Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 4, 2006
Aids care 'all begins with tenderness'
Writer/priest practises God's love with those with AIDS
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"I have many questions to ask you today, Lord.
Drouin wrote a book about his experiences meeting with people dying of AIDS called It All Begins with Tenderness. Published by Penumbra Press and still in print, in 2000 it won a God Uses Ink (now Write! Canada) award sponsored by Faith Today magazine for best non-fiction book in the Christian living category.
Drouin used the story of the prodigal son as a theme running through his accounts of stories that he changed slightly to respect confidentiality. Simple and heartbreaking ly beautiful, they describe encounters that are fraught with holiness and mystery.
In the book's introduction he tells the story of seven-year old Etienne, who kept asking questions like "Why can my friends go out and play in the snow while I have to stay in bed?"
"One day when I was with Etienne I risked establishing a point of support," Drouin wrote.
"If you like, we could tell Jesus what you just told me," he said to the boy.
"Hand in hand, eyes closed the better to concentrate, we spoke to Jesus: 'I have many questions to ask you today, Lord, Why . . .?'"
"Uncovering the points of support of a spiritual life is a way of personalizing a sometimes difficult journey," he wrote. "It is a way of acknowledging the presence of God in our lives. It is a return to those moments when God revealed himself in our lives and warmed our hearts."
He writes about ministering to two gay men, a couple who died within six months of each other. When the first man became ill, another priest ordered his partner out of the room.
The last time Drouin saw him, the man was on his death bed and unable to speak, but communicated by pressing Drouin's hand three times to let him know he wanted the prayers for the dying.
Another story concerns a man who was abandoned by his large Quebec family because of his gay lifestyle. Even the man's mother would not come visit. The man asked Drouin if he could call him "Pops."
Drouin was thrilled, and meditated in the story about how God the Father is a "Pops" who wants to bless his children. When no one showed up for the man's funeral, Drouin had his cremated remains buried in his own personal plot.
Another family, instead of abandoning their gay son, brought Drouin a special memento the son had set aside for the priest to give him after his death. The family also said to him, "We have lost a son, would you agree to replace him?"
Accepting the invitation has included visits to the Saguenay region where he met the big extended family where the son's rediscovered faith while dying made an impact on all who knew him.
Not all his efforts met with such welcome. Some people resisted any attempt at ministry. Some chose to die alone. In those lives, Drouin wrote he was confronted with mystery.
For the past 25 years, Drouin has served as a parish priest at the French-speaking Parish of St. Anne not far from the cathedral where he was baptized and received his first Holy Communion. Prior to becoming a parish priest he taught school in the archdiocese. He said his mother's kiss led to his desire to become ordained.
"Without this time in prayer, we don't have the swing."
- Fr. André Drouin
He recalls that his mother was pregnant at the time he was preparing for First Communion. In those days women did not go out when they were pregnant, so she was unable to attend. His father accompanied him and when he returned home, that's when his mother kissed him in a way that changed his life.
"I don't remember being kissed like that," he said. It was so warm, he realized "Something very great has happened."
He couldn't wait until next Sunday to receive again, so he went to Mass the next day. He started attending every day while still in primary school.
Before entering the priesthood, Drouin served in the Canadian Armed Forces. He's grateful for that time because it gave him a different perspective on life. A tall man with a military bearing, Drouin has served as chaplain to the Hull regiment of the Royal Canadian Army Reserve Force for 42 years. He has graduate degrees from the University of Ottawa in both geography and family counselling.
Drouin loves the pope's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, God is Love, because it captures so well the two faces of the Church. It ignores neither the love of God nor the love of neighbour.
Like the pope, Drouin sees the two loves as intricately entwined. And as much as he has devoted his life to serving others, he has remained faithful to worshipping God. He points out how Pope Benedict says charity that is separated from the love of Christ becomes mere social work.
In fact, he sees worship as necessary for avoiding burnout. He celebrates Mass every morning at 8 a.m., but spends a good hour in prayer beforehand.
"Without this time in prayer, we don't have the swing," he said
At the end of the interview, with a twinkle his eyes, Drouin said he tells his parishioners: "Be good. Be very good. Be so good that when you get in front of the Lord and he accuses you of being too good, you can say, And what about you?"
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