Helping the helpless just got harder, Archbishop says
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Helping the helpless just got harder, Archbishop says

While Christmas will always be one of the church's greatest festivals there is a lot more to it than carols, religious icons and pageantry Archbishop Christopher Prowse, the Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, has said.

"According to the official figures there are more than 1,600 homeless people in the ACT," he said. "The reality is there are probably far more than this.

"This Christmas local St Vincent de Paul volunteers will be handing out more than 3000 hampers to help rough sleepers and those in need in our community. We are committed to providing $500,000 in emergency assistance to 3,000 families that are doing it very hard."

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
preparing to deliver Christmas messages in the cathedral. Pictured with CEO of St vincent de Paul society Canberra Goulburn, Barnie van Wyk.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse preparing to deliver Christmas messages in the cathedral. Pictured with CEO of St vincent de Paul society Canberra Goulburn, Barnie van Wyk. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Archbishop Prowse said these were "significant figures given we are living in a land of plenty, a city of plenty".

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"I like to say that our brief is to help `the lost, the least and the last' in our society. Christmas is a time for practical charity."

The archbishop, along with thousands of other local Catholics, is concerned unexpected cuts in Federal funding to the local arm of the Saint Vincent de Paul society will dramatically curb its ability to help those in need in future years.

A volunteer organisation that relies heavily on community support, the Canberra Goulburn chapter of the society has been receiving about $335,000 a year in federal funding for the past five years.

That money has been used, without exception, to help people in financial crisis across Canberra and in southern and western NSW.

That funding has been cut by 25 per cent to just $253,776 a year from 2020; a decision local society CEO Barnie van Wyke is struggling to understand given the demand for assistance has been rising.

Archbishop Prowse, who travels extensively in the rural parts of the diocese, said the drought, depression and other mental health issues and intergenerational poverty were all taking a heavy toll.

"I can think of four rural suicides in recent times I am aware of," he said. "The drought is ongoing and has been a real challenge."

While the St Vincent de Paul volunteers were "humble and extremely generous with their time and resources" there was only so much they could do on their own.

"We are talking about people who truly understand what the scriptures and St Francis of Assisi meant when the said "for it is in giving that we receive"," he said.

Helping others was also an important step on the road to reconciliation and healing after what had been some of the most challenging years the Catholic church has had to face in Australia.

"These have been fragile times for the Catholic community," Archbishop Prowse said. "We want to rebuild and to reconnect. One of the greatest ways to achieve healing is through helping others."

David Ellery is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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