Day Two: Day of the Great Mercy Pope

By Chris Sparks (Oct 22, 2016)
The second North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM II), running from Oct. 21-22, 2016, is being held at the Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas. Gathering internationally renowned speakers, authors, and witnesses to Divine Mercy, the Congress aims to prepare the faithful to be “holy doors of mercy” through the end of the Jubilee Year and beyond. Our coverage will continue throughout the Congress.

View our photo gallery from the day.

8 a.m.
Happy feast of St. John Paul II! The low rumble of the Congress attendees and parish early birds praying the Rosary together is echoing behind me at Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas, site of NACOM II. We’re awaiting the opening of the day soon, as well as Mass with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas. Father Donald Calloway just arrived and is getting settled in at the giftshop right now. He’ll be doing book signings later. It’ll be another busy, blessed day at NACOM II in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, an oasis of grace and fellowship in an extraordinarily tempestuous time in the United States and around the world.

It’s more than ever appropriate to pray, “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world!”

Noon
What a morning.

First, Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, opened day two at NACOM II with the same prayer from the votive Mass of Divine Mercy that we all offered the day before.

Then Fr. Seraphim Michalenko took the ambo.

The recent Holy Fathers had said that the Divine Mercy revelations are among the most important for our times, he explained. “Pope Benedict XVI said that Divine Mercy is not a secondary (or, more accurately, second-rate) devotion, but an integral part of a Christian’s faith and prayer.”

He discussed the mercy of God manifesting itself in creation, and how that mercy intended to make us sons and daughters of God by grace from the beginning of the world. Father Seraphim talked about how the morality of the Old Testament is directed at training us in mercy, at bringing the inner temple of our hearts into conformity with the external worship offered at the stone Temple of the Old Testament. He reminisced about conversations he’d had with then-Fr. Vanhoye (now Cardinal Vanhoye), an expert on the Letter to the Hebrews, about similarities between Fr. Vanhoye’s scholarship and the teaching of St. Faustina in her Diary. “To put sinful man in contact with the true God, there must be a mediator,” Fr. Seraphim explained. “When Christ came, He established the way. He founded the covenant.” He is the Mediator between God and man, the Way, the Truth, the Life — and the Mercy Incarnate.

It was a tremendously rich teaching from one of the men who saw to it that the Divine Mercy message and devotion got established in the Church and around the world, and so reminded us all prophetically of the singular importance of Divine Mercy in God’s plan of salvation and sonship for us all.

Then Fr. Chris took the stage for a brief run-through of Divine Mercy 101.

He briefly touched on the elements of the Divine Mercy devotion (FINCH: Feast, Image, Novena, Chaplet, Hour) and explored the difference between mere natural forgiveness and supernatural mercy. “Mercy is the nucleus of the Gospel,” he proclaimed. Quoting Fr. Seraphim, Fr. Chris explained that “mercy is loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable.”

“Mercy is the highest mode of the highest virtue. You can’t do better than that.”

As part of this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Fr. Chris encouraged everyone present to gain their Jubilee Year plenary indulgence each day, if they hadn’t already. (It’s easy to gain the indulgence!) Indeed, he called on everybody to make it a habit to gain a plenary or a partial indulgence every day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, especially by using four means in particular of gaining a plenary indulgence (while observing the usual conditions): making the Stations of the Cross; Eucharistic Adoration; the Holy Rosary; or reading the Bible (all under certain conditions).

And then the Congress celebrated Mass. The Knights of Columbus from the parish served as an honor guide for the procession in and out of the parish. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, was the main celebrant. He welcomed the Congress to his archdiocese and spoke of how appropriate it was that we should be celebrating the Feast of St. John Paul II together, the Holy Father who had done so much to establish Divine Mercy in the Church and the world.

During his homily, the cardinal spoke about the Divine Compassion, so evident in the Gospel of John, and the way in which we are called to contemplate the pierced Heart of Jesus, which is the Heart of the Father. We are invited in this manner to abide in contemplation of the mercy of God. We are called, then, to go out and convey that mercy to the world by our words and actions.

Here’s Cardinal DiNardo’s homily:

The St. Mary seminary choir from the Galveston-Houston archdiocese sang throughout, including leading the congregation in the official hymn for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

After the Mass, Fr. Kaz led the cardinal and the entire assembly in praying St. John Paul II’s entrustment of the entire world to the Divine Mercy.

