During a series of conversations with Jean-Marie Lapointe, Fr. Claude Paradis sheds light on that strength which embodies Notre-Dame de la rue’s mission of helping the homeless.
More accustomed to meeting people who live on the street than dictating books, Fr. Claude Paradis presented his first book in a state of high emotion. In the first row sat his mother, his aunts and his cousins who came to support him, as did his adoptive son Kevin as well as many volunteers and friends of Notre-Dame de la rue.
The book is prefaced by journalist and radio host Isabelle Maréchal. As the organization’s godmother, Isabelle Maréchal is particularly touched by people “who are outcast and by Claude: I fell in love because he is a man who is incredibly generous and who always wants to give back.”
Episcopal vicar Msgr. Roger Dufesne was present to introduce the evening: “Times are changing: people used to go to see their priest in his church; now it is the priest who goes out to meet them in the streets. Usually people confess to the priest; in this book, it is the priest who is confessing!” He expressed the hope that this book will allow each person to be changed in a way that will allow them to be touched by people who live on the street.
To be sure, it is more than just friendship that unites the book’s two authors. Complicity (like the image on the book’s front cover), a common history, lots of emotion and a deep respect were evident in their conversations during the evening. “I met Claude during my programs, but there are many other things that tie us together: our past substance use, our common clinic: we had the same doctor and the same therapist” said Jean-Marie Lapointe. For Fr. Paradis, “Jean-Marie’s is a friendship that grows each day: what luck it was to have met him!”
The two friends broached the delicate subject of helping the homeless. For Jean-Marie Lapointe, it is essential that we invest money and mental health resources: “All those who end up on the street become depressed.” Fr. Paradis reminded him of a program in New York that offered homeless people an apartment that was free for one year. In the end, what was offered to them was more than just a roof over their heads: “at the end of one year each one of them overcame their situation: no more substance abuse, generally employed, health care, a social life, plans for the future.”
The two authors also spoke about their past, and their demons. Demons that now allow them, each in their own way, to feel close to the people they meet on the street. Fr. Paradis explained: “having known the street (…), I understand it, and through Notre-Dame de la rue we want to bring a spiritual presence, help to find meaning in what people are living. The most important thing is to know the first name of the people you meet, to love them freely and without judgment: to accept them where they are and not where we imagine they should be.” Jean-Marie Lapointe added “helping helps!”
Fr. Paradis concluded with a word from Saint Paul: “Your weakness will become your strength: It is the street that brought me to the Church and since I have been ordained, the Church has sent me back to the street. I often say, the street is my Church: we want to make people happy, as happy as we are.”