The Catholic Register
September 10, 2023

The Church returns to the streets

The Church returns to the streets

Kevin Cardin, right, with a Notre-Dame-de-la-rue volunteer, distributes food to Montreal’s homeless.

(Photo by Peter Stockland)

  • avatar
    Anna Farrow
    The Catholic Register

Kevin Cardin doesn’t fit the image of a typical church worker. With his shaved head, extensive tattoos and baggy clothes, Cardin melds easily into an urban landscape of bars and skate parks but sticks out as he walks up to the doors of the archdiocesan offices behind Marie Reine du Monde Cathedral in downtown Montreal.

For the past 10 years, though, it is to those offices that Cardin reports for duty before heading out into the streets to provide food and a word of encouragement to the many homeless who live in the parks and metro stations surrounding the Cathedral.

Since 2013, Cardin has been a co-worker with Fr. Claude Paradis in a project called Notre-Dame de la rue. The initiative sprang from a simple idea. As so many people feel, rightly or wrongly, they cannot come into the Church, Paradis decided to bring the Church to them.

Archbishop Christian Lépine embraced the plan and gave Paradis permission to operate from the Cathedral. Notre-Dame de la rue is, according to Lépine, “a presence of the Church to give encouragement.”

In the beginning, Paradis would go out most nights, not just to distribute food but to administer the sacraments, to hear confessions and celebrate the Eucharist. Now, says Cardin, age is catching up to Paradis and it isn’t easy for him to keep up that early, tireless pace.

COVID also brought challenges to the mission. According to Cardin, the number of volunteers accompanying Paradis on his visits to his “parishioners” has dropped off since 2020.

“People are afraid of getting sick,” said Cardin.

But Cardin goes out whether there are volunteers to assist or not. On Thursdays, he goes down to the food court near Gare Centrale to collect an order of 50 hot chicken dinners. A local businesswoman has donated money so that the hot meals can be provided every week. Cardin rolls the dolly into Bonaventure Metro and starts to hand out the boxes — he is clearly recognized by the men who spend their days on the benches and floors of the station, and many anticipate his arrival.

Cardin and Paradis may not look as though they have much in common, but they share more than appearances suggest. Both the young man and the Catholic priest were once addicted to drugs, and both have lived rough.

After a childhood spent in foster care, Cardin got clean while he was in prison. Paradis was living on the street and addicted to crack cocaine but after a powerful experience of God’s love and mercy he was led, ultimately, to the priesthood.

“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 by what instinct I turned back in there,” he says.

In December 2016, Paradis spent 23 days living on the winter streets of Montreal as a way of bringing awareness to the hardships endured by the homeless, especially in the winter months. His vigil received a lot of media attention, both from Catholic and secular outlets. But the fact that Paradis had once been homeless himself seems to have escaped the notice of the mainstream media.

For Paradis, as for Cardin, the place he used to live makes all the difference to where he now chooses to serve.

“The street brought me to the Church and the Church in the end brought me back to the street,” Paradis says.

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