Then we heard from Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, about the Mother of Mercy, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He had the crowd laughing at every turn, speaking of the Mother of Mercy as our mother, as the mother shared with us by Jesus out of His infinite mercy, as the fulfillment of a divine plan set in place before the foundations of the earth.

He shared with the people that even as the Jubilee Year of Mercy is coming to a close, we are rapidly approaching the centennial of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal, where she appeared under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. We are called, then, to become champions of the Rosary, said Father, and he shared with the pilgrims his recently released, best-selling book Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon.

Next: lunch.

3 p.m.
Father Jan Machniak opened the afternoon sessions. Father Machniak has been a long-time collaborator with some of the leading promoters of the Divine Mercy around the world, such as Cardinal Macharski and Cardinal Dziwisz. He is a scholar and author of a number of books on the Divine Mercy.

Father Machniak opened by leading everyone in a rendition of “The mercy of God I will sing forever” in Latin. He then gave an overview of the papal involvement and promotion of Divine Mercy across the years, starting with Karol Wojtyla, the young St. John Paul II, praying at St. Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki during World War II, and continuing with Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

Saint John Paul II, he said, gave us Dives in Misericordia; Pope Benedict gave us Deus Caritas Est; and Pope Francis has given us Misericordiae Vultus.

After Fr. Machniak, the Congress heard the testimony of Nurse Marie Romagnano, a long-time friend of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and the founder of the Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers.

“Why is a nurse talking today? Because at some point in our lives, we are all nurses,” Marie explained. “We all have parents or family members we will take care of at some point.”

She shared with the Congress the way in which Divine Mercy had helped her grow in her faith, a faith she had first rediscovered when she was confronted with the loss of a child who had been under her care.

“The Lord said, ‘You be there to do everything I want you to do. After that, it’s up to Me.’ I’m only God’s instrument.”

This helped push her down the road of developing methods of care that take into account both the spiritual and physical needs of patients, methods which she shares through Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, spiritual retreats, their annual conference, and through her booklet Nursing with the Hands of Jesus: A Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy.

After Nurse Marie’s presentation, the Congress watched a video message from Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, another apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

4:30 p.m.
And the Congress is complete.

During the 3 o’clock hour, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko led the Congress in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, instructing all to join in praying the “Eternal Father, I offer you” from the beginning to the end, since all are empowered by their baptismal priesthood to unite their prayers and intentions spiritually with the Eucharistic sacrifice offered by the ministerial priesthood.

When that time of prayer concluded, Fr. Chris Alar offered a brief but powerful meditation on the power of prayer, inspired by one wise priest’s teaching in response to hearing of Fr. Chris’ grandmother’s suicide.

The wise priest had instructed then-Chris Alar to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for his grandmother. Chris had argued, “But Father, she’s dead. I hope she’s in Heaven; I hope she’s not in hell; she may be in Purgatory; but she’s already there, wherever she is.”

The priest responded, “But prayer reaches God, who is outside of time.”

He explained the mystery in light of the Immaculate Conception. The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin in light of the merits of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, none of which had happened in time by the time the Blessed Virgin was conceived. And yet, because God is eternal, the actions of God in time have a certain eternal quality. All grace comes through Jesus Christ, even graces received in the times before the Incarnation.

So, the priest told Chris Alar, your prayers may make the difference for your grandmother’s soul, for as St. Faustina and other great saints have told us, Jesus comes to souls at the last moments and offers them a final chance to choose Him. If the souls have long trained their hearts away from God, they may not recognize Him when He comes. But our prayers, even prayers said after their deaths, may make all the difference in the world.

After that powerful presentation, Fr. Chwalek wrapped up the Congress with several final tributes to the Knights of Columbus, to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, and to Catholic Olympian Simone Biles and her grandparents, all of whom have been powerful advocates for and servants of the Divine Mercy. After thanking the participants and all who worked to make this Congress a reality, especially Alan Napleton and the Catholic Marketing Network, Ken Zammit and the Fullness of Truth apostolate, and Prince of Peace Catholic Community, Fr. Kaz declared the Congress closed.

More to come!

Day One: Becoming Holy Doors of Mercy

By Chris Sparks (Oct 21, 2016)

The second North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM II), running from Oct. 21-22, 2016, is being held at the Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas. Gathering internationally renowned speakers, authors, and witnesses to Divine Mercy, the Congress aims to prepare the faithful to be “holy doors of mercy” through the end of the Jubilee Year and beyond. Our coverage will continue throughout the Congress.

Visit our gallery for photos of the day.

