the people who are on the margins and often overlooked. Previously we have honoured the homeless and refugees and asylum seekers. This year we wanted to take a moment to appreciate those who spend their time caring for others. Caring for Carers was entirely funded by the generosity of dozens of small donors and Cliftonville FC who raised £1000 through a shirt auction and matching gift.

At the heart of the 4 Corners festival is the belief that everyone in our city is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We also enjoy bringing people out of their comfort zones to meet others from across the city. Tonight, was a perfect example of us all meeting each other and seeing each other as human across our inevitable differences. In the interests of privacy, we won’t name any names but the stories heard tonight at different tables were both heart breaking and beautiful. Two older carers from opposite ends of the city found comfort in each other, as they shared their fears about what would happen to their children with disabilities, when they themselves died. Another lady spoke of the strain of looking after a child with severe epilepsy and a man who looked after his elderly parents admitted he had not been on a night out like this for almost a year. At tables, all around the room, there were small moments of Grace, as carers looked at each other and recognised they were with friends who truly understood. We were humbled and privileged to watch those encounters and to see people visibly relax and enjoy each other and the fabulous food.

Root Soup grew out of the L’Arche community in Belfast, and they work with people with learning disabilities and those transitioning out of homelessness. They cooked up an amazing three course feast last night and with the help of volunteers from Clonard and beyond, served the tables with grace and humour. The evening was hosted by Lord Mayor Brian Kingston who admitted to being outshone by his 84-year-old mother who was his guest at the dinner. He spoke passionately about the city of Belfast, pointing out that at the minute there are 19 Cranes in the city centre working on various developments, that tourism is growing and the economy is healthy. “But we also want to be a caring city – we have to go beyond being friendly and make sure that we care for each other.” He then went on to share his own experience of watching his parents getting older, his father having dementia and eventually moving in to sheltered accommodation. And the reason he brought his mother was to recognise her role as a carer. Even though she was 84 she was still the main point of care for his father, and that took a daily toll on her. The Lord Mayor’s story very obviously struck a chord with many in the room who shared similar experiences.

Ed Petersen from Clonard was the main organiser from the 4 Corners Committee and he ended the evening by thanking the long list of people who had made the night possible including the Lord Mayors Office, various Carers organisations, Root Soup and of course the many donors and Cliftonville FC who paid for the evening. Thank you for bringing together and honouring the unsung heroes who spend their life caring for others.

PS the pavlova was fabulous ……