"A prayer for priests." Among the candles on the church steps that have become an altar on the street, someone placed that devotion, tucked neatly under a framed photo of Bartholomew Daly - the parish priest, pastor/administrator, Mill Hill Missionary, Irish immigrant. Taken by the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Damon Winters of the New York Times, it was published last January accompanying the article, 'Mass Mob' Fills a Manhattan Church with Hopes of Saving It.
The photograph captures the abject humility of the priest at the moment of the elevation of the chalice, the broken host balanced carefully between his fingers. But it is the chiaroscuro juxtaposition of the background painting - the Holy Child, carrying his crucifix toward the outstretched hand of St. Joseph - that frames the portrait of a sacrifice.
In his homily that Sunday, Father Daly said, "God is a God of surprises, and he gives us what we don't always expect." It was a tightrope of a homily, part resistance and part compliance. Part hope, part resignation.
Much has been published in the media about the New York churches that were merged and closed on July 31. Our Lady of Peace was shuttered, still waiting to hear the results of its Vatican appeal. News travelled around the world to Ireland, Italy, even Brazil. The clips and articles capture the sorrow, the anger, the frustration of the people. But they never quite get to the back story.
Less than two months before Pope Francis arrives, all these churches are being closed. And for what? Will we never learn the truth? Now the archdiocese and the Cardinal are saying it's not about money after all - there are just too many churches. Too many churches in one of the three cities with the largest Catholic population (36 percent).
Meanwhile, the people of Our Lady of Peace have been displaced from their spiritual home, and Father Daly has been evicted from the rectory. Along with so many priests in the archdiocese shuffled off to other places, he has moved to the Mill Hill Missionaries in Hartsdale, New York.
Yet parishioners return every day at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to say the 54-Day Rosary Novena to Our Lady of Pompeii. They started the evening of August first, the day after the closure, and they will continue until the Pope arrives in New York.
Being on the street has some advantages. Much better than an "Occupy OLP" would have been. Taxis and Ubers headed for the FDR or the Queensborough Bridge pull over. The curious ask, "What happened? Who died?"
It is a bit rudderless on the street, missing the good shepherd. The Cardinal says their church is just a building, and they will get used to a new place. The rector at their "new place" is too busy to take or return their calls. He works two jobs. That's corporate religion for you.
And that's not the way it was at Our Lady of Peace, is now, or ever shall be, parish without end.
Father Daly answered the phone, he opened the door, he walked the walk. He let the last days unfold the way the people needed, not by using some scripted transition manual, calling for a parade of sacred objects down First Avenue to that austere chapel in the chancery building. He kept the "transition" out of it. Instead, he celebrated, kept the faith, and reminded everyone that this church is a very sacred place.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs[a]
and carried our sorrows;[b]
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.[c]