Photo: Felix Carroll
Divine Mercy Breakthrough
Movement Coming of Age as We Mark Mercy Sunday 2007
By David Came (Apr 18, 2007)
As a dad, I've had the thrill of watching my three children grow up into young adults. In fact, my middle child, Matt, just turned 18 on March 20.
Now I've noticed a fascinating parallel in my work life. For nearly 12 years, as an editor and writer for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, I've been covering the Divine Mercy movement. And now I think that I'm seeing this dynamic movement come of age in the life of the Church. That, too, is proving to be quite a thrill!
Consider this Divine Mercy Sunday, April 15. It may represent a breakthrough for the movement in some respects.
I'll start with Pope Benedict XVI in explaining why.
Pope Makes Mercy Sunday a Special Occasion
As reported by Zenit, the Holy Father chose this Divine Mercy Sunday to mark a double anniversary close to his heart:
Be men and women of the mercy of God, Benedict XVI urged those present at the double anniversary Mass celebrated in his honor in St. Peter's Square. Today's Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday marked the occasions of the Pontiff's 80th birthday, Monday, and the second anniversary of his election as Pope, Thursday.
In his homily, the Holy Father also remembered Pope John Paul II, recalling that the Polish Pontiff had designated the Second of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, and had died on the eve of the feast day in 2005.
Nearly 50,000 attended the Mass, and some 70 cardinals, archbishops, heads of the Roman Curia and priests of the Diocese of Rome concelebrated.
Benedict XVI dedicated the main part of his homily to reflect on Divine Mercy, referring back to the teachings of his predecessor John Paul II: "In the word 'mercy,' he found summarized and newly interpreted for our time the mystery of Redemption."
This is the same Pope who on Divine Mercy Sunday 2006 honored the Divine Mercy legacy of John Paul II. Most importantly, Pope Benedict took the occasion in 2006 to emphasize that "Divine Mercy is not a secondary devotion but an integral dimension of Christian faith and prayer."
A National Catholic newspaper 'gets it' about Pope Benedict
I was overjoyed, then, to see the National Catholic Register, a major Catholic newsweekly, taking notice of how Pope Benedict has embraced Divine Mercy. They did it in their April 15-21, 2007 issue — just in time for Divine Mercy Sunday this year.
In their editorial for the issue, the editors write some remarkable words about the Holy Father that show they now recognize him as our new Pope of Divine Mercy, following the lead of John Paul the Great:
"God's passionate love for His people - for humanity - is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against Himself, His love against His justice."
This is a startling, radical statement about Divine Mercy — the kind of declaration that one might expect to see attributed to Pope John Paul II. But it was Pope Benedict XVI who wrote it, in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love).
Seven years after Pope John Paul II first announced the creation of Mercy Sunday, many priests are still wary of the feast. Why do they hold back? There is a certain assumption that the Divine Mercy is a private devotion that had a personal meaning to a particular Polish man who happened to also be Pope, but that it is not for everyone.
Reading Pope Benedict's words about Divine Mercy should dispel that notion. Rather than attributing the popularity of the Divine Mercy devotion to Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict seems more likely to attribute the greatness of Pope John Paul II to his devotion to Divine Mercy.
Yes, the National Catholic Register has it exactly right! John Paul II's greatness lies in his devotion to Divine Mercy, and not the other way around. This is the same Pope who canonized St. Faustina, the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, and established Divine Mercy Sunday as a universal feast day. He is the Great Mercy Pope who underscored that Divine Mercy is the message of the Third Millennium - not simply a private devotion for some.
Clearly, Pope Benedict, and now the editors of the National Catholic Register, recognize this. They get it! The momentum is building.
Celebrations of Divine Mercy Sunday Grow Around the World
And there's more. In their April 15-21 edition, the Register also ran a feature by Joseph Pronechen entitled "A World Ablaze with Divine Mercy." The article shows the worldwide scope of the spread of Divine Mercy. Here are some of the highlights in the writer's own words:
â€¢ In Columbo, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia's Cathedral is marking its 10th anniversary celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday. According to parishioner Jayanthe Rayen, around 600 come to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., with confessions beforehand and Mass following the chaplet. "St. Lucia's Cathedral was once the only church celebrating [Divine Mercy Sunday]," Rayen says. "Now we have more than 35 churches celebrating it - but the cathedral is still packed."
