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'A Thousand Hidden Miracles'
Chicago Attorney Takes His Faith to the Public Square
By Dan Valenti (Feb 9, 2012)
Attorney Michael Sullivan of Chicago, Ill., thinks he has the key to the New Evangelization. The key is Divine Mercy.
First, what is the New Evangelization? A pastoral letter on the topic by the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., explains it this way: "The New Evangelization is not a program. It is an outlook on life and a personal invitation to rediscover Christ and His message."The New Evangelization is also about the role of everyone — clergy, religious, and laity — to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church. We do this as an enthusiastic response to the Gospel of Christ and our personal encounter with Him.
Sullivan works with the Thomas Moore Society, in his words, the "go-to public interest law firm for Catholics in America based in Chicago." He says he takes his role as an evangelist seriously, and he is not afraid to put his actions where his prayers are.
Divine Mercy Comes to the Public Square in Chicago
Last year, beginning on Good Friday and ending the day after Divine Mercy Sunday, Moore spearheaded a kind of Catholic "guerrilla action" of evangelization. After obtaining the proper city permits, he ensured that a 15-foot by six-foot image of The Divine Mercy was placed in Chicago's Daley Center at 50 W. Washington Street. Daley Center is one of Chicago's main public spaces.
Welcome to "The Divine Mercy Project: Prayer in the Public Square." The Windy City had not seen anything like it.
Sullivan, with help from the Thomas Moore Society, Christopher Leaders, and other volunteers, arranged for the huge image of The Divine Mercy to be displayed in Daley Center plaza, next to a more permanent and well-known fixture: a 162-foot statue by Pablo Picasso.
The two works of art, the painted image of Jesus and the original Picasso, could not look more different. The Picasso statue confounds viewers and even art critics. What is it? Some say it's either a portrait of Picasso's wife at the time or his Afghan dog seen from different angles. When you look at the image of The Divine Mercy, there's no doubt what you're seeing. Let Michael Sullivan say it: "We see the merciful face of Jesus, showering His love on us as seen in the rays coming from His Sacred Heart." While Picasso is, at best, an acquired taste, there's no ambiguity in or need for artistic interpretation regarding The Divine Mercy image. Divine Mercy is clear, direct, available to and accessible by all.
A Modest Goal: 'Conversion of the World'
Sullivan says, "We had the image up on Good Friday of last year and kept it in the square to the day after Divine Mercy Sunday. First, we had the image covered with a shroud, which we kept in place until Easter. We unveiled the image in an ecumenical Easter sunrise service we had in the square."
To accompany the image, organizers arranged for a "perpetual presence" involving hundreds of people for the entire time the image was on display. Volunteers prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the Rosary. They also distributed thousands of Divine Mercy prayercards.
"The reason why we were doing this is that Our Lady asked us at Fatima to pray for the conversion of the world," Sullivan says. "We decided to begin in Chicago. We also take seriously our job as Catholics to evangelize. I think Divine Mercy is the key to the New Evangelization. Again, we decided in Chicago, in the public square as a witness to our faith." In this strategy, Sullivan and his colleagues in Divine Mercy made use of a strategy oft-advised by the saints: Begin holiness in a small way, in your own backyard, among the people in your daily life.
The public square, of course, draws people of every race, color, creed, sexual orientation, class, and every other distinction. That's one of the reasons why the organizers chose Daley Plaza. Sullivan agreed: It's a version of the "preach in the barrooms" strategy, because that's often where you find people who need God the most.
"At Daley Center," Sullivan says, "We encountered the whole world: militants, feminists, Satanists, radical Muslims, just about everybody."Not everyone accepted a prayercard and a few tried to be hostile or intimidating, but for those, Sullivan's answer is simple ... and simply Christian: "We pray for them."
A Strong Ecumenical Aspect
"Our project took on a whole ecumenical dimension," Sullivan says. "We had Lutherans, Episcopalians, Evangelical Protestants, lots of Catholics" [participate in praying and handing out cards]. Of course, the range of humanity — Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindis, atheists, and more — stopped by, if for nothing else, out of curiosity. I think it helped everyone, since we prayed for everyone who entered the square."
Sullivan points out that Catholics do not do as well as some of their Christian brothers and sisters when it comes to evangelization. Consequently, he sought their help. At a conference, he met the pastor of an Evangelical church and later followed up by visiting the pastor at home. They talked about evangelical strategies. Sullivan was learning from the best.
