On Thursday, November 2, The Bridge (Le Pont), dedicated to providing temporary shelter to asylum seekers, was inaugurated in a festive atmosphere. Located in the rectory of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Parish, it has been housing families, women and children.
Despite the rain, approximately fifty people and some of the media attended the centre's inauguration. Archbishop Christian Lépine and Msgr. Pierre Blanchard, Episcopal Vicar to the Cultural and Ritual Communities for the Archdiocese of Montreal, said a few words during the press conference that preceded the traditional cutting of the ribbon.
More bridges, less walls
Msgr. Blanchard explained that the centre owes its name to the fact that a "bridge is used to get from one place to another. From where one is to where one is going. That's what the people who temporarily reside here are in the process of doing. They left their native countries and are now here, waiting to find an apartment." Msgr. Pierre Blanchard also used this image to describe the work performed by the staff and volunteers. "They try to forge ties with the residents."
The Archbishop of Montreal, Most Reverend Christian Lépine, expressed that the centre's opening is a venture that he is "proud" of. "It is a human venture. We sometimes think that the Church only takes care of Catholics. This is not the case. Of course we take care of them! But we take care of everyone. It's the thing to do. We should not only open the door to our home, but also the door to our hearts," he declared, wearing the t-shirt bearing the centre's slogan: "More bridges less walls."
"We should not only open the door to our home, but also the door to our hearts."
Two residents shared the experience they had at the centre. Barry Aminata, who came from Benin, spoke on behalf of the women residents, highlighting the "warm" welcome she received upon her arrival. Soad Ali, an Egyptian, spoke highly of the family atmosphere at The Bridge. "We are a big family," she said to the applause of the guests.
Sign of a presence
In an interview, Archbishop Lépine insisted on the necessity to provide "balm for the hearts of those who are suffering" despite the criticism surrounding the influx of asylum seekers. "The questions raised by the public are legitimate. However, it is important to remember that a human being remains a human being, regardless of the situation."
Brian McDonough, Director of the Social Action Office for the Archdiocese of Montreal, added by saying that The Bridge is "an experience that reflects the Church's preferential option for the poor proclaimed by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. He encourages us to place the vulnerable at the centre of the Church."
Deeply moved, Bishop Alain Faubert, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, confided that his heart was "filled with joy for the people living here, for the staff and for the volunteers. I said to myself that this is how the Gospel bears fruit. It is good to declare our values, our professions of faith, and to explain them. However, it is even more beautiful to see them take shape, to see them embodied by a project such as this one." For him, it is a "sign of God's presence." "God is here," confirmed the Auxiliary Bishop amidst the cries of the children running among the guests.
Arthur Durieux, the centre's coordinator, said that the staff and volunteers do everything in their power to make the residents feel like they are part of a family. "This is not a treatment centre. We are in a home. We are home. They are home."
Mr. Durieux confirmed that he is organizing an evening to celebrate Christmas. "The children really enjoyed Halloween. So we will give them the opportunity to experience the holidays."
He spoke of the donors' generosity. "This week, we received $500 worth of victuals! It's truly wonderful!"
Alessandra Santopadre, the person in charge of the Archdiocese of Montreal's refugee sponsorship program and the project's initiator, took the opportunity to specify the most pressing needs of the residents. "Toilet paper! We're going through it like crazy!" she declared in a burst of laughter.
On a more serious note, Alessandra Santopadre said that rice, eggs and milk are food items that are always welcome. "There are currently seven residents at the centre. Those who arrived in early October have found an apartment. Others will be arriving at the centre within the next few days. Donations must therefore keep coming in," she added, tired but very pleased with the support from the parishes and the Archdiocese.
Take a look at the Photo Album here