Saturday 19 October 2019

Alan's meeting with Pope was one of life's highlights

Alan Bailey, right, with Pope Francis and day centre client Rosemary
Alan Bailey, right, with Pope Francis and day centre client Rosemary

David Looby

Meeting Pope Francis on Saturday ranks among the highlights of New Ross man Alan Bailey's life and his 46 years at the Capuchin Day Centre, which he manages.

Alan, 67, first volunteered at the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People in Dublin in 1972, three years after it was opened by Cork Capuchin Friar Kevin Crowley.

Alan said he was honoured to meet Pope Francis.

'We had a plan in place whereby Fr Kevin would address the Pope, the 80 service users present and staff members and he up-scuttled all the arrangements by walking over to the clients and shaking their hands. It was a truly fantastic experience,' Alan said,

Alan, from Charlton Hill, grew up in New Ross wth his sisters: Joy (who is based in London), Isobel and Grace (based in Fethard-on-Sea) and Donna, who lives in Enniscorthy. He met the pontiff with a partially sighted female day centre client, Rosemary and her guide dog Kia, during his half hour visit.

'Rosemary was treated particularly badly while she was living on the street for the past few months. Together we made a presentation to him of a sleeping bag, a ruck sack and utensils for living on the street. It's the same package we give all service users who go back out to live on the streets. I shook his hand and he gave us a wry smile as we made the presentation. Rosemary spoke in Spanish and he addressed her through Spanish. It wasn't something I anticipated but it was fantastic.'

There was an air of excitement throughout the centre in the days and hours leading up to the Pope's arrival. When he arrived shortly after 3 p.m. Pope Francis spoke with Br Kevin, Br Sean and Alan. He praised them for their work with the homeless, saying that the staff were right to never enquire about the person, but rather to provide food and medical assistance and in doing so they were treating the clients with dignity and respect, he said.

'To have that recognition for the centre from one of the greatest and biggest leaders in the world was fantastic. He was very warm and personable and very genuine. He gave each of the children either a pat on the head or a kiss on the cheek and shook hands with everyone. It was the highlight of my career with the centre.'

Describing Pope Francis as a man who certainly believes in what he is doing, Alan welcomed the fact that it was a non political meeting. He said despite Pope Francis's hip problems it didn't stop him from bending down and kissing the children on the cheek. 'He didn't pass any one. To think of the schedule he had for him to stop in to our centre was great recognition for the work we do and for our clients who will take so much from the visit. The fact that he singled them out as special for a visit speaks volumes.'

Alan said it was a very emotional day for Br Kevin and all the staff at the centre. 'It was like the culmination of almost 50 years work for Br Kevin. Many people were very emotional. For me it's way up there with getting married and having children. It was a lovely experience all round. We drew lots for staff members and volunteers to attend and some who won gave theirs to older staff members.'

One thrilled client told Alan on Monday morning: 'If I weren't homeless I would never have met the Pope.'

New Ross Standard