WATCH: Montrealers bid one final “merci” to Pops

Saint Patrick’s Basilica was packed full of Montrealers from all walks of life this morning, all to say their final farewells to the late Father Emmett Johns, better known as “Pops”. The founder of the prominent homeless-youth support organization Dans La Rue passed away earlier this month at the age of 89.

In attendance at the emotional memorial service were prominent dignitaries from all levels of government. Mayor Valérie Plante, as well as her two most recent elected predecessors, Denis Coderre and Gerald Tremblay, were in attendance, as was nearly every provincial cabinet minister from Montreal. Federal cabinet ministers Mélanie Joly and Marc Garneau, as well as Ville-Marie—Le-Sud-Ouest—l’Île-de-Sœurs MP Marc Miller, represented the federal government.

However, the clear majority of those in pews at the Basilica were those who Pops had touched most directly during his life: homeless youth and the homeless activist community. During the funeral, they highlighted Johns’s life dedicated to service, describing him as a fundamentally good man.

“He didn’t mind if you had green or purple hair, or if you were covered in tattoos or looked like a pincushion”, said one woman named Talasia, once a member of the Dans la Rue youth. She added that Johns had “saved her life” in a moving, unscripted eulogy.

“Love was the mainstay of Pops’s life”, said Deacon François Lehmann, who delivered a bilingual homily remembering Johns as a man committed above all else to service.

It seems likely Pops’s enormous impact on Montreal life will be remembered for many more years to come. Mayor Valérie Plante, speaking to the media with Ville-Marie Councillor Robert Beaudry and Verdun Councillor Sterling Downey, confirmed that the city is planning to designate a park space in the city in Pops’s honour. She said the final location was still being determined, with the co-ordination of officials from Dans La Rue, but that it was likely to be somewhere in the Centre-Sud neighbourhood.

That the service alternated from French to English from one moment to the next was reflective of how Pops’s impact across Montreal entirely transcended the city’s linguistic divide. So, too, did it transcend the city’s social divides.

“We find people with jackets and ties, but we [also] find people in all different colours”, remarked Lehmann. “That’s what love does. It welcomes all regardless of differences.”