National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

‘The Vigil Was Our Date’

A Manhattan parish shows how to really let Christ into your social life

BY STEPHEN VINCENT

October 22-28, 2006 Issue | Posted 10/19/06 at 9:00 AM

 

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 62nd Street.

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 lives.

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 skin deep.

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 together.

“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.

First, Pray

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

Wallingford, Connecticut.