Advent Mission 2016
Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. Cold, blustery night in SoHo. Market making new highs. Pedestrians in a hurry to escape the cold, finish their Christmas shopping, or to get to dinner. And everywhere they walked in the neighborhood, they found missionaries. We had nearly 40 young Legionary seminarians surrounding the parish perimeter, engaging passersby, inviting them to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Near the center, an energetic and engaging Regnum Christi family/team led by Arlene, Kate, and Kendall from Cheshire complemented our Wall Street Regnum Christi and Lumen contingent on Prince and Mott. Covering the church and the front gates were our gently loving RC women from New Jersey and New York City, along with a platoon of multi-lingual seminarians who covered us for German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese speakers. What a night!
Certainly the cold was a factor. But as cold as the air was, joy was present as well. The cold became as much a source of laughter though the long blustery evening as a real obstacle. “Steve, I’m so cold I think my toes have fallen off!” “Terrific, now you don’t have to worry about them! Get back to work!” “I need a break! I’ve got to get out of the cold!” “Don’t move! The soul sent for you to gather in might be walking down the street right now. Here’s another cup of hot chocolate!” “Marie, I need to go into the church for a few prayers. I can’t feel my fingers.” “You think this is cold? It could be worse. It could be snowing!” We began to use the cold to our advantage with the passersby. “Excuse me, would you like to come into the WARM church to light a candle?” Incredibly, many took us up on this invite! Another pedestrian asked, “Do you know where 21 Prince Street is?” “Sure, it’s right inside the warm church here! That must be what you are looking for!” Even the indifferent could not help but smile at our resourcefulness.
Another theme of the evening was prayer. Fr. David Daly focused on prayer in his homily during the Mass that ended the evening, speaking of the need for a quiet place, away from distractions– where we can hear God’s voice, commune with Him. Tonight, amidst the din of the blustery and bustling Christmas streets of NoLita, we had that warm, quiet place at Old St. Pat’s. With Jesus on the Altar in the Eucharist and our musicians playing a soft, meditative hymn in the background, penitents were laying their candles in a cross pattern at the foot of Jesus, leaving their prayers, their pleas, in a basket nearby. Quietly, they found the space to hear his call to them, and to respond lovingly with beautiful confessions. Our priests, as usual, could give us no details but by night’s end we’re very joyful themselves. “Wonderful confessions! Full of love. Great quality and quantity to boot!”
Yes, confessions “full of love.” Our opening instructions to the missionaries as they headed out in the late afternoon was simple, “Love, don’t think.” “Love them in!” was our battle cry. And love them in we did. Oliver, a well-spoken young man from Haiti who’d been baptized but never received First Holy Communion, was found by one of our seminarian teams deep down in Little Italy. He had a well-worn Gideon Bible in his knapsack, and freely admitted he was seeking to get reconnected with his Faith, with God. After the brother brought him to the missionaries in the back of the church, he spent a long time with Fr. Donal, and later with the missionaries out on Prince and Mott. Tonight was a big stop on his faith journey home. We all hugged him as he went on his way later in the evening.
Tom from Long Island recognized our missionary in the back of the church as soon as he walked in, and she remembered his name, filed away deep in the recesses of her brain over two years ago. “Evelyn, you remembered me! You are so joyful, and you made me feel so loved! I am so glad you’re here tonight.” After he lit his candle and received reconciliation, Tom joined us on the streets. He did, and soon was joyfully hailing down passersby out in front of the Cupcake Shop with our Cheshire RC team stationed there. Incredibly, Tom was one of two penitents caught up in the love and joy of the evening who ended up donning a purple missionary scarf, working side by side with us as evangelists out on the dark streets!
Perseverance was our third theme. Knowing it would be both very cold, and that we were likely to receive 40 to 50 hurried “No Way”’s for every “Yes” on a night like this, we’d counseled the young seminarians to stick to their stations, to persevere. As I made the rounds of the brothers’ stations out in the byways of the parish, half-frozen though they may have been, I found them holding firm at their posts with steady hands and big hearts. In several cases, they fell back on singing joyful Christmas carols, such as Holy Night, pulling passersby toward them, attracted by the Christmas cheer in the air. What bright witnesses of our faith! A few of the brothers later joined the Cup Cake crew, who were seeking Catholics on their way into the shop for a treat. “Excuse me sir, are you Catholic?” “Me? I’m nothing” a father with two sons shot back, on his way in. As that thought settled into his head over hot chocolate with his two sons, he must have thought better of it. When he came back out, the whole family joined with our Cheshire team and brothers, singing Christmas carols.
At 8:30, the crew on Prince and Mott laid down our rosaries and candles, our service schedules and Pope cards, and walked briskly to the church for the closing Mass. Tears came to our eyes as we captured the scene there. Msgr. Sakano was performing Benediction, and at the base of the altar lay a flaming cross of candles, representing the prayers, the hoped-for Christmas miracles, of 125 souls, a record number for us. Joy. Love. Perseverance. And Jesus. Cross of Love.
December 19, 2016