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Robert Kinghorn: Led by the Spirit to joyful encounter

By 
  • November 27, 2021

There is a freedom in walking the streets, following my instincts and seeing where the Spirit will lead. On this particular evening I was unexpectedly led back 14 years to a cold evening on Jan. 11, 2007, but I was taken there by a circuitous route.

The evening started out normal enough as I made my way through the downtown park which in the darkness of the evening was lit up by groupings of tents occupied by the homeless of the city. These tents had been a constant throughout COVID and they seemed to mock the surrounding condominium sale signs calling citizens to live in a world class city in luxury, starting at only $750,000.

My attention was caught by a couple in the distance walking quickly hand-in-hand. She was slim, petite, well-dressed, he was tall, scruffy and at least twice her age. The speed of their walking and the fact that she seemed to be lagging behind a little made me wonder if perhaps she was not a willing participant in this area where pimps have their harem of ladies on the street.

I decided to follow at a distance hoping I might get a chance at some point to see if the young lady was going to be left alone. However, after about 15 minutes of walking, they paused, exchanged a kiss and the lady continued on her own. It seemed that my fears were ill-founded, and so I made  my way back to my usual ministry beat. 

I approached the corner that is the most dangerous area of downtown, inhabited by dealers in the shadows, addicts on the ground and customers skulking away with their “hit.” Across the road there is a church which transforms into a homeless shelter; it too attracts its share of clients for the dealers.

I was on my guard since I am usually approached by people asking for money and when I tell them I do not carry any their response can be unpredictable. The area was hauntingly silent this evening as the intersection came into full view, and I was breathing a sigh of relief when around the corner came a lady precariously balanced on a child’s scooter which stopped within inches of me.

“I’m sorry Father, I can’t believe I almost knocked over a priest, sorry. My boyfriend has my bike, so I am using the scooter to get home quicker.” I introduced myself and asked how she was doing. “I’m Kendra,” she said, “and I’m not doing too well. My father died two months ago. We’ve been estranged and I feel so guilty I was not there when he died. He is Catholic and he had the last rites before he died. I used to be on drugs, but I am clean now and I remember seeing you around these streets and talking with you.”

And so, at this city intersection of drugs and addiction, repentance and forgiveness, mercy and grace, she bowed her head as I prayed that her father is with the Lord and that she finds peace now in the thoughts of the good days of their relationship. I asked a final blessing on her that the Lord will strengthen her in her abstinence, and I passed my card to her with the promise that if she calls me, I will be there for her. My final words to her were, “You are a good lady, I can see in your eyes you have a spirit of faith and hope.”

When I returned home, I searched my notes to see when I had met Kendra before and I came across this entry: Jan. 11, 2007: Met Kendra who was working the streets for drug money, and she was happy to chat for a while. She said she spent Christmas at home with her mother. I asked if her mother knew she was on the streets, and she said she thinks she does, but they do not talk about it. She said her mother only says, “I keep praying for you.” She asked for prayers and for some reason, perhaps it was the softness in her eyes despite having seen the harsher side of life, I said “You are a good person.” She said, “Yes, I have a good heart.”

We never know the time or the season when the Spirit will surprise us with joy. But that evening the Spirit had led me by an unexpected detour to the joy of being reunited with a young lady who had overcome her addiction, and her mother whose prayers and tears of 14 years had been answered.

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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