Reprinted from The Divine Mercy Message and Devotion by Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC and Vinny Flynn.
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'Food is Love'
They went from the Lord's Supper to the Marians' barbecue, and everything tasted like love.
On Saturday, June 7, the vigil of Pentecost, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception honored the 2014 Divine Mercy Sunday volunteers at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy. Every year, the National Shrine turns to outside volunteers to supplement the employees of the Marians for some of the innumberable tasks involved in each Divine Mercy Sunday celebration. Volunteers serve as Eucharistic ministers, medical care, crowd control, work in the gift shop tent, candle shrines, parking, and many, many other vital roles to help make Divine Mercy Sunday a blessed experience for pilgrims from all over the world.
"This Divine Mercy Sunday was very smooth right from the beginning," said volunteer coordinator Peter James Markavage, referring to the weekend-long celebration April 26-27, "and I attribute a lot of it to the volunteers."
A record 700 volunteers in all helped the Marians in serving more than 20,000 pilgrims. More so than in previous years, the volunteers came in groups, including homeschoolers, scout troops, and students from Catholic schools.
"One of the volunteers had to be at a wedding on the Saturday of Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend. It was far away, but they came on a plane Sunday to volunteer," said Peter. "Because people are looking for God's forgiveness, they want to be here. That kind of dedication is not something you find in a lot of places."
The Marians set about honoring that sort of dedication on Saturday in the best way possible: through prayer and the sacraments. The daily Shrine Mass was offered in a special way for Divine Mercy Sunday volunteers, ending with a solemn blessing from Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC.
After the daily devotions, a number of the Marian priests and brothers joined Divine Mercy Sunday volunteers for a barbecue and raffle. Shrine rector Fr. Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, briefly addressed the crowd, talking about their service, not just to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, but to God.
"Thank you so much for all that you do to make Divine Mercy Sunday possible," he said. "God bless you."
And the volunteers were willing to testify that God had indeed blessed them through the Divine Mercy message and devotion, through their service at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, through prayer and the sacraments.
Ariel Pagala, a parishioner at St. Paul's in New York City, said, "I became so brave in my life" after learning about the great promises attached to going to Confession and receiving Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday, "so I'm not afraid to go to Confession."
He spoke of how special the Shrine is to him and how powerful every pilgrimage he'd made here had been. When he first came out to volunteer for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend, he said, he hadn't known where he could spend the night. So he walked over and spoke with people in a car parked near his to ask if they knew of any hotels in the area.
"Are you a volunteer for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend?" they asked.
He said yes. They offered him a place to stay. "We became friends, and every year I stay in their place," said Ariel.
Though there was a good showing at the barbecue, it was still just a fraction of the total number of Divine Mercy Sunday volunteers. The reason? Logistics of the sort that serve to define the self-sacrifice of the volunteers. In other words, many of the volunteers live great distances away, and it's never easy getting here, either because of time constraints, finances, or transportation.
They were sorely missed but surely remembered.
"I do let everyone know about the picnic, but basically, the people that are able to come here to the picnic are people that are local. We have volunteers from other states, even from Canada," said Peter. "When they come on a pilgrimage bus, they'll volunteer somewhere. We wish them a hearty thank you as well."
"I say every year, 'Thank you for everything you've done for us, but please also know that you're affecting people's lives eternally,'" Peter explained. "It's not just a temporal, one-day event, but something that helps people spiritually. I imagine that a lot of volunteers will go to heaven and find that they've touched people's lives and not even realized it."
The next major volunteering opportunity is Encuentro Latino on Aug. 9. Between 150 to 200 volunteers are needed. We will try to have a Spanish speaker in every area, so although Spanish fluency is not required, it is helpful. To volunteer, please call (413) 298-3931 ext. 114, or visit our volunteer page online.