Conference Provides a Booster Shot of Mercy

When I cover Nurse Marie Romagnano's Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy Conference, I come back with my notebook crammed with "stuff."

A writer's notebook is like the junk drawer in your kitchen. Anything and everything can (and usually does) wind up in there - pens and pencils, paper clips, sticky notes, an old battery, an empty prescription bottle, a screwdriver, a dried-up felt markers, rubber band and paper clips, a tea light, a piece of red ribbon. My notebook contains notes from my interviews, jottings from the talks, doodles, a poem, cryptic shorthand, and scribbling from a math problem. You get the idea.

Not everything gets into my main story.

Let me share some of the leftovers in hopes that it provides the feel and flow of the conference.

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A New 'Church' - The day dawns hot. Inside the auditorium, the conditioned air meets me like one of the Smith Brothers when I have a scratchy throat. Feels good. I see familiar faces from last year and many new ones. The hall is packed with more than 300 medical people.

"We have sold out," says Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development for the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "This is all we can do."

Later in one of his talks, Fr. Kaz called these medical people "priests". He said:

The hospital is a church, a place to go when our bodies need assistance. It is a place where we confront the large questions of life. Our time in this 'church' gives us moments of reflection. We realize that life does not end here. You, the healthcare professionals, are the priests of this church. You minister with a smile, a friendly greeting, by loving everyone, by bringing forth goodness. God has sent you to be there. He has given you this privilege.



Never has it been put better.

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A Better Batter - Father Germain Kopaczynski, OFM Conv., a priest who is also a bioethicist, probably got the biggest laugh of the conference. Father Germain, a frustrated stand-up comic, startled the crowd at the opening of his talk on Tuesday. He announced that the night before, the Boston Red Sox had traded slugger David Ortiz, who has been in a season-long batting slump. The audience gasped.

"They traded him for Aunt Jemima. She makes a better batter."

Ouch.

In an interview conducted before his talk, Fr. Germain said he was honored to be invited back to speak:

"I have met so many good people [at the conference]," he said. "It's nice to be invited back. In one sense, [the speakers] are giving one long talk spread over two days; actually, it's spread over five years now. Now and then, there's a new facet, but we're talking about how ethics, morality, and spirituality must have a place in medicine. We face many tough choices in this life. We try to choose the right one. God calls each of us by name. Each person at this conference is being asked by the Lord to come to Him.

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In a Sense and Peppermint - Nurse Susan Januszewski, RN, of Woodstock, N.Y., sought me out as I was munching on a salad during a lunch break. We talked about healthy eating, and I mentioned the benefits of my Vita-Mix machine, which blends food down to the cellular level for easy and quick digestion. Yes, it's the same machine recently featured on Martha Stewart's TV show.

Nurse Susan sold me on a cure of her own: Young Living essential oils. The oils - pure essences of peppermint, lemon, lavender, and others - are used therapeutically as natural antiseptics, digestion aids, muscle relaxants, and inhalers.

She let me inhale the peppermint. It felt like I was in a York peppermint patty commercial. One whiff took me to that proverbial mountain stream, sitting on a rock, covered with snow.

The next day, she could be seen talking up Dr. Bryan Thatcher, who spoke on both days. Bryan was struggling with bronchitis.

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The Case for 'Laying Low' - The Very Rev. Fr. Dan Cambra, provincial superior of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in North America and Argentina, spoke on Tuesday. He had the "graveyard shift," as Fr. Germain called it. That's the speaking slot immediately after lunch.

No need for concern, though. Father Dan, also a frustrated comedian, wove a talk off the top if his head that had them laughing and crying. He knows how to dish it.

Prior to going on, he motioned me over to him, where he was standing with Marian novice Matthew Holladay. I had interviewed four novices the day before on Eden Hill: Matthew, Esteban Ybarra, David Blasland, and John Luth, all of whom attended the conference along with novice master Fr. Mark Barron, MIC.

Father Dan asked me how the interview went. Fine, I said.

"How did this guy do?" he asked, nodding to Matthew.

"He was the quiet one, but I got the crowbar out and he ended up giving me some good stuff."