11 a.m.
Welcome to the North American Congress on Mercy! It’s a beautiful, sunny morning here at prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas. The grounds are lovely, ornamented with outdoor shrines to Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and more. Clearly, their winters are mild!

The morning began with Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, bishop of Albany, welcoming pilgrims from across the country (and, indeed, from around the world), then leading the gathered congress goers in prayers from the votive Mass of Divine Mercy.

O God whose mercies are numberless and whose treasure of goodness is infinite, graciously increase the faith of the people consecrated to you, so that all may worthily understand by what love they were created, by what blood they were redeemed, and by what Spirit they were sanctified. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

Bishop Scharfenberger is the episcopal coordinator for NACOM and a great friend of the Marian Fathers, whose provincial superior for the United States and Argentina, the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, followed Bishop Scharfenberger. Father Chwalek, the vice-coordinator for NACOM, presented to the gathered Congress a video from Pope Francis, which the Holy Father had sent to an earlier gathering of the Church in the Americas on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Here’s Pope Francis’ special message to the American continent during the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:

Then we went straight to the heart of the matter: the Sacred Heart, sacramentally present to us in the Holy Eucharist. Bishop Scharfenberger was lead celebrant at Mass, celebrating the votive Mass of Divine Mercy.

In his homily, he spoke of his initial reactions to the Holy Father’s calling of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

First, he said, he thought how wonderful it would be to have a year when mercy was easy to receive. Then he thought about how hard it would be to close the year. How do you close the doors of mercy?

The solution, he said, was for all of us to become doors of the mercy of God, doors through which Jesus’ mercy reaches the world. Then it won’t matter if we close the doors in the cathedrals, because the doors of mercy will be open in every Christian.

At the end of the Mass, Bishop Scharfenberger led the Congress in the prayer of entrustment prayed by St John Paul II on behalf of the world in 2002:

God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman.
Bend down to us sinners,
heal our weakness,
conquer all evil,
and grant that all the peoples of the earth
may experience your mercy.
In You, the Triune God,
may they ever find the source of hope.

Eternal Father,
by the Passion and Resurrection of your Son,
have mercy on us and upon the whole world!

Amen.

After the Mass, Fr. Kaz shared the history of the congresses.

He spoke of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, and how the cardinal was present for St. John Paul II’s entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in 2002. The experience inspired the cardinal to begin to seriously promote the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, leading to his formation of the Missionaries of Mercy. During an August 2005 retreat for which Fr. Kaz was present, a “prominent businessman” asked about the possibility of a congress, like the already-existing Marian and Eucharistic Congresses, dedicated to Divine Mercy.

Cardinal Schoenborn brought the idea to Pope Benedict XVI< who wholly supported the idea and mandated that the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy would be held in Rome.

After finishing his overview of the Congress history, Fr. Kaz introduced a video from Fr. Patrice Chocholski, the present rector of the shrine in Ars, France, where St. Jean Vianney once served. Father Chocholski is also the general secretary of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), serving under the Congress president, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, to help coordinate the international and regional congresses across the world.

Here’s the talk that Fr. Patrice sent to NACOM II:

1 p.m.
It’s important to try to share with you how large the crowd is here, and how diverse. People from every walk of life are here, from every ethnic background and every level of mobility. One woman is here on a stretcher; there are several wheelchairs; a number of walkers and canes. The people have come from near and far, some from mainland Asia and the Philipines; many from Texas; many from elsewhere in the United States. I hope to have more specific information for you all soon,

But it’s the Church, fundamentally. The universal Church has gathered for the North American Congress on Mercy, and it’s because Divine Mercy has reached every strata of Catholic society, every culture, every land, as Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, former vice-postulator for the cause of canonization for St. Faustina Kowalska, observed to me last night.

And to offer hope to all those Divine Mercy devotees, our next speaker talked about how everyone can answer the universal call to holiness: by following the Little Way.

Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, delivered a talk on St. Therese of Lisieux’s Offering to Merciful Love, her Little Way, and the universal call to holiness that brought the Congress to its feet in a standing ovation at the end.

Father Michael emphasized the papal teaching of recent years, expressed so well in Pope Francis’ address to the priests of the diocese of Rome: Now is the time of mercy.

And what does that mean? Father Michael pointed to St. Paul’s words, that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. We live in some dark, hard times, explained Fr. Michael, and so God has made available to us more grace than ever, especially through the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Way for little souls, in which sanctity is opened up to even the weakest and most sinful of souls by means of trust, “trust in God’s promise to little souls that He can raise little souls to holiness in His time and in His manner.”

