Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, spoke of how she learned to trust. "Through trust in Jesus," she said, "anything is possible."
From the Bronx to the World
Healing, Forgiveness at 3rd Annual Divine Mercy Conference
By Felix Carroll (Feb 10, 2008)
About 850 people packed an auditorium in the Bronx this past weekend, and they heard a lot of bad news. To clarify, in the words of Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, it was a lot of bad news "that the Good News of healing and forgiveness is meant to address."
Dr. Stackpole, the emcee for the 3rd Annual Divine Mercy Conference on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Cardinal Spellman High School in Bronx, N.Y, promised the audience they would not hear anything resembling "plastic-smile Christianity — the cheery and somewhat shallow form of the faith that you sometimes get on TV."
"Our speakers today are not going to pretend that everything is OK," said Dr. Stackpole, the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and a columnist for this website. He told the audience, "You guys live in the real world. Things don't always work out 'peachy,' at least they don't seem to. The truth is we are all in one way or another broken, wounded people — wounded by our own sins and wounded by the sins of others."
Indeed, the conference, sponsored by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and the Center for Spiritual Development of the Archdiocese of New York, included speakers who have been at the epicenter of some of the world's greatest wounds — including homelessness, abortion, and genocide.
The conference had as its theme "Healing and Forgiveness through God's Mercy."
"Divine Mercy addresses a real hurting world with real healing and forgiveness," said Dr. Stackpole. "Divine Mercy does not pretend that these wounds are not there."
The conference drew people like Blaze Coyle from Jersey City, N.J. She attended, she said, because she needed healing that only Christ, who is Divine Mercy Incarnate, can provide.
"I just had a friend who was murdered," she said, "And I think forgiveness is the only way anyone in the world can heal."
Brought to our knees
Through God's grace, all of the speakers at the conference had been touched and transformed by the revelations granted by heaven to the Church and to the world through a humble and unknown religious sister in Poland, whom the world now knows at St. Maria Faustina Kowalska — by our Lord's own designation, the "secretary" and "apostle" of His mercy.
The speakers included James White, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Covenant House-New York, the child welfare agency that provides shelter and other services to homeless and runaway youth.
"You talk about broken," he said, shaking his head. "Profound brokenness. We spend a lot of our time at Covenant House weeping over the brokenness and sadness and horror. It's part of the process. I think it's that part of the process that brings us to our knees, as humanity and as people."
He said that while Covenant House has helped many kids — many of whom have been sexually and physically abused or abandoned — most suffer from experiences that prove too large to overcome.
"Why the suffering? Why the crucifixion?" he asked aloud. "I don't know that. But I do know this: From working in the streets of New York and New Jersey, it is only through the suffering that we can be redeemed. It is only through the recognition that 'Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.' That's why we can smile, and that's why we can walk with great spirit and be positive."
He said, "You got to want mercy, you got to need mercy in order to receive it. ... When we are brought to our knees, we are brought to a deeper awareness of how God holds us in the palm of His hand. That's the constant prayer that we have to have at Covenant House — the recognition of this," he said.
The speakers included Fr. Frank Pavone, MEV, national director of Priests for Life, who spoke of how Divine Mercy is the "antidote for the culture of death."
Calling the Pro-Life effort "the greatest human rights cause of our day" and a cause that needs mercy as its foundation, Fr. Pavone said, "We have to get away from the notion that somebody else's abortion is none of our business. ... If you hear of someone about to have an abortion, reach out to them, whether you know them personally or not. That's your business. That's your duty. That's your opportunity to save a life.
"We can stop this violence," he said. "If we want to stop this violence, we have to interfere."
Furthermore, he said the Church and its faithful must reflect God's mercy as a source of healing for those who have been involved in abortion. "What the Church says to the people involved in this tragedy is not 'I condemn you. I hate you'. What the Church says is what Jesus says to us: 'I am with you.' We extend hands of mercy. We extend hands of courage and of hope and of help. Abortion is not just a sin against life; it's a sin against hope."
The speakers included Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and author of the book Left to Tell. Immaculee spoke of the genocide that took place 14 years ago. An estimated one million people were killed, including nearly all of her family.
While in hiding for 90 days in a tiny bathroom with a group of other women, Immaculee prayed constantly the Rosary and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. "That's what saved me," she said. Indeed, at the height of the killings, she had an epiphany. Suddenly, the words that once rang so hollow to her —"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" — resounded in her soul. She realized that hating the killers was preventing her from trusting God.
"Despite their atrocities, they were children of God," she said. "I knew I couldn't ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children. That to me is mercy — being able to love people beyond what you see of them on the outside," said Immaculee.
