Archbishop-elect Francis Leo at his episcopal ordination in Montreal in 2022. Leo has been named the new Archbishop of Toronto. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Montreal

A street-wise invitation to Archbishop Leo

  • April 6, 2023

I was born and raised in Glasgow and it does not take long for those who hear my Scottish accent to know I am not a native-born Canadian. However, it does cause confusion at times, as I found out when I came upon a man standing outside a downtown shelter. The shelter is in the heart of the drug area, and so I am always prepared for many and varied conversations.  

“Hi, how are you this evening?” I asked the middle-aged gentleman hanging around the doorway. Seeing my clerical collar, he did what many do and started to quote the Bible. 

“Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. “That’s what Jesus taught and look what the evil people did. They put Him on a Cross. There’s so many evil people, but I love everyone. If we hate, then we just increase the hate in the world, and it comes back to bite us. Are you Scottish?” 

“Yes,” I said, “I’m from Glasgow.” 

“So did your parents teach you English?” he asked. “No,” I said. “I just speak with a Scottish accent.” 

Undeterred he said: “So you can speak Scottish and English. Are you speaking Scottish or English now?” At this point I felt I was in the midst of the hilarious YouTube sketch, “Comic Relief — David Tennant is Catherine Tate’s new English teacher,” and decided to say goodbye to him. 

I had only walked a short distance when one of the women from the shelter called out. As I turned around, she asked, “Would you like a date tonight?”  

I laughed and said, “I don’t think my wife would give me permission.” 

Suddenly she saw my clerical collar and exclaimed, “Oh, no. Are you a minister? She started laughing and said, “Okay, ask your wife and let me know.” 

By then the darkness had enveloped the evening, and the temperature had dropped to below zero. It was no time for a young lady to be pushing a stroller with a young baby lightly covered in blankets. I see this often on my walks, and it breaks my heart. I always admire the resilience of such mothers. As I always do, I said a prayer that both will find protection from the weather and from the harshness of the streets. 

For some reason the police and ambulance sirens were particularly noisy that evening, providing a constant background scream wherever I turned. Perhaps because of this I was extra edgy, and when I was in a crosswalk a young man came running behind me. I jumped and whirled around. 

“Sorry man, no harm, sorry,” he said.

I soon encountered a much friendlier welcome outside a close-by shelter. Normally there are men in various stages of sobriety, but that evening all was quiet on the street. 

“Are you a priest?” one man asked. When I said I was a Deacon, I was surprised he knew the difference. 

“My father is in the Knights of Columbus up north, and he and my mother are very involved in the Church. I was in the army but was discharged and got into drugs. I almost died twice of an overdose but was brought back both times. I wish I could get clean. I hate it like this, and these drugs on the street are killing people. “

He mentioned someone who died the previous week of an overdose: “It’s the fentanyl. Everything is laced with fentanyl.” 

I thanked him for letting me know about the woman.

“I knew her quite well,” I said. “She was a fixture on these streets for years.” 

“I can’t get a job either,” he continued. “I have a prison record now after spending four years in jail. It’s not as though I’m stupid. I have an IQ of 145. I’m a parishioner at St. Michael’s Cathedral, and I pray when I go to church. Hey, I hear we are getting a new Archbishop next week.” 

“Yes,” I said. “Cardinal Collins has retired. Bishop Francis Leo is taking his place.”  

I handed him my street business card and asked him to keep in touch with me if he needed anything. He turned around and with a wave, returned to the shelter.

As I did with his predecessor, I would like to invite our new Archbishop Francis Leo to join me on the street some evening, to meet his parishioners, those of the Church on the Street. 

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

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