08/29/2016 AT 03:45 PM EDT
A close friendship quickly developed between the two, and Father Mychal’s peaceful spirit enabled McDonald to forgive the 15-year-old who shot him in Central Park – and to find the strength to move forward.
“He helped me understand life was worth living – even though I was left like this – and that I had a purpose,” he says.
McDonald, in his motorized wheelchair, has led the crowd that has since grown to around 600 people. They wind downtown along Seventh Avenue to the World Trade Center site – following the same route that Father Mychal took on 9/11 – with stops at firehouses and police precincts along the way. It finishes at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, where Father Mychal’s body was brought from Ground Zero.
“He was the face we chose to remember everyone,” McDonald says. “He loved everyone, he was a remarkable person. He wanted us to be more peaceful and to be closer to each other, and that it’s a good thing.”