Sometimes, someone we've never even met can impact our lives in a significant way. I was recently reflecting back on my time in New York at Corazon Puro's (mother organization of Pure Heart Philippines) Missionary Formation Program (MFP), back in 2017. Standing and praying in front of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, under the rain with cold winds and no umbrella is probably my most unforgettable experience in NYC during this week. Looking at the names of the victims on the memorial got me thinking about what lives these brothers and sisters of ours lived before 9/11. It would be interesting to learn about each of them. Some were mothers, fathers, single people, and maybe even children. One name caught my attention because it had a white rose next to it: Marissa White. I don’t know who she was, but it was her birthday that day when we prayed for her under the rain. She was somebody’s daughter, sister, friend…like most of the names; like most of the people there, they were somebody to someone. Marissa White. She lived here before 9/11.
I live (present tense). I am alive. I walked around the City of New York with my friends—it was really big! It was my first time in NYC. I saw a lot of people there who are “alive” like me—busy people rushing, families, young people, working people, children, food sellers, homeless people, “head-turners,” tourists shooting away with their cameras, and a pregnant woman inside the train that we protected. “Oops! Precious cargo here!” we yelled as people squished inside during rush hour. The pregnant lady smiled. We stood like a fortress around her (and you could tell, she and her husband were touched). Different people, different backgrounds, different stories to tell—but all affecting each other.
I am not alone in this life. Each person that comes into my life affects me. These persons could be a light for me, a support, a problem, a friend, family, an adversary, a mission. We all need help once in a while, and we can all help others too. None of us are perfect, but this imperfection is what makes us able to see, to relate to the imperfections, the hurt in others, and it helps us understand them, and it helps them to trust us when we say, “I know what you’re going through.”
New York may not be financially poor compared to other places, but there are other poverties that make a place a mission field. I look at the Franciscan Friars (who hosted us) and the other Corazon Puro missionaries - and I am just awed by their open hearts, their zeal for souls, the love they give to everyone…We are all family. No matter what race, creed, nationality, church group, youth group, gang, clique, you belong to, we all belong to God, and every life, every soul is worth saving. Every life is a mission field for us to bring God’s love and light to. No one mission is greater or lesser than any other if it is all done for the love of God and the other.
With my little experience in missions, going places, meeting people—especially the poor and people on the "peripheries" — can be a heavy load to carry. But God provides the strength to go on. Speaking to youth, young professionals, adults, children at schools, work places, cemeteries (yes, you read that right—some people in my city, Cebu, live in cemeteries and their children play there around the tombs), churches, streets, and wherever else He sends us can be draining, but I always feel the blessing. Every life affects every other, and He calls us to spread His light and love to as many people as we can. And He always gives us company for the journey—good friends, holy people, people who don’t hesitate to walk alongside us, no matter what may come.
And He reminds us of our still greater, bigger family. He shows you some of the lives that shine before us—those of the Saints already beholding Him in heaven. The are also ALIVE. They were like us too, experiencing all that we go through, especially the difficulties, and they help us press on by their prayers and the inspiration that we see in the lives that they lived.
In NYC, I was blessed to have an encounter with these heavenly older brothers and sisters. I “met” Padre Pio through his relics, and at St. Patrick's Cathedral, I encountered the body of Bishop Fulton Sheen.
Even at the Metropolitan Museum, the saints were all over saying hi! In a painting of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, I felt he was telling me, “This yes of yours to be a little missionary for God is already part of your vocation. Press on! Do not worry what others say or how little or insignificant they say or even you think you are doing—press on!"
Each life affects every other, whether it is a life that was or a life that is; we are all still together in this eternal present of God. Marissa White, I pray for you and all the victims of 9/11. Your life serves as a testament to how precious and fragile human lives are. Somehow it was not an accident that I took a photo of your name with the white rose. As it is often said, “There are no such things as coincidences, only God-incidences.” Let us all ask God to give us the grace to be fully ALIVE, and to bring His life to others.
Written by Mae Donaldo. Mae has been involved with Pure Heart Philippines since its beginnings in 2014. She is now a postulant in the Community of the Apostolic Sisters of St. John.