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Why a World Apostolic Congress on Mercy?

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By Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (Wien, Austria)

Yet you are so terribly different to Who you are. You tired yourself out in each one of them. You mortally exhausted yourself. They totally destroyed you. That is called Mercy. And yet, you remained beautiful.

The most beautiful of mankind's children. Such a beauty has never been seen again. Oh, what difficult beauty! This beauty is called Mercy.

— John Paul II, Ecce Homo

Divine Mercy is fundamental to our understanding of Jesus Christ's mission in his life, death and resurrection. The Risen Christ is the Merciful One! In his apparitions to the disciples after resurrection, Christ shows the depth of his mercy through his patience (up to death), his pedagogy, his love for people just as they are. This is not a teaching; it is the Risen Christ saying to every one of us, This is Who I am. You can follow me. Mercy is Jesus himself! And the Church is invited to relive and proclaim this salvific reality. Pope John Paul II expressed this call to the Church of our times. (first part of our talk). The World Apostolic Congress on Mercy is intended to be an answer to this vocation (second part of our talk).

1. John Paul II's language as a universal call to Divine Mercy

What will the years ahead bring us? What will man's future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of Divine Mercy will illumine the way for the men and women of our time (John Paul II, Homily, Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska, 2000).

How greatly today's world needs God's mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up. Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about peace. Wherever, respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God's merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendour of truth (John Paul II, Homily, Łagiewniki, 17th August 2002).

Mercy is the power that puts a limit to evil in history (cf. John Paul II, Memory and Identity).

The truth, revealed in Christ, about God the Father of compassion (2 Cor 1: 3) enables us to "see" Him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God. They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts. For the mystery of God "the Father of compassion" revealed by Christ becomes, in the context of today's threats to man, as it was a unique appeal addressed to the Church (DM 2). The hour has (indeed really) come when the message of Divine Mercy needs to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: the civilization of love. (John Paul II, Kraków, 2002).

How the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy! (John
Paul II, Regina Coeli Posthumous message, 3rd April 2002)

John Paul II summoned the Church to be more conscious and more motivated by this mystery of mercy, of which She is heir for the salvation of the world. Dioceses and parishes worldwide are invited to remodel their pastoral programmes by refocusing on the invigorating mystery of Divine Mercy. He supports our efforts to create and carry out a pastoral programme of mercy. May this programme be the expression of your commitment, primarily in the life of the Church and then, as fitting and necessary, in the social and political life of the Nation, of Europe and of the world (cf. John Paul II, Homily, Kraków, 18th August 2002).

And if at times he (modern man) lacks the courage to utter the word "mercy," or if, in his conscience empty of religious content, he does not find the equivalent, so much greater is the need for the Church to utter this word, not only in her own name but also in the name of all the men and women of our time (DM 15). Only in this way, can the Church help people discover "the true face of God and the true face of their brethren (John Paul II, Homily, Canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, 30th April 2000). We suggest therefore a long term pastoral perspective so that Divine Mercy could become "the light for the way forward of the people of the third millennium" (cf. DM 12). To make this vision reality, Mercy ought to become the "paradigm" of all evangelisation.

2. The World Apostolic Congress on Mercy as an answer

The main objective is to focus on the life of parishes, congregations and movements on Mercy and its radiance. Parishes, not being communities by election, are a perfect setting to exercise mercy and thus be a visible sign of God's love. God in his beauty expresses himself and gives himself by the splendour of Mercy. The local ecclesial community can offer Him to the world in so far as they too shine out with this Mercy. Indeed, the believer (and the community of believers as a whole) only really exists within his/her filial relationship to the Father of mercies. The gift of oneself, in the strong sense of the term, is the act which gives a person to exist. It is therefore Mercy and the giving of oneself out of mercy which allows a parish community to come alive, to open itself up and really exist!

Mercy allows the Church to become what She is: a community of those who are open for the world and those who were granted mercy; those who are reaching with mercy out to the world; sacrament and parable of Divine Mercy. The presence of Mercy should be reintroduced into the heart of parish communities to heal the divisions caused too often by quarrels, jealousies and destructive criticism within the parish family. By renewed attention to the place of Mercy within the concrete life of the parish, the Congress preparation aims to help Christians rediscover themselves in their missionary identity as prophets of mercy (cf. Hos 6: 6), as priests of mercy (cf. Rm 12: 1; Heb 2: 17) and as kings of mercy through their baptism and the Eucharist.

"The Church of our time, (...) must become more motivated and profoundly conscious of the need to bear witness in her whole mission to God's mercy" (cf. DM 12). The Church should announce the truth (the true face of God and the true face of man), in a constant articulation to mercy and justice (cf. 1 Co 8: 1-3).

Only merciful love is credible and without it, one cannot tell the truth about God without betraying Him. In this way, every disposition of the Church would pass through the demanding filter of a merciful attitude. Becoming ever more perfect in mercy would always be the Church's goal. The encounter with the God of Mercy becomes our mission. The encounter with the merciful Jesus converts the hearts and makes them missionary in their turn (kerygma). By focusing on these encounters the pastoral care of the Church (diakonia) can be transformed. That's to say: it is mercy that encourages us to journey with people far away from the Church, who perhaps are afraid of God and of the Church.

