'Jesus Out in the Open'

Joe Cannon put up dozens of billboards in the Cleveland area and waited to see what the reaction would be. The billboards contained the image of Christ as The Divine Mercy, the words "Jesus, I trust in You," and Joe's phone number.

Soon, he received a call from a woman.

"Did you put that billboard up?" she asked.

"Yes," Joe said.

The woman then proceeded to tell him that her son had been murdered near that very spot two years prior. Since the murder, she had prayed that her son went to heaven, and she had been asking God for some type of sign to let her know.

She received a sign all right.

"When I saw the billboard, I saw the sign," she told Joe.

"Wow!" says Joe, recalling that phone conversation.

Thanks to Divine Mercy devotees from Massachusetts to California, images of The Divine Mercy have become roadside attractions, serving as striking antidotes to the typical monotony of crass or come-hither commercialism.

"When you ride up and down the highways, usually all you see are hamburgers and department store ads. It's just people trying to make money," says John De Friend, of Floyds Knob, IN, who heads a group that puts up Divine Mercy billboards. "But I look at these billboards of Jesus as the currency for the next world."

With money raised through fundraisers and parish collections, John's group, Billboards For Life, uses The Divine Mercy image in many of the 1,600 permanent and temporary anti-abortion billboards it has put up in the last 11 years in the Louisville, Ky., area.

"The words 'Jesus, I trust in You' are an outstanding invitation for those considering abortions to trust in Him," says John.

Joe Cannon also views those words as an outstanding invitation for people to return to God. A former Cleveland city councilman, he first began promoting Divine Mercy after hearing a speech in 1992 by Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, who has worked with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception for years to spread Divine Mercy. Four years ago, Joe began his billboard campaign.

To date, he has posted 430 temporary Divine Mercy billboards in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and New York. He pays for the billboards by selling Divine Mercy banners and Irish walking sticks and through an annual fundraiser.

Why billboards?
"My goal in life is to bring Jesus out into the open where everyone can see Him," says Joe. "We've been hiding Him for too long. Don't get me wrong. It's great to have the image in the churches. But we also need it out in the streets for people to see Him who wouldn't normally see Him."

Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the Marians' current "Fr. Joseph, MIC" applauds the efforts to promote Divine Mercy through billboards. Such efforts, he says, are in accord with the Lord's directive to St. Faustina.
"The Lord told St. Faustina in the 1930s to have that image of Him as The Divine Mercy painted. Then, the Lord said, 'I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world,' " says Fr. Seraphim, who served as vice-postulator for St. Faustina's canonization cause. "The Lord told her, 'I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish' " (see Diary of St. Faustina, 47-48).

"In that light," Fr. Seraphim says, "how could you go wrong putting up these billboards!"

A retired nun, Sr. Marie Arendes, OP, put up a Divine Mercy billboard in Pacific Beach, Calif., on Good Friday last year. Her billboard replaced an ad for a chocolate bar. Sister Marie says she's concerned with satisfying a different kind of hunger pang.

"People are starved without God, without His mercy," she says. "They need to know that God loves them and that His mercy is there waiting for them."

She paid $2,500 to rent the billboard for a month. It was her own money, which came from retirement benefits from the 10 years she worked at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"The billboard company called me up on Good Friday and said, 'Go down to Cass Street and look, because your billboard is up," Sr. Marie recalls. "It was beautiful!"

She included on her billboard the words from the Diary: "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (300).

Joe Cannon includes his toll-free telephone number on his billboards (888-479-3030). When people call, he takes their address and sends them pamphlets published by the Marians. He's received about 600 calls.

"They're from all denominations," he says. "They see this image, and they want to know more. They're scared about what's happening in the world around them. They see the loss of morals and how people are turning away from God. Then, all the sudden, they're in their cars, driving 50-60 mph, and they see Jesus, and they're like, 'Whoa!'"

Jesus is out in the open. Look for Him.

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