Photo: Dan Valenti
Dolores LaPastora from Manila, the Philippines, holds grandson James at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on John Paul II/Polish Heritage Day on Oct. 13. Dolores says that for her, "Divine Mercy represents love of the Eucharist."
Experiencing God's Reality
Pilgrims Honor John Paul II, Polish Heritage
Like primary colors blending to form a new one, the blue of Fatima and the red and pale rays of The Divine Mercy met to form the regal aura of Pope John Paul II/Polish Heritage Day on Saturday, Oct. 13, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
Hosted again by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, John Paul Cultural Day coincided (or was it a coincidence?) with the 90th anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children. On that Oct. 13, in 1917, beginning at noon and lasting for 12 minutes, the 70,000 gathered in the Cova da Iria witnessed an amazing solar phenomenon, as the sun was seen to spin, wildly gyrate, and radiate dazzling colors. Color Oct. 13, 2007 Marian blue.
Miracle of a Subtle Nature
The 200 pilgrims on Eden Hill also witnessed a miracle, albeit one of a more subtle nature: that of the fruits of a Polish Pope's conviction of the autheticity of the revelations Jesus made to a Polish nun in the 1930s, resulting in the message of Divine Mercy. Color Oct. 13, 2007 Mercy red and pale.
Mix these hues together on the palette of the human heart, add a dab of "paint" from the residual mysticism living in everyone as the Kingdom of God, and you have an image and likeness of royal purple, the color of kings. In this case, it's the color of the King of Kings.
The miraculous aspect of Divine Mercy lies in its robust presence. Not only did the message of God's Mercy reach the world against overwhelming odds, but — the seed having taken root — it grew exponentially, especially in the past several years.
"I was in Poland a little more than a month ago," said Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, in his homily at the 2 p.m. Mass, "and it was John Paul II everywhere we went. You cannot escape the influence of John Paul II anywhere in Poland. He's revered as a political hero and a spiritual hero — political because he led the successful uprising against communism [leading to a sequence of events that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union], and spiritual because of what he did to advance the role of Divine Mercy in our time."
Could the 'Spark' Be All Three?
Father Anthony quoted a passage from St. Faustina's Diary that can be found, fittingly enough, near the conclusion of the final notebook (VI) It's interesting that Jesus should reveal these words to Faustina near the end of her time on earth:
As I was praying for Poland, I heard the words: I bear a special love for Poland, and if she will be obedient to My will, I will exalt her in might and holiness. From her will come forth a spark that will prepare the world for My final coming (1732)
"John Paul II said that 'spark' is Divine Mercy," Fr. Anthony said. "But could the 'spark' be John Paul himself? Could the 'spark' be St. Faustina herself? Which interpretation is true? All of them! Why? Because God didn't provide an interpretation. Therefore, we can interpret the 'spark' as being all three."
Father Anthony also pointed out the significance of Oct. 13, marking on this day in 2007 John Paul II Day on Eden Hill but also the 90th anniversary of the final apparition by Our Lady to the three child seers in Fatima, Portugal. Father Anthony emphasized the "irrefutable connection" between the life of John Paul and the events at Fatima, offering many examples, not the least of which was the assassination attempt that narrowly missed murdering the Pope on May 13, 1981, exactly 64 years after the first Fatima apparition.
That 'Polish Thing"
What Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, has often called "the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church" has spread across the world, from the Vatican to Rwanda, from the United States to the Philippines, from ornate basilicas with tiled piazzas to one-room mud huts built on windswept scrubland. Pilgrims visiting Eden Hill came to pay tribute to John Paul II, the man who put Divine Mercy on the liturgical map.
Ironically, this leads to what is perhaps the greatest myth about Divine Mercy and the Pope himself — the dismissal from critics who attempt to marginalize the message and shoot the messenger by calling it "a Polish thing." This dismissal is as hasty as it is superficial, a trivialization that can only come from a closed mind and a hardened heart. It claims that the revelations of mercy given by Jesus to St. Faustina in the early 1930s are merely "just another regional devotion," private in nature, and therefore not worthy of being taken seriously by the universal Church.
Message to Critics: Face the Facts
This rejection conveniently ignores four vital facts:
• (a) that Divine Mercy is Scriptural in nature and can be found throughout Old and New Testaments as perhaps the controlling message of the entire Bible;
• (b) that John Paul, acting not in a local capacity as a parish priest or through a regional office as a bishop, but as Holy Father for all the Church, declared Divine Mercy Sunday a universal feast day and made Helen Kowalska the first saint of the 21st century;
• (c) that his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, has emphatically defended private revelation as a means through which God can advance the Church even unto affecting the liturgy; and
• (d) that Benedict, taking the baton from John Paul, has affirmed the crucial importance of God's mercy. Many examples can be cited, but only one is needed — Benedict's enthusiastic backing of the upcoming World Congress on Mercy set for Rome from April 2-6, 2008. It was Pope Benedict who could have said no to the Congress. He didn't. Moreover, it was Pope Benedict who insisted the Congress be held not in Poland but at the Vatican itself, a decision that clearly indicated the Pope's intent to bring Divine Mercy to the world stage. Finally, Pope Benedict will celebrate the opening liturgy of the Mercy Congress on April 2, marking the 3rd anniversary of John Paul's death.
