St. Thomas More Catholic Church, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, serves some of New York's most prominent families. But these well-connected and widely traveled parishioners were moved to tears at Sunday's 12:30pm mass.
Father Linus Nangwele, who is a visiting priest while studying at the United Nations, celebrated the mass. The gospel reading was about the power of faith. Following that reading, Father Nangwele asked everyone what time is was. When he received a response, he then asked for everyone to indulge him for ten minutes.
He began his sermon with the story of Margaret. Forty years ago she lived in a small rural village in Ghana with her four-year-old son. She worked on a farm outside of town, but always left her son behind so he could play with friends. One day, while playing with his friends, the boy suddenly collapsed to the ground. He had stopped breathing, and his stomach had become bloated. The villagers, who were called to the scene, pronounced the boy dead.
Now there were no mortuaries or funeral homes in rural Ghana, so the dead were buried within 24 hours. But Margaret was off working on a farm, so someone was dispatched to get her. When Margaret arrived and saw her son's body she broke down. The villagers informed her that they would bury her boy the next day. But Margaret refused to go along with tradition. She had to know what happened to her son.
Margaret created a sling out of the fabric she was wearing, wrapped it around her son and slung his body over her back. Carrying her son and a rosary, Margaret walked 25 miles to the nearest hospital. When she arrived late at night she explained to the nurse what had happened. The nurse looked at the boy and then told Margaret she would have to leave and go bury her son.
By Margaret refused to leave. She made such a scene that it attracted a doctor's attention. She explained to the doctor that she couldn't believe what had happened to her boy and demanded that he perform an autopsy to determine the cause. The doctor agreed to do so. As he worked for several hours on the boy, Margaret sat outside the door saying her rosary.
When the doctor emerged from the operating room he told Margaret that her son was alive. But, he cautioned, it would take a long time for the boy to fully recover. So Margaret stayed with her son for two years as he slowly recovered. When the boy was discharged from the hospital, Margaret took her son back to their village. Only many villagers refused to believe that the boy was alive. Instead, they thought he was a ghost.
The St. Thomas More parishioners hung on every word as the priest continued his story, explaining that the boy ended up going to school, then on to college, then he entered the seminary, and was ordained a priest in 2000. Father Nangwele then paused briefly, and said; "So today that boy stands before you."
A collective gasp rolled across the pews, then murmurs as people spoke to their neighbor of their surprise. Then the parishioners gave Father Linus a warm round of applause, something that rarely happens during this portion of a mass. But Father Nangwele had more for the gathering.
"What do the letters in the word faith stand for", he asked. He answered himself: "Forward An Issue To Heaven." He said his mother, who never gave up on her boy, had strong faith. Father Nangwele then asked what the letters in the word "push" mean. He responded, "Pray Until Something Happens." Of course, his mother never stopped praying. As he finished his sermon, the priest paused again, and said, "My name is Linus, L I N U S." He then smiled, nodded and returned to the altar to continue the mass
Father Linus has occasionally told this story in his sermons to explain his calling to priesthood. He came to the United States in 2005, and has lived in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale while pursuing advanced degrees in theology and conflict analysis and resolution. His English is fluent, although he has an accent, and his smile in infectious.
After the mass was over, a huge line of parishioners waited to shake Father Linus's hand and thank him for his incredibly moving personal story. In ten short minutes he had given them a powerful reason to have faith.