But, said Fr. Michael, we must continue to trust and try to be holy, even in the face of our own sins and faults; especially in the face of our own sins and faults.

“If we keep trusting and keep trying, the promise He makes us through St. Therese, Doctor of the Church, is that He will make us saints.”

For more, see Fr. Michael’s 33 Days to Merciful Love.

2:55 p.m.
Lunch was a blessed experience. I got to hear a conversation about the message and devotion to Divine Mercy between Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers; Fr. Jan Machniak, a noted author and scholar of Divine Mercy sent to represent Cardinal Dziwisz at the Congress; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, who brought the Diary of St. Faustina out from Communist Poland; and Doug Keck, president of EWTN. The gist of it was that we are obligated to have a devotion to the mercy of God, for we are to honor all of God’s attributes.

After lunch, we were treated to a talk by Doug Keck, who shared memories of Mother Angelica; Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR; Fr. George Kosicki, CSB; and many other great figures in the promotion of the message and devotion to the Divine Mercy.

Divine Mercy was Mother Angelica’s favorite devotion, he said, and she’d been faithful to it for as long as many of the nuns of her order could remember. She’d been very proud of being the first to put the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on the air.

And EWTN and Mother Angelica had seen many graces come over the years through Divine Mercy.

He recalled one day in particular: the day that St. Faustina was canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation. He was at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge to help run the broadcast of the day’s festivities, along with Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. The truck that would transmit the broadcast to the satellite dish was not getting through to the satellite, which was too low on the horizon. After some back and forth, Doug Keck recalled, he said, “Sr. Faustina, if you want people to see this, you’ll have to do something.”

Thereupon, the team found the satellite with their signal. They went on the air.

Keck said that he leaves it up to each individual’s own discernment what happened that day.

He also talked about the challenges confronting Catholics who strive to be faithful in these days of so many losing the faith, talking about how Mother called people to “hurt people’s feelings” out of mercy.

“If you don’t realize you need mercy, you’re not going to avail yourself of it.”

Next was Bishop Eugenio Lira, bishop elect of Matamoros and general secretary of the Mexican episcopal conference, who addressed the Congress in Spanish. (English translations of his talk were made available ahead of time.)

He began his talk by discussing the fleeting happiness of life on earth and how quickly we face tragedy or even death. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said that without Christ, life is a meaningless enigma. But reason and faith both point us to meaning, to the truth of the existence and benevolence of the living God. And that living God created us all out of mercy.

“By his mercy, God created us in his image and likeness so that we would be happy forever in him,” said Bishop Lira. But we fell. Jesus, Divine Mercy Incarnate, made it possible for us to return to being happy, though, offering the definitive answer to suffering, death, and evil through merciful love. This is the path to true and abiding happiness.

6:30 p.m.
During the 3 o’clock Hour of Great Mercy, the Congress gathered around the Eucharistic Lord for a time of prayer, adoration, and praise. Led by Fr Kaz, the Congress prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, received Benediction, and worshiped the Divine Mercy in the flesh.

After Adoration came witness and song. Kitty Cleveland, the internationally recognized singer and songwriter, shared her testimony to God’s mercy with the Congress. She recounted her father’s travails in the face of a federal investigation of some clients of the family law firm, an investigation that ended up sending her father to jail and causing serious distress to their family. Over the course of appeals, setbacks, and deep trauma for the family, the Divine Mercy abided as a source of consolation and strength in the face of serious trials.

“The truth is, we reach our greatest spiritual height when we are down on our knees,” said Kitty. “The only real tragedy in life is losing a soul to hell. Everything else can be dealt with.”

Eventually, her father was vindicated when the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Kitty performed some of her original compositions, including some she had written specifically because of her father’s experiences.

Then came the expert testimony to the Divine Mercy. A panel that included Bishop Eugenio Lira; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Fr. Jan Machniak; Doug Keck; Fr. Chris Alar, MIC; and Fr. Kaz fielded an array of questions from the audience, including “Can non-Catholics receive the graces of mercy Sunday?” (Fr. Machniak’s answer: yes, because God is not bound to convey graces only by the Sacraments; Fr. Kaz’s answer: it’s like “baptism of desire”); “With Hispanic Catholics being the future of the Church in America, how is Divine Mercy doing in Mexico?” (Bishop Lira’s answer: Divine Mercy has spread to every part of Mexico; Fr. Kaz’s answer: in large part because of Bishop Lira’s efforts); and “How can you work in Divine Mercy to the role of being a parent who disciplines their child?” (Fr. Kaz’s answer: If someone is going to do something stupid, you need to stop them. If a child is going to stick their hand in an electric socket, they need to be stopped. This is mercy.)

