As a Novice, one of Eileen O’Connell’s placements in Ministry was in the Matt Talbot Community Trust in Ballyfermot. She recounts her time there and how the recognition of the innate dignity and worth of all people is so important.
History and present situation
The Matt Talbot Community Trust in Ballyfermot was founded in 1986 by Sr. Caoimhín OP. It is a drug free community education programme. Originally, its aim was to support young men going to prison. Today, Matt Talbot tackles the social issues that lead to problem drug use and criminal behaviour and works with those seeking assistance with addiction and those involved in the criminal justice system. It also supports the wider Ballyfermot community.
Presently Matt Talbot has a staff of five. Members of staff act as key workers to participants. The aim of this is to create an environment of trust, belonging and learning that recognises the value of each individual and leads to the development of positive relationships. Its mission statement describes how it actively works towards the reintegration of adults into family, community and social life by the provision of education and structured, person-centred supports. Its objectives include promoting and facilitating achievement of personal autonomy, increased independence, progression and enhanced life opportunities.
The service provides a number of programmes including: education, personal support, Saol Nua peer support, supported work placement, family support and family summer programme, women’s group, and outreach work (prison visits and post-programme outreach).
Reflection on Matt Talbot Community Trust
Initially, I found it difficult to be in Matt Talbot. As I had no life experiences in common with those attending the centre, I struggled to feel that I could relate to them and felt that I had nothing to offer there. However, this changed a little as time went on. As we became more familiar to one another, I felt more able to speak to people, to ask them some questions and to join in conversations.
I was very impressed by the level of commitment of those who work in Matt Talbot, their investment of so much of themselves, and their genuine care and concern for the wellbeing and welfare of both participants and their families. On several occasions, Grainne Jennings, the Director, spoke to me of what happens in Matt Talbot, of their struggles, challenges and successes, and of their vision. She spoke of various people they have helped and of different battles they have fought with, and for, people who come to their door. Her level of emotional involvement and passion for justice for those who seek help was clearly evident, and both that and incidents she related stayed with me.
What was also obvious was how much the work of Matt Talbot Community Trust is in line with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. This revolves around God’s call, recounted by Micah and the other Old Testament ‘prophets of social justice’ to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is this that informs the key tenets of CST. Recognition of the innate dignity and worth of all people, as images of God, along with the understanding that we are all our ‘brother and sister’s keepers’ and responsible to and for one another (principle of solidarity) means the promotion of social justice is the duty of all who profess themselves disciples of Jesus.
One instance to illustrate this involved a man who was homeless and who had numerous health problems as a result of addictions. Grainne related to me how they fought frantically on his behalf when he was due to be released from hospital, still a very sick man. It was winter and both the man himself and the staff of Matt Talbot were afraid he would die if he had to sleep rough for even one night. They phoned his family and friends, homelessness and addiction services and hostels, and everywhere they could think of, trying to find a bed. Grainne spoke of her disbelief, and anger, at what happened during one phone call to a hostel that had no free beds. The person on the other end, after listening to her tell of the man’s situation, hung up saying there was nothing more he could do. Eventually, they decided the only option left was to set up temporary accommodation and to stay there with him. In the end, a member of the man’s family offered him somewhere to stay, so it wasn’t necessary. However, Grainne and others working with the man were willing to leave their families, the warmth and comfort of their homes and their beds, to care for him. They were unwilling to let him die alone if that were to be the outcome.
Numerous verses from the Old Testament and New Testament relate to this and to the work of the staff. God, through Isaiah and Zechariah, calls us to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is 1:17) and to “show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor” (Zech 7:9-10). In a similar way, Proverbs calls us to “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute … defend the rights of the poor and needy” (31:8-9). Jesus asks that we love, that we see the dignity of all, and that we act out of care and concern for others. In the Sermon on the Mount, He teaches “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:41). John writes, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18) and this is surely what those in Matt Talbot do. Their dedication, and their genuine concern for each person, was really inspiring. My time in Matt Talbot was an enjoyable and positive experience. The qualities and capacity of those who work there to serve others in the way that they do are to be admired as is their involvement in something that seeks, in some way, to tip the balance in the inequalities in our world.
To paraphrase Don Goergen OP: they walked with the poor so as not to walk over them; they went to the margins, so there are no more ‘us’ and ‘them’.