YAKIMA, Wash. (OSV News) — Father Jesús Mariscal, parochial vicar at St. Paul Cathedral in Yakima, stepped out of the rectory for what he thought would be a quick trip to buy doughnuts for a marriage preparation meeting with an engaged couple.
But he ended up helping a distressed homeless woman bring two young lives into the world on church grounds in late August.
Father Mariscal shared the story with Catholic Extension, a Chicago based nonprofit founded in 1905 to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions.
More than three months later he is wondering what God was trying to tell him through this extraordinary experience, which began as he set out on his errand and walked past the statue of the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception on the cathedral grounds. He heard a woman screaming frantically, “I need help! I’m having a baby!”
Father Mariscal couldn’t believe it at first. But he looked closely and saw blood at her feet. She cried out, “I’m having it now! I’m having it now!”
He called 911 and helped the woman lie down. He put his phone on speaker and placed it on the ground so he could follow their instructions.
Within seconds the woman gave birth to a baby boy. Father Mariscal handed the crying boy to the woman.
“I’m having another!” she shouted to the shocked priest.
Father Mariscal delivered the second boy. He told the 911 operator it was still in the amniotic sac, the protective membrane that surrounds a child in the womb. Father Mariscal saw the baby moving inside it.
The 911 operator told him to break it open. This proved more difficult than expected. With precious time evaporating, and no tools at his disposal, the priest was finally able to burst the sac with his hands, only to find the tiny infant wasn’t breathing.
His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. The operator told Father Mariscal to lay the child on his side and gently tap him on the back.
After a few terrifying moments the baby started screaming and announcing his arrival into the world. Father Mariscal placed the second child in the woman’s lone free arm.
The morning air was chilly, so he ran inside to get towels. Finally, the paramedics arrived.
Father Mariscal texted the couple he was supposed to meet for marriage preparation.
“I’m sorry I’m late for our appointment. I was just helping a lady deliver twins,” he wrote. They responded, assuming it was a joke to excuse his tardiness, “LOL Father. You don’t have to lie.”
The woman and twin boys were taken to the hospital. The babies were born premature, at 30 weeks, but were doing well. Father Mariscal was able to visit them at the hospital.
Father Mariscal said he does not know the exact nature of the mother’s situation in life. She left the hospital a few hours after being admitted, and as far as anyone knows she has not yet returned.
“It’s a beautiful story on one side, but heartbreaking on the other,” said the priest, whose own beloved mother passed away earlier in the year.
“It was a surreal experience,” he said. “It was like something from a movie. I was there holding a baby with my bloody hands, and the baby was all bloody as well, and I’m dressed in clerics. And I’m a priest in front of the shrine of Our Lady. And I was thinking, ‘What is God trying to tell me? What are you trying to tell me, God? What is this about?'”
The priest, who was ordained in 2018, is a native of Mexico who is a former migrant worker whose ministry in the Yakima Diocese is serving migrant farmworkers, with the support of Catholic Extension. He is one of hundreds of active priests whose seminarian education has been supported by the nonprofit.
Father Mariscal told Catholic Extension that he does not want people to focus on him after reading this story.
“It’s clear to me that we need to make it about the mother and the babies and how they are,” he said. “The twins and the woman are the protagonists of God’s love. They and people like them on the peripheries of our own communities are the ones God is calling us to embrace with our service and love for our neighbors.”
This story originally appeared Nov. 14 on the website of Catholic Extension, https://www.catholicextension.org.