The Vatican held a press conference yesterday to give an update on preparations for the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. The Congress will be held in Rome April 2-6.
The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, made it clear that the legacies of two 20th century figures — the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska — were central to the historic gathering, which begins on the third anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death.
"The message of John Paul II and of Faustina Kowalska is not some abstract principle. It has a name and a face: Jesus," said Cardinal Schönborn, the president of the Congress.
Pope John Paul II had a special love for Divine Mercy, becoming known as the "Great Mercy Pope." He canonized St. Faustina on April 30, 2000, making her the first saint of the 21st century, and established the Second Sunday of Easter as "Divine Mercy Sunday" for the universal Church.
It is fitting, said Cardinal Schönborn, that the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy will coincide with the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death. He said, "that great and unforgettable Pope, from his boyhood on, remained fascinated by the secret of Divine Mercy. In the year 2002, at the inauguration of a magnificent shrine to Divine Mercy at Krakow-Lagiewniki, Poland, he said: 'There is no source of hope for human beings, save the mercy of God.'"
TWO IMPORTANT NOTES:
• The Marians of the Immaculate Conception are leading a pilgrimage to the Congress. Learn all about it.
• For those who cannot travel to Rome, you will find day-to-day coverage of the Congress here on thedivinemercy.org.
Some 10,000 people from around the world — church officials, clergy, religious, delegates, and many thousands of lay people, all of whom share a love for Divine Mercy — are expected to attend the Congress.
The Congress will begin with Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. The following days will include talks and celebrations. The Congress will conclude with Pope Benedict XVI delivering his Regina Caeli.
At the press conference, Cardinal Schönborn said the Congress "must clearly show that mercy is the central core of the Christian message. This message promotes peace in the world, between peoples and religions. It helps people to discover the true face of God, but also the true face of man and of the Church."
"Many believers consider it a special sign that John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, which he himself had introduced during the Holy Year 2000 ... and which is closely associated with the figure of Faustina Kowalska," said the Cardinal.
The Archbishop of Vienna recalled how during St. Faustina's life (1905-1938) the message of Divine Mercy was "a special support and an inexhaustible source of hope ... for all the Polish people. This message is more necessary than ever in our own times, as the daily news constantly confirms."
"In 2004 John Paul II appealed to the entire Church to be 'witness to mercy,'" said the Cardinal. "At the Regina Coeli prayer on April 3, 2005, he would have said: 'Love changes hearts and brings peace. How great is the need for mercy in the world.' Death prevented that great Pope from pronouncing those words, but the message has lost none of its validity or relevance."
The Cardinal concluded that the theme of "Looking to Christ" is the heritage of John Paul II and also the theme of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Austria last year. This very theme, he said, "will be the nucleus of the First World Apostolic Congress on Mercy."
Asked by Vatican Radio yesterday why the Congress is being called, Cardinal Schönborn emphasized how mercy "was at the heart" of John Paul II's life. "And we think that [through]what he has given to the world and what God has confirmed through the date of his death on the Feast of Divine Mercy that God wants us to meditate, to deepen, and to promote this message, which is at the heart of the Gospel."
Asked why an "apostolic" Congress, Cardinal Schönborn said because mercy is not just a "matter of reflection, it's a matter of a mission." He said, John Paul II had urged that we must be messengers of Divine Mercy. "I think there's no peace without mercy," Cardinal Schonborn said. "There's no reconciliation without receiving mercy and giving mercy. And we all need reconciliation, we need peace, and we need a future, and without mercy there is no future."
According to planners, the goal following the Congress is to have attendees return to their homes, parishes, and dioceses to plant the seeds of mercy at the local level. Indeed, the Rome event is only the beginning. Follow-up gatherings will be held in 2009 in the United States, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, and Asia. Each regional or national congress will further explore and disseminate the message of God's limitless mercy for everyone of every faith.
"The 2008 international gathering in Rome will begin an ongoing program of reflection and experience of Divine Mercy and its healing power that will not stop until its rays imbue all people with deeper love, compassion and, joy," says Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and also Associate National Director of the U.S. Congress on Mercy.
Material for this story was gathered from Catholic News Agency, Zenit.org, and Vatican Radio.