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Works of Mercy

Photo: Felix Carroll

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From June 12 through June 21, Felix Carroll, editor of thedivinemercy.org, traveled with the Virginia-based group Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy as it made its first voyage through the poor, west African nation of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The Missionaries spent the trip meeting the poorest of the poor, assessing their needs, speaking with Church and political leaders, and opening a House of Mercy in the northern city of Korhogo. The following is part 1 in nine-part series of the trip.

In 2005, Kellie Ross was praying when she heard these words in her heart: "Prepare yourself for travel. Prepare yourself for suffering. Prepare yourself for crosses." She felt she was being called to someday go to Africa to help spread the message of The Divine Mercy.

"Someday we'll go to Africa," she later told Fr. Jack Fullen, the spiritual director of her group Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy.

"There's no way we're going to Africa," responded Father Jack.

Well, actually, he was wrong. They're going to Africa.

It all happened quickly. Just before Easter this year, His Excellency Marie Daniel Dadiet, Archbishop of Korhogo, in northern Cote d'Ivoire, was visiting Washington, D.C. for other matters when he stopped by for an unplanned visit to the Missionaries' House of Mercy in Manassas, Va. A volunteer for the House of Mercy had connections with Cote d'Ivoire, a west African country that's slightly larger than New Mexico. The volunteer had previously arranged for shipments of necessities there through Archbishop Marie Daniel.

When the Archbishop stepped into the House of Mercy, he looked around at the free clothing, the spiritual library, the food pantry, and the sacramentals, and then nodded approvingly. Minutes later, he and Kellie, the executive director of the Missionaries, were having tea together at a nearby McDonald's.

Long story short: He asked her to come to his country and help his people. She said yes. Bishop Paul S. Loverde, of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., gave his blessing for the trip. And then I got involved through no fault of my own.

"We're going to Africa in June, and we'd like you to join us. Will you come?" Kellie wrote to me in an email sent on, of all dates, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Long story short: My employers, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, gave their approval. So did my wife. A friend of Kellie's provided me with my plane ticket. I got my yellow fever vaccination. I packed my malaria pills, a few bottles of Deet insect repellent, a poncho, my camera, notebooks, and pens, and on Thursday, June 11, put my St. Christopher medal around my neck, and kissed my family goodbye.

It's now Friday, June 12. I'm on a Boeing 777 staring down on the continent of Africa. I'll be meeting Kellie and her group later this evening in the city of Abidjan, and from there, I don't know what, when, where, or how.

What I do know is that Kellie, four years ago, was so inspired by the message of Divine Mercy that it radically changed her life. She was leafing through a copy of Marian Helper magazine in 2005, when an article entitled "One million times greater" caught her attention. It discussed ways people can help the Marians of the Immaculate Conception spread the message of Divine Mercy. The article included an image of The Divine Mercy, showing a magnifying glass over the Heart of Jesus.

She's been magnifying His mercy ever since. She and I have since had some Divine Mercy adventures together. I wrote a piece for Marian Helper on the Divine Mercy cenacle she formed in Virginia with the help of Bryan Thatcher, executive director of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy. A couple years later, just after she opened the House of Mercy, I spent a day in downtown D.C. with her and the Missionaries as they provided food, clothing, and sacramentals for the poor and even washed their feet.

I serve on the executive committee that's planning the North American Congress on Mercy, to be held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14-15. With the committee's permission, I had asked Kellie if she would be a presenter. She said yes.

When it comes to opportunities to spread Christ's mercy, she always says yes.

'What My Soul Had Been Looking For
I'm in the airplane. I'm setting my eyes for the first time on the continent of Africa below. I'm reading through the piles of papers I printed out on Cote d'Ivoire, and piles of notes from previous interviews I have done with Kellie.

Here's what I know of the Cote d'Ivoire so far: The U.S. State Department warns Americans against travel there. Foreign nationals left at the start of a five-year civil war in 2002 and have not returned. There's an election in November. Also, don't drink the water. Don't swim. Don't walk the streets of Abidjon alone. Take the malaria pills. Wear bug repellant. Sleep under mosquito netting.

Here's what I know about Kellie: She's 41, a native of Washington State. She describes her younger years as "promiscuous and miserable." She had searched for God in all the wrong places and finally found Him when she entered a Catholic church in 1998.

She and her husband, Dr. Scott Ross, a family practitioner, had a date night. It was the first time they had ever left their two boys with a sitter. They wouldn't be going to a restaurant. They wouldn't be going to the movies. She told Scott she felt called to go to Mass. He agreed. It was the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and the priest's words that evening pierced her soul.

"He said, 'Are you lonely? Are you tired? Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Is your marriage flat? Do you struggle with your children? Do you worry about finances?' Then he paused," recalls Kellie. "He leaned over the pulpit and said, 'I promise you, I promise you, if you enthrone your home to Jesus you will have peace in your family, you will have peace in your marriage, you will have peace with your children. You will have no worries, I promise you.'"

After Mass, she and Scott stuck around for the holy hour. When the priest brought out the Monstrance, she turned to Scott and said, "What is that? And why is my heart calling for that?"

