Father André Morency can’t believe he saw Pope Francis in person, let alone at a Quebec rehabilitation centre.
The priest held back tears Thursday when the pontiff stopped by the Fraternité Saint-Alphonse, a facility for people struggling with substance use disorders in Beauport, Que., northeast of Quebec City. Earlier that day, the Pope held mass in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
“He was smiling. His eyes shining,” said Morency, who founded the fraternity some 30 years ago. “For me, it’s a big wink from God for the Saint-Alphonse Fraternity.”
Pope Francis spent about 20 minutes at the centre, giving presents, including rosaries and an icon of Mary and Jesus.
During the secret stop, Morency says, a bodyguard introduced him to the Pope. That’s when the pontiff handed him envelopes containing a $20,000 donation to the fraternity.
“He grabs my hand and puts that in my hand. He said, ‘That’s for the poor, Father Morency,” the priest recalled.
Only after the procession left did Morency realize what was in the envelopes.
“We are still trying not to cry,” he said.
The priest says the centre owes the visit to Quebec Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, who promised to bring the Pope to the organization if the pontiff ever travelled to Quebec.
When Morency learned the Pope would tour Canada, he wrote to the Archbishop of Quebec to remind him of his promise. And the Archibishop kept his word.
To ensure volunteers and residents would be present, Morency invited them for a special dinner to thank them for their involvement at the centre.
He says the Pope’s surprise visit moved the residents, even non-believers.
“There were some who were crying, who had teary eyes. His presence at the home may have triggered something inside these people,” Morency said.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.