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The Pope Arrives
“My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” PS 145:21
Today, the Pope arrived.
Our little band out on Prince and Mott was reinforced from all sides: the New York chapter Lumen men, RC NJ men’s and women’s teams, St. Patrick’s (Chatham) Men’s Gospel group, and, the coup de grace, the entire Cheshire seminary of 40 joyous, Christ-filled brothers. For extra insurance, the brothers brought the Pope.
Not exactly the Pope, but a life-sized, super-high resolution cardboard cutout that utterly turned the neighborhood upside down. Out on Lafayette and Prince, usually one of our toughest stations, the brothers were having a joyous time with the hundreds of passersby, many of whom were taking selfies with the Pope while the rest of the team evangelized. Later that night I showed some of the photos to one of the Church missionaries and she actually identified one as a Church visitor later in the night, a young man who told her he is a Sunni Muslim. The Pope appeals to all.
Elsewhere on the periphery, my attempts to chat with the brothers on how they were doing were often thwarted by the reality that I couldn’t find ANY that weren’t engaged in a deep discussion with some young person or another that I did not want to interrupt; I’d just drop off more rosaries and Pope cards and move on to the next station. On some corners, the brothers had guitars and were singing as passersby couldn’t help but stop and take it all in. I am now developing “rosary anxiety”— will our record supply of 5,000 hold out until Saturday? Several more waves of missionaries already en route for Prince and Mott. . .
Back at hot corner, despite an unusually low level of foot traffic ‘til almost 6:00, the effect of the brothers’ joyful witness was palpable. Our missionaries there were escorting people back and forth to the Church all night, and like a well-oiled machine, as soon as a gap opened in our lines one of the other men on the corner jumped in to fill it. I dropped by for 5 minutes and almost immediately a soul who had not been to confession since confirmation literally fell into my hands and into the Church. It was obvious the brothers’ witness had softened him up so much that I felt like I was cheating.
Inside, our six priests were frankly overkill for the level of foot traffic, but nonetheless the Church crew reported several great stories. One of them will be blogging on this later today.
The neighborhood is now reeling. Thursday the RC teens’ group arrives. I almost feel sorry for the non-believers and atheists. Seems they’re outmanned. Even they, I believe, have now posted Pope selfies on the net.
Six Legionary Priests. They were ready to receive those seeking God’s mercy. Yet, only a few came. Not the droves we were hoping for and praying for. Patiently, they sat waiting. All in God’s time.
The few who came …..had similar, fascinating stories. They came from different corners of the country, of the world. Evidence of how far reaching God’s love go!
Take Kevin. He came in with his wife. They are here on tour from Ireland. Greeted by missionaries on the street they came in to “look at the Church”. Just to look. The Holy Spirit is active. A few encouraging words and a promise of an Irish confessor were enough to convince him to go for Reconciliation. On his way out, this burly of a man, big Irish grin, exclaimed in his pleasing Irish brogue, “ The priest is from Dooblin!” I had to go across the ocean to meet someone who is just a mile or two from where I grew up!” Luck of the Irish? The Holy Spirit uses everything to draw us close to God!
Then there is Jason. One look at Jason and you see his pain. As he stepped into the Church his tears were flowing like a river. It has been a while; he could barely speak. He took our offer for help to prepare for Reconciliation. With the gentlest of hearts, Cecile, our French Consecrated, sat with him and helped him. This big, very tall man came out with a soft, peaceful expression on his face. Still in tears, but hopefully of relief, and peace from having encountered Christ’s love.
The French are always in Soho! Every year we meet them. They love to look at “old Churches”. Young by European standards, but not by American standards. There’s this group of three chic ladies who came in to the Church. They were hesitant. Like birds who see some grain on the ground but wary of getting caged. They made several movements forward, and then a step backwards. They were kind. They did not want to just turn their backs on me. I asked if they were Catholic. Only one, Beatrice, admitted to being Catholic. The other two said they were not believers. The offer of the opportunity to go for Reconciliation elicited a question from the atheist, “In French?” It was a challenge, a means to escape. I said I had a priest who understands French, if they can kindly speak slowly…. A weak smile, a shake of the head. It weakened Beatrice’s will. “No, thank you!” Still, I ushered them in for a look see and a short prayer. Yes, they can take pictures, if they wish! Who should walk in a minute later but Fr Juan Pablo Duran! Quick update of the situation…. and I urged him to speak to Beatrice. Was it a coincidence that she sat apart from her friends and Fr JP was able to sit with her and engage her in private conversation? In another minute or two, I watched them walk together to the confessional! Cecile also spoke with them later. The atheist said she did not believe in God. Cecile’s reply was “But God believes in you!” By God’s grace, they left with kind parting words from the atheist. She was touched. She will come again. The Lord will be patiently waiting.
Mom and daughter came in to light candles for special intentions. They were in a hurry; not much time to spare. They have yet to visit several Churches in the neighborhood. Visita Iglesia. An old tradition. They tried not to make eye contact with me as it is easier to disengage from a conversation that way. I would not quit. So I started telling them about the Church restoration, how much more beautiful the Church will be when all refurbishing is done! Surprised that the beautiful Church is under construction, they finally looked at me and asked questions. Ahh, the door was opened! The Holy Spirit came rushing into their hearts. Mom remained wary. But her daughter, Lourdes, was drawn to the offer for Reconciliation, and simply said, “Mom, I am going!” That tug in her heart was strong! She could not ignore it. Nevermind that it was not planned, nor that their plans must be put aside for now. Mom did go after assurances that the Priests are wonderful and that they will be delighted to receive her! What’s even more beautiful is that they decided to sit patiently and pray. Mass starts in just 20 more minutes. They must be so gloriously happy to have received the Holy Eucharist!
Several more came in as the evening progressed. Their stories no less compelling. Like the two companions, also passersby, who spent over one hour in Church, patiently preparing for Reconciliation, and then receiving the Sacrament in tears. The lady begged Cecile to accompany her to confession! She was visibly in pain and scared. But Fr Edward received her with such gentleness and dignity, standing up as she approached, and clasped her hands in greeting that her fears and worries melted away. She was at that moment, exactly as God loved her: His precious Princess, His beloved daughter!
What is obvious but not easily recognized by many is God’s constant tug of love in our hearts. God is always yearning to unite with us. As it was yesterday, the passersby admit that there was an almost imperceptible curiosity about the open Church. A quick decision follows… Just to look….Just for a short visit….Just one picture. The pull of the Spirit is at once gentle and persistent! Still, sometimes we resist. Like the boyfriend who was not too pleased to wait as his girlfriend went to confession. It was not part of their afternoon plans! She can go, but not him….A dose of patience will do for now. Hopefully, she will help him come around.
We wait for the Holy Spirit to touch those hearts hardened by life’s challenges, by influences of others, by our own human weakness…Love is patient…Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps another day. We continue to be there for them, at least this week. Later, we remain present in prayer…for each other, for those the Lord puts in our path.
A Missionary at the Church