A man stands with his belongings as homeless people begin removing tent structures in Vancouver after an order to clear the camp because of fire safety concerns at a homeless encampment. CNS photo/Jesse Winter, Reuters

Praying street people find God’s peace

  • May 25, 2023

I did not expect a marching band, or a ticker tape parade, but the evening was a significant one for the ministry of the Church on the Street. It was 17 years to the day that I first walked these streets. I looked up at the sky and thanked Mother Nature for looking kindly on the anniversary by providing a warm evening which bade farewell to an extremely harsh winter.

It was an evening that inspired reminiscing, and coincidentally I had received a call from one of the ladies from the street that I met on my first year of being downtown. Throughout these years, she held a tenuous grasp on sobriety. We had arranged to meet outside a hamburger joint downtown, and as I stood waiting for her usual fashionably late appearance, I realized that this was the very spot the first person approached me all these years ago. A young man in his early 20s had asked me to pray with him. He held my hand as I asked him what he would like me to pray for. His answer startled my naivete, as he said, “I want a woman, and one of these little blue pills.” So, I prayed instead that the Lord would protect him, and give him God’s peace in his life.

I was shocked back into the present as across the street I saw a desperate fight going on. A young man on a bicycle was chasing a girl and upon catching her he had her pinned to the ground. A man with a large dog approached and shouted at the man to let the girl go. Since there was no response, the man and dog walked on, and I crossed the road to try to intervene. On seeing me, the boy let the girl go and she immediately started chasing him as he fled on his bicycle. At that moment, my friend arrived swinging her arms wildly as she always does when she is high on drugs. She had witnessed the scene, and said knowingly, “Sex deal gone bad!”

We went into the hamburger joint and I did not have to ask her what she wanted; it had not changed over the years. She had always been honest with me, and so I got straight to the point. “Are you still seeing your no-good, drug-dealing boyfriend?” She confirmed my suspicion, and then changed the topic to tell me that her mother and eldest daughter were talking to her again. After an hour of reminiscing about our adventures together over the years, we embraced, and she left for home.

I made my way to crack corner, which has a well-earned reputation as the most dangerous area downtown. I crossed to where a small group were loitering around a bus shelter and a young man approached to ask me what I was up to. I told him about the work on the streets and he said, “We need more of that in the Church. I think we need to stop giving simple answers to problems in the world, and to start serving people. I spent two years in seminary back home. I got through philosophy and theology, but I gave it all up.”

I wanted to remind him of the theology of the roulette table, “Sooner or later you have to place your bets!” but instead I simply asked, “So what do you think, is there a God?”

“No one really knows” he said sadly.

As I walked away, a man sitting on the steps of a closed church said, “Good evening, keep up the good work.”

My final route for the evening was chosen to take me to the area of street prostitution, so that I could walk past a lady that had ignored me for about a year. When I first met her, I told her I was not interested in “a date” and she immediately ignored me. Since then, each time she saw me in the distance she would turn away as I passed by. This happens frequently to me, but often something comes up in their lives, and they are ready to talk. Perhaps tonight would be the night.

I crossed the road towards her and said, “Good evening, you know I worry about you.” This time, a large smile escaped her lips. Emboldened by the smile I said, “My name is Robert.” “Mine is Paula,” she whispered.” “Then I’ll see you next Thursday, Paula.” “OK” she said softly.

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

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