Father Dan's talk flew.

"Jesus," he said. "That's all I'm going to talk about, because that's all we talk about when we speak of mercy, another five-letter word. A pastor of souls - That's how I see myself."

Father Dan spoke of the "moments of grace" that touch our lives.

"Not a single human being can ever say he can't be touched by God's mercy." He ended by saying that he hopes what people learned at the conference would "give you the encouragement to do better what you already do so well."

His talk was enough to pry novice Matthew Holladay off the ceiling.

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That Force of Nature and God - When I e-mail Nurse Marie, I sign it "You're Secret Admirer" or "Your Number 1 Fan." I write this at the risk of disappointing the redoubtable Felix Carroll, web editor on Eden Hill. You see I sometimes end my e-mails to Felix sort of the same way. I sign off, "Y#1F." They will both forgive me. They both dig God's Mercy.

Nurse Marie's other moniker, courtesy of yours truly, is an acronym, FONAG, which stands for Force of Nature and God. Father Germain might be tempted to make a crack about the "NAG" part of the term, but think about what it takes to get this show on the road.

Putting on a conference like this is like trying to read War and Peace while riding on the world's scariest roller coaster. There are as many ups and downs as you'd find in a rodeo, enough logistical problems to fill a pavilion at the World's Fair, and headaches to keep Anacin's stock on the rise.

Nurse Marie manages with flair and aplomb. It takes a few orders here and several commands there, barked out like a drill sergeant, but the trains run on time.

I'd like to have a Mercy Meter, a device that could measure all the good that has come out of five years of conducting this conference. How many doctors and nurses have gone back to introduce into their practices more human care, compassion, and concern? It's probably like a pandemic, the good kind. One tells two, two tells four, four shows eight, and so on.

That's one virus I don't want cured.

Thanks, kiddo, from Your Secret Admirer and No. 1 Fan.

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Physician Heal Thyself - Nurse Marie gave a couple of terrific talks. This is from her brief presentation on Tuesday:

God's rays of mercy are pouring through us. The best way for that to happen is to get spiritually healthy ourselves. The Sacraments of the Church should be a part of our work in healthcare. The reason we bring ourselves [to] healing is so Jesus can work through us. We are there not for ourselves but for the other person. It's one of the greatest privileges we have. I hope everyone here embraces mercy ... Mercy is infectious.



Nurse Marie ended by saying, "We are the love of Christ, and that love spills out to the world through mercy."

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The Poetry Hour - In a lull, I wrote this spontaneous poem. It came from something President Abraham Lincoln said that ties in with mercy:

"Whatever you are, be a good one,"
said Lincoln to his Cabinet.
Jew? Atheist? Christian? Muslim?
Be a good one, better yet.
A hand-hewn marionette?
Don't test your strings or pull the hands
of the puppet master. Smile
and resign yourself to his will.
Don't hesitate or come undone.
Just be a good one.



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Just Do It - Little Big Mercy Moment 1. An elderly woman tried to fill her cup with water, but the large draw cooler was low. It needed to be tipped. She couldn't do it. One of the Franciscan Friars with Father Benedict saw this, left his post at the book table, and ran to the woman's aid. He tipped the heavy cooler and filled her cup. It overflowethed.

Little Big Mercy Moment 2. When I drove in from Stockbridge to Worcester and Holy Cross College for day two, I brought two boxes of books with me for the sales table. Books are heavy, which is why I didn't fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a piano mover.

I parked my Ford Focus in front of the auditorium's main entrance, put on my flashers, and hauled box one out. As I approached the door, a woman stopped, opened the door for me, and let me go through. Same thing happened with the second box. People couldn't move fast enough to help me.

Little Big Mercy Moment 3. Then, when Fran Bourdon, executive director of the Marian Helpers Center, arrived in the auditorium a short moment later, he told me had closed the door on my car's hatchback, to keep people from temptation of the goods and treasures piled in the back of my car, Nellie.

Doing the little things with consideration and love. That, my good friends, is mercy in action.

Now go. Do some of it yourself. You, too, are mercy's minister. Make the world better today, some how, some way. Just do it.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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