Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, So Ho. Good Friday morning. Warm air from the south. Dark storm clouds threatening. Occasional sunlight bursting through the cloud cover. Showers forecasted. Bring it on….
All week, we’ve building towards this day. Preparing the neighborhood. Turning hearts. Awakening dead consciences. Opening the tomb. Many Lazarus’, on their way to work or appointments, promised to return today. To come home. From this initially stormy Good Friday morning till late tonight, this journey home emerged as the theme. This long journey home.
Early, our youth team set out on their own long journey home, carrying two heavy crosses in parallel down Broadway, from Columbus Circle all the way home to the Basilica. Fr. Dyas, LC ministering to them and the souls they met along the way, said only this: “As the long walk advanced, I realized that I was not leading these kids, they were leading me. Gathering prayers from all of New York along the way. They are fearless.” Two stories were particularly remarkable. In Times Square, Carlos and Mariana found a group of young girls huddled together. They approached them for prayers, and their prayer was for the lost girls of Nigeria, abducted by the rebels, now captive somewhere in the jungle. They together cried for the lost girls, and together prayed for their safe return home. As our group moved on, with this prayer now nailed to the cross, one of the the girls’ fathers told Mariana something special about the girls. They were part of a small team that had escaped the rebels and made it back. Made it home. We pray tonight that the others also do.
Nicole bravely approached a “creepy looking” homeless man, feeling drawn to him, sensing he needed some love. Turns out he’s Catholic, but believes he is not welcome in the church. “Not dressed like this! Not with my toothless mouth! I can’t even smile.” Nicole spent time consoling him, convincing him he is welcome, toothless smile and all. She left him restored. “I’m smiling inside now!”, he told her. We pray this will be the beginning of his journey home.
When the teens finally made it to the Basilica, some headed out into the byways, some manned the church courtyard, others prepared for their roles in the Via Crucis. Gabby welcomed home a prodigal son from last night, James, who had promised to return today for confession. He did, and later joined us on the long march to Calvary through the streets of Little Italy, drawing dozens more home.
Pacita’s team way up on Bleeker and Lafayette experienced some prodigal son moments themselves. One man, initially “Not Catholic!”, returned 30 minutes later, Catholic. They walked him home to the church and reconciliation with the Lord.
On Prince and Mott, we were inundated with returnees. In mid afternoon, Lili arrived. “Steve, How is Evelyn?” We’d met her last year, visiting seven churches for Good Friday, and she enjoyed an unplanned confession at ours. “She’s doing great! Been to reconciliation lately, LiLi?” “Not since last year. Can I go now?”
Fred returned soon after. “This is now my Good Friday ritual. I love these missionary priests of yours. Best confession in years.” (On the other side of the screen, one of our veteran priests, Fr. Sliney, had told me a similar story earlier in the day. “Steve, I love hearing confessions on this mission. Some of the most powerful confessions of my priesthood.”)
Laura, a Catholic shop worker on her way to work, initially “just went” to confession, then after further discussion, promises to drop off her bag and come back. Ten minutes later she returns , asks for a confession guide to help her remember how, and heads home to the church. She emerges later, beaming. “I came back! I came back!”
Anthony, another neighborhood resident, is Catholic but “doesn’t need to pray in the church”. Has his “own relationship with God.” Heads off, runs into the Via Crucis out in Little Italy, heads back into the church he didn’t need. Emerges later, shouts over to us, “I went in! I went in!”
Jodie, out with her friends heading up town, hasn’t been to confession in years. In a hurry. Eventually, she decided to return home, tells them she’ll meet them later.
In the back if the Church, a couple returns for the Spanish service. The woman was to confession yesterday. The man had no interest. Today he did. Later, two friends came in to pray. “No, thank you. Just here to pray.” Our missionary there asks the prayer team to pray for them. They do so the whole time. She returns gently, four times. The fourth time is a charm. They return. They leave later, lighter, more joyful.
By 7:45, our street crew is near exhaustion, hoarse from all the conversations. We think of folding our tent, leaving “early”, but no one can face Bob. At 7:50, James shows up. Earlier, at noon, he had no time, on his way to work. “Is the church still open?” “James, it is always open.” He marches in, beaming. At 7:59, Erin comes back, also on her way to work when we met her earlier in the day. She is the last confession of Good Friday. Welcome home, Erin. Welcome home.