This past Good Friday, inmates and former inmates, along with members and previous members of the homeless community, gathered at Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes chapel in downtown Montreal to mount their annual production representing the Passion of Christ.

Source - by Alexis Drapeau-Bordage - April 11, 2023 (Translated by the Archdiocese of Montreal)

For the past approximately 15 years, the organization Présence Compassion has been putting on this Eastertide play with free admission for the public. 

In silence, the 18 actors portrayed the various Biblical characters for this 2023 edition of the project. In all, including the technical crew and the costume and set design team, 32 participants contributed to the project this year. 

“I know how hard they’ve worked; I know that every one of them is dealing with his or her own situations and circumstances and life challenges. But during that whole time, they put their own concerns to one side in order to concentrate on Jesus and to give Him thanks,” recounts the chapel’s vicar, Father Guy Bérubé. 

Voices and narration were provided by readers, while the characters moved about inside the church portraying in mime the different episodes of the Lord’s Passion. 

To complement the action of the play, a choir was on hand to accompany many of the scenes as, for instance, when Mary discovers her son nailed to the cross. 

The Ste-Catherine St. church was filled with spectators for the nearly 90-minute show. 

Getting off the street 

As well as commemorating the sufferings of Jesus, the event also served as a testimony to the very contemporary suffering experienced by the members of Montreal’s homeless community. 

Diane, who has been homeless in the past, spoke of her experiences living on the street. Now in her sixties, Diane shared her life story: from her difficult childhood living with a father who was violent and alcohol-dependent, to her eventually breaking out of the homeless situation with the help of Présence Compassion

As a teenager, she had become involved with drugs, leaving the family home at the age of 17. She then fell into an abusive relationship with a man, all the while dealing with ongoing confrontational situations with her mother. Finally, she was left with nowhere to turn. 

“I found myself on the street. I was beat. When I realized I didn’t have anywhere to go, I slept in a park with my bags,” she says. At that point, she began staying in women’s shelters where, in the atmosphere that was rife with quarrels, she had trouble sleeping. 

Places in these shelters are limited, and so she was forced to sleep in abandoned apartments or on the sidewalk. She adds, “I’ve often slept on the grounds of this chapel.” 

During her years on the street, Diane lost many friends “who died from the cold, by suicide, from drugs or other causes.” In desperation, she eventually turned to God and met Daniel Paradis, the head of Présence Compassion, and he helped her get back on her feet. Today, Diane can proudly affirm that “I’ve had a subsidized apartment for several months, I have a job, and by the grace of God I am managing.” 

Difficulties seeking financing 

Twenty-two years ago, Daniel Paradis founded the organization Présence Compassion to provide assistance outreach in the street, in the home, in hospital or in prisons and elsewhere. The organization’s work involves encouraging prevention and coordinating intervention and follow-up, in addition to arranging the provision of meals for the needy and organizing excursions in nature. 

Daniel Paradis, who has been named lay chaplain in the street, affirms the religious dimension of the Présence Compassion initiative, despite the complications with regard to financing which that particular status entails. 

He explains that, for denominational organizations like the one he supervises, it is more difficult to obtain financing from the government; for this reason, the organization’s operations depend entirely on donations from individuals, as well as from certain religious communities. 

Présence Compassion is also now dealing with the looming threat of losing their headquarters, since a recent change of landlord may force the organization to move out of the space at 1083 Saint-Denis.