Bronx 2015: A Call to Prayer, a Call to Action

"It is by the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have all been drawn here together for this day of prayer and reflection," said the Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, archbishop of Detroit, welcoming the assembled pilgrims at the start of the Mass opening the 10th annual Divine Mercy Conference in Bronx, New York.

Over 600 participants traveled from 10 states, coming from as far away as Texas and California, to attend the Conference on March 21 - and many of them were repeat customers, as indicated by a show of hands.

What keeps bringing them back? Divine Mercy.

"Saint John Paul II said that there is nothing the world needs more than Divine Mercy," said Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, during his morning talk. "It's not just about our devotion to God - it's God's devotion to us."

He went on to explain that God's devotion to us makes literally everything possible through the three great acts of God's mercy: creation, redemption and sanctification. Everything, absolutely everything, in all of creation depends upon Divine Mercy.

Father Chris put it another way: "Devotions are optional. The message of Divine Mercy is not optional. If you reject Divine Mercy, you reject the Gospel."

"I think that the message is a remarkable gift for the work of the new evangelization precisely because it presents the merciful presence of God and that communicates immediately to the hearts of people," said special guest speaker Archbishop Vigneron. The Divine Mercy conference is important because "it permits people to themselves be renewed in the Good News of God's mercy to us all and it strengthens them to do their part to share the Good News."

Sponsored by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the conference annually provides formation in the Divine Mercy message and devotion from some of the greatest Catholic speakers and teachers in the nation, as well as offering Jesus to the participants through a Mass, and Confession and Adoration during the day. The master of ceremonies was Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers.

Among the priests hearing confessions for several hours was the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in the United States and Argentina. Father Kaz shared with the crowd the importance of the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy that will extend from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016. Check out our video of Fr. Kaz:

For Fr. Chwalek, the Bronx conference is a unique opportunity to spread the good news of God's mercy.

"I think the best type of evangelization is from people witnessing to each other," said Fr. Kaz. "We want to empower people. We want to fill them with enthusiasm, love for our faith, love for our God and for this message. We want to make sure they become powerful witnesses of His mercy, His love, but also the truth. We're happy that we have it here, that [Marian benefactor] Ed Miller has been singlehandedly coordinating this wonderful conference."

The Very Rev. John Paul Oulette, CFR, Community Servant of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, agreed. The CFRs first got involved in these annual Divine Mercy conferences on the initiative of the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, the renowned author, spiritual director, and EWTN show host. Now, in the wake of Fr. Groeschel's death on Oct. 3, the day Franciscans throughout the world commemorate the transitus or passing into eternal life of St. Francis of Assisi, the CFRs continue their commitment to the Divine Mercy Conference.

"There's a lot of different friars that have started different things," explained Fr. John Paul, whose name in religion was inspired in part by the Great Mercy Pope, St. John Paul II, "and once they start moving forward, we just see where life grows and where life grows, you continue to put effort." And the CFRs certainly see life in the annual Bronx Divine Mercy conference.

"People are here, not only to learn, but also for fellowship," said Fr. John Paul. "I think that knowing a lot of people are here from a lot of different parishes is an encouragement and gives hope on the local level. Participants meet people of their own spirituality. I think it's a great opportunity for the laity to grow so that they have something to overflow to the people that they serve."

The speakers certainly offered enough formation to make all cups run over. The slate included TV and radio personality Fr. Jim Lisante; Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, founder and director of the Marian Fathers' Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy apostolate; Jim White, executive director for Covenant House New Jersey, a longstanding outreach of mercy to street people; Fr. Frank Pavone, MEV, national director of Priests for Life; and Catherine Wiley, founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association.

For the third year in a row, the Mater Ecclesiae College Choir offered spiritual music throughout the day - sadly, for the last time, since Mater Ecclesiae College will be shutting its doors this year.

Present in the audience (and recognized from the stage by Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for St. Faustina's cause for canonization) were Dr. Darline Kulhan and members of her family. Doctor Kulhan was instrumental in verifying the medically inexplicable cure of Fr. Ron Pytel, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which served as the miracle to help secure the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Secretary of Divine Mercy.

The day was marked by many graces, large and small. During the opening Mass, a first-class relic of St. John Paul II graced the stage. Given to Priests for Life by Cardinal Stanis?aw Dziwisz, the relic consists of a piece of cloth bearing blood taken from the dying pontiff for medical reasons on April 2, 2005, the day of his death.

2015 marks the tenth anniversary of St. John Paul II's death, as well as 10 years of the Divine Mercy Conference. The response from the conference goers suggests the Divine Mercy Conference has many more years to go.

"It's a retreat. It refreshes my soul. It brings me closer to the Lord. It has inspired me," said Catherine Herman, a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua in Passaic, New Jersey. She's been attending the conference for three years now, and has seen some tremendous spiritual fruit from it. During her first conference, she met a very devout man who told her that, on Good Friday, a group was going to go to an abortion clinic to pray. "I always do some sort of devotional on Good Friday," explained Catherine. She went along for the ride. "That got me involved in a center that helps unwed mothers that decide to keep their babies."

"Each step of the way, the Lord has worked with me and done things for me that are amazing," she concluded.

Leslie Lanigan, a parishioner at St. Mary's in East Islip, New York, said that it's the integrity of the speakers that brought her back for a second year. "As secularism increases in our society, we need to be called back, we need to be brought back to what's true and what's merciful," she said. She was especially impressed by Fr. Jim Lisante's talk, in which, she said, he explained that "just saying yes and nodding to everything's not necessarily merciful. Truth is merciful."

To hear the talks from all the great speakers at the 2015 Divine Mercy Conference, DVDs of the Conference are available for $30 plus postage and handling by calling 1-800-462-7426.

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