It’s been a long night on the streets. We started in mid-afternoon and have just brought the last soul in. Into the Promised Land. Into the Upper Room. Monsignor Sakano reminds us of the transformative power of grace, of the upper room, and of how by touching our hearts, Jesus gives us his. Jesus converts us, into missionaries of his love. As I look around the church, with Evelyn now at my side again, and next to her one of our newly found souls, transformed from a worried and distressed woman as the week began to now a joyful missionary participant in this grace-filled Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I can only marvel at Him. His love for us is beyond measure. The Basilica is full. Besides Maryann to my right, I recognize in the packed pews ahead of me many of the souls brought in from the streets, intermixed with our joyful, loving young missionaries who brought them here. Into the Promised Land. Into the Upper Room. Here are their stories.
Lost, Now Found
Corner of Crosby and Prince, SoHo. Chris’s team is busily engaged, handing out rosaries to the busy crowd. Within the space of one hour, they count seven different individuals who initially were “not interested”, turned the corner, then came back and were. Several of them were Catholic. “You young people are so joyful out here! I just had to come back and tell you that. What are you doing?” “We’re missionaries. It’s Holy Week. We’re inviting people to come back to the church and receive the sacraments of our Faith.” “Tell me more….” Around 5:00, Andrew spots a 30 something, well-dressed man multi-tasking. On the phone while wolfing down a hot dog. “Excuse me sir, would you like a rosary?” Instantly, Corvis hangs up the phone and gently takes the rosary from Andrew’s hands. He seems almost entranced. “These rosaries were blessed here at the Basilica by Monsignor Sakano.” “Andrew, you have no idea what this means to me….” Corvis’ mother has died recently. She had given him a rosary and made him promised to pray for her soul after she passed. “Andrew, I lost it. I lost my mother’s rosary.” “Well, now you have a new one Corvis. A rosary for your Mom.” Corvis eyes are welling up. So are Andrew’s. “I am new to the neighborhood Andrew. I need a Catholic church. Where is this Basilica of yours?” Andrew shows him the way, and Corvis heads down Prince, towards the church. A rosary lost, now found.
You girls are amazing!
Corner of Lafayette and Spring, SoHo. Jeanine’s team has the Pope with them, and as I approach the corner I can already see how this is going. People are posing with them for selfies with the Pope. Other members of the team are collecting souls attracted by all the hub bub. Giovanni promises them he’s coming to confession and the Good Friday service. “I’ll be looking for you, Giovanni!” “And I’ll be looking for YOU, Jeanine! Thank you for stopping me!” Maggie’s crew across the street are bubbling when I arrive. “What happened, ladiess?” “Well, this woman came by. She told us we were going to have a great night. “A lot of people are going to ignore you, or be mean to you. But somewhere out there is someone you need to meet. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t get rattled. It’s going to work! It’s going to work! You girls are amazing!”
I’m a little lost
Corner of Mulberry and Spring, SoHo. Gabby’s team is hard at it. A few cases of “No, I’m not Catholic” turn around and are Catholic after all. They take a rosary and service schedule and head off into the streets, lighter for the little street side encounter. Susan’s group, near the scene of the lost Frenchman in “Under a Streetlamp in SoHo” many blogs ago, are joyfully engaging passersby. One of them hook Baltista, an unsuspecting UPS driver who’s parked at their corner to deliver a package. He’ll be delivering himself to a priest for confession tomorrow when he shift ends. Appeline meets a man who has turned away from the church. His friend was molested as a young boy by a wayward priest. Now, it’s not for him. He’s done. “You know, John, priests are human beings, but that kind of a priest is very very rare these days. The church has really worked on fixing that. All the priests I know are beautiful, holy men. They’ve helped me grow in my faith and love for God.” John seems sad. “I’m a little lost Gabby. I know I’m missing something. I can’t come back. I’ve been away too long.” “Of course you can come back John. Jesus is always waiting for you. He loves you.” With that, John heads off to the south, away from the church. But he’s clearly touched. And thinking about something he hasn’t thought about in years. “I saw a seed planted. I really did.”
A bishop is found
Corner of Elizabeth and Spring, SoHo. As I approach Elizabeth and Spring, I notice instantly how quiet this corner is. “Gee, I hope BJ didn’t make a mistake sending one of his teams out here,” I pray. As I chat with Shivan’s merry crew, my prayer is instantly answered. My longest list of stories from any of the stations! One passerby, Joe, has no time to walk to the church four blocks away. They settle for prayers instead. The small group stands on the street corner, holding hands, praying Hail Mary’s peacefully together. Joe walks off, heart touched. One of the young women stop Mudy, another package delivery man. “I’m not Catholic, but my wife is! I promise to bring her to church tomorrow for the service!” While we are talking to Mudy, another middle-aged man walks to the corner, and seems confused when asked if he’s Catholic. Charmane, a missionary wonder to behold, smoothly and without missing a single beat, shifts instantly to fluent Spanish. A long conversation ensues. Juan will be coming tonight to Mass. He heads off joyfully into the late afternoon twilight. Down the street, I see two of the crew walking with a woman, then all three turn into one of the storefronts. Gone. “Uh oh”, I think. “Maybe I should go down there and see if they are ok.” A few minutes later, Julia and another missionary emerge. “Wow! That woman was really interested in what we are doing. She took a rosary and said she will come to the church tomorrow. Then she gave us the promo card for her little shop. The promo code was “Bishop.” The team found a bishop.
