Archbishop Christian Lépine will celebrate Mass in memory of those deceased this past year with no known next of kin, to be held on Wednesday, September 16, 2 p.m. at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. The Mass will be concelebrated by Father Claude Paradis, friend of the homeless, in collaboration with the management and staff of Repos Saint-François d'Assise.
Father Claude Paradis works as a priest at Notre-Dame-de-la-Rue. In addition to caring for the homeless by offering them a presence for more than 30 years, he gives special importance to celebrating the memory of those who have died during the year and who have not been claimed by their families.
Drug overdose deaths: a distressing reality
This year’s celebration will take on a particular character due to the current high incidence of deaths by drug overdose that has plagued Montreal’s homeless community: “This summer, we have had some 50 overdoses among our youth,” says Father Claude, “so we have to address this reality more this year.”
According to the street priest, the increase in mortality among drug users has a very probable link with the COVID crisis: “The drugs were no longer crossing borders because of COVID, so the pushers cut the drugs with fentanyl to make them cheaper, resulting in a lot of overdoses.” He explains that fentanyl is a substance that does not cause cardiac arrest; however, it does cause respiratory arrest in young people who use too much of it.
This situation directly affects Father Claude in his ministry. Many of the young people frequented Notre-Dame de la rue and are among the unclaimed deceased whose memory will be honoured on September 16. They all have a name.
In his work, Father Claude himself tries to make the homeless people he meets aware of the risks of taking toxic substances: “We talk to them, but there are some who consume them anyway. We have to be there for them, we have to be present, they need help.”
What can we do for them? Or rather with them...
We often feel helpless in dealing with a homeless person, not knowing how to act, what to say to them, etc. Asked about this, Father Paradis’ answer spontaneously comes out: “What I try to do is to take them to a restaurant. It’s rare that I give money. Then I try to find out what their first name is. And we try to look at them, to see them, not to pass by without seeing them.”
“There is a lot of loneliness, people are left on their own. There’s a lot of rejection, people are pushed aside,” says Claude Paradis. Thus, being present directly responds to this primary need, which he has observed over time by being in contact with each one of these people. “We are a Church presence, because I am a priest.” In his eyes this changes something: “They know that I am a priest, so they speak to me about it, they speak to me about God.” All these beautiful individuals are, in a way, Father Paradis’ family.
The celebration on September 16th will be an opportunity to raise awareness about the sad reality of drug use and overdoses, while returning to the essence of the gospel message: “They have the right to dignity, no matter what they have been, they have the right to be celebrated.”
Many of their friends, affected by all these deaths, will be in attendance. The homeless are often confronted with the death of their friends: “For sure, it makes them reflect. They ask themselves, ‘Will I be next?’” says Father Paradis.
A tough time for the homeless
During the health crisis with COVID, Claude Paradis observed a drop in the number of volunteers in the shelters, creating a huge slowdown. Several deaths are possibly linked to this lack of resources and increased isolation. The celebration will also pay tribute to the homeless affected by this very difficult situation.
One thing is certain: it does take a Father Paradis to praise and honour the souls of the homeless in Heaven.
All are invited to join the celebration.
When? Wednesday, September 16, 2020, at 2 p.m.
Where? Mary Queen of the World Cathedral