Throughout the day priests were hearing confessions in the back of the church, and the side chapel where the Eucharist is reserved saw pilgrims praying and spending time with the Lord.

8 p.m.
After dinner, an evening of praise and worship music by the Catholic African American Mass Choir (CAAM), led by Dr. Andre la Cour and others, followed by the Mandolin Choir from Sacred Heart Church, Conroe, Texas, composed of Hispanic youth and adults. Pilgrims are praising the Lord. The charismatics amongst the crowd are easy to spot. Indeed, there has always been a relatively close connection between the charismatic renewal within the Catholic Church and the Divine Mercy grassroots movement.

So the evening ends in praise on this vigil of the Feast of St. John Paul II. Somehow, I think he’d approve.

Texas Welcomes Divine Mercy

By Chris Sparks (Oct 20, 2016)
Texas has 10 percent of the nation’s Catholics, observed Alan Napleton, founder of the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN) and one of the organizers of the second North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM II).

That’s why the Dallas-based Catholic businessman was so eager to see NACOM II come to his state of 20-plus years.

“This is the time of mercy,” said Napleton. “Of course, this is the great Jubilee Year of Mercy. People will come for a deepening knowledge of the message of Divine Mercy, because we have really gathered the experts on this. I think they’ll be able to interiorize the message so it’ll mean a lot for their spiritual life.

“This is the message for our times. These are troubled times, and the message of Divine Mercy, of God’s unlimited mercy, is very consoling, very comforting, and very timely.”

Congress speakers; Congress organizers from the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, Napleton’s Catholic Marketing Network, and Ken Zammit’s Fullness of Truth apostolate; and volunteers from Prince of Peace Catholic Community in Houston, Texas, the host of NACOM II, all are hard at work making final preparations for the Congress. As they labor, it’s worth taking a look back at the history of the Congresses.

Inspired by St. John Paul II and in particular by his homily during the prayer of entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in Krakow in 2002, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, began to promote the “message of God’s merciful love so that it be made known to all the peoples of the world.”

For this purpose, Cardinal Schönborn formed an apostolic group called the “Missionaries of Mercy,” whose task was to promote the message of God’s merciful love to all the peoples of the earth and to pass on the the “spark,” lighted by God’s grace, which will prepare the world for Christ’s final coming.

The Missionaries of Mercy and all the promoters of Divine Mercy from around the world were invited to gather in Krakow in August 2005 for a conference retreat. There, the participants requested the establishment of a World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM). Cardinal Schönborn received Pope Benedict XVI’s approval in 2006.

The USCCB was among the first episcopal conferences to express their support through its then-president, Bishop William Skylstad.

The first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy was held in Rome in 2008, and personally addressed by Pope Benedict XVI, who gave the Congress participants a “mercy mandate.”

The second was held in Krakow in 2011, hosted by Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz, the former private secretary to St. John Paul II. The third, in Bogota, Colombia, in 2014, hosted by Cardinal Ruben Salazar. The fourth WACOM will take place in the Philippines on January 16-20, 2017.

All official local and regional Congresses are affiliated with WACOM. This is the second NACOM. The first was held in Washington, D.C., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in 2009. A regional NACOM was held in Oakland, California, at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in 2015.

You can still register for the Congress! Visit mercycongress.org for more information.

In Cathedral of Christ the Light, Rays of Mercy Shine

A regional North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM) was held from April 24-26 in the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from across the continent. We shared insights, images, and news from the Congress as it was happening. Keep the Congress in prayer!

The Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, stands with Sr. Confida and Sr. Nazareta, two members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, St. Faustina Kowalska’s order.

Day One: Friday, April 24

+++View our photo gallery.+++

Well, the Cathedral of Christ the Light is well-named. The distinctive, modern structure, shaped like a great ark, admits light from the outside through millions of slats of wood, arranged around the walls of the cathedral. Up front, behind the altar, stands a tremendous sheet of metal, pierced with innumerable holes in such a way as to allow the light to shine through in the image of Jesus Christ, seated, blessing the people.