Also ignored by the critics of Divine Mercy, most of them well-meaning but misinformed Catholics, is Exhibit A: the spectacular growth of the message and devotion that's taking place among the laity.
"John Paul got [the spread of Divine Mercy] going, Benedict has kept it moving, but the laity is providing the thrust at the local level," says Fr. Matthew Mauriello, President of the Mercy Congress U.S. and a parish priest in the diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. "When Cardinal [Christopher] Schonborn met with the International Executive Committee of the Congress on Sept. 24, he told us it is a case of the sheep leading the shepherd. Many bishops are hearing about Divine Mercy from their flock. These are the people in the pews, who have come across [the message of] Divine Mercy and want to share their discovery with others."
Mercy Congress: 'There for the Taking'
"The key is to make Divine Mercy known by whatever means possible, something the laity well understands," says Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians and vice president of the Mercy Congress U.S. "That is goal of the Mercy Congress. We want to arouse curiosity in people so that they will ask, 'What is this great treasure?' Divine Mercy, as wide as it has spread, is still like an untapped gold mine. God's mercy is not known to the degree necessary to benefit all of humanity.
"We need to know of mercy intimately," says Fr. Kaz. "We can't heal ourselves. There's too much fear, suffering and anxiety, [all] without appropriate remedies, except for Divine Mercy. Here's the thing — we don't have to do anything except open our hearts to it. It is God's gift, freely given, there for the taking."
Photo Display: A Pictorial Biography
Took they did on John Paul II/Polish Heritage Day. Pilgrims to Eden Hill took advantage of the opportunity for enlightenment, grace, forgiveness, love, and prayer beginning with an 11 a.m. talk by Fr. Anthony, praying a Rosary for Life at 1:30 p.m., attending Holy Mass sung with traditional Polish hymns at 2 p.m., reciting the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., and going to confession, offered at 1 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.
Throughout the day, pilgrims visited the spectacular international photo exhibit, "John Paul II the Holy Man: To the Ends of the Earth" in the Marian monastery attached to the National Shrine. The display covered much of the monastery's first floor, as dozens of large photos depicted the life of John Paul at various stages in his remarkable career.
Sponsored by the Polish Cultural Foundation, the display included 60 oversized photographs.
Andrzej Pronczuk, Sc.D., president of the Polish Cultural Foundation based in Boston, Mass., said the photographic retrospective represents a unique pictorial biography of John Paul II. "His teaching showed the world the meaning of love, peace and justice, all expressed within the context of God's mercy," Andrzej said. "He was the Pope who introduced the world at large to mercy as revealed to St. Faustina. This was a message he promoted long before his papacy began."
The power of these photographs derives from their sheer size and from the obvious intimacy the photographers enjoyed with their subject. You look at these pictures, and you feel drawn inside of them, almost as if you not viewing them but participating in them. You laugh as the Pope holds a koala bear in his arms. You smile as he waits his turn for a downhill run in the Swiss Alps on a skiing vacation. You hurt as you see his pain-torn face, courageously and lovingly enduring his final Holy Week in 2005 on the even of his death.
Selecting the best out of 60 remarkable photographs would be an exercise in futility, because each is a classic. But for this correspondent, three stood out.
• The first is a disarming photo of Karol Wojtyla sitting on the lap of his mother, Emily. They say all babies look like Winston Churchill. Not this one. He looks like the Christ Child. The gaze is pure innocence (his) and pure love (hers). One can feel in this picture the crushing heartbreak the boy Wojtyla would later feel when Emilia died. One does not have to venture far into the murky waters of psychology to find in Wotjyla's devotion to the Blessed Mother the expression of the love and the feeling of the loss of mother Emilia.
• The second picture was taken on Aug. 26, 1978. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla is seen meeting with the newly elected Pope, John Paul I. We look at this picture with a hind-sighted wisdom that couldn't have been in play on Aug. 26, 1978, for we know that in less than two months from the day this picture was taken, the man on left would be resting in his coffin and the man on the right would be the next Pope.
• Finally, if there is one picture that conveys the benignly radical papacy of this holy man, it's one taken on Oct. 27, 1986. The photo depicts a long-shot view of Pope John Paul II addressing a convocation gathered in Assisi, Italy, for World Prayer Day for Peace. For this event, the Pope invited religious leaders from all over the world. Delegates from 47 other Christian churches and communities, plus 13 non-Christian faiths, showed up. This picture says, "God is one. So are we, under Him. No divisions. No boundaries. No war. No strife."
