“The Children of Hope with the Santa Conner's”
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. High winds. Rain, heavy at times. Other times, a mist. Temperatures in the high 40’s. “Well, not so bad,” a new missionary says encouragingly as he arrives for training at Mission HQ. “It could be snowing!... Ooops. That’s Monday’s forecast!” The usual vendor stands along the church’s southern wall on Prince were only half set up; the rest had decided the weather was a no go. It wasn’t a “no go” for the Santa Conner’s. They were out in force on their jolly pub crawl, no umbrellas, already wet, and going nowhere in particular—no real excuses for not talking with a joyful missionary. And it wasn’t a “no go” for the missionaries; we were 25 strong and armed with our rosaries. The Santa Conner’s didn’t have a chance. By night’s end, I barely could get a bite at the missionary dinner at Louie’s, so busy taking down the stories that flowed in. Here are a few….
Prince and Mott, SoHo. Out on Prince and Mott, Bob was doing his usual thing with Ken and Cathy across the street at the Cupcake shop, where they had their Gregorian chant music playing through an i-phone speaker. The plaintive background music infused the whole busy intersection with a subtle spirituality that people more felt than heard. Cathy had so many tales she promised me to write a separate blog, so that’ll be forthcoming. As new missionaries streamed in from training with the missionary in the back of the church, I assigned them in shifts to Prince and Mott till they got comfortable. One of them, Steve Caruso, a fellow missionary with Bob and me years ago in Mexico who is planning to start a street mission in DC, was working with Bob. Bob had hailed down Holly, a young woman who had not been to confession since her first Holy Communion 30 years ago. “I have my own relationship with God. Why do I need to go to Confession?” Bob is trying everything on her: the story of St. Jerome, the Prodigal Son, the theology of reconciliation. No progress. But something is bothering Holly. Steve senses it. He bravely steps in. “Holly, let me tell you about my own story…” He opens up with her in a very personal way. His own fall away from the church, and how the sacrament of reconciliation opened his path home. “Well, maybe you have something here. Ok, I’ll go.” Steve brings Holly to the church, and gives her to Evelyn. Evelyn is juggling the crowd, where confession lines are now are now seven deep. (The missionaries have been busy!) She’s performing spiritual triage surgery. “Holly, how long did you say it’s been?” “Thirty years. And if I can be honest with you, I actually have no idea whatsoever how to do this. I was only 7 years old. I’ve completely forgotten.” “Don’t worry Holly. I have someone here who can help you get ready.” Evelyn gently hands Holly to Jeanine. “Jeanine, I don’t think I have any sins.” “Well, that’s good. That probably means you haven’t killed anyone lately!” “Exactly.” “But maybe you’ve ‘killed’ someone verbally, by saying something to them or about them with others that was really damaging?” “Hmm….” “Or maybe you hurt the Lord by giving Him the silent treatment for a few years?” “Ohhh….” Holly eventually heads into confession. A long while later, after Mass, she finds Steve in the back of the church. She’s crying. She gives him a big, heartfelt hug. “Steve, thank you for tonight. I feel so light, so joyful. Tomorrow was going to be just another, average Sunday. Now it’s going to be “Joy Sunday.”
“I’m coming home”
Mulberry and Prince, SoHo. The Agugliaro clan is out on Mulberry and Prince, where so SoHo-bound Christmas shoppers are streaming west, away from the church. Their job is to stop them and bring them home. BJ is with young Mary, of “The Missionary of Wall Street” fame, who is now a mature 12 year old, very strong in her faith and frankly, ready to go toe to toe with the Christmas shoppers. She chastises her father, “Dad, you’ve got to connect with more people. You’re letting people slip through this corner. Mr. Auth told us to greet everyone we see!” BJ steps it up. Finds a man stopped for a light, moving slowly. Mark. “Excuse me sir. Are you Catholic?” Mark is a long time away Catholic. 84. Has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Went to school at Old St. Pat’s. And hasn’t been inside the church in decades. “Confession?” “Not since I was a kid and Sister Antonio made me go.” They engage. Long chat. “Who was the Pastor back then, Mark?” Happier memories of the old pastor. “His name is actually on the wall at the back of the church, I think.” They walk together to see the plaque. Mark steps into the church for the first time in 50 years. “Wow! It’s so beautiful It’s reminding me of my mom and dad, how they’d take me here. Am I still Catholic?” “Of course you’re still Catholic, Mark. You just need to come home. We’re waiting for you here.” “I’ll be back. I’m going to come for Christmas Mass. I promise. I’m coming home.”
“The Santa Conner’s Call It a Night”
Prince Street, SoHo. All night long, the missionaries were hailing down the Santa Conner’s. Most just stumbled by us. “Couldn’t be talking to me! I’m on a Santa Con!” Others mumbled obscenities. Some passed us a “Merry Christmas.” Most didn’t seem terribly happy. Some stopped for a spiritual pep talk. Stephanie and her friend Mary accept two rosaries for protection. They promise the missionary to be on their best behavior tonight, and will turn to the rosary if they need a Hail Mary. As he promises to pray for them, they skip into the darkness. Katie and Rosie, from California, are quite Catholic and know tonight will be dangerous for them spiritually. They’re thinking about that. No time for confession tonight, but they promise the missionary to see Fr. Antonio for confession when they get back to Santa Clara. A specific date is set: December 20. The missionary promises to remember them in his prayers that day. Across the street, two new missionaries have hailed down four young Santa Conner’s, already a sheet to the wind but still coherent. All four of them are Notre Dame Graduates. Catholic. The group calls the missionary over for a chat. “Ladies, think of me as your Dad. What do you think he’d think about all this?” “Not great.” “Why are you out here? What are you seeking?” Soon, the young ladies agree, “We’ve had enough tonight! We’re coming to the 7:00 (pm) Mass tomorrow! We’re going home.”
“Children of Hope”
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. At the closing Mass tonight, Fr. Jason speaks in his sermon on St. John the Baptist about Hope, one of the great distinctive virtues of Christianity. Children of hope may know they face difficult odds, trying circumstances, bad weather, Santa Conner’s, whatever. But they have hope in a better outcome, because they believe that in the end, Jesus will come. The opposite of hope is despair, and it’s a fine line. Children of despair see the same impossible odds, but with no God in their lives, they see no possibility of a better outcome. All is lost. Children of despair have no hope.
On Monday, we’re expecting snow in New York. Conditions will be tough. Fewer people on the streets, and those that are will be in a hurry. No one will want to stop. “No chance. Mission impossible!”
We’ll be there, nearly 100 strong. Children of Hope. Come join us.
December 12, 2019