"I talked with him about wanting to connect with people in his church who do outreach and evangelization," Sullivan says. "We arranged for a group of our young people to get together with a group of their young people, and it was tremendous. We learned so much. When Catholics and Evangelicals start working with each other, there's a real power that's released because it confuses the enemy [Satan]."
Sullivan applied what he and the group learned for the days during which The Divine Mercy image was displayed at Daley Center: "For those nine days, we had people praying novena prayers, the Chaplet, on the hour, every hour with the specific intention of conversion. We soon realized we were reaching an 'unchurched' population. We handed out about 20,000 prayercards." Sullivan's remark about reaching the "unchurched" calls to mind Jesus' observation that the healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Chaplet: 'An Intercessory Prayer for the Rest of the World
Sullivan says the front of the prayercard showed the image of The Divine Mercy. On the back, there were a few short prayers, including a "Sinner's Prayer" acknowledging one's sins, asking forgiveness, and accepting God's love.
"We didn't put the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy on the back [of the prayercard] because people don't necessarily know the "Our Father" or the "Hail Mary," Sullivan says. He says one of the things he learned about evangelizing is to do it incrementally. In other words, don't throw too much at people too soon. "The Chaplet is an intercessory prayer for the rest of the world. It's a great way to help people who either can't or won't help themselves."
As for the image, Sullivan says it speaks for itself: "God is going to reach people with this image. We saw this in our novena in the public square. We had people from many faiths and backgrounds handing out prayercards. We had people report healings. We had people who gave their lives to the Lord. There were a thousand hidden miracles that took place in the plaza."
For an Anxious Law Student, Divine Mercy to the Rescue
Sullivan says he got inspired in his faith life in about 2000, when he began to learn about Divine Mercy from watching broadcasts on EWTN, the global Catholic television network.
He was in law school at the time, and he "had a lot of anxiety about if I would be able to perform well in a competitive context. Divine Mercy was such a powerful place of peace, and I was moved by it. In law school, I had a little icon next to my bed. It was the last thing I would see at night and the first thing I would see in the morning."
He says, "The devotion chose me. I didn't choose the devotion." He became engaged to a woman from Kansas City that he met at a friend's wedding there. He began to visit her in Kansas City, and in her parish, the pastor would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet after Mass. They soon wed in the parish, which was then the diocesan shrine for The Divine Mercy.
Evangelize: A Foreign Word to Many Catholics
Evangelization —the word sounds foreign and intimidating to many Catholics. It's not something many, if not most, of us do or want to do. We often aren't willing to "wear our faith on our sleeve," to let the world know the source of our hope and belief, which is the Catholic Church founded by Jesus and built by the Apostles.
The New Evangelization springs from an Apostolic Letter (Novo Millennio Inuente) from Blessed John Paul II issued on Jan. 6, 2001, Feast of the Epiphany and close of the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. The Pope's letter mentioned the need for forgiveness, our duty to praise God, and other aspects of faith (prayer, confession, the Holy Eucharist), and witnessing to the faith. A life of faith requires testimony, since the faithful have been given the "objective gift of holiness offered to all the baptized."
Pope John Paul II said in the letter that evangelizing "cannot be left to a group of 'specialists' but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God. Those who come in genuine contact with Christ cannot keep Him for themselves. They must proclaim Him."
Becoming an Instrument of God's Peace
"As Catholics, we talk about the New Evangelization, but we don't do much about it," Sullivan says. He says he agrees with Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria who has referred to Divine Mercy as the "door of the New Evangelization."
Sullivan says he sees Divine Mercy "is a bridge for us Catholics to take a few steps into evangelization. Use the image [of The Divine Mercy] as a magnet [to attract people]. A lot of people might find it difficult at first to reach out to someone holding a simple card, but once they get over it, it begins to come easier. Then we become instruments of the Lord."
He says people were happy they participated in bringing Divine Mercy to Daley Plaza in Chicago. He called it a "tremendous morale builder." So much so that this year, The Divine Mercy Project intends a repeat performance at the plaza in Chicago, once again beginning on Good Friday and going through Divine Mercy Sunday.
"Our goal is to do it again here, and move on from Chicago" to other parts of the country.