Why I do what I do - an interview with Chris Riley


Fr Chris Riley, Salesian priest and founder of Youth Off The Streets, has spoken about dedicating his life to helping the homeless youth, the challenges facing the Church, and religion in the modern world.

- The Bottom Line

Back in when you were about 14 I think the Spencer Tracy movie Boys Town - it just hit you, didn't it, with some messages? 

I hadn't realised there were kids who didn't have a home. I was in a really conservative country town, I lived on a farm with my other four siblings and Mum and Dad, normal, and I assumed everything was like that. So when I saw this priest working with kids who were really bad or difficult or didn't have parents who cared about them, something just clicked in me immediately and I said at the age of 14 that I'm going to be a priest like that.

So I went to this boarding school and I was on the footy field one day and this great big blue bus crawled up the driveway with Boys Town on it and I said to the Brothers 'what's that' and they said 'we run Boys Town in Sydney' so I said at 15 'I'm going to join this Order and I'm going to work at Boys Town...'

Do you reflect on that as a calling...?

Yeah, I certainly haven't had God speaking to me from up high or anything like that or, it was just, even in Grade 6, I wanted to be a teacher and so I had my collar on by 18, I had a 21st birthday and I was out teaching 45 Year 7 kids, I had 108 kids in my dormitory, just crazy, 18 hour days every day of the year.

So then in 1991 you established Youth Off The Streets from very humble beginnings. So tell me about that.

Yeah, I was going into, on the streets because of Boys Town, kids had to go home on school holidays and weekends and I didn't know what to do....

It was February. It had been pouring rain - day after day after day - and I went in and I saw a kid lying on the bench and I was surprised because I thought he had been locked up and he was quivering and I just sort of touched him gently and said 'do you want something to eat or drink' and he said, 'no, don't worry about me' and I kept persisting and he kept saying 'I'm worthless, don't worry about me.'

So I got his feet, pulled them off the bench, got his arms, pulled him up, he was well over 6ft, an 18 or a 19 year old and he was just hugging himself like this and all of a sudden tears just came out, running down his face and I said 'what's wrong?'

He said, 'nothing, don't worry about me, I'm just cold' and I kept saying 'no but what's wrong with you, has something happened to your child in Adelaide' or whatever and he kept saying 'don't worry, I'm cold, I'm just cold.'

And then it hit me that this kid was in pain from sheer cold and I realised then that you can be so cold it's as bad as a knife slicing through your flesh...

To watch the full interview, or read the full transcript, CLICK HERE (The Bottom Line)

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