'Opening Act' Delivers Perfect Warm-Up

As an opening act, it wasn't bad, that is, everything about it was good. In fact, it was so "good" that in the ensuing enthusiasm an "o" was dropped and the "g" got capitalized. The "good" became "God." Thus it was as the Marians of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday kicked-off Divine Mercy Weekend on a gray, blustery, early spring day. Some 3,500 pilgrims gathered at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass., a location one visitor called "Divine Mercy's Mission Control." They came to bathe in that mercy today in anticipation of the torrents of mercy that will flow tomorrow. Living up to its billing, Saturday proved the perfect warm-up for Divine Mercy Sunday: literally, in bundling up against the brisk, mid-April weather; figuratively, in predisposing pilgrims to coat themselves with God's love; and spiritually, for its focus on the Merciful Way lived by St. Faustina and written about so movingly in her Diary. Pilgrims enjoyed a full day of the Merciful Way. The morning began at 8 a.m. with Holy Mass in the Shrine, celebrated by Fr. Michael Callea, MIC, the Marians' Coordinator of Ministries. From 9 to 2:45 p.m., pilgrims visited the Adoration Tent for Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Hearts on fire At 2:45 p.m., priests and pilgrims joined in procession to the Field Altar for Exposition, Benediction, and praying The Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. The Saturday Chaplet concluded the Solemn Novena, serving as a prelude to tomorrow. A Divine Mercy Vigil Mass at 4 p.m., with main celebrant Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, Shrine Rector, capped the day's schedule. In his homily, Fr. Anthony gave thanks for a "wonderful day to preach about the fire of the Holy Spirit." He urged pilgrims to "rekindle in your hearts the fire of the love of God. There is no greater act we can offer than the act of love. Hearts can grow cold by sin, through indifference, and even in routine, going through the motions of prayer. What do we need to stoke the fire? We need the Holy Spirit." Throughout the day, confessions were heard from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Father Donald Calloway, MIC, who spent most of Saturday hearing confessions, came away from the Confession Tent enthused. "No sin," Fr. Donald said, "falls outside the shadow of the cross." Pilgrims also visited the concession stands, the Enrollment Tent (for enrollments and Masses), and the Shrine gift shop. Jorge Zabbatella of Durham, N.C., says he came on the pilgrimage "to experience the peace in my heart that comes when I center on the mercy of God." Looking around from his perch on the crest of Eden Hill opposite the Shrine entrance, he asked, "Who cannot feel near to God here." Abigail Nella, from Raleigh, N.C., said, "I came here thank God for the wonderful things He has done for me. That's how I feel the presence of His great love, by looking at my blessings." Seminar on 'Healing' From 10 a.m. to noon, special guests of Fr. Joseph, MIC, attended a seminar, "Healing and Divine Mercy," at the Eden Hill Recreation Center. Guests including the Marians' Friends of Mercy partnership and the 13th of the Month Club heard presentations from Marie Romagnano, R.N., founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy; Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy; and Br. Jason Lewis, MIC. Nurse Marie shared with the audience "the privilege of caring for the sick and injured." She talked about how she works with patients and families, "bringing the message of mercy to the bedside." She relayed several specific cases, where each time Divine Mercy was invoked to supplement medical care and affect healing. She mentioned the "two aspects to the spiritual care of the sick." The first is the importance of bringing them the sacraments. The second deals with prayer, "especially the forms of devotions to Jesus." She cited veneration of the sacred image of The Divine Mercy and the Chaplet to The Divine Mercy as the prayers offering the most help. As to the power and necessity of prayer, she said, "Because of the fruitfulness of prayer for [my] patients, I as a nurse make it a policy to involve their families in prayer for them, no matter what their religion might be. For regardless of their religion, when I bring the subject to patients and their family members, they always wish to hear the message of God's mercy and healing grace." 'Ice Age of the heart' Following Nurse Marie, Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, spoke to the crowd of about 200 about the need for God's mercy, particularly in today's troubled time, frozen as it is in an "Ice Age of the heart" that is shriveling people's capacity to give and receive love. "We have but one basket in which to put all our hopes," Br. Jason said. "That is Jesus Christ as The Divine Mercy. Hard hearts need to become hearts of flesh, capable of love. The way to do this is trust. Trust in Jesus! Why? Because He is trustworthy. He cannot fail us." Brother Jason said the purpose of prayer is help produce a first-hand experience of Divine Mercy, which opens the petitioner to a fuller and purer reception of Divine Love. Being sure to include himself, he reminded listeners to "pray for a deeper encounter of God's love [for us]." Finally, Dr. Robert Stackpole spoke of God's desire to heal us, not punish us. He cited a key section from St. Faustina's Diary, where Jesus tells her: "Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart" (1588). "Now that is a very revealing quote," Dr. Stackpole said, "because when our Lord starts out by saying 'I do not want to punish,' you might expect Him to say, 'I do not want to punish sinful mankind, but to forgive it.' "But Jesus didn't say that. He said He didn't want to punish 'aching mankind.' Our Savior is so compassionate. While He is certainly offended and grieved by our sins, He also sees clearly how our sins wound and tear the life out of our souls. In other words, He sees how mankind is 'aching' from sin, and so He not only wants to pardon our sins but to heal our hearts, 'pressing' them to His own Merciful Heart." Guests enthusiastically received the speakers, the applause echoing off the rafters and high ceiling of the Rec Center. Pauline LaVoie of Fall River, Mass., called the talks "absolutely wonderful. My late brother came here last year, so I came this year to honor him and his memory." Dorothy Buttgereit from Carle Place, Long Island, N.Y., said "the whole day has been great, very uplifting. I enjoy especially the fact that we can get to share this wonderful experience with so many people." Both women are members of Friends of Mercy. The countdown begins At the end of the day, a sense of anticipation settled in on Eden Hill. A production crew from EWTN scurried about, stringing cables, preparing equipment, and getting ready for its worldwide broadcast of Divine Mercy Sunday. Maintenance crews and volunteers finalized arrangements to accommodate up thousands of pilgrims the next day. A handful of pilgrims lingered on, not wanting to leave the tranquility and peace that blanketed the Hill as it moved from late afternoon to the arrival of dusk. And inside the tabernacle, the Eucharistic Hosts reposed - the collective Body of Jesus Himself - ready to lovingly release His infinite ocean of Divine Mercy on and for all. The countdown that had begun to Divine Mercy Sunday - mercy's greatest day and finest hour.

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