“Shelter in the Storm”
Holy Thursday, 2019
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. In his Holy Thursday sermon, surrounded by his brother priests from the Legionaries, Msgr. Sakano spoke of the baptismal waters with which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples the evening before His passion and death. He was preparing them, and us, to walk in his footsteps, to walk the walk of disciples. He was preparing them to survive, no thrive, in the approaching firestorm. In So Ho tonight, we could feel that approaching storm in the air. And many of the passersby in the neighborhood did too. With over 60 missionaries out on the streets, including our joyful and loving Tri-State teen group, forming a human net for capturing souls, few Catholics made it through SoHo without feeling, at least a little, the tug of the Holy Spirit, offering them shelter from the storm. Here are some of their mysterious stories….
“God uses everything, even the magic eight ball”
Mulberry and Houston, SoHo. We were standing on our corner and we met this man. We were talking to him for about 25/30 minutes. I’m just standing there listening to him tell me about what is going on in his life and about his mom and dad. I just kept listening and encouraging him to go to confession, but also telling him it’s OK if you don’t want to go today but you know we’re here all weekend it would be a great thing for you to do. He had a really heavy heart.
“Do you want to walk to the church?”, we asked. “I don’t have time now, but I kind of feel like I went to confession just talking to you.” “Ralph, this is just a glimpse of what can happen when you’re going to confession.”
Later that evening at church we saw Ralph and he told us, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. I didn’t know what to do so I took my magic eight ball and asked, “Should I go back?” “Yes” “Should I go find that woman?” “Yes.” Then I felt the presence of mom being there in that moment telling me “go back to the church”. That feeling was what made him come back. He found Fr. Stephen and went to confession. He was so grateful for the missionaries.
“It was easy!”
Lafayette and Bleecker, Border of SoHo and Greenwich Village. We are asking everyone if they are Catholic, and one woman stops and says she is. She is a former Regnum Christi missionary from Mexico. But now she’s a New Yorker and doesn’t do missions. “Would you like to come to church, maybe do confession?’ “Well, that might be a good idea, but I’ve got to go to this shoe store here for shoes.” “We don’t mind, we’ll wait for you.” “Ok.” So we wait and when she comes out, she’s like, “Ok! Let’s go!” We had a great conversation all the way to church. This was just too easy! You were right!
“I can’t believe you reached out to a dork like me”
Spring and Mulberry, Little Italy.OK so I was standing on the corner for a while and we see this guy and ask if he was Catholic and he said, “Yeah I am Catholic, but I haven’t been to church in a while.” So we asked him about going to mass and confession and he seemed really interested, but he told us that he had a 5 o’clock appointment. We said “I’m sure you have time.” Then we looked at the time and it was 4:48.
He agreed to walk to the church anyway and myself and Maggie walked him there and we just put them in the confessional and prayed for him as we made our way back to our corner.
We didn’t expect to see him again because he says he lives in The Bronx so we thought we weren’t going to see him for the rest the week. We gave him a mass schedule and everything just in case. After Mass, Maggie and Claudia come running up to me and they’re like “He’s here!” and I turned around and sure enough I see Derek sitting there and like we all three went up to him and we’re like “Oh my God you came tonight! How was your confession!?”
With tears in his eyes he told us “It was amazing! I’m just so glad that you guys saw me on the street. I could have just walked by, but it was amazing that I was able to see you and that you stopped me. I haven’t been asked that question for so long and I haven’t been to church in such a long time. I was about to get on the subway, but something told me I should go back to the church. I’m so glad that young people like you were willing to reach out to a dork like me on the street.”
“I will take care of you”
Broome and Mulberry, Little Italy. We were standing on a corner across from a restaurant and the guy who worked there came out and he asked us if we were Catholic and when we said yes and told him what we were doing he said “all right well if you guys need anything I will take care of you. If you need the bathroom or you want water or anything I will take care of you. My wife is a Christian and she was once attacked by two pit bulls and the community of Christians that came and helped clean my house and make us food for us, it was just the nicest thing. So if you guys need anything I got you”
“You girls are doing a great job!”
Houston and Elizabeth, Border of NoLiTa and the Bowrey. Our team is struggling a bit. Very busy corner, but everyone seems to be in a hurry. We persevere, joyfully. Traffic is backing up on Houston. Suddenly, from three lanes deep into Houston, someone rolls down their car window. “Hey, keep it up out there girls! You’re doing a great job!” We rush into the traffic and navigate our way over to the car. We give all three men inside a new rosary to pray on. All the cars don’t move until we’re safely back on the corner. That really lifted us. From there on in, lots of great interactions started.”
“She looked back joyfully”
Broadway and Houston, SoHo. It happened again! It happened again! My team from Atlanta hailed down a woman. She was in a hurry and kept walking. But we walked with her. She told us she was Christian, not Catholic, “but I’ll take a rosary for a friend.” We asked her where she was from. “Brooklyn.” “What’s your name? Mine is Patrick,” I said. She wouldn’t give me her name. “Why do you need to know that? What are you guys after?” “We’re Catholics. We’re inviting people back to church. We’re here for you.” She stops walking. We ask her if she has anything she’d like us to pray for. “Yes, I do actually.” Then she tells us, and as she begins to walk away, she says, “And my name is Joan.” Incredibly at that point, she turns around and comes back to us. “Could we pray for my intention together?” “Of course!” So we all form a circle and pray together for her intention. It is a spontaneous prayer because I wasn’t sure if she was Catholic. The prayer touched all of us, including Joan. As we were praying it, she seemed to be transformed. “I will never forget this moment, boys. You really made my week.” Then she headed on her way, but about a block away, she looked back at us and we made eye contact one last time. There was joy and peace in her face.
