St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. The journey of a missionary has its highs and lows, like all trips to new, unknown places. When I speak to others about this mission, many can’t help, like I did many years ago, to focus on the obvious low points: the constant rejections, the rude responses, even sometimes the physical dangers the missionaries put themselves in. That’s human. What keeps the missionaries coming back, year after year, are not these lows, thought they too help us in our spiritual journey, allowing us to participate, however so tamely, in our Lord’s own suffering and death on the cross. But let’s face it. It’s the highs, those brief moments in a long day when suddenly, unexpectedly, the Lord arrives visibly at your side, helping you bring someone closer to him. “The little miracles,” we like to call them. Yesterday, in the midst of the firestorm of Good Friday, we had so many little miracles that collected together they became an overwhelming tsunami of love, engulfing not just the missionaries but virtually all of SoHo around us. All afternoon and evening long, soul after soul responded to our invitation to receive reconciliation. The procession of people going into the sacrament of confession, many for the first time in years, was nearly non-stop. At one point, from inside the church, I received a desperate plea from the missionary there to find more priests; the four we had were overwhelmed. On the corner, the neighborhood was not only responding to us, it’s inhabitants were literally embracing us, hugging us. As I said to Evelyn last night as we trudged home, weary but elated, “Every time we try to do something for the Lord as payback for all he’s done for us, He seems to just up the ante and dump another 156 fish on our heads! What better way to spend Good Friday than out on the streets of New York, with Him!”
I have so many stories from last night, of souls on a journey home. Oh, and yes. For those wondering, we had the now almost expected, “unexpected encounter” with a soul in deep need just before the closing bell at 8:00. Go figure.
As we broke fast over dinner, we tried to add all these stories up and estimated we’d witnessed nearly 200 confessions, in a variety of languages and many, we’d been told, the first in ages. But one story stands out so dramatically that today’s blog will focus on it alone. In the blog, “The Journey” from Wednesday evening, we spoke of a small team of seminarians who spent the entire evening praying the rosary outside the abortion clinic. They, and I for the time I was with them, felt strongly the presence of the bleeding heart of Jesus, praying with them for the lives being slaughtered daily there. Fast forward to Good Friday…
Our 65-strong teen platoon had started the morning early, up in Times Square, walking two heavy crosses through the streets, collecting prayers along the way. By noon, I was becoming worried about them. “Where are they? They’re usually home safe by now.” By1:00, I wondered, “My goodness! I hope they make to the service of the Lord’s Passion in time!” Then at 1:30 the parish operations director, Chris Flatz, came rushing toward me. “Uh, oh…” “Chris, what happened?” “Steve, something incredible just occurred up at the abortion clinic! Your kids did something really special up there.” Shortly thereafter, the vanguard of the cross walk streams through, tired though joyful. Throughout the day, more and more stories are pouring in about this year’s very special walk. So many prayers collected along the way, ending though in something very profound: the saving of a life. A separate post on this big miracle is already out, written by one of the leaders of the pro-life prayer team that has been guarding this clinic with prayers for many years, under the title “Good Friday Turnaround.” I’ve titled this post “The Journey, Part II” because it seems connected in some ways to the story from Wednesday of our young seminarians spending the evening praying on the very spot this story begins….
“Life over Death”
“As our group of 65 youth missionaries finished our 3.6 mile crosswalk asking for prayer intentions, we came to the planned parenthood center where we began to pray . We stood there with our two large crosses Covered with prayer intentions that we had collected on our walk from Columbus Circle down to Saint Patrick’s old Cathedral. We prayed in front of the clinic knowing that those inside this building needed our prayers more than anyone. As we stood there a volunteer standing right in front of the planned Parenthood building came over to us and immediately asked us if we could pray specifically for a woman whose name was Elizabeth. She was 4 months pregnant and she had gone in and out of the clinic 3-4 times that day. She shared with us that she had been trying to encourage Elizabeth to consider not going through with the abortion. She shared with us that Elizabeth had found out that morning that her baby was a boy. She shared that she had always wanted a baby boy and that if she had a boy she would name him Liam. She asked us to pray because she didn’t think Elizabeth was going to come out of the clinic again until after she had her abortion. At that moment the band of 65 of us stood there praying to the Lord and the Blessed Mother. While we were praying Elizabeth walked out of the building again crying. Immediately a few of our missionaries went over to her and embraced her with love. She shared with the missionaries how she had been abused by the father of her older child because he wanted her to have the abortion. The missionaries continued listening to her and at the same time encouraged her to walk with them away from the Planned Parenthood clinic towards the church. She agreed to go with them and they and the volunteer gently walked her to a safe place. They got her some food to eat and she called her friend to come and pick her up. The missionaries said goodbye with hugs and tears and promises of prayers. Just before the volunteer walked Elizabeth to meet her friend. She turned to one of the missionary chaperones and shared this with her. She told her that right before we arrived she was standing outside the clinic praying that Elizabeth would come out and not go through with the abortion. she decided to do the Divine Mercy chaplet as she was praying the chaplet our missionaries came around the corner and she knew in that moment that a very big prayer has been answered she thanked us for being there and let us know that we helped to change this woman’s choice that day by simply showing her our love and the power of our prayers.”
A teen missionary
“A Radical Intervention”
In another version of the story, from Lucy, one of the consecrated women of Regnum Christi who was with group, two additional details emerged. Lucy said, “Two of our young men, Jake and Jude, literally inserted themselves between Elizabeth and her abusive boyfriend, shielding her physically and emotionally. I think that may have turned the tide.” Later, she added, “When our young women joined her on the street, they kept talking about the new baby boy she was carrying, asking her what her plans were for him, what he might become. They were humanizing the child, instinctively seeing that in so doing they would help the would-be mother choose life.”
Sometimes in describing our mission in SoHo, I tell people its “a radical intervention.” Often, in the anonymity of the street, a loving missionary can help a soul drill down deep and quickly, and see clearly the need for God in their lives. Then the Holy Spirit can jump into that opening, and change the person’s course. Yesterday in SoHo, we had that and then some.
April 20, 2019