Pope Francis makes a surprise visit to the rehabilitation center in Quebec

Father André Morency can’t believe he’s seen Pope Francis in person, let alone at a rehabilitation center in Quebec.

The priest held back tears on Thursday when the pontiff stopped by Fraternité Saint-Alphonse, a facility for people with substance use disorders in Beauport, Que., northeast of Quebec City. Earlier in the day, the pope celebrated mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.

“He was smiling. His eyes were 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 center, offering gifts including rosaries and an icon of Mary and Jesus.

During the secret stop, Morency says, a bodyguard introduced him to the pope. It was then that the pontiff handed him envelopes containing a $20,000 donation to the fraternity.

“He grabs my hand and puts it in my hand. He said: ‘It’s for the poor, Father Morency'”, recalls the priest.

It was only after the procession had left that Morency realized what was in the envelopes.

“We always try not to cry,” he said.

Promise kept

The priest says the center owes the visit to Quebec Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, who has promised to bring the pope to the organization if the pontiff ever visits Quebec.

The Fraternité Saint-Alphonse received this icon of Mary and Jesus as a gift after the visit of Pope Francis. (Louis-Philippe Arsenault/Radio-Canada)

When Morency learned that the pope would make a tour of Canada, he wrote to the archbishop of Quebec to remind him of his promise. And the archbishop kept his word.

To ensure the presence of volunteers and residents, Morency invited them to a special dinner to thank them for their involvement in the centre.

He says the pope’s surprise visit moved locals, even non-believers.

“There were some who were crying, who had watery eyes. His presence at home may have triggered something inside these people,” Morency said.

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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