Like Mr. White, Immaculee had found salvation in the midst of one of the world's worst situations. She said how Jesus spoke to her heart words that echoed those received by St. Faustina: "Trust in Me, and know that I will never leave you. Trust in me, and have no more fear."
Tailored-made for the times
Why this common thread of mercy?
The author, speaker, and psychologist, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, founder of the Franciscan Friars of The Renewal, said the message of Divine Mercy is tailored-made for the times — times in which the world has drifted so far away from God. The message of Divine Mercy urges humanity to look at its sinfulness and to ask for forgiveness, and to replace the sinfulness with virtue, he said.
"Freud even said that religious people are better at psychotherapy than non-religious people because religious people are used to looking at their inner selves," said Fr. Groeschel. "Jung said that religious patients didn't get as sick and got better faster because they had religious values, and they could look at themselves. "
Divine Mercy, said Fr. Groeschel, is "something that is profoundly psychological" because our mental well-being is tied directly to our spiritual well-being.
"The acceptance of self — not the approval — is immensely enhanced by the notion of Divine Mercy — by belief in Divine Mercy that says that as miserable and confused and hurt as I am, God, in His mercy, still loves me," said Fr. Groeschel.
That's just what our Lord promised St. Faustina. As He said to her in her Diary, "My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain" (1777).
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who served as vice-postulator for North America in St. Maria Faustina's canonization cause, reminded the audience of the origin of this mercy.
"God designed the human being to be that pinnacle of His creation for which everything else created exists," he said.
With the message of Divine Mercy, we are called to rise and to recognize the dignity of our nature, said Fr. Seraphim. We are called to remember that we are made in God's image. Though corrupted by Adam, that image has been restored through Jesus Christ, The Divine Mercy.
A treasure of the Church
But in order to be redeemed, we must ask for His mercy. As Msgr. James Lisante, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hempstead, N.Y, said, one of the most beautiful ways to ask for His mercy is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
"I believe it's one of those treasures in the Church that we just take for granted, " he said, "or in the case of most Catholics, we simply ignore."
He acknowledged that fear is what keeps so many Catholics away from the confessional.
"How many of us, in fact, have the same disposition toward confession as we have toward our doctors?" he asked. We know we have to go, he said, but we'd rather not because it's going to expose us toward the light of truth. "It's going to force me to face myself and to become the person God wants me to be," he said.
"I'm going to suggest that if we are going to be instruments of Divine Mercy, we've got to accept God's mercy, and one of the most beautiful places to accept God's mercy is in the context of the Sacrament of Confession," said Msgr. Lisante.
He also had another suggestion for the audience. To put it simply: Lighten up.
"What I think we need to do in the effort to evangelize Divine Mercy is be the message ourselves, by which I mean, if your children and grandchildren see in you a great joy that comes to you because of your Catholic Christian faith; a great delight in you in being in God's presence; a freedom in you to love openly because you have received Divine Mercy, then you become the message. You become an instrument of God's grace.
"Some of us need to have a spiritual enema," he said, to great laughs. "Where is the joy? Where's the delight? I'm forgiven. I'm delighted to be forgiven. If I can not walk out into this world with a smile and a joy in my heart, then I'm not getting it."
But so many in the audience were clearly getting it. "This conference today has been an inspiration," said Yvonne Rhem-Tittle, a member of St. Augustine Pariah in the Bronx, who attended the conference with 12 other members of her Divine Mercy cenacle. "This helps us to go out into the world and do good."
"I'm just elated and inspired with this conference," said Doreen Morgan of Clifton, N.J. "It's very encouraging."
The day included Holy Mass, opportunities for confession, and plenty of reason to be joyful about the message of Divine Mercy.
At one point in his talk, Fr. Groeschel said, "I'll go so far as to say the influence of Divine Mercy is just starting. I don't think we're in chapter 22; I think we're in chapter two."
And he just may be right. The next chapter is set to begin with the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome on April 2-6.
His Excellency William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., the celebrant and homilist, concluded the conference with some words about the Congress
"The purpose of this Congress is to study, to reflect on, to celebrate the message and the reality of the richness and power of God's mercy," said Bishop Lori. "Not just as an academic subject to be dissected, but rather as the very core of our faith and our hope and our love."
Certainly, the world needs it.
Dr. Stackpole told the audience, "I remember a friend of mine once said to me, 'You only believe in Divine Mercy as a crutch.' My only response could be, 'Whoever said we didn't limp?'"
Christ invites us to lean on Him — now and forever. To lean on Him because He is there for us.