A Day in Which I Saw How God Moves
By Kellie Ross (Feb 26, 2007)
Many people have asked me, "What is it like to go to the same park and wash the feet of the poor each month?" My response: Divine Mercy in My Soul. By that remark, I don't mean to imply that I am a saint, or even worthy enough to be called a disciple of Christ, but the pilgrimages our Divine Mercy group takes into Washington, D.C., each month stir the presence of the Holy Spirit in me, making me know that God loves me in spite of my weaknesses.
February 4, 2007 is an example of how God moves where He wills, each in different measure to the children He loves. Our group, the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, had been preparing for weeks for our monthly pilgrimage into the parks of Washington. I knew the weather was going to be cold. The forecast called for flurries with the temperature hovering in the low 20s.
"I am going to last about 15 minutes," I thought to myself sadly. All of my life I have been extremely cold intolerant, wearing flannel even in summer. Being outside in the cold wasn't just uncomfortable for me, but painful. I prayed to God to make it a 70-degree day. Then I chastised myself for such a thought, knowing that my brothers and sisters in the park suffer each day in these same conditions. All God was asking me to do was to spend a few hours with Him. I agreed. But I wanted to give God a little more this time.
I decided to dress in a simple black dress with a white apron and my familiar mantilla, which the poor in the park recognized me by. I had recently read about a person who froze to death in the streets of Washington and decided that to serve the poor, I should imitate the poor in simplicity. Accordingly, I wore a fleece jacket and left behind the hat and gloves.
When we arrived, there were about 150 homeless men and women gathered in small groups trying to stay warm. When they saw us, they rushed to the van and began helping us unload the food and equipment.
I was amazed at the group of men and women and how poorly they were dressed. In spite of it all, they were joyful and welcoming to us. As the stations of mercy were set up (food, foot washing, and toiletry distribution stations), I walked amongst the poor greeting them and encouraging them to have their feet washed. At first they laughed at me.
"It's 20 degrees, and you want to wash our feet?"
"Of course," I quipped. "Your feet will feel refreshed and warm with a new pair of socks."
Within a few minutes, there was a line of men waiting to sit at the park bench as the volunteers began washing their feet.
After about an hour, a volunteer approached me and said, "Please take a look at his feet. He says he's in a lot of pain."
The sisters who were working with me were all laughing and joyful and invited him to join us. Seeing his face and watching him smile as we welcomed him to fellowship made me forget all about the cold. We chatted for a few minutes, and I told him that I wanted to wash his feet.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he said, "You don't want to see my feet. I haven't taken my socks off for weeks."
I tried to smile and placed my hand on his lap and said, "I love your feet, please let me wash them." He took his shoes off, and there was silence. Even the homeless men and women who gathered around our stools and park bench just stared quietly. The man hung his head with shame as he said, "I am in so much pain. My feet hurt so bad, but I was afraid to take my shoes off at the shelter for fear of getting an infection."
His feet were unrecognizable. I could not longer distinguish one toe from the next. It looked as though they had "melted" together. The top part of his foot was blackened, while the sole of his foot looked like it had been immersed in water. "Trench foot and frost bite," I thought to myself. Part of his foot was so black, I wasn't sure if it were gangrenous.
I placed his foot on my lap with a towel. Immediately part of his foot began to shed. I looked down at his heel, and I inadvertently noticed that my mantilla was touching his foot and I began to pray that God would use the white mantilla, the rosary and the sacramentals to heal his feet. His feet were so tender and so decaying, that washing his feet would have only worsened his pain.
I gently took antibiotic ointment and hydrogen peroxide and dabbed the areas that I could. Then I wrapped his foot in a small hand towel and placed his foot close to my heart as I began to pray.
Within a few minutes, a small group of my brothers and sisters began praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. I asked the gentleman what his name was, and he told me "Jeff."
I said, "Jeff, today, God wants to show you His mercy."
The homeless men and women and the volunteers gathered closer as we began to pray the Chaplet. Knowing Jeff did not know the Chaplet, I asked him to say the words, "Jesus, I Trust in You" after each bead we prayed. What surprised me was the fervor with which he spoke the words. It was if he was having a personal conversation with Christ himself.
His eyes closed. He gently rocked back and forth with each invocation while I was still holding his foot near my heart. His words were so tender, I dared not interrupt his thoughts, so quietly, we prayed, "For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." He responded, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I do trust in You." Every now and then he would wince as I gently tried to keep his feet warm.
After we prayed the Chaplet, I told my brothers and sisters who had gathered that we needed to ask Our Blessed Mother to heal his feet. Placing our rosaries in the hands of the poor we began to pray the Rosary. On the first sorrowful mystery, a Hispanic man interrupted me and said, "I don't know how to pray the Rosary in English. Can you find someone who speaks Spanish to help me?"
God's mercy was revealed. One of our volunteers came and sat on the bench next to Jeff and the Hispanic man. When she looked at Jeff's feet, she began to weep as she prayed. The Hispanic man held her hand in support.
Was Jeff healed? I don't know. But I know a lot of people that day felt God's presence. How do I know? Because as soon as we were finished praying for Jeff, more and more people approached me. I asked them, "Would you like to have your feet washed?"
"No, thanks," they said. "We would like you to pray for us."
I was stunned.
For months I had been talking with these men, many of whom had just come to see us as they received food and then quickly left. Now they were asking us for prayer. One gentleman cried and said, "I just want to watch you wash feet." We prayed for each one who came by, and I have never felt the presence of Christ as much as I had in those moments with these men. I did not think that God could have made a more perfect day.
Then, as I was cleaning up our supplies and getting ready to head home, a woman approached me with a man limping, who was obviously in pain. "I have been stabbed," he said. He shared with me that he had tried to break up a fight a week earlier and had been stabbed in the back of the leg. He had already had surgery, but he had no more dressings for his wounds. I gave him what little I had left in my foot washing kit and then sat down on the bench to talk with him.
He asked me if God still loved him. I told him that God loved him especially. Tears streamed down his face as he shared his life of promiscuity, drugs and lawlessness. He was so overwhelmed with emotion, he laid his head on my shoulder and wept, pleading for God's mercy. I cradled his head with my hands and said, "We are all sinners to serve Jesus, and God has a plan for you in His life." I asked him to read the sacramental pamphlets we had given him and pray that God would direct his life. He smiled gently, thanked me and within a few minutes had disappeared from sight.
As I drove home I reflected on the events of the day. I thought about how my entire focus going into Washington was on my own needs and comfort, and not on the needs of my brothers and sisters. I reflected on my own sins, wondering, if sins were visible, would I resemble Jeff's feet?
I asked God for the strength and wisdom on how to die to myself and serve others. Then I realized the lesson of this day: I am a sinner to serve Jesus. A leper and no more than that.
Kellie Ross is director of operations of the House of Mercy, in Manassas, Va. The store can be reached at 1-877-BE-MERCY.