The Mystery and Mercy of a Pilgrimage
For pilgrims, a day like JPII Day remains a cipher, as all true pilgrimages must be. The puzzle of a pilgrimage lies not in the intentions of the pilgrim, for these must be clear to and well fathomed by the journeyman. The mystery, rather, lies in the soul and divinity of God, who alone knows what He will accomplish on a one-on-one basis inside the human heart.
Once we set foot on holy ground, we are not on our time any longer. We can't even say we are on God's, for God has no time. A second to Him is a thousand years and a thousand years is a second. God's only "time" is Now. His only "presence" is Everywhere. His only "sound" is Silence. Time only exists on our side of the pilgrimage equation. The transformation God renders the pilgrim's heart may be felt instantly in a flood of emotion; it may not be known for years; or it may not be understood until after one dies.
If we can agree to an expanded use of the word "fun," we can say this transformation is the mystical "fun" of being a pilgrim. We are serious on a pilgrimage so that God may be "playful."
'Divine Mercy Represents the Love of the Eucharist'
Speaking of pilgrims, we caught up with Dolores LaPastora visiting Eden Hill with her family. We interviewed Dolores as she held her grandson James on the indoor steps leading to the vestibule of the National Shrine not long after Mass began. It seems that the exuberant James, whom God blessed with an operatic set of lungs, wanted to take part in the "singing" a little too much. My gain!
Dolores is a retired schoolteacher from Caloocan, in metro Manila, the Philippines. She's on a visit with her family and staying with them in New Milford, N.J. Holding James, she radiated the beauty of a soul who has been through many ups and downs and has come through hopeful and full of faith. As for James, he is one year and one month old. In other words, he's still a saint.
"For me, Divine Mercy represents love of the Eucharist," Dolores said. "I cannot separate the two, for Jesus is present in a very real way in both. Saint Faustina showed us the fullness of God's merciful nature. We need this revelation of mercy now more than ever. It speaks to our time today. It speaks to us now. It speaks to us here."
Dolores then said how in the Philippines, Divine Mercy has saturated the culture, and she displayed a sense of cultural pride in this observation, something that was, in its own special way, very much "Polish." She said, for example, that the Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed at the 3 o'clock hour even in the public schools.
In fact, a day like John Paul II/Polish Heritage Day supplies an extended definition of "culture" as the total sum of a people's values. "Culture" includes their mores and folkways, their language, and their attitude toward life. It involves the day-to-day expressions of these qualities through a nation's economy, educational system, art, healthcare, and the like. Culture is a people's past and a nation's history.
No one understood this more than Karol Wojtyla, who — as a young man living in a Poland brutally crushed by the Nazi regime — became an actor, poet and playwright to use art as a means of resistance. This subversive activity, done with his friends at the literal risk of their lives, helped keep hope alive among the beleaguered Poles as much as the bullets of the military resistance.
Another pilgrim, Mark Richardson, in his early to mid-20s, attended John Paul II/Polish Heritage Day with family members as part of a bus pilgrimage organized by his parish of St. Matthew's Church in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., where he lives.
"I began to take my spiritual life seriously when my father died [two years ago]," Mark said. "It just hit me, and I began to realize that our lives here on earth are important and that we must live them as best we can. Now that my faith has grown to this point, I'm curious to find out about the message of Divine Mercy. This is new to me. This is my first visit [to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy]. That's why I came today. Someone told me that I couldn't find a better teacher than John Paul II or a better 'classroom' than [Eden Hill]."
Fatima Blue, Divine Mercy Red and Pale
It was a colorful day, with ethnic costumes, brightly colored displays, and brilliant sunshine illuminating the early fall foliage. It was a day of Fatima blue, Divine Mercy red and pale, and Polish red and white. It was a day colored in kingly purple, as the King of Kings poured Himself out into open hearts. Where the opening was large, He poured large. Where it was small, He still poured large. Where there was no opening at all, He began making one.
Hearts danced with joy, leapt with excitement, reposed in peace, and broke with sin only to mend with forgiveness. People came to praise, to search, to find their way. We are all pilgrims on this earth, exiled to an extent, lost to an extent — until we find the Way, the Truth, and the Light.
The grace of this day went beyond the confines of Poland or the cultural heritage of its sons and daughters. It went beyond the divinely inspired magnitude of Poland's greatest son, John Paul II, who told us that Divine Mercy "forms the image of this pontificate." The grace of this day penetrated directly into a mystical reality that no one could adequately put into words: that God loves us, that He forgives us, and that He wants nothing more than to shower us with his mercy.
The beauty for the pilgrim is that he or she need not be aware of any of this. Their very presence is the expression of their belief. That is all, and that is enough. God does the rest.
As Fr. Kaz put it, "To experience Divine Mercy is to experience the reality of God."
For once, enough said, except for one last thing. On April 2, 2005, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri issued a statement from Rome:
At 21:37, our Holy Father returned to his Father's home.
The date occurred on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. We end with the final word Karol Wojtyla ever spoke on God's good earth: "Amen."
So be it.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online, including "Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal" for this website.