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A Manhattan parish shows how to really let Christ into your social life
BY STEPHEN VINCENT
I met my wife at 3 a.m. on a Friday night on Manhattan’s upper East Side.
No, we were not at one of the many singles bars in the area,
waiting for the bartender’s last call. We were at a First Friday all-night
vigil in Our Lady of Peace Church on East
Though both of us started going to the vigil more to pray
than to meet someone — who would have expected to find other young people
praying in the center of New York’s
night life? — it turned out to be the perfect place to
begin a relationship.
My future wife came to the vigil with female friends; I was
already attending with male friends. We got to know each other in the comfort
and security of a group of prayerful young adults who recited the Rosary
regularly, prayed in front of abortion clinics and sought God’s will in their
When eventually I asked her for a date, and we sat together
for the first time at the vigil (instead of across the aisle from one another),
there was excited whispering among our friends but little surprise. We had tested
our relationship in a supportive group of peers while kneeling before the
Blessed Sacrament. The first time we held hands, our love was already more than
My wife and I were not the only vigil regulars to marry. At
least six couples from our group prayed their way to the altar. The first pair
was John and Mely Margand.
Like my wife and I after them, he was a New Yorker and she was from the Philippines. Married
in 1993, they paved the way for others, both in love and heroism.
During her fourth pregnancy, Mely was
diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors advised an abortion so they could treat
the tumor more aggressively. Like St. Gianna Molla before her, Mely declined,
placing the life of her child above her own. She died at home a year later, in
1999. The child she sacrificed for received her first holy
Communion this year.
Dan and Kathy Brusstar knew each another
from pro-life work, but they did not start dating until after attending the vigil
“The vigil was our date,” Kathy says. “Our relationship
became much deeper in such a prayerful atmosphere.” Married in 1995, they now
have three children.
The story of Manny and Karee Santos shows how the vigil can
smooth a rocky relationship. They actually did meet first in a bar, and there
were problems from the start. He was a faithful Catholic; she was an
Episcopalian who sang in the choir at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue.
Manny tried to convert her, but she resisted. “I told him
that maybe he should go date a nice Catholic girl if that’s what he wanted,”
Karee recalls. “It was a very contentious relationship at first.”
They also were still immersed in the city’s weekend bar
scene. “He was a devout Catholic,” she says, “but also a bit of a party guy.”
That is, until a friend invited them to the all-night vigil.
Karee didn’t know what it was all about, “but I figured that it would be better
to go to church than to a bar on Friday nights.” After a few months of regular
attendance at the First Friday vigil, Manny took Karee’s hand at the midnight break
and asked her to marry him.
“It was a total and complete surprise,” Karee says. “We were
so excited that for the first time we both stayed the entire vigil, until the
closing Mass that morning. We usually had left after the midnight break.”
Karee was surprised that Manny proposed to her before she had
become a Catholic, though he knew that she was on a path to entering the
Church. “The vigil was central to our relationship,” Manny explains. “It also
marked a deepening of my own faith, even though I was raised a Catholic. There
was a curious web of relationships that developed as people drew closer to
Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We began to see God’s will more clearly.”
A turning point, he notes, was when Karee told him that she
was “99.9% sure” about the Real Presence. “I was driving at the time, and you
could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard her say that,” Manny
remembers. “It was all the result of the vigil.”
For Karee, her new viewpoint began at her first vigil. “I
was struck immediately by the silence and the devoutness before the Blessed
Sacrament,” she says. “Everyone got down on both knees to genuflect whenever
getting in or out of the pews, even the old ladies. It was very impressive.
Just being in the presence of Jesus for so long each month, He began to enter
my heart in a new way.”
She was received into the Church before their wedding in
2000, and recently delivered their fourth child.
The purpose of the vigil, however, is not to serve as a
matchmaker, warns Mario Bruschi, who has coordinated the
all-night prayer gathering for close to 40 years.
“We are there to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, before
Christ and His Blessed Mother, and to make reparation for our sins and the sins
of the world before the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of
Mary,” says Bruschi, who has attended the weddings of
the vigil couples and served as godfather for some of their children. “Still,
it’s not surprising that so many young people come together because it is the
best place to meet. They know they will find someone with a religious perspective,
with the same basic values and faith, so that’s definitely a good start.”
Each month, Bruschi arranges for
priests to offer the Friday 11 p.m. Mass, hear confession well past midnight
and offer the closing Mass at 5 p.m. He also maintains the prayer book that was
compiled specifically for the vigil, leads the recitation of the Rosary
throughout the night, as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and other popular
devotions. He arranges the two coffee breaks in the church’s auditorium, where
vigil-goers meet over coffee and cake.
Bruschi is the director of
the North American Prayer Group for St. Padre Pio,
the Capuchin priest who bore the wounds of the stigmata. Bruschi
says his life was changed after he went to confession to Padre Pio when he was a young man in the 1960s, and he credits
the saint with finding him a wife. He and his wife have four adult children who
still assist with the vigil.
“A lot of young people are lost today. They are frustrated
and lack direction,” Bruschi says. “The vigil is the
perfect place for them, because first of all it is a place of prayer. The
breaks during the night are a time of sociability, of Christian brotherhood and
sisterhood. When I talk to the young people, I realize that some want to get
married. But first, they have to pray.”
Stephen Vincent writes from