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Photo: Dan Valenti

Father Eugenio Lira blesses the crowd with holy water during Mass on Encuentro Latino day.

Divine Mercy, Latino Style!

Thousands of Pilgrims Celebrate Love and Life on Eden Hill

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Once is a fluke, since anything can happen once, but twice is a pattern and three is a trend. Welcome to the trend that isn't trendy: Encuentro Latino, or Divine Mercy, Latino style.

For the third consecutive year, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception hosted the lively sights, sounds, and smells of salvation, song, and salsa as more than 3,000 pilgrims gathered Saturday, Aug. 18, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill.

"Each year, this celebration grows," said Fr. Anthony Gramlich, Shrine Rector. "It reflects the spread of Divine Mercy that we see worldwide, especially in the Latino culture. We at the National Shrine consider ourselves blessed to be both host and witness to this unchecked outpouring of trust in Jesus."

For pilgrims, it was a day of thanksgiving and praise.

'This is My Way of Saying Thanks'
"I drove here 14 hours," said Carlos Martinez of Chicago, Ill., decked out in an Our Lady of Guadalupe T-shirt. "This is my second year [at Encuentro Latino]. Last year, it was just my wife and me, but this year I decided to bring my family. This is my way of saying thanks to God for all he has given me. I cannot say it in words, so I show up with my presence."

On a breezy, pleasantly cool day that alternated sun and clouds, pilgrims participated in a full schedule of events, centered on the Vigil Mass celebrated by Fr. Eugenio Lira, secretary to Archbishop Rosendo Huesca Pacheco from the Archdiocese of Pueblo, Mexico. Archbishop Pacheco had been scheduled to say Mass but had to bow out due to illness. Father Diego Maximino, MIC, concelebrated, along with Fr. Anthony.

Archbishop Pacheco, though, did send along his recorded greetings, offering "many thanks [to] my dear friends" on Eden Hill. He acknowledged the Marians and all those who help spread "this miracle of The Divine Mercy devotion."

In his homily, Fr. Lira stressed the importance of a life of faith.

"In everything we say, we say 'Jesus, I trust in you.' " Fr. Lira said. "We celebrate in the Lord, for He is our strength. We have all gathered here from many countries of Latin America in order that we might encounter our Lord, the Jesus of mercy. Through the Eucharist, He comes to us. As St. Faustina told us, it is difficult to live one day without receiving Holy Communion."


A Full Day of Joy and Worship
An hour prior to the 4 p.m. Mass, a procession carried the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the outdoor field altar on the south lawn at the National Shrine. Worshippers then joined in reciting the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. The day also included confessions, praise and worship, presentations, and children's activities. Pilgrims enjoyed visiting the food tent, browsing and buying at the Gift Shop, and praying in the National Shrine and at the various grottos on Eden Hill.

Father Kazimiercz Chwalek, MIC, Director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians, said, "Our Latin brothers and sisters have so much to teach us about the enthusiastic embrace of mercy. Their joyful spirit of worship is what Divine Mercy is all about. Mercy tells us that all is well, despite our troubles and hurts. Mercy unites us with Jesus, transforming our spirit through His limitless love and forgiveness."

"This day is so wonderful," says Judith Rios of Syracuse, N.Y. "We come here to celebrate our faith. Jesus said we should not hide our lamps under a bushel. My lamp is my faith, and I'm here to let it shine on everyone."

Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the world's pre-eminent authority on Divine Mercy and the life of St. Faustina, noted the number of people from various Latin countries, mentioning Columbia and Brazil as just two. "They've come a long way," he said, "and it's apparent that they find great consolation, otherwise they wouldn't be here."

Asked why the Latino culture seems to be ahead of the curve in terms of their openness to Divine Mercy, Fr. Seraphim said it wasn't so much that they were "ahead" but that "the faith seems to be waning" in places like Europe and America.

"The faith is still being kept up by these people," Fr. Seraphim said. "I presume that's because those who face the most difficulties in life most love the graces the message of mercy promises. People are here [today] calling for help."

Praying and Playing
This notion of sharing in mercy ran through the afternoon, as people prayed and played together with a buoyancy bursting with life.

"It's phenomenal to see so many people thirsting for His love and trusting in His mercy," said Br. Jason Lewis, MIC. "The Latino people have been so responsive and receptive to the message of Divine Mercy given by our Lord to St. Faustina. The numbers here today give witness to the active power of The Divine Mercy acting in our very day and age, renewing and renovating souls."

"I wouldn't miss this day for anything," says Enrique Lopez from Sandusky, Ohio. "We're here on our vacation. To come together as God's family means so much. We grow stronger by supporting each other in prayer and by extending love to our neighbors."

The day gave witness to pilgrims of all ages, from the elderly to infants. Teenagers, not the group one first thinks of when it comes to worship, were evident in youthful enthusiasm. Giancarlo Calixo, 17, of Kearney, NJ, came with his parents, his brother Christian, and their friend, Leo Aliago, both 16.

"It's nice here," Giancarlo said as he lounged with Christian and Leo on the small slope just across the driveway from the entrance to the National Shrine. "You see a lot of togetherness. I like being here with my family, so we can share this experience." Asked if he felt the presence of God here, he smiled shyly and offered a simple, "Yeah."

Indeed, Eden Hill provided the perfect setting for this encounter.

'Swept Away'
"There's something special about this place," says Juanita Esuela from Staten Island, N.Y. "It's like the air is cleaner, the air our lungs breath and our hearts breath." Her friend quickly added, "Yes, that's it. We come here and feel clean."

One of the entertainers, Hector Reyes of Miami, Fla., who along with his wife Aida form Duo Preludio, said, "It's an honor to be able to use my talents as a musician, singer, and clown for Divine Mercy. Our purpose is to bring people closer to God. We try to evangelize through TV, radio, and our Kids' Club. The children are so important, because they are our future."

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic. Of those, approximately three-quarters are Catholic. Latinos account for about 40 percent of all U.S. Catholics, and all indications point to those percentages growing.

The day ended with Fr. Michael Callea, MIC, adhering to another trend on Eden Hill — blessing the many cars and busses with a broom and holy water as pilgrims head for home. Why the broom? What better way than to bid Adios to those who have just been swept away by the tender mercies of God?

Once more, the Latino community responded with gusto to Fr. Anthony's invitation, "Venga a celebrar con nostros!" It means, "Come and celebrate with us!"

That they did.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications, both online and in print, for the Marians, including "Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal" for this website.

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Grateful - Aug 19, 2007

I was there. Dan has it right. The day was a tremendous outpouring of trust in God. The expressiveness of the Latino spiritual celebration shows strength. A terrific coveraqge of a great event