A journey interrupted
Corner of Houston and Elizabeth, SoHo. Another corner on the edge of the parish. No matter. Nick and Tim find Richard, from England. Brought up Catholic, but now “I don’t believe in God anymore.” Many years ago, Richard embarked on a journey to discover all of the world’s organized religions, a worthy endeavor perhaps. Over the years, he got so confused by them, he threw up his hands and declared himself an atheist. “But I love what you guys are doing out here. It’s really very beautiful.” Tim senses that Richard is hurting. “Richard, there’s something missing in your life. I can feel it. You’re looking for an answer, and it’s right in front of you. It’s where you started.” “Maybe you’re right, Tim. I don’t know. I’m more open today than I was a few years ago. I guess I’m on a journey.” The conversation goes on. Nick and Tim ask a lot of questions, Richard keeps talking. Talking out loud. Talking himself back to God. He finally walks slowly off. We don’t know where his journey will end.
From Hater to Lover
Lafayette and Bleecker, SoHo. Patrick’s team is having a tough time. Lots of traffic, but not interest. Across Lafayette, he sees two of his new missionaries engaged with a middle aged woman, who appears to be berating them. He crosses the street to their aid, approaching the group with joy and love in his heart. “I was in a different zone. I just went to confession myself last night, and I was in a very good place. Somehow, I just felt the love of Jesus would be the way to win this battle.” Gizelda is telling the boys that they are wasting their time. “You guys shouldn’t be out here bothering people. We’re busy.” Patrick listens to her rant with a big winsome smile on his face. “You know, Gizelda, I am not judging you. It sounds like you don’t believe in God, but we do. We’ve found God in the way that Jesus gave us, through his priests and the sacraments. That’s what Holy Thursday is all about.” “Well, I can’t fault you guys for that. You seem like great kids.” “I went to confession myself last night. First time in a year. I really feel great. Confession is a really beautiful sacrament. You feel the love and mercy of God very directly. He’s very real to me right now.” Gizelda starts to open up. Turns out she’s not an atheist at all. “I have to tell you guys. I do believe in God. I actually read the Bible a lot. I just don’t buy into organized religion.” “Well, Gizelda, that’s a start.” A long dialogue ensues. Later, as Gizelda is leaving the little group, she gives each of them a big hug. “I think I was meant to meet up with you guys. I really do. I somehow feel better.” Transformed. From hater to lover.
Skipping for Joy
Corner of Prince and Mott, SoHo. Back on Prince and Mott, BJ and his crew of teens is busy all night. Too many stories to tell here. I will settle for one. A family from Italy approaches. Catholic. The husband seems interested. “Would you like to come into the church for a visit?” “I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely take a rosary.” Rosaries are passed out. The wife wants to keep moving. Heading for a mid-afternoon coffee break. BJ persists. “How about a candle? Would you like to light a candle?” The candle works. The mother agrees. Once inside, the daughter takes her candle to the statue of our Lady, and spends 30 minutes on her knees praying. The missionaries in the back find a priest who remembers enough Italian to hear their confessions. The whole family goes. Later, BJ spies the little group walking off to coffee. The girl is in the middle, holding her mother and father by their hands, skipping for joy.
In the Promised Land
Corner of Prince and Mott, SoHo, 6:45 pm. Long night tonight. Incredible day. Bob has just left to take the Confession signs in from the approaching rain. The missionaries are already seated in the church. A single missionary stands alone in the fading light. “I know we are out of time, but for some reason I can’t explain, I can’t leave the corner. I’m waiting for someone. Not sure who, but someone is out there. One last soul.” A middle aged woman arrives. “Excuse me, are you Catholic?” “Well yes, I am. Is this St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral?” “That it is! Would you like to come into the church?” “Yes, yes. Actually, I’m looking for someone named Evelyn. Do you know her?” “I do. She’s in the back of the church.” “I met her on Tuesday at the hospital. I need to find her.” Tears well up in the missionary’s eyes. This is Maryann. Readers of Monday’s blog, “It begins”, know that the missionary in the back of the church, Evelyn, was uptown that night at a hospital in midtown with a health emergency. Hundreds of prayers ensued. Something happened there that did not make the next day’s blog. By late Tuesday afternoon, she was being released, health crisis passed for the time being. As she was preparing to leave her hospital bed, one of the nurses, not assigned to her, stopped by to visit. “I just wanted to come in and say hello. I saw the rosary on your arm. Are you Catholic?” “Well yes, actually I’m a Catholic missionary. The reason I was begging these doctors to let me go is that I’m on my way to the mission in SoHo.” “What mission?’ A long discussion ensues. Maryann is struggling with a big issue. She’s Catholic. She needs a priest. Tears are flowing on all sides. “Maryann, you need to come to SoHo. There’s healing going on down there. The priest can help you.” “But I’m working all week!” “Find a way. Maybe you can get someone to take a shift.” Maryann has found a way. She’s made it to SoHo, a minute before closing time. “Maryann, I need to confess something to you. I know your story. I’m Evelyn’s husband. She told me everything.” “Oh, my goodness! And you’re here, waiting for me.” “I guess that’s what the Lord wanted Maryann. Let’s go. It’s almost closing. All the priests need to leave the confessionals in a few minutes. On Holy Thursday, this is the only Mass they can give. So it’s all hands on deck. But I promise you, Evelyn will get you a priest. One way or the other.” We rush into the church. Evelyn finds Fr. Donal, and delivers the last soul of the night. Later, after Mass, Maryann, who’s sat with us all evening, asks if she can come to Adoration in the crypt. “Of course you can! All are welcome here.” “I do feel that, Steve. I feel like I’m home. I feel I’m in the Promised Land.”