In the Spring of 2017, I was on loan to a TLM-parish in the diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana. Gibson is in the bayou and I often point out I had alligators as closer geographic neighbors than humans. But I often spent time in New Orleans when I got lonely in the swamp. One day, I was walking near the horse track in New Orleans before Mardi Gras. I think it was the Monday before Mardi Gras, but you have to understand that “Mardi Gras season” in NOLA begins in January, and lasts for months. Now, even the homeless (and the street-people with homes) get tired of seeing certain costumes among tourists, especially tourists who dress up like priests or nuns. That’s the background to where this story begins. I re-discovered it on Facebook from what I posted on 27 Feb ’17. The picture from the post is above, and here’s the story I posted:
Today was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I was walking down the street in New Orleans today around noon, in my cassock. I saw a group of about ten native New Orleanians hanging out in a park. I made eye contact with the leader (seated in the picture below) and he cussed me out with three choice words, putting his finger against me in the air. I said: “Why you gotta talk like that?” I walked over and he said: “Because you’re mocking priests!” I shook his hand and said, “No, sir. I’m a real priest.” He didn’t believe me until I blessed them all in Latin.
Then, everyone yelled “Aw, Fawthah, I’m Catholic too!” Everyone started laughing and apologizing. I was in shock at how Catholic Louisiana is, that a group of different races all wanted to stop public mockery of the Catholic Church. The leader of the group apologized at least two or three times to me, explaining that a lot of tourists dress up during Mardi Gras week as priests. He said he doesn’t like that, being Catholic and all. He said to me: “I thought you were mocking my Church.” I thanked him for defending the Catholic Church.
Everyone got Miraculous Medals or Rosaries out of the whole escapade and I reminded them that “These beads last longer than Mardi Gras beads. They’ll get you to heaven.” I tried to explain how to pray the Rosary but they were too excited at their new gifts. They all agreed to a picture and they all yelled “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” As I went away, the woman in the picture was yelling “We got blessed today, we got blessed today!” Actually, I got blessed by their joy today, in one of the best experiences of my priesthood. It hit me that an episode that began as a curse, actually ended as a blessing.