â€¢ In the Philippines, on Divine Mercy Sunday, an average 100,000 people arrive at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Marilao, an urban municipality in the province of Bulacan. According to Francis Bourdon, executive director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Mass., most walk because of the surrounding area's great poverty. Monsignor Josefino Ramirez, national spiritual director of the Divine Mercy Apostolate of the Philippines, reports that, in areas and parishes where the devotion is widespread, nearly the entire congregation attends. And, he says, the devotion continues beyond Mercy Sunday. Monsignor Ramirez describes the Filipinos' reaction as "almost phenomenal. The Divine Mercy portrait [image] is almost everywhere, and the chaplet or the 3 o'clock prayer is recited almost everywhere by religious groups and private individuals."
â€¢ John Canavan, a leader of the Australian Divine Mercy Apostolate, reports that Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated in all dioceses in Australia - but with special intensity in Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne. There are 44 Divine Mercy Sunday Masses in the province of Victoria alone. "All the churches that have it are full three-quarters minimum to out-the-door," says Canavan.
â€¢ In India, celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday is a major feast in Shillong, the capital of the northeast state of Meghalaya. "With the help of Jesus, Our Lady, and St. Faustina, we've been spreading the Lord's Divine Mercy in this region since 1997," says Patrick Thorose, principal of St. Peter's School. "The simplicity and directness of the devotion attracts our people like a magnet." In Thorose's parish alone, between 4,000 and 5,000 attend — 30,000 in the state of Meghalaya, conservatively speaking, he says. "There are seven other large Christian states in this little known but substantial vicinity of eastern India," he says. "Divine Mercy has touched them all."
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., at our own National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, more than 10,000 souls braved a wild storm of snow, sleet, rain, and driving wind to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. They joined the Marians and their guest celebrant and homilist, Cardinal Adam Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit.
Consider this report on the day for this website, filed by senior editor and writer Dan Valenti :
"This is amazing," said Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' director of evangelization and development, his face beaming. "The weather is more than challenging, but it has not discouraged pilgrims from being here. To see this taking place under the most difficult circumstances is just amazing."
Year hence, when they tell the tale of this day, they will recall the "Miracle in the Snow."
That was the feel of an unforgettable day, both wintry and joyous, as the Marians celebrated the feast day at the National Shrine, April 15, a day that looked more like Dec. 15. In addition, countless millions around the World watched EWTN's live broadcast of Holy Mass in both Spanish and English.
World Congress: The Next Big Breakthrough for Divine Mercy
What also made the day special was the Marians' announcement on their EWTN telecast that the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy will be held in Rome on April 2-6, 2008. The Marians — who are taking a leadership role in the Congress — announced on Mercy Sunday the start of a year of spiritual and logistical preparation for the World Congress.
Organizers say that the World Congress will be modeled after the International Eucharistic Congresses, which have been called every few years since 1881. Clergy and laity around the world will be encouraged to give paramount importance to the spirituality and message and devotion of The Divine Mercy.
The first day of the World Congress, April 2, will mark the third anniversary of John Paul II's death. And plans call for the day to be devoted to celebrating his legacy of mercy. I'm reminded of what the Great Mercy Pope said during his last message for Divine Mercy Sunday, "How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!"
So, the momentum continues to build as the Divine Mercy movement comes of age, guided by John Paul's global vision of mercy.
With his vision in mind, imagine hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, maybe even a couple of million, gathered in Rome next April — all focused on spreading Divine Mercy! Then imagine those same people returning to their own countries equipped to promote God's mercy as never before.
You can help make John Paul's dream a reality. Consider attending yourself. Also, share about the World Congress with your family, friends, and fellow parishioners.
I know that the Marians will be well represented at the World Congress. And staff of the magazine I edit, Marian Helper, will be there to cover it. So, here's hoping we will see you in Rome!
To sign up for more information about the World Congress, click here.
David Came is the executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.