The 96-degree temperature did not keep 103-year-old Justa Rodriguez or her 76-year-old son Emilio Rodriguez from attending the street Mass outside St. Cecilia and Holy Agony Church in Manhattan on July 1.
“That was beautiful,” she said of the Mass upon its conclusion, noting she planned to pray a “rosario” before retiring for the evening.
Emilio Rodriguez, who accompanied his mother in a cab, sat alongside her at the Mass. Both are Cuban immigrants. “They gave her a front-row seat,” he said, adding, “Today was special.”
The outdoor liturgy was designed with parishioners such as Mrs. Rodriguez in mind, those who are physically unable to navigate the church’s numerous steep steps.
Homebound and fallen-away Catholics who live within the parish boundaries were also targets of the evangelization effort.
Father Peter A. Mushi, A.J., pastor of St. Cecilia and Holy Agony parish, served as principal celebrant and homilist of the 4 p.m. bilingual liturgy. For several hours beforehand, attendees enjoyed testimonials and information about parish programs while lunching on sandwiches, dancing to festive music provided by a band from Sacred Heart parish, the Bronx, and drinking what seemed to be an endless supply of ice-cold bottled water.
“The persons who cannot go up the stairs, who are with us here today,” Father Mushi said, “it’s a beautiful thing to see, that they can share with us this Mass.”
He thanked all who helped make the liturgy a reality. “We got people who came out of their houses because you went out there to pick them up, to bring them in.”
He encouraged the congregation, reminding them that Pope Francis has instructed people to go out to the peripheries. “We have a mission, brothers and sisters,” Father Mushi said. “We have to be the ones who are going to touch those who are alone…
“We say, ‘I’m here, I come for five minutes, to say hello, to bring you a cup of water, to chat with you a little bit and to bring to you the love of Christ, the love of Jesus.’
“We have to continue this mission every day, without getting tired.”
In all, 412 people attended, according to a pleased Father Mushi, as he proudly held a silver counter in hand at the base of the church steps on East 106th Street while the staging area of the Mass was being taken down to comply with the timely reopening of the street by the city.
A number of pedestrians of varying ages passed by that afternoon—many were on foot, carting groceries or strolling baby carriages along the sidewalk; others rode bicycles or steered scooters on the street adjacent to the Mass site. Most took the time to watch what was happening, either out of curiosity or reverence or both.
During the Eucharistic Prayer, a young man riding a skateboard at a good speed abruptly stopped alongside the outdoor sanctuary and repositioned himself so that one leg was kneeling on the skateboard as he prayerfully bowed his head for a while before going on his way.
A preaching testimonial was offered by Heriberto Diaz of St. Frances de Chantal, the Bronx. Among other points, he encouraged regular Mass attendance by citing some calculations. “If you go to Mass every Sunday, you will have gone to Mass 52 hours of the year.” He then divided the 52 weeks of the year by the number of hours in the day, 24. “That,” he added, “is the equivalent of two days and four hours.”
As a member of the parish’s evangelization group, Madayi Perez, 44, helped canvass the neighborhood for a month to promote the Mass with flyers and through word of mouth.
“We’re so happy,” Ms. Perez said of the turnout. “There are a lot of people who want and have the need to find Christ in their life. Our commitment is to go out in person and bring them here,” added Ms. Perez, who is also the coordinator of the parish’s stewardship committee. “We’re planting the seed.”
Keven Salas, 14, a recent eighth-grade graduate, was one of the many altar servers at the Mass. He sported a cast on his left arm, having recently suffered a fracture.
If not for the street Mass, “I probably would have been home in the AC,” Keven said with a laugh after the Mass, explaining he would likely be playing a video game in the comfort of air-conditioning.
Wearing both a cast and a long-sleeved red robe in the scorching heat did not bother him, he said, because “I was serving God. I owe him, so serving Him is really important to me.”