Street preachers sling religion at Yonge-Dundas Square

It’s Sunday afternoon on a lovely, sunny summer’s day, and Rudolph Gonsalves wants to talk about the Apocalypse.

With flowing white hair and a shaggy beard to match, the small-framed 65-year-old sits on a concrete slab at the base of a lamppost, kitty-corner from the bustling Yonge-Dundas Square, while steps away, a sweaty man with a ball cap between his feet dances and sings ’N Sync songs a cappella.

This is where Gonsalves comes to save souls.

“People are wandering like sheep without a shepherd,” he says from his perch on the street corner. “There’s an impending judgment coming. . . . I’m trying to say, ‘Hey man, there’s more to life than what you see here. It’s temporal. It’s not going to last.’ ”

Gonsalves is a regular fixture at the glittery downtown intersection, having frequented the spot for more than three decades to preach his beliefs to whoever will listen. He’s not alone. Anyone who’s taken a stroll through the busy square next to the Toronto Eaton Centre knows the area is full of people lauding energy drinks and clothing sales, and soliciting the public to support various causes.

Then there’s Gonsalves and his crowd, a mixture of street preachers who haunt the square to spread word of their religious beliefs. Next to Gonsalves, on this particular day, two men hand out literature on Islam, a woman holds a sign denouncing abortion, and someone bears a tall placard promising that rich men, sports fans and masturbators will burn together in eternal hellfire.

Like rocks sticking out of a churning creek, the preachers in the square are overwhelmingly ignored by the relentless crowds swarming around them.

“It’s a labour of love,” says Moin Saeed, 36, who visits the intersection “every day” to hand out pamphlets and talk about his “universal saviour,” a type of all-encompassing Messiah whose image is supposed to be seen amongst the craters on the moon.

“Our motto is love for all, hatred for no one,” he says, as people walk past with shopping bags and iced coffees.

Imad Ali, a Scarborough native who comes every Sunday to talk with people about Islam, says he feels a strong sense of duty to try and combat stereotypes and educate others about his religion.

“Right now I could be with my wife and kids enjoying the sunshine, but I feel this is my civic duty. This is more important,” Ali says.

Not everyone appreciates what they do; in fact, these street-corner prophets often provoke anger from passersby, and each other.

“I remember one guy took my beard and pulled some of it out, and he said ‘Now you know what Jesus felt like,’ ” says Gonsalves, a retired Magna International assembly line worker who also tells of being spit on by people who’d rather not hear him say they need to be saved.

“I don’t blame them,” he says. “Many people have hurt in their lives.”

Ali, meanwhile, says he’s gotten into confrontations with some of the “evangelicals” who pontificate their views nearby. A couple of weeks ago, one of them confronted him and things got so heated that somebody called the police, he says.

As he speaks, a wiry man in sunglasses approaches, yells something unintelligible about teaching the Islamic faith, then bows and walks away.

“Sometimes there’s a lot of hostility,” says Ali.

Sitting several metres away, Gonsalves says he prefers to stay quiet and simply hold a sign with a message on it — “Jesus Saves” — rather than holler at people walking past.

“This (sign) alone speaks very loudly,” he says, as crowds mingle in front of a stage in the middle of the square, waiting for a performance to start, while hip hop blares from massive speakers.

“Not many people listen though,” he says.

All the same, he’ll be back tomorrow, rain or shine.