Supporting the search for meaning

Notre-Dame-de-la-rue He and Kevin form a team that goes out, mainly in the evenings, into the street to find the people who will be spending the night outside. With only a few volunteers, their visits are sometimes short. A glance, a greeting, a coffee or juice. Silence provides respite in a life where the asphalt, crowds and vagaries of the weather are inhospitable companions. There are those who are not as they used to be; the days of the old drunkard drinking his gin from a paper bag are over.

Today, the homeless consist equally of young people from good families and professionals who have lost everything to gambling. There are also the people who have slipped through the cracks of our health care system, especially those with poor mental health. And then there are those whose lives have been blown apart by drugs. The number of overdose cases have increased over the past few years. The main problem lies in what is being sold. The drugs are cut with cleaners, solvents, etc. No one knows what the effects will be. Explosive compounds that not even the most accustomed users can detect.

With all of these people, Father Paradis sometimes enters into the deepest conversations, discussing their sorrows - and joys - of the day. The small team stops for the time it takes to lend an ear or to take a confession, and then the team is off to another strategic spot; a place where hot air comes up from under the city streets in the winter or a park where the fresh air provides relief from the suffocating heat of the summer. They also visit metro stations, where, depending on the mood or openness of the staff, a person can stay a while to find shelter from the elements. Especially in the wintertime. However, don't count on the Downtown stations during a hockey game, a big show or other event. The stations will have been cleaned. It cannot appear as though homelessness is a reality...

Thankfully, Father Paradis is now in contact with the Mayor of Montreal. He respects Denis Coderre for the openness he truly seems to demonstrate towards the homeless.

The key word: hope

Father Paradis makes no attempt to hide the fact that he truly would like for this flock in the street to join him in prayer at Mass one day. Filling the churches, however, is not the primary goal. If a homeless person simply finds meaning in life and finds a way off the street, all the better. Like the young man encountered at the Saint-Félicien Zoo. From the streets of Montreal to waiting in line to purchase tickets with his wife and two children: the words and actions of Father Paradis yield results. However, they are not always as apparent as in this example. Hope is the key word.

To continue his work, Father Paradis needs support from his bishop, from Kevin, who is his main acolyte, but also from volunteers that do not judge and do not make conversion a priority. He needs people who have an unconditional regard for others. His work also requires financial support. Donations serve to support the two pillars, Kevin and Father Claude, but also to purchase objects of piety - a very popular Notre-Dame-de-la-Rue medallion - and to pay for some food and coffee. We don't provide food like soup kitchens and other organizations do. But it's easier to discern one's inner search for meaning after having a bite to eat.

Also, Father Paradis has already been approached by a shelter to help its clientele in their search for meaning. Those who ask for his services shall receive them.

Let's dream a little with Father Paradis. Another initiative could be born in Montreal. Why not a street community? Like in Brazil, where Éric Guyader, a French layperson, established a Church composed of homeless people. In Salvador de Bahia, the bishop responsible for the area even gave him a church. The people truly live in a community; Mass, prayer, etc. Claude Paradis has travelled there twice to see the work being accomplished.


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