The Most Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland (second from right), invited the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (to the left of the Divine Mercy image) to hold a regional NACOM in his Cathedral of Christ the Light.

What better place to come to contemplate the Divine Mercy, given us through the Word made flesh, the light who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (see Jn 1)? The regional NACOM has convened, currently being held from April 24-26 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, at the invitation of the Most. Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland, and Fr. Carl Arcosa, the chaplain to the Divine Mercy Movement for the diocese of Oakland.

Today saw the Congress open at 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, with the sung Divine Mercy Chaplet, led by award-winning singer and songwriter Annie Karto, followed by a period of Adoration. Silence was interspersed with the praises of Divine Mercy and other passages from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Priests were available throughout the Cathedral to hear confessions from participants, getting the Congress off on the right foot: with the two great Sacraments of mercy, signified by the pale and red rays streaming from Christ’s side in the Divine Mercy image.

In place of Fr. Patrice Chocholski, general secretary for the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), who was unable to make it to the NACOM, the first talk was delivered by the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC. Provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina, Fr. Kaz has been a part of organizing the congresses on mercy from their very start. He shared some of the history of the congresses with the participants today.

The idea for the congresses originated in 2005, barely 3 months after the death of St. John Paul II, Fr. Kaz explained. Among the 500 people present at the retreat were Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska; Fr. Kaz; and then-Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC.

The retreat was being led by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and the present WACOM president, who’d been inspired to proclaim the Divine Mercy during St. John Paul II’s entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in 2002. As St. John Paul II said the following words, Cardinal Schoenborn felt the call resonate in his own heart:

Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth “the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming” (cf. Diary, 1732).

This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Krakow and Poland, and to all the votaries of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy!

So, among other initiatives (such as the Missionaries of Mercy, a group dedicated to proclaiming Divine Mercy) Cardinal Schoenborn offered a retreat with Cardinal Barbarin of France. The people who gathered at the retreat in 2005 wanted to make God’s mercy known far and wide. A French layman who was attending a retreat being offered by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn stood at the end of the retreat and appealed for an apostolic congress on Divine Mercy.

“We didn’t realize it was born at that moment,” said Fr. Kaz.

Cardinal Schoenborn sought the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, rapidly received it, and the first WACOM was convened in Rome in 2008 with Pope Benedict’s direct participation.

Father Kaz gave an overview of the growth of the congresses from there: the WACOMs in Krakow, Poland, in 2011 and in Bogota, Colombia, in 2014; the first NACOM held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in 2009; as well as a variety of other regional, national, and continental congresses held across the world in the intervening years. The purpose of the Apostolic Congress, explained Fr. Kaz, was to help that spark from Poland set all afire with the message and devotion of Divine Mercy in order to help prepare the world for Christ’s final coming, as prophesied in St. Faustina’s Diary (1732).

In an awesome bit of symbolism, the crucifix for the cathedral is fixed right behind the pulpit from which the speakers are delivering their talks. We are hearing about the message and devotion to Divine Mercy literally from the foot of the cross, the privileged place where, as Pope Francis has said in Misericordiae Vultus, “God’s justice is His mercy.”

After Fr. Kaz’s talk, Most Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland, was lead celebrant at the opening Mass of the Congress. He greeted the assembled Congress, saying, “Thank you for supporting this most wonderful, important devotion of our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church. I know many graces will come to you through your participation in this congress and also many graces will come upon our diocese, upon our state, and upon our world through your intercessory prayer to Jesus, the fountain of all Divine Mercy.”

Bishop Barber was warmly welcoming of the regional NACOM to his diocese “because I know so many graces and benefits will come to our diocese because the Church moves forward by faith,” he explained. “This is one of the greatest sources of faith and devotion outpouring now since the Vatican Council. I want to encourage you all and I want to thank you for being apostles of Christ’s Divine Mercy, for showing to the world that Christ has a loving and merciful Heart, no matter what other people may say.”

Bishop Barber discussed the Gospel reading for the day on the conversion of St. Paul, speaking of a more recent convert, the former abortionist and founder of NARAL Dr. Bernard Nathanson, as a similar recipient of extraordinary grace. After having performed around 75,000 abortions in his lifetime, including at least one of his own children, Dr. Nathanson turned from abortion after witnessing, via ultrasound, what exactly was going on in the womb of the mother during an abortion. He was evangelized by Fr. C. John McCloskey and received into the Catholic Church by the famous John Cardinal O’Connor of New York on Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, in 1996.

