Robert Kinghorn

Robert Kinghorn

Robert Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

You can read his column, "The Church on the Street" in The Catholic Register.

You can contact him at robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com

The statistics are chilling even though they are imperfect. CBC reported that in December 2021, 35 names were added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial list of those who died while homeless in Toronto. The actual number of deaths could be higher. 

The grip of a long, cold winter had finally been broken when I walked downtown on a warm St. Patrick’s night in Toronto. It was not long until I came across my first party. Some men were standing outside a shelter drinking and joking. I stopped and wished them a happy St. Patrick’s Day and asked if they lived in the shelter. Ray, standing next to me, said he used to live there but had moved up a step and now had his own apartment.

There is an old saying, “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” The truth is that we are all a complex blend of saint and sinner whose scales of sanctity teeter on a delicate balance throughout life.

I am often asked to speak to groups about my experiences on the streets of the city, and what it means for each of us to be the Church on the Street. Recently at the end of one of these talks I was asked, “What do those on the street need the most?” I could do no better than to quote one of my heroes, Fr. Greg Boyle who works with the gang members in Los Angeles and who said, “Gang members need hope. They live with a lethal absence of hope.”

It was one of these soft evenings when a gentle snowfall enveloped the drabness of the streets, and with no breeze to speak of, the chill had been taken from the air. As I walked the downtown streets the ancient hymn came to my mind, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow.”

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.

She was only 16, a child by all accounts, and she had been sent to the big city from her home in northern Canada for treatment at a mental health clinic.

It has been a month that has reminded me of how relentlessly unforgiving the street is to its people. Like a scorned lover, it will try to grasp them from the arms of freedom to ensnare them in their old ways.

Warm weather can bring out the best and the worst in the parishioners of the church on the street. It can lull them into a state of lassitude that can only be equalled by a homily that has lost sight of its destination, or else stir them into frenetic anger fuelled by an assortment of illicit stimulants.

There are some days it is harder than others to get up the energy, and indeed the courage to make the trip downtown to the Church on the Street, and this was one of them.

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