Sunday, September 10, 2006

Holy Rosary, Spanish Harlem

We’d taken one wrong Manhattan Metro train. We’d stranded a Missionary by herself on another. Good thing we’d left two hours ahead of time!

At last we made it to 7pm Mass “on-time,” only to find that we were at the wrong church. With slumped shoulders, we started back to our Brooklyn host, only to realize that the right church was within walking distance. Our poor ladies briskly doing fifteen blocks through Spanish Harlem in high heels!

But we found it. Stuck in between blockhouses, but distinctly a church: “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary” on East 119th Street. Would the pastor mind that we were twenty-two minutes late? Would we still give our reflection after Communion?

Our band of seven slipped into a back pew, but we could have sat anywhere. The church – with its tall ceilings, sturdy pillars, and intricate murals, gorgeous! - was near-empty. Literally, we increased attendance by fifty percent.
Father was giving his homily in Spanish, but he switched when he realized that there might not be any Hispanics there.

A tiny girl ran across the altar during the Consecration. Her mother, up there too as lector, was exasperated. The singing was off-key. So many things were imperfect. “Irreverent!” part of me screamed.

But my heart stood speechless and soft with compassion. These people were trying so hard! They had so little, but how strong was their faith!

After Mass, Father was so happy to see us. What a joy for him to have new folks joining them! Though we’d confirmed (we’d thought) with his pastor ahead of time, he had no idea who we were.

Father told us his story. I was surprised to learn that he'd learned all of his Spanish within the last year. Originally, he was from the Philippines. He hadn’t planned on staying in New York. He had been on his way to study in Rome. But when he was visiting his parents in New York, he’d gotten sick for a few days. That was how he’d come to know about Holy Rosary.

He saw what a beautiful church it was. But he saw its decline too. Because so few people came to Mass, they were threatening to close it down. Father didn't like the idea of that. For him, the clincher was seeing the paint flaking “off the nose of the Saint Therese statue.” The people of the parish and the neighborhood needed him. He would stay and help them. “If I do not stay, what will happen to their souls?” Just like that, he cancelled his plans for Rome.

I was so amazed, so humbled. My heart was heavy for this parish. But what a blessing to see their perseverance and their holy priest!

On the way back to the subway, we passed out bulletins from Holy Rosary parish to people that we met on the streets, telling them that there was a great church just around the corner and that they should check it out.


ElizabethAndrew said...

As someone who was on that trip, I can confirm that it was very humbling and inspirational to be at that church. Thank you, Phil, for writing about it!

Anonymous said...

You guys should com back to Holy Rosary Church and see how it has been transformed! Church attendance in even has its own web site now at

At The End Of The Day said...

This is a touching story. Many churches in the US are undergoing this kind of sad situation.

Who we are?

Every summer we, the Missionaries of the Eucharist, are walking from Lewiston, Maine to Washington, DC to proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith to everyone we meet, specifically through the Theology of the Body.

Conversion begins in our own hearts,which is why prayer is so important to our ministry. For this reason, everyday of our ten week walk begins with daily Mass. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are given the grace to be the Love of Christ not only to those in our community but also to those we meet in the streets.

We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.