Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Several members of your congregation have complained that young, healthy panhandlers are targeting them as they come out from weekly service. What do you do?

This is one of the most difficult questions to confront the members of our Cathedral community. Situated in the heart of the city, our parishioners come in large numbers from every direction, all weekend long. Panhandlers have become extremely aggressive. Some of our people say that they are accosted on the way into Church and that the intimidation can be so great that it continues right into the Church.

Everyone wants to help people in need. The question becomes, however, how do we find the best way to do this? We sought the advice of several nearby shelters and law enforcement. They all pointed to the increasingly rampant use of crack cocaine by these people as one of the greatest issues to emerge in the market area this year. One hit can be obtained for as little as $5.00. Almost all of the panhandlers use the money they collect to buy these drugs and lessen the misery of their lives. All those who advised us, begged us not to give these people money. They pointed to the many used needles which are found around all our properties as proof.

Consequently, we have asked the members of our community not to give money, difficult as that may be. Instead, our people are discreetly trying to help by offering to bring them to restaurants for food, or to meet any other of their needs. I meet with many of them and, regretfully, they generally refuse all our offers of assistance, insisting on cash. Their ingenuity and creativity in trying to overcome our suggestions is remarkable. So far, only one accepted to go to a hospital and she continues to improve. Our prayer is that some day, with or without our help, they be able to overcome these terrible difficulties.