Street priest’ meets his flock where they live

By on January 1, 2007

A dozen people, many of them homeless or mentally ill, approach Vancouver street priest Rev. Matthew Johnson on a typical walkabout.

Rev. Matthew Johnson of St. James, Vancouver, has been serving as a “street priest” in the city’s downtown east side for more than a year-and-a-half.

According to Topic, the newspaper of the diocese of New Westminster, for three to four hours, several times a week, Mr. Johnson walks through streets lined with rooming houses and social agencies, “passing many who are pushing shopping carts, sleeping in doorways, even dealing in drugs – just to be a visible sign of the church’s concern and God’s love.”

A dozen people typically approach Mr. Johnson, who listens to their concerns. “He will pray with them if they ask. He will invite them to mass at St. James if that’s appropriate. He may give the person a blessing,” wrote Neale Adams, Topic editor, who accompanied Mr. Johnson on one of his walkabouts. “Often, he lets people know where there’s food, shelter, clothing, or a service agency that can help. He never hands out money.”

The people Mr. Johnson meets come from different backgrounds: some have mental problems, some are aboriginal, many are disabled and have health problems, some are immigrants who are struggling to get by.

“You cannot do this work and not become closer with Christ,” said Mr. Johnson. “If you start doing this work, your own relationship with God evolves. You learn to trust that God is in it with you, that God can make all things new.”

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