Why I was late for the healing mass

This evening was our latest diocesan healing mass, set to be held at St. Willibrord’s church in Verdun. I was supposed to arrive around 6:30 pm to pray with the team and help set up, but I only got there around 7:20 pm. Why was I late? Because I was already engaged in healing ministry — in the local metro station!

Things were going so well. The church is only a 5 min walk from the Verdun metro station, and I was more than on time — I was early! But as I got off the metro and headed up the stairs, I came across a fairly dramatic sight: a man collapsed on his back, his torso on the top landing with his legs on the steps. What had happened to him? Had he slipped on the steps and bumped his head, knocking him unconscious? Perhaps a sudden attack of fatigue, so he sat down but then swooned, falling backwards? It could have been anything: diabetic coma, stroke, heart attack. One thing for sure: he was out cold.

I went over to the booth of the metro attendant, and asked about the man. The attendant told me he had already called for an ambulance. So I went back to the man, and I didn’t think it was right that he be left alone there. And while I did not know if he was sick, or even if he was Catholic, I got out my holy oils (which I happened to have on me because I was headed to a healing mass!) and anointed the man, right there in the station. I don’t know what the passers-by thought of the scene, but I do know one person who was quite happy: the metro cleaning lady, a sweet middle-aged Hispanic woman. We got some security tape and cordoned off that particular stairwell, and she got a wet cloth to put on his forehead (perhaps it would make him more comfortable). She told me how her whole family was “very Catholic”, and I got the impression she quite glad to see a priest sticking around to attend to this man.

The ambulance took a while to get there, at least 30 minutes, although I don’t think it was the fault of emergency services — from what I gather, it was the subway security central that fumbled the ball, as when another passenger went to call 911 for us from a pay phone the ambulance was there in 5 minutes. The man’s breathing and pulse were good, but they were worried about possible neck injury so they began to prep him for a ride on a stretcher. As they adjusted his head he let out a big exhale, and (sadly or happily, depending on your point of view) the smell of booze filled the air. We all looked at each other and smiled — ok, he was fine, just passed out. I made a joke to the Hispanic lady: “I wonder if I can get my oils back?” While we don’t know what else might be going on in this poor man’s life, at least we knew there was no acute medical need, and that made me feel a bit better. I then got up and headed to the healing mass. What a start to the evening!