Lisa and I were not looking forward to meeting with Father Walter in Chinatown. We were still reeling from committing Aunt Lucy to Southoaks. Yes, she was where she needed to be but it was not without pain felt by all of us. Two days later, we found ourselves on the F train headed downtown to the East Broadway stop. The station is just blocks from our destination in Chinatown. I’d never been to this part of town. It was dusk, my mood dismal and the streets unknown, adding a certain noir drama to our situation. We made our way to 5 Monroe Street under bridges that echoed the lumbering trucks above. Lisa whispered to me, “I feel like we’re going for a back alley abortion.” She was right. One bare florescent bulb showed signs of life next to a metal door. I pressed the buzzer and a muffled voice gave us muffled directions. We pulled the metal door open and climbed the stairs. My eyes were big and buggy like Aunt Lucy’s were just a few nights ago.
Father Walter was waiting for us in his little office. Metal chairs stood in front of a very old wooden desk. Florescent lights gave the room an unhealthy glow. Lisa and I decided hours ago that she would take the lead in this meeting. She is better with religious types being a bit saintly herself. I spent time on the principles bench in Catholic School. We didn’t want to risk anything and feared the smell of detention might still be on me after 40 years. We wore suits and on our faces – fatigue. Father Walter wore the usual black shirt, black pants and white collar. On his face – kindness.
Father Walter spoke in a very thick Italian accent and didn’t really touch on our problem until the very end. It seemed like he just wanted a conversation. Haiti just had an earthquake and the Italian Army was camping in the yard of the church he was once pastor of. He told us all of this with a genuine smile and was very proud of the Italian Army as well as that little church. He feared for the people he knew who still lived there and waited for sporadic phone calls that reported news. The conversation drifted from Haiti to China and the poor there. Even now, with the economy starting to boom, people are still arranging to be smuggled out. It costs about $70,000, which gets paid back with 10 years of servitude. “Things sometimes go bad.” Father Walter told us. “A woman was smuggled out leaving her husband and two children behind. She died in a bus accident and her husband had to come over to finish her servitude. Because he had to be smuggled out, another 10 years was added. Now there are two children in China without their parents.” Father Walter shook his head while Lisa and I sat there in horror.
Father Walter was studying law so that he can represent the poor in court. Human trafficking is a big problem in Chinatown. By now, I loved Father Walter and his devotion. I also understood the point of this conversation. When we finally discussed Lisa and I needing to become parishioners, the problem seemed so very small and insignificant. He asked for our birth certificates, sacrament certificates and then said he would make us his parishioners. No waiting, no dues. That’s how we became members of St Joseph’s Church in Chinatown. Once the paperwork was filled out, we were free to go as members of his church. We exhaled in a mixture of relief and glee. On the way our Father Walter said, “You may not think you need religion now, but if one day the future gets too tough, remember God is with you.”
“OK, OK.” We said in agreement. Both of us too tired to even ponder his words.
We trudged back to the subway. The streets seemed faster, cleaner and less ominous. Hearts lighter as something had definitely gone our way for the first time that week. Truth was, it would be the last time in a while, but I’m getting ahead of myself.