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From addiction to ordination

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A homeless man's journey to priesthood
MONTREAL (CNA)

Photo Caption: A homeless woman sits on a sidewalk in 2014 in New York City. Claude Paradis also lived life as a homeless person in Montreal, only to find God and his salvation. (CNS photo/Justin lane, EPA)

Claude Paradis was impoverished and homeless, living on the streets of Montreal. He struggled with addiction to both alcohol and drugs, and with his future bleak, he considered suicide.

But he didn’t end his life 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 Métro newspaper.

In December, as a sign of his closeness to the homeless, Father Paradis decided to sleep on the street for the entire month, caring for the homeless 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.

Father Paradis founded Notre-Dame-de-la-rue (Our Lady of the Street), an organization that is supported by the City of Montreal and by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, who describes the initiative as “a presence of the Church to give encouragement.”

Each night, Father Paradis heads out to offer 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.

“Our mission is especially to give encouragement,” Father Paradis said. “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.”

He knows too well how hard life on the street is. After growing up in the Gaspé region and working in Cowansville as a nurse, he arrived in Montreal 25 years ago.

Unable to find work, he said “Isolation and despair took hold of me.”

Living on the street, he considered suicide and started using cocaine and crack.

In a letter posted on the La Victoire de l'Amour (the Victory of Love), a French Catholic media website, Father 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.”

Father 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.”

 

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