From October to May, on the third Saturday of the month, they gather at 9:00 a.m. at the parish, located in the Parc-Extension area of Montréal. Then, with joy and in good spirits, they get busy in the kitchen, preparing 50 lunch bags. A little before noon, they head out by car or by Metro to go downtown. They usually distribute the bags from west to east. They form two or three groups and begin at the Atwater Metro station, over to the Place des arts Metro station. They travel on foot and reach out to people in need, whether they are on the sidewalk or in the entrance of a Metro station.
Not long after he arrived in Québec, after finishing his French-language courses, Br. Joachim gathered some youth to pray and learn about Franciscan spirituality. He figured that the best way to introduce youth to Francis of Assisi was to invite them to turn towards the needs of the poorest of the poor. Br. Joachim explains, “In order to live deeply Franciscan spirituality in daily life, we decided to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. The youth of Saint Francis parish have made this a monthly activity.”
At the beginning, the youth felt uncomfortable making contact with the homeless. For some, preconceived ideas or fear made it difficult for them to approach homeless people. “It wasn’t easy to approach them, because none of them had any experience with this, and we couldn’t predict what people’s reaction would be. So before we started, I shared with them the experience I had with the homeless in South Korea. Then, each of the young people was invited to talk about their first meeting with the homeless, or their first impression. When we prayed, we asked the Holy Spirit to help us. That helped us a lot. And now, we approach the people easily, with pleasure,” says the 38-year-old priest. “The youth changed when they had contact with the homeless,” he adds.
According to Br. Joachim, it seems that “with time, the youth make conversation easily with the people as they give out the bags, always with a smile and with love. I think some of the homeless people recognize us. Sometimes they ask us to pray for them. Some cry when they tell us their life story. That really touches us.”
Although the contents change from time to time, each of the 50 bags usually includes two sandwiches, two chicken wings, two mandarin oranges, eggs, a small coffee or hot chocolate, chips or chocolate.
Around 3:00 p.m., once all the bags have been distributed, the group meets up for coffee and to talk about their day. The youth are in a good mood as they share their experiences with Br. Joachim and Sr. Marianna.
Of course, it takes money to do this work with the homeless downtown: hundreds of dollars per year. The money to purchase the food comes from donations from individuals as well as a special collection and funds raised at the Saint Francis parish Christmas bazaar.
Financial donations and prayers are always welcome!