It is mercy that opens the way to a true relationship with God in the Spirit. We would be more attentive to the people's relationship with their Lord; therefore to the liturgical, sacramental life. The spirituality of mercy found in the priestly mission can give renewed taste for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (leiturgia). Mercy leads us to live a more authentic communion. It is a formidable vector of unity within a Diocese. This veritable unity is called Mercy (koinonia). Entering the "school of mercy" is indispensable for ecumenical work(cf. Document of preparation for the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz, 1997).

"The contemporary Church is lively conscious that it is only on the basis of the mercy of God that She can carry out the tasks which flow from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and in first line, the ecumenical task consisting to unite all those who believe in Christ" (cf. DM 13). Now is the time for a new "creativity" in charity (...) by "getting close" to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters. (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte 50). Mercy will also be a source of new courage to take up the modern day challenge of meeting people of different cultures and religions.

3. Here are the following steps in the preparation of the Apostolic Congresses on Mercy:

August 2002 — the universal call to Divine Mercy by John Paul II from

July 2005 — an international retreat for Priests and Pastoral Co-workers took place next to the Divine Mercy Shrine in Łagiewniki-Kraków, Poland, with the theme "Mercy, Unique Hope for the World." The retreat was preached by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Msgr. Albert de Monléon and Fr Patrice Chocholski and myself. Around 300 people from every continent were present. The idea for a World Congress on Mercy was presented to the assembly by a layman Gerald Arbola during the conclusion of the retreat and met with positive response. Since the 2005 Retreat, the project has been presented to several pastors of the Church, and continues to be welcomed with great enthusiasm.

October 2005 — At the end of the Synod of Bishops in Rome 2005, Fr Patrice discussed the project of a World Congress on Mercy with Cardinal Camillo Ruini (President of the Italian Episcopal Conference). The Cardinal agreed to welcome the congress in Rome.

February 2006 — During an audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, I mentioned the project of a World Congress of Mercy. The Holy Father greeted the idea with benevolence and accorded his blessing.

March 2006 — North American Episcopal Conference expresses interest in this initiative and discusses ways of communicating the Congress to all members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

November 2006 — The first International Committee was set up in Latin America to prepare for the World Congress on Mercy in Rome. Church representatives from Paraguay, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile signed the acts of the Committee.

December 2006 — The General Secretary of the Congress meets with
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The archbishop of Kraków, former private secretary of Pope John Paul II, welcomes the project with great enthusiasm and declares his total commitment and total support for the Congress. This was John Paul II's dream! he said.

April 2007 — Some days after Sunday of Mercy, precious elements are suggested by Cardinal Arinze and H.E. Msgr Ryłko (today cardinal), President of the Pontifical Council for Laity, who enters the Committee of Patronage. The latter suggested us to set up a canonic structure to preserve the universal character of the initiative. At the end of the month, foundation of the Asian Committee of preparation of the Congress. Are present 300 diocesan official delegates of 11 countries and 78 bishops. 9 bishops and many priests participated there directly. It is the Vicar general of Manila who becomes official Coordinator for the continent, in agreement with Cardinal Rosales and the President of the FABC (Episcopal conferences of Asia).

May 2007 — the first meeting of the intercontinental Committee of prepa- ration was held in Rome, followed by a second meeting of the European Committee.

June 2007 — Cardinal Poupard considers that this Congress, founded on Mercy as footbridge, will encourage meetings between religions and cultures. He enters the Committee of Patronage. H.E. Msgr Ranjith (today cardinal), Secretary of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments, from Sri Lanka, enters also the Committee of Patronage.

July 2007 — The Diocese of Rome gives an important support, thanks to
Cardinal Ruini and Msgr. Parmeggiani, General Secretary of the Vicariate.

November 2007 — Meeting of the Committee of Patronage at the Vatican Library. Cardinals Arinze, Backis, Erdo, Rodé, Tauran were present and discussed the program of the Congress, under Our presidency.

From 2nd to 6th April 2008, the first ever World Apostolic Congress of Mercy takes place in Rome at the Lateran Basilica Mother Church, exactly three years to the day after Pope John Paul II's providential passing away on the Vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy 2005. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us a year later that: The mystery of the merciful love of God was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor. 7300 people of the whole world (3,300 people at the Lateran, 4,000 per web TV, including other Christians and other religions) participated in it. Many bishops and episcopal conferences sent their official delegations. These five days became a true meeting with Christ, like in Emmaus (talks, testimonies, beautiful liturgies, prayer, evangelization, workshops, festivalsv...). We said the first world congress on mercy is intended to give a very radical encouragement to rediscover the core of the Gospel, that is to say, Mercy. Moreover, we cannot become his witness, without experiencing Divine Mercy personally. Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property (Diary, 1318).

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