Priest pours out his heart


FATHER Chris Riley speaks without faltering, even though he rarely glances at his list of notes on the lectern in front of him.

The founder of Youth off the Streets seemed unfazed by the crowd of more than 600 people gathered before him at the International Rotary Centennial Conference at the Lismore Workers Club on Saturday.

"A young man had his hands tied behind his back, he had been rolled in mud and kids were screaming abuse at him," he said.

"One hundred metres from me the group started to stone him. I thought he would be stoned to death.

"I got on the next plane. I can take almost anything, but I couldn't take the violence."

Speaking about his time in Aceh following last year's Boxing Day tsunami, the 1994 recipient of Rotary's Paul Harris Fellow Award said what he saw still remained with him.

But he said he never intended to go to disaster-stricken Aceh.

For 30 years, Fr Riley has worked with disadvantaged and troubled youth, setting up Youth Off the Streets to help those who live on the streets of Kings Cross in Sydney.

"The images (on television) were so forthcoming and overwhelming. After a couple of days I couldn't watch any more," he said.

However, when he saw the plight of a young girl living on the streets after being treated in hospital, he knew he had to help set up an orphanage. But not all the stories he had were heart-breaking.

"I heard about a child who was in a wheelchair and when she saw the water coming, she jumped out of her chair and ran," Fr Riley said.

The centennial conference was held over three days from Friday and attracted District 9640 Rotarians from southern Queensland and NSW.

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