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"The Lord doesn't give up on anybody," said Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, "because we all cost Him too much, too much."
Dictating Divine Mercy
'Little Catholic Group' Prays for World's Despots
Divine Mercy is for everyone, right?
No one — religion or no religion, belief or no belief, saint or atheist, literally no one — is left out.
Fine, but do you believe it? No, do you really believe it? For example, is there Divine Mercy for Adolph Hitler? Josef Stalin? How about dictators living today, people like Aleksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Joseph Kabila of Congo-Kinshasa, Kim Jong II of North Korea, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe? Are these thugs deserving of mercy?
The Little Catholic Group (LCG) of Malone, N.Y., not only thinks so; it is doing so.
The LCG, or Little Ones, have been praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the world's living dictators since April 5. Their prayer crusade began as the "Action" part of the group's participation in the "Why Catholic?" faith-sharing program sponsored by RENEW International. More on that later, but first, let's go to the mountain.
Father Seraphim Weighs In
We asked the man regarded as the world's top expert on Divine Mercy, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, about the question. First, Fr. Seraphim answered with a sense of direction that reminded me of an arrow zipping to its target. "No one can know the person's state of soul at the moment of death." Fr. Seraphim reached for his dog-eared copy of The Diary of St. Faustina and read:
I often communicate with persons who are dying and obtain the divine mercy for them. Oh, how great is the goodness of God, greater than we can understand. There are moments and there are mysteries of the divine mercy over which the heavens are astounded. Let our judgment of souls cease, for God's mercy upon them is extraordinary (1684).
As reinforcement, Fr. Seraphim cited Pope Benedict XVI's pastoral teaching on Judas, the betrayer of Jesus. In an address on Oct. 18 last year, the Holy Father said that the betrayal by Judas remains a "mystery" that became part of God's saving plan for mankind.
"When we think of the negative role played by Judas in the history of Jesus," the Pope said, "we must insert in it the superior management of events by God." In God's hands, the betrayal became "an opportunity for the total self-giving of the Son for the redemption of the world." No one, therefore, can say anything definitive about the status of Judas' soul. He may be in heaven, for all we know.
Father Seraphim said both these examples "would apply to a man like Hitler. God often shows compassion on a person who couldn't care less [about Him]. Who's to say how far His mercy can reach?" Father added that, certainly, Hitler was a problematic case. "Hitler was into the occult, so we don't know to what extent that involved the evil one. But even with this, he could have had that last vivid moment that Jesus talks to St. Faustina about in the Diary [see passage 1698]. The Lord doesn't give up on anybody," Fr. Seraphim said, "because we all cost Him too much, too much.
"In the end," Fr. Seraphim says, "Jesus is the one who says 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' He did it for those who killed Him, so would it be that astounding that Hitler could go to heaven? For isn't it possible that Hitler had someone praying for him while he was alive, at the moment of his death, and even after his death?"
The same would apply to Stalin, Mao, Tito, Mussolini, and anyone you care to mention.
Based in Plainfield, N.J., RENEW International is a Catholic evangelization ministry that sponsors programs for people and parishes to help them encounter God in everyday life. It began its "Why Catholic?" initiative three years ago in response to the U.S. Conference of Bishops' pastoral letter on adult faith formation, aiming to provide practical tools as well as concrete pastoral suggestions for evangelical outreach.
Since its launch, bishops, parish priests, and parishioners in more than 25 dioceses have signed up for the "Why Catholic?" initiative. One of them is the Diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y., which includes Malone Catholic Parishes, with three churches in Malone and one in Chasm Falls.
Headed by Mary Steenberge, The Little Catholic Group originates from Notre Dame Church in Malone, whose pastor, Msgr. Dennis Duprey, and parochial vicar, Fr. Martin Cline, have been avid promoters of Divine Mercy. Besides Mary, members include Caroline Durant, Cyndie Richards, Theresa Kelley, Marie Fitzpatrick, and Linda Sauther.
The women individually volunteer in parish ministries and outreach programs. They serve as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. They visit nursing homes and hospitals. They volunteer with the Ursuline Associates, helping out the sisters. You can also find them working with Hospice and Literacy Volunteers. Clearly, these women practice what they heard preached. They hear, they roll up their sleeves, and they go to work.
