Their names are Lionel, Jean-Guy, Benoît, Pierrette, Jacques, Ezekiel, Alexandre, Raymond, Michel, Yvette, Marc, André, Gilles, Danielle, Richard, Pierre, Gordon, Dominique… If this seems like a long list, just know that street priest Fr. Claude Paradis took the time, during a special commemoration ceremony held on Sept. 25, to name all 75 homeless people who died this year.

As God calls us all by our name, Father Claude Paradis took the time to name one by one the unidentified homeless people who died this year in the Montreal region. During an extremely deep, simple, but touching ceremony held at Repos Saint-François d’Assise Cemetery, some people who felt called were assembled to pay tribute to the deceased women and men. It took place in the compassion section 6D, where a small plaque commemorates the event.

This is a touching initiative, but the reason behind it is even more touching. Father Claude Paradis, founding priest of Notre-Dame-de-la-Rue, was animated by the inner desire born from a heartfelt plea that came from a homeless man who told him: “The only rooftop I’ll have will be my funeral urn, because I never had any rooftop and won’t have any until I die”, and that made no sense to me, so I felt I had to do something”. This is why every year, for the last four years, this man has been presiding the funeral of the homeless people he interacts with on the streets on a daily basis. He is happy to notice that this phenomenon of unidentified deceased decreases year after year, people being increasingly more aware of the situation: “Last year, there were 144 and this year, 75. The year prior to that one, there were about 300 […], just [here] in Montreal.”

Claude’s Friend Claude

As for Claude—another Claude—he attended the event with heartfelt emotion: “I came because […] I’ve been living on the street for the last five years, because I interact with men living on the streets. Homeless men, I’ve seen some die and they are here […] this is my way to say goodbye”. He adds, smiling: “By saying goodbye this way […], I think the message comes through.” He was the one Father Paradis invited first to lay down a white rose on the grave of the deceased people on that day. As for the other 74 roses, everyone was called according to one’s heart to lay down a rose for each name listed. Claude lives on the streets and works with Maison du Père, another organization that takes care of the homeless in Montreal. The man concludes, saying: “I like coming here to help my friends […] and my friend Claude [Paradis]”. He also had the opportunity to hold in his hands a small dove he sent free, another moving gesture unfolding during the commemoration.

A Street Priest among the Homeless

Father Claude Paradis has been working for 22 years with the forsaken of society, those whose home are the streets. The most beautiful, he finds, is the “mutual support” uniting these people and their “respect” for him: “Often, when I take my leave from a group of young people, they are the ones who get up and bless me. It is not the priest who blesses the young, but the young who bless the priest.” A wonderful sign of God’s presence at the heart of the world.