“God does not give up on anybody,” said Bishop Barber.

Hence the power of the message and devotion of the Divine Mercy, a message and devotion which draws deeply upon the power of God’s grace available through the mediation of the Church and her hierarchy. Bishop Barber asked all the Congress participants to take the graces they’re receiving through the sacraments, the prayers, and the teachings at the Congress, and apply them especially for two special intentions. He asked for intercessory prayers for the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco. “He has been the subject of singular attacks from the media,” said Bishop Barber. “An attack on him is an attack on Christ and the Catholic Church.”

The second intention was a young man named Jesus, who Bishop Barber had confirmed the night before and who is suffering from leukemia. Please join us all in prayer for these two intentions.

The night concluded with dinner and fellowship.

Day Two: Saturday, April 25, the feast of St. Mark

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9 a.m.
As the morning light filled the cathedral, a band composed of volunteers and Annie Karto led the participants in praise and worship.

11 a.m.

Next is Holy Mass, celebrated by Fr. George Mockel, vicar general of the diocese of Oakland, with the Marian Fathers and Fr. Carl Arcosa, chaplain for the Divine Mercy movement in the diocese of Oakland, among others.

The readings at Mass for the feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (1 Peter 5:5b-14 and Mark 16:15-20), seemed oddly appropriate to the preceding talk. Passages such as:

Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in faith — First Reading.

in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover — Second Reading.

resonated very strongly.

Father Mockel’s homily centered around our call to be evangelists like St. Mark, saying that though we may wait for other people to invent the next high-speed computer, the next great gadget, or write the next great song, we may not wait for anyone else to proclaim the kingdom of God.

“This is it,” he said, surveying the assembled pilgrims. “Or rather, we are it.” So we should follow the example of St. Mark, who attached himself to good teachers, such as St. Peter, and learned from them so that he could proclaim the Good News, as well. Indeed, his proclamation shall be read and heard in all ages until the end of the world.

We are called to similar humility, emphasized Fr. Mockel. We must submit ourselves to the teachings of the Church, and not expect those teachings to submit to our arrogance.

And we are called to go out beyond our comfort zones to speak the Good News “to people we might wish to avoid, including confronting issues we may not wish to confront, but must confront because they are contrary to the Gospel.”

“As we stand on the threshold of the Year of Mercy,” concluded Fr. Mockel, “we must be indicators of mercy by our lives and in our daily interactions with others. Look around you. We are it, and there is no plan B.”

1 p.m.

The first breakout sessions of the Congress. Congress participants had a choice of talks occurring at the same time, each taking place in a different room. The speaker in the Cathedral itself was Sr. Confida, a Dorchester, Massachusetts, based member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy — St. Faustina’s order. Sister Confida talked about the unfettered heart, a heart free to give everything to God because it is not held back by putting creatures before the Creator, by putting anything before God.

We know what we are supposed to imitate, said Sr. Confida, because God had revealed Himself through the Incarnation. “He who dwells in unapproachable light unveils Himself and takes on a human appearance.”

Sister Confida drew extensively from St. Faustina’s Diary throughout her presentation, describing how God most especially wants us to imitate His mercy. We are to become imbued with mercy and let our hearts become like His: swiftly stirred to merciful love by the misery of others. Sister Confida recounted the Passion of Christ, allowing it to vividly demonstrate what that divine merciful love looks like in action.

She discussed some of the characteristics of the spirituality we are to live, including the value of inner silence, or recollection, to allow the soul to hear and respond to God’s will. Sister Confida also emphasized forgiveness, reminding her audience that St. Faustina had written that we are most like God when we forgive our neighbors, and also of the great value in meditating on the Passion of Jesus.

Next: lunch.

4:30 p.m.
Bay Area-quality box lunches, eaten in the brilliant California sunshine, sitting side-by-side with fellow Divine Mercy devotees — wish you were here? I mean, wish you were here!

Oakland’s chaplain for the Divine Mercy movement, Fr. Carl Arcosa, also announced that the cathedral had donated copies of a prayerbook offering guidance on praying with icons — a highly appropriate gift for those who are venerating the Divine Mercy Image throughout the congress.

And then the first general session presentation was given by the ever-popular Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. The Congress goes from strength to strength!

Father Calloway talked about Our Lady as the masterpiece of God’s mercy, the pinnacle of the created order.

But Mary’s the Immaculate Conception, the ever-pure virgin! How could a sinless woman have needed God’s mercy?

