Beautiful images, holy Church, blessed encounters, amazing graces!!
What my teammate and I will remember most about this year’s Holy Week missions -so many positive encounters guided by the Holy Spirit. What We will cherish most and continue to ponder in our hearts were the earnest and heartfelt responses of the people we met to our request, “I would like to pray for you. Is there something special you have in mind.” Even the rushed passersby who just shouted out their name and an answer seemed eager to catch a prayer while some lingered and created the prayer for us.
The Vietnam vet, his written cardboard sign speaking for him- hungry, hoping to get something to eat, Quickly crossed the street when waved over, readily took the rosary offered him; not just “yes” when asked “Are you Catholic” but with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes and raising a finger said proudly, “Irish Catholic”; sober 29 years and three weeks next week he told us He asked us to pray that “I can go back to where I am supposed to be” To get out of New York. To go back to the state he was born in, hundreds of miles away, 71 years ago. When We offered to bring him into the church and pray that prayer with him he just said “I can’t… but I’ll come back.” We believed him and let him go.
To the young couple sitting on the bench across the street from the church. Sitting for a much longer time than typical hurried New Yorkers would tolerate. No cell phones out, sipping coffee, really talking to each other, pensive amid the hustle and bustle. Curiosity peaked, it is our turn to cross the street. “Are you Catholic” No. “Are you from the neighborhood” No- we are actually from out of town, from the Midwest. And in that moment we had interrupted them pondering the decision they were soon going to have to make. To move from the Midwest “not for love” he says, “but just for a job.” His job. Making independent movies. What sounded like beautiful, lighthearted movies. And it was not going to be an easy decision. He asked us to pray for “light”- and guidance in helping them make the decision. She echoed his request. We asked them if they were familiar with the stunning, historical Catholic church across the street. They were not. We encouraged them to go take a moment to warm themselves, treat themselves to the beautiful art and architecture of the place and light a candle for that prayer they needed for light. They got up and walked into the church as We prayed for them outside. Though we remained in front of the church we never saw them leave!
Four young men sauntering down the street joking, laughing, having a good time. No eye contact. My teammates shouts out “are you Catholic”. They keep going. It’s hard to say if one is shaking his head yes or no and maybe one smiles but it is clear- they are not going to stop; we have lost them. Can we pray for you my teammate shouts? Then the fourth in line -a little behind the others -pauses and turns and we make eye contact. “Are you Catholic -I ask again?“ “No I was raised Greek Orthodox but I haven’t you know practiced it in years so I don’t know what I am but I’m thinking maybe I’ll be something” NOW his friends have joined him and they’re listening not saying a word. No teasing, no smirking, laughing. “Would you like go into the beautiful church behind you and pray about it?” Suddenly the one who was leading the way says “let’s just all pray together here.” My teammate and I freeze- is he joking is he mocking us? We are Speechless. But the Holy Spirit sweeps down and my teammate quickly recovers and takes his hand and his three friends each link hands and the fourth taking mine. We bow our heads right there in the middle of the sidewalk in Soho in front of the Basilica. It was like being in our own little prayer cloud. We have no recollection of who passed by or might’ve been watching. My friend brings forth the most beautiful spontaneous prayer asking God for guidance and help in our lives. And we thank him for bringing these four men to us today. At the end all four smile and thank us. “God bless” says my teammate. And the one on my left let’s go of my hand saying, “Wow you gave me good energy.” Come Holy Spirit , Come!
A band of 4 Brothers (literally) from Cheshire on the street corner, strumming guitar, playing a drum and singing at the top of their voices, praising God. A young woman on her way home from working in the neighborhood, off to catch a train to another Burroughs, stops in front of the joyful noise, to the query “Are you Catholic”! Yes to that question and to the offer of a Rosary.. so calm amidst the commotion, with a sweet smile.
Can we pray for you? Enthusiastic “yes” And for what? “For peace, that I be peaceful”. We ask “Would you like to take the prayer to the beautiful and peaceful church right around the corner?” She Would. We hand her a candle to light and we accompany her into the loving hands of our teammates inside the church. Sometimes it is so easy!!
To Stephanie who wanted a rosary and our prayers, that she find a roommate and a good roommate very soon.
The young couple who is rushing off but despite their hurried looks and body language stopped to talk. Yes he was raised Catholic but… you know… and she perhaps not. Yes he would take a rosary and yes they knew of the church right before them. They live in the neighborhood. They are thinking of bringing their young daughters to the church. We tell them about this vibrant parish and it’s wonderful pastor. We gently remind them what better time to start the beautiful practice of coming to church regularly then Holy Week. So lucky to have a pamphlet with the schedule of all the Holy Week services right on hand for them. They absolutely could not stop to go inside and pray but promised they would be back. We believe them!
A woman “of a certain age”, a native New Yorker, with that New Yorker twang, and a joy and candidness that Yes defines many a New Yorker! She is neighbor of the Church and goes sometimes. She would love a rosary and she would love a prayer for her father George. He is deceased. So yes- it is a prayer for his soul. She misses him very much. “Would you like to step in to the church and light a candle for your Dad and pray for him yourself?” She brightened up even more. Yes she would without hesitating and we walked arm in arm across the street. Now with confidence we asked- perhaps would you like to prepare for Easter by saying your confession. There are several good priests Available inside. And then she said A most beautiful thing. “All priests are good.” Wow, the missionary is humbled!! And then she chuckled and said “it had been years. Does the priest have several hours?” Yes he does we tell her. OK -she says let’s go!!! God is sooo good.
A man sprinting down the street but turns and smiles to our shout-out. Are you Catholic? No! Would you like a Rosary -no. Would you like a prayer?. Sure. What’s your name -Russell. What would you like us to pray for? Me. Done!
And so many more…