"You've never seen a Monstrance?" Scott asked.

"At that moment, that one moment, watching the Monstrance, changed my life," says Kellie. "I had never seen a Monstrance, but I recognized what my soul had been looking for all these years. I didn't know about the Eucharist. I didn't know about Real Presence. Nothing."

By 2005, she was ready to delve deeper into her faith. She went to a talk hosted by a local church. She doesn't remember the talk, but she does remember going to confession and meeting Fr. Jack in the confessional. She had the copy of Marian Helper magazine with her. She had been praying about starting a cenacle in her parish, Holy Trinity, in Bristow, Va. At the end of the confession, she asked Fr. Jack if he would be willing to be the cenacle's spiritual director. He said he would love to.

"As I was getting up to walk out of confession, he grabbed my arm and stopped me and said, 'Do you smell that?'" Kellie recalls. All the sudden, the room was filled with the smell of roses, and there were no roses in sight.

"You smell the roses?" Fr. Jack asked. He said "I think God has big plans for us."

Jesus Makes His Demands
Within three years, the cenacle morphed into the House of Mercy and the founding of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy. Along the way, Kellie says she believes God speaks to her through the Diary of St. Faustina, which documents St. Faustina's revelations in the 1930s that have sparked the modern Divine Mercy movement.

She says, "I remember reading Diary entry 742 where Jesus says, 'I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it,' (742).

"I thought, 'Wow, He demands it,'" says Kellie. "It's not a request. He demands deed of mercy, and there's no excuse."

And that became the motivation for her ministry. Men and women are going hungry in D.C. No excuses.

Children in northern Virginia are without clothes and food and school supplies. No excuses.

People are living outside of God and their souls are in jeopardy. No excuses.

These are the people the Missionaries have been serving — thousands of them.

"We have to help," says Kellie. "We cannot keep living under the assumption that other people will help."

So when the Archbishop from the Cote d'Ivoire met Kellie and asked, "Will you help my people. They are suffering," there would be no excuses.

He asked the right person.

"Kellie physically feels the suffering of others," says Fr. Jack. "She's always had a deep compassion to relieve the misery of others, and that's what drives her. She wants to serve the poor. She has a real gift to serve the poor."

Kellie herself explains, "All my life I've felt compassion for people who suffer. A weakness overwhelms my body. It compels me to serve others to help alleviate that suffering because the pain is so raw, and I want them to know they are not alone."

Here are some other things she's told me:

Looking at the faces of the homeless and the poor and the suffering, it was the same experience I had when I looked into the Monstrance. I saw Jesus in them. I yearned to be with them. I yearned to join them in their sufferings, to inspire them, and encourage them.

The greatest poverty I have ever seen is someone who does not believe in God.

People ask me frequently, "Isn't your ministry clothes?" I usually laugh and respond, "Our ministry is to share the love of God and His mercy worldwide. The clothes, the food, the shoes are just actions of that mercy." What good is it to give away clothes or food to someone, but they lose their soul? How much will it profit a child to have new shoes if you don't share with him that God with clothe him for eternity?

We are a ministry open to every faith, but we do preach boundaries.

Eternal life is worth fighting for.

I spent half my life offending God. In the second half of my life, Divine Mercy is my ministry in reparation.

I can hear Kellie's words ringing in my head. Two days before departure, we were confirming flight times. We were confirming good reasons for her going to Africa. The reasons come down to this: Because she can, because the Archbishop asked, because people are suffering, because Christ demands action.

No excuses.

Prepare for landing.

Part 2: Nighttime, Waiting for a New Morning
Part 3: The Caravan Rolls
Part 4: 'They Uphold the World'
Part 5: Where There is Order
Part 6: A Balancing Act
Part 7: 'Pray for Us'
Part 8: 'She's Dying'
Part 9: Mercy is a Verb

Kellie Ross and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy can be contacted via email at [email protected] or by phone at 703-659-1636.

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Jean from Boston - Jul 7, 2009

All I feel is the powerful love communicated through this article and dedication to Divine Mercy. I also can not go to Africa because I am caring for my mother with memory issues but I want to participate. Please let me know how I can get out of my own bubble and begin again! I can identify with my previous "flat" existence and pray one day to "smell the roses" and know God's will.

Agnes from Am Samoa - Jul 4, 2009

May God be with you all, How blessed we are to have you and your openness to God's mighty power. Please pray for all of us here in the South Pacific so that we may respond fully to God's will and grace. Blessings and Peace.

Mom from Michigan - Jul 3, 2009

I will offer up my prayers, works, joys , and sufferings; for the Conversion of All. I pray for their Spiritual and Temporal Needs.

If I had better health, I'd join her. I'll help her from my sick bed here. I'm feeling better, so I will offer up my healing from the Migraine I had this morning and early this Afternoon.

Paula - Jul 3, 2009

That was an amazingly moving article! I want to help in some way. I can't go to Africa, but can send prayerful and financial support to help alleviate some of the suffering. God Bless you and your work.