Pedestrians going about their business during the afternoon and evening March 26 in Manhattan were politely stopped outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral by volunteer sidewalk missionaries who had a message to share: It was Reconciliaton Monday across the archdiocese, and confessions were being offered at the cathedral until 9 p.m.
Modeled after a volunteer effort that has been conducted during Advent and Lent outside the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan, Sidewalk Missions invites passersby to partake in the sacrament of penance, said Douglas Dewey, an organizer of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral contingent who was one of 20 missionaries to report there on Monday of Holy Week. That number included two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who were in the confessional administering the sacrament. In addition to Cathedral staff, Sidewalk Missions receives support from the Sisters of Life who, along with the Renewal Friars, participated in the Advent missionary endeavor there in December.
Dewey, 51, a husband and father of 10 who is managing director of a wealth management firm in Midtown Manhattan (he and his family belong to a parish in Stamford, Conn., but he attends Mass during the week at the Cathedral) was grateful that a couple from suburban Chicago he greeted March 26 inside the cathedral decided to go to confession then and there. “She hasn’t been to confession in 31 years; he, I think, longer,” Dewey said of the husband and wife.
“The Holy Spirit put on their hearts that they’re going to go. There’s that extra step,” Dewey said, “just between getting your heart convicted and actually taking the physical step” of getting in line to receive the sacrament. “And it just happened. I just watched a miracle. They’re in there right now. I’m praying for them. Beautiful people.”
Aviva Lund, 16, a member of Resurrection parish in Rye, was among the sidewalk missionaries stationed along the cathedral’s front steps. She approached passersby gently but assuredly. And with a broad smile.
Since what is being offered is the sacrament of reconciliation, the missionaries ask upfront whether the person is Catholic.
Miss Lund, who is homeschooled, said her approach is to make the exchange “casual, not imposing. I just want to be a kind person for them to say hello to…
“Seeing the Holy Spirit work through people, and seeing how he calls them, is just amazing,” Miss Lund added. “And it strengthens my own faith…
“You never know,” she said, “who’s just waiting to be asked.”
Among the many pedestrians Miss Lund greeted were Rubi Chamu, 25, and her sister Jazmin Chamu, 24, both of Guerrero, Mexico. The Chamus were visiting New York for the first time during Holy Week.
“So far, this is the prettiest place I’ve seen here in the city,” Rubi, an international affairs student, said of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I feel like I’m in my hometown and it feels really warm” and welcoming, added Jazmin, a psychology major.
Both sisters were pleased with how they were approached by the missionaries, both inside and outside the cathedral. They appreciated that the missionaries distributed Rosaries and confession guides and told them that their confessions could be heard in Spanish if they preferred.
The Chamus told CNY that although neither of them is a regular church-goer, they do attend on Easter and Christmas. And though they did not choose to go to confession just then, both planned to keep in mind what Miss Lund told them: that the sacrament of reconciliation would be offered until 9 that night and that they could always come back.