Finding God on the streets of Dublin

Stephen Noon nSJ
Stephen Noon nSJ

Stephen Noon is a British Jesuit novice on an urban pilgrimage of Dublin, as part of a short experiment to go beyond his comfort zone and to test his vocation. He began the three week pilgrimage without food or money on Monday 26th June, finishing on Sunday 16th July.

Stephen initially decided to walk from Dublin City Centre to St. Columcille’s Well about 11km south. He looked to a single Cross in a grass field some distance away and said: “It is a picture that sums up my day in many ways – God in sight but seeming just that little bit out of reach (and it is me who is stuck in the hedge). I am doing this pilgrimage without money or food and so today has been about hunger and humility (and occasionally humiliation, when some requests for help were turned down). I think it is going to be harder than I first anticipated!”

We had something that was different but also shared

However, he found consolation in the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin City two days later. “I had lunch at Brother Kevin’s soup kitchen and sat chatting for a while to a lovely man called Thomas who gave me some good tips about food in the evenings (something that I have been most worried about). There was a sense of no-judgement acceptance, something that isn’t always the case in our modern world.” And he found light again the following day: “Generosity has been a big theme today. I spent a couple of hours at Dublin Mosque and was welcomed for lunch, conversation and a time of prayer. It was when we began talking about how we experienced God’s presence in the daily practice of our respective faiths that I, at least, felt the most powerful connection was made. We had something that was different but also shared.”

DrimnaghOn 3 July, Stephen connected with the locals: “I spent this morning being shown around Drimnagh, a working-class suburb of solid 1930’s council houses (now mostly privately owned), by a man who had lived there for over 75 years. It is the first time I have had the privilege of a guided tour on my pilgrimage and it was a great way to do it. I was introduced not only to the history and sites but also to a wide range of people – over tea after mass, in the day centre and on the streets as we walked round. If I was to choose one word to describe the experience, it would be ‘community’. It is a place of lifelong connections, something increasingly rare nowadays, with some of those I spoke to arriving in the area all those decades ago as the first occupants of their home.”

It was heart-breaking listening to his story

Two days later, Stephen met homelessness head on. “I went for lunch at one of the ‘penny dinner’ places in town and sat opposite a man in his early 50s, David, and we ended up talking. David has just become homeless and it was heartbreaking listening to his story. He became estranged from his family after the death of his mother and then when crisis hit a few weeks back there was no family safety net for him. So, he is living in a hostel, having his things stolen, and has attempted suicide as he sees his life crumble. There was nothing I could do to help, apart from listen and tell him that I would pray for him.”

The Jesuit novice reflected on ‘the power of good’ during his third week on the streets. He turned to the founder of the Jesuits for nourishment: “After eating, I sat thinking about a meditation in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola where he asks us to consider the approach adopted by evil in the world and, in contrast, the approach adopted by the good. It is very obvious how evil works, we see it every night on our TV news, but at that moment it struck me that I was getting an opportunity today to see some of the hidden work of good in the world.”

So, exactly why are you here?

Stephen reflected on his vocation through his pilgrim experience: “I’ve come to realise that there are very few coincidences and so as I walked out of town this afternoon the question that kept on coming into my head was ‘so, exactly why are you here?’. The answer, I think, is somewhere in the experience of sitting this evening, on a park bench in the north inner city, slightly hungry, slightly tired and slightly sore and still thinking ‘I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else’, because this path that I am on, pilgrimage included, is one that brings me a deep sense of happiness.”

You can find a full account of Stephen’s urban pilgrimage on his photo journal.

A version of this article first appeared on the website of the Jesuits in Ireland.