The annual Black Santa Sitout for charities at St Annes Cathedral, Belfast, got underway at 10.30am on Thursday December 17.
The Back Santas – including a few familiar faces from Connor Diocese – will be on the street in front of the cathedral until Christmas Eve – excluding Sunday December 20 – from 9am to 5pm until daily.
At the beginning of this year’s sitout cheques were presented to the Order of St John and the Order of Malta for their work at home and in Israel. The presentations were made by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Houston McKelvey of St Anne’s Cathedral, and Very Rev Hugh Kennedy, of St Peter’s Cathedral.
Dean McKelvey said both St Anne’s and St Peter’s have been actively involved with these Orders over the past year, and a service was held in St Anne’s and a concert in St Peter’s. The donations from the sitout to the two Orders is to enable their work here and in the hospitals which the Orders maintain in the Holy Land.
The Order of St John maintains an eye hospital in Jerusalem, and the Order of Malta supports a maternity hospital in Bethlehem, on the West Bank, about fifty yards from the birthplace of Jesus Christ. These hospitals open their doors to everyone regardless of national origin, religion or ability to pay.
Dean McKelvey said: “The Back Santa team is looking forward to the week-long sitout. We have been somewhat taken aback this year at the increase in the number of charities and good causes seeking support from the sitout. It is up by over 50 on last year, and now almost 300 charities are looking for help.
“These are difficult times in which to be raising funds. Whilst Northern Ireland has not been hit as badly as other parts of the UK in the current recession, the credit crunch has left its mark here. We know that some companies which have been good supporters of the sitout have had to reduce staff members. That obviously has impacted severely upon the individuals involved.”
The Dean went on: “However, we have a prayerful optimism in our community. Our optimism is not based on fantasy. It is based on firsthand experience. We know that the people of our community are generous, even in times which are tough personally.”
Each year at the Cathedral’s Good Samaritans Service cheques are presented to the representatives of the various charities. Dean McKelvey said: “These people really give me hope for our society and its future. They represent causes which it is a privilege to be able to support, and I hope that those individuals, families and groups who support of the sitout will also have that experience of hope which is at the very heart of Christmas. They are supporting good people serving on the front line for good causes in our community and abroad.
This is the ninth annual sitout organised by Dean McKelvey. A special sitout was organised after the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami disaster which raised 1.6 million.