"The dictator project began when I saw an article in Parade Magazine on the worst dictators in the world," Mary says. "We needed something for the 'Action' phase of our 'Why Catholic?' program. We all have our individual ministries, but we wanted to do something together as a group. When I mentioned the 'Parade' article to the group, the idea formed, and we decided to pray for the dictators and their souls."
The women agreed that to pray for this unique collection of individuals, Divine Mercy had to be brought into the picture.
"If we were going to pray for these souls, Divine Mercy was the [only] way to go," Mary says. "We went on the premise that God wants every soul, with no exceptions. We couldn't condemn these men because their consciences weren't formed they way ours were. We really couldn't condemn them for any reason whatsoever. Judgment is not for us. In praying the chaplet, we call on The Divine Mercy to somehow touch them."
All About Trust
The group put its trust in St. Faustina's Diary, which makes clear that Divine Mercy is all-inclusive. For example, "God will not deny His mercy to anyone" (passage 72) and "The greater the sinner, the greater his right to God's mercy" (423). With some "husband-y" help, the women made a large, three-panel poster that depicted color photographs of the despots, taken from a list they discovered on the Internet at www.arthuredelstein.org. The site has a comprehensive list of "The World's Dictators in 2007."
Each member of the group randomly drew a dictator for whom to pray, and some more than one. The group repeated this exercise with the other parishioners who joined the project, which Msgr. Duprey enthusiastically endorsed.
"Intercessory prayer is a basic foundation of our faith," says Msgr. Duprey. "Jesus Himself incessantly intercedes for us, and God calls us also to intercede for each other, even our enemies."
The poster board's left and right foldout panels depict the dictators; the large center panel features the image of The Divine Mercy surrounded by prayers of peace from various religions. They headlined the poster "The Power of Prayer / Prepare for Divine Mercy Sunday April 15." They sent the display to all four of Malone's parishes, challenging them to follow St. Faustina's repeated request of prayers for souls.
The Little Catholic Group bought and distributed 700 Divine Mercy pamphlets and organized the Novena to The Divine Mercy that ran from Good Friday to the Saturday before Divine Mercy Sunday.
At Mary's church, Notre Dame, Msgr. Duprey celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday with an 11 a.m. Mass followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and confessions from noon to 2 p.m. From 2 to 3 p.m., Fr. Cline officiated at the Holy Hour, with Benediction. At 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy was sung.
Prayertime for Hitler
Have any of the dictators been drawn to conversion and repentance? We don't know that yet, but we do know that the group did not stop praying for the despots on Divine Mercy Sunday.
"Our devotion didn't stop, because we pray perpetually," says Mary. "We each have a picture of a dictator, and some of us more than one. I have four: Teodoro Obaing Ngeuma of Mbasogo, Equitorial Guinea; Mswati III, Swaziland; Hosni Mubarek, Egypt; and Paul Biya, Cameroon."
If anyone in this quartet repents, my money's on Biya for the simple reason that the Marians of the Immaculate Conception have a mission in Cameroon, Africa. Thre is much good mojo flowing out of Cameroon, where Fr. Francis Filipiec, MIC, leads a contingent of Marian missionaries in the jungles of Atok, Cameroon.
Mary adds that at a recent Why Catholic? workshop titled "Scripture and Tradition," the group recruited among the 200 in attendance to join their prayer effort on behalf of despots.
"It was very interesting the reaction I had from people," Mary says. "Some would make a face and say, 'Ugh! I can't pray for them.' Others thought it was great."
Mary didn't give up easily on the ones who wouldn't pray. She would take a picture of the best looking despots and give one to a female resister saying, "Here's a good-looking guy, so maybe you can pray for him." That approach worked quite often.
"It's amazing how many Catholics do not understand that we have God's merciful image inside us," Mary says. "We are all created in His 'image and likeness.' So when God asks us to pray for souls, he asks us to pray for ALL souls. I don't see any exceptions there."
Springtime for Hitler? No. Prayertime for Hitler? Absolutely. And Mao, and Stalin, and ...
Our Lord asks nothing less.
Dan Valenti writes for many publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He also writes the Mercy Blog for this website.