Some friendships are forged for eternity.

Today, Marie remembered Uncle John*, a kindly Indian gentleman from Nativity church. She had known him when she was much younger, when she was barely a toddler learning to walk. Over a period of some months, he had taken to her with great fondness and affection, often showering her with praise and kindness.

The thing is, we never really got to know John all that well, though he was a constant fixture at the Marian grotto at church. Every evening after Mass, he could be found kneeling before the statue of Our Lady, his rosary in his hands, his face gazing up at the Blessed Virgin with a love and devotion that I always found moving and beautiful.

Our Mother in Heaven

Even though there were lots of other children around, John took particular interest in Marie, and his eyes always lit up whenever he saw her. He would get off his knees and come running over with affection and joy, pleading for permission to carry her. He would then take her to the statue of Mary, placing her little palm in Our Lady’s hand, and tell her all about her ‘Mother’ in heaven. On her part, Marie responded with sweetness and affection – which was unusual for Miss Grouchy Pants at the time.

On days when I didn’t bring Marie for Mass, John would be noticeably sad, and would urge me to please bring her the next time. Once or twice, he pressed a ten-dollar bill into her hands despite our protests, saying it gave him joy to bless her. But I felt bad that a stranger was pulling money out of his wallet like an indulging grandfather. It was all rather strange to us. And I had to firmly but politely decline his offers to get Marie presents. I could see the sadness in his eyes each time I told him there was no need for him to do so.

Marie and Mother Mary in St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street)

But John had an interesting backstory. He had lived a rough and tumbling life in his younger days, which involved gangs, alcohol, and a volatile temper. One day, during an especially low point in his life, he found himself tempted to end it all by jumping from a block of flats. As he edged towards the parapet, a schoolgirl accosted him along the corridor and pressed him to buy some Christmas cards. He bought a pack to dismiss her, and found himself staring at a picture of Mary, the Mother of Christ. He was Hindu at the time, and didn’t know who the Woman in the picture was. But something about that nativity scene with Mary carrying the baby Jesus made him feel loved, and defused his thoughts of suicide.

Found Jesus through Mary

Some days later while riding in a bus, he spotted a statue of that same Woman outside the courtyard of Nativity Church. Without knowing why, he quickly alighted and made his way to the grotto. As he entered the church, all his emotions came to a boil and he found himself falling to his knees in tears and thanksgiving. He later asked a priest for instruction about the Christian faith, and eventually got baptised as a Catholic. In the end, he found Jesus through Mary. And he made a promise that no matter what, come rain or shine, he would visit his Blessed Mother every day and honour her with a rosary – a prayerful bouquet of roses for the Woman who loved him back to health and life. In fact, when John found out that Marie was named after Our Lady, it only increased his joy and affection for our little girl, for his love for the Mother of God was great.

For years, John had been unrelenting in his promise to keep vigil at the feet of his Blessed Mother, and to love her Son with all his humble strength. A couple of times when I drove by the church in a thunderstorm, when no one would be caught dead outside in such weather, I’ve seen him kneeling before the statue of Mary, his rosary in his hands, his head bowed in prayer like a faithful knight waiting humbly on his Lady. Even if the whole world should be washed away in a deluge, he would not be dislodged from his humble place.

That profound picture of Uncle John all alone with Mary and the angels during a thunderstorm, drenched to the bone, remains one of the most epic images of love and fidelity I have ever seen.

But sadly, we have not seen John for many months now. His unusual absence after all these years of faithful attendance has been profound and keenly felt. And I can’t help wondering if perhaps, he has gone on to his eternal reward. We have reason to believe that it might be so.

This morning, Marie remembered Uncle John and prayed for him. She was able to make a little offering of prayers and Masses for his soul at the altar of Our Lady of Fatima. At the time, we hadn’t realised it was the 13th of the month. The money that John used to bless her with as a token of his love, she was able to return in kind by offering Masses for his well being and repose.

A couple of times when I drove by the church in a thunderstorm, I’ve seen him kneeling before the statue of Mary, his rosary in his hands, his head bowed in prayer like a faithful knight waiting humbly on his Lady.

Having prayed for Uncle John, we left church but were unprepared for what awaited Marie just outside the doors. For there on the ground, resplendent like a jewel, was a single beautiful rose, freshly picked and fully blossomed. It was perfect in its symmetry and hue.

It could’ve fallen off someone’s bouquet earlier, though it looked especially like the ones from the altar of our Lady of Fatima. Given John’s great love for Mary and the countless rosaries he offered her, we couldn’t help but see it as a little sign from heaven that Marie’s prayers and thoughts for Uncle John had been received with joy and celebration by the angels.

We pray that as John rejoices in the embrace of the Lord, he may already have heard Jesus say, “Thank you for all the beautiful roses you offered my Mother. I have often heard her speak about you. And I hear your friend, Marie loves you too.”

Every Hail Mary is a rose for Our Lady

In God, there are no coincidences. The bonds of affection and friendship between us are often better understood in time and eternity.

Lastly if you’re still reading this, Marie has a personal request that you say a prayer for her good friend. And if you’re Catholic, to please offer a Hail Mary or a Memorare for Uncle John. Thank you for your roses.

Published with the kind permission of Thomas Tan.
*John’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.

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