“Go Into The World And Spread The Good News!”
Last night the world came to Soho. There were many groups of folks, mostly catholics from far flung places who came to Old Saint Patrick’s and prayed. Some received the sacrament of reconciliation. Here are some of their stories.
We had a first last night. A confession conducted with google translate….Irinka was walking past the church when she was invited to come in and pray. She is catholic but she spoke very little English. Only Russian. Yet, it was incredible that while she did not understand nearly everything she heard about the activities of the week, her eyes perked up distinctly by the mention of the word confession. (Confession in Russian does not sound anything like the English word.) Tearfully, Irinka admitted she needed to reconcile with our Lord. Ah, but we have Fr. Michael Sliney. He has had many experiences hearing confessions at World Youth Day. Languages are not a barrier to bringing souls back to Christ! Monica, one of our missionaries in the back of the church, has already figured out how to converse with someone using 2 mobile phones and google translate. Why not do the same at confession? It worked! Fr. Michael explained that when one is truly sorry for their sins, and under certain circumstances, the priest may not understand the sins confessed by the penitent but he will give absolution. The google translate is not perfect, but Fr. Michael was able look into Irinka’s heart, “hear her confession” and provide counsel to her. Irinka came to say goodbye with tears in her eyes and a simple statement. “Thank you! So happy, so happy!”
The church doors were wide open! Antoine and his family came in to see the stained glass windows that they can partly see from the street. He walked past the missionaries at the back of the church, knelt down near the altar and prayed. His wife and two teenaged children stayed back looking around by the door. Invitations to go to confession were met with a very definitive No! No english! Only French. The missionary stepped back and allowed them to continue looking around the church. Then there is a need for a bathroom. Invitations were repeated. Still no. Later, Antoine walks to one of the missionaries, holding the book “The Missionary of Wall Street”. He found it on the pew where he prayed. He waited a long time to see if anyone came back for it. Nobody came. Perhaps it was handed to somebody who forgot it and had left Soho. Antoine read a few pages of the book and was touched by the stories. He spoke fairly good English. “May I keep the book?” Antoine asked. The missionary at the back jokingly told him, “Only if you go to confession”. Antoine smiled sheepishly. “Only kidding!” the missionary said and added, “Of course you can have the book! But why not go to confession while you are here and be ready for Easter?” Antoine looked visibly distressed. With palm on his chest he said, “I grew up catholic and my large family is very devout. But I do not believe much anymore. Yet, when I entered the church, I feel……. deeply moved” (deeply moved are my words as he was lost for words. He was clutching his chest). He was trying to control his emotions. “That is God calling out to you and letting you know how happy He is to see you!” After his confession Antoine left with his family, holding his book, and no longer distressed. Perhaps one day he will return to be the Antoine of his youth and bring his own family with him!
Fatima is Muslim. She works at one of the shops on Mott Street. She observed and wondered why so many people were going in the church. She was unaware of holy week and its significance. We invited her to come in and pray. She did. On her way out she thanked the missionaries at the back of the church and expressed surprise. Fatima did not wear a hijab. She said,” I am muslim but I have come here at different times to pray because it is so beautiful and peaceful here. I am so moved by how many people are coming in this week to pray! And the church is particularly warm and welcoming today!” ….. Yes, everyone feels the warmth, the love, the welcoming arms of our Lord! “Fatima, you are always welcome here! Come again!” These were our parting words as Fatima walked out. We are certain she will come back another day to find peace there.
There are many more stories! There’s Jennifer and her husband, middle aged tourists, married for many years but have not been to church and confession for “many many years”. Independent of each other, they went to confession and left hand in hand, like young lovers! Then there was a young couple, both nons, but felt a very strong draw to the church. They sat and prayed for a long time. They were thirsty and searching. Fr Stephen Reilly spoke with them at length. And there was Daniel, a young high school student with a big camera. Daniel is not baptized; his parents do not practice any religion, but he goes to a catholic school in Long Island. He was interested in knowing more about the catholic faith . Fr David spoke with him at length. Daniel came back to church later and prayed for a long time. He was grateful and joyful when he left.
Many of the folks we met today come from somewhere! We imagine them going home and and we pray that the seeds planted will germinate and grow and blossom into God’s beauty, to be seen by their loved ones and friends and scatter more seeds around them. That those seeds will also bloom and scatter even farther. We envision a globe with tiny flickering lights coming from Soho and going into many other places and that the these flickering lights will become bonfires of God’s love. Accendi il fuoco del tuo amore!
A missionary in the back of the church
Good Friday. Storm on the way. We’re not afraid. We have the Lord. He’s our shelter in the storm.
April 19, 2019