On September 28, 2017, Father Claude Paradis, founder of Notre-Dame-de-la-rue, presided a funeral Mass at the Repos Saint-François d'Assise, for 101 deceased whose bodies have not been claimed over the past year.

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink..." These were the first words that Father Claude Paradis pronounced on Thursday, September 28, at a short but moving funeral in memory of the people who died during the year and whose bodies have never been claimed by their families.

Because "each person has the right to a proper burial," Father Paradis, a priest from the Archdiocese of Montreal, conducts a celebration during which he honours the memory of approximately one hundred people from the Montreal area whose bodies have never been claimed, either because their families were never found or did not want to take care of the funeral. He does this every year, at Repos Saint-François d'Assise.  

"Lord, please remember all the good that these deceased had done during their lives. Remember the affection they had displayed to their friends, and the services they had rendered to others. Do not forget any of the acts of kindness that they had made throughout their existence." He then went on to say, before some 150 individuals gathered at the cemetery, "Make it so that they live by your side, surrounded by the love for which they have searched for so long."  

He then asked the people attending to place 101 white roses - one for each of the departed - in a bouquet of flowers above the mass grave where the ashes of these people have been buried.  

"The people we are remembering today had, each in their own way, been saints and blesseds," assured Father Paradis, founder of Notre-Dame de la rue, an organization that works with Montreal's homeless.  

Dying alone

In our society, "there are more and more people who are alone. And who die alone," stated Alain Chartier, Assistant Director General of Repos Saint-François d'Assise. "An event like this one makes people feel uneasy." He said that upon learning about this ceremony, people call the cemetery, and even call Father Paradis, to share their discomfort about this situation or to express their own distress.  

"Just this morning, an elderly lady called me," added Father Claude Paradis. She is alone and lives with her three cats. "They're all I have," she told him. She asked him, "Can I write in my will that you will take care of me after I die?" He clearly accepted.  

"Any loving gesture, no matter how small, towards the poor and unwanted, is important to Jesus," he stated at the end of the ceremony. "They are gone, but they are not forgotten. May everyone remember that they are our brothers and sisters. Amen."   

Father Paradis then unveiled and blessed three commemorative headstones set up at the head of the grave where the ashes of these people have been placed. Next to the monuments, two public benches call to passersby to sit and say "a prayer for the unclaimed departed."