Montreal, Canada: Claude Paradis was impoverished and homeless, living on the streets of Montreal, Canada. He struggled with addiction to both alcohol and drugs, with a future so bleak, he considered ending his own life.
He did not end his life, however, and today he is a priest who dedicates his time to serving the physical and spiritual needs of those trapped in poverty, prison and prostitution.
“The street brought me to the Church and the Church in the end brought me back to the street,” the priest told the Journal Metro.
Last December, as a sign of his closeness and solidarity with the homeless, Fr. Paradis decided to sleep on the street for the whole month, to care for the homeless people there with solidarity and charity.
His hope was that he could accompany people in a difficult situation while also making the citizens of Montreal aware of the harsh reality faced by those living on the street.
Fr. Paradi founded an institution called Notre-Dame-de-la-rue (Our Lady of the Street). Each night, he goes out to bring food and shelter to those living on the streets. He also administers the sacraments, celebrates the Eucharist and even presides at funerals.
The priest is accompanied by one of his co-workers, Kevin Cardin, who also was addicted to drugs, but found help, changed his life and now has a family.
Notre-Dame-de-la-rue has the support of the Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal, who has described the initiative as “a presence of the Church to give encouragement.” It also has the support of the city.
“Our mission is especially to give encouragement. Unlike the shelters, we go out to the people, a bit like a door-to-door service. We talk to them, sometimes we pray together before they go back to face the harshness of the street.”
Fr. Paradis knows how hard life on the street is. After growing up in the Gaspé region and working in Cowansville as a nurse, he came to Montreal 25 years ago.
However, he was unable to find a job. “Isolation and despair took hold of me,” he said.
Living on the street, he thought about committing suicide. “I started doing cocaine and then crack,” he recalled.
In a letter posted on the website of La Victoire de l’Amour (the Victory of Love), Fr. Paradis tells how he met the Lord.
“I had the privilege of meeting God just at the moment I was doubting Him. On a little back street in Montreal, abandoned by people, there was nobody there. Passing by the old church, impelled by I don’t know what instinct, I turned back in there.”
At that moment, he had a deep and intense encounter with God. He realized he did not want to die, but rather wanted to become “a man of the Church.”
Fr. Paradis went on to fight his addictions and now ministers to many people who face the same challenges he struggled with years ago.
The 57-year-old priest has dedicated the rest of his life to serving the poor, saying “on the street is where I want to be, until I die.”
(Catholic News Agency)