Because, Fr. Donald explained, just as it’s a greater act of mercy to keep a person from falling into a muddy pit rather than waiting for them to fall before fishing them out again, so too is God’s merciful protection of Mary from all stain of sin greater than His merciful forgiveness of our sins after we’ve committed them.

Father Calloway quoted St. Thomas Aquinas, who had said that there are three things which even God could not improve upon: paradise; the God-man; and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each is as great as they can possibly be. Why? Because Mary is the daughter of the Father; the mother of the Son; and the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

God could design a daughter, mother, and spouse, said Fr. Donald. Of course he’s going to make her the best she could possibly be!

And if we’re smart, we’ll imitate Jesus and love the Blessed Virgin Mary. “If you want to win my friendship, make me do something: speak highly of my mom,” said Fr. Donald. “Give her roses. Sing songs about her. Praise her. But if you start slamming my mom, there’s going to be a problem with our relationship.”

Next: the Divine Mercy Chaplet, followed by the man who helped smuggle the Diary out of Communist Poland and documented the beatification and canonization miracles for the cause of St. Faustina Kowalska: Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC.

Annie Karto sang the chaplet of Divine Mercy, leading the congress-goers in prayer at the start of the Hour of Great Mercy. Priests are available to hear confessions throughout the hour. There’s a roll-up image of Divine Mercy next to the altar of the cathedral, and of course, as the speakers address the Congress, they each take their place standing beneath the stone crucifix and share the Good News about the Divine Mercy message and devotion from the foot of the Cross.

After the chaplet, Father Seraphim shared about the role we all have as Christians in exercising our baptismal priesthood. He was careful to distinguish between the hierarchical priesthood (that is, the bishops, priests, and deacons) and the baptismal priesthood (that is, the role of all Christians as priests, prophets, and kings, sharing in Jesus Christ’s priesthood, prophetic ministry, and royalty). Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet is an important part of making an offering of praise to God, an extension of the graces of the Mass.

“Let us offer the praises of God continually,” said Fr. Seraphim. “We must offer God a sacrifice in praise and thanksgiving, and we are to be doing good to everyone. Jesus, the image of the Divine Mercy, is to remind us to pray and to offer good work.”

Father Seraphim cited Pope Benedict XVI’s words when he said Divine Mercy was not a second-rate devotion, but an integral part of a Christian’s faith and prayer. Why? Because as Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, among others, has pointed out, Divine Mercy has a face and a name: Jesus.

And the lay faithful know this truth. That’s why the Divine Mercy movement is the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church. The sensus fidelium, the instinct for the truths of the faith of the Body of Christ, is manifesting itself.

6 p.m.
Due to the cathedral staff needing time to set up for the Saturday vigil Mass, the schedule has been adjusted slightly. Father Donald Calloway offered a brief talk before the breakout sessions, discussing how imitating Mary is an indispensable part of being holy and sharing God’s mercy with the world.

“If I want to be pleasing to Jesus,” said Fr. Don, “I have to seek to become like her.”

How? “Whatever you do, do it in a Marian way.” He offered a number of ways to live life in a Marian way: Show your faith. Be willing to pray the Rosary in public and say grace at a restaurant. Wear a Miraculous Medal.

Father Calloway quoted Servant of God Fr. Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, who’d said, “We need to be apparitions of Mary.” He told the story of Blessed Bartolo Longo, a man who went from being a Satanic priest (“like Zachary King!”) to a practicing Catholic and founder of the great shrine of Our Lady at Pompeii. How? He was prayed for by his friends and introduced to the power and promises of the Rosary. Those promises gave him hope that even he could be saved, even after what he had done and whom he had been serving.

That powerful devotion has been recommended more recently by a bishop from Nigeria, who had a vision of Jesus while praying in his chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. The bishop saw Jesus hold out a sword to him. When the bishop took the sword, it turned into a rosary in his hand. Jesus said three times, “Boko Haram is gone.” Boko Haram is a radical Islamist movement that has been kidnapping children and killing Christians in Nigeria, and has recently pledged its allegiance to ISIS. The bishop is now preaching the Rosary wherever he can, asking people to pray it for the conversion of the radicals threatening his flock.

“I carry it everywhere I go,” said Fr. Donald of his rosary. “This has power, my friends. This can change lives.”

The second round of breakout sessions covered topics such as how to live Divine Mercy in your parish by congress organizer Fr. Carl Arcosa and Divine Mercy in the Sacraments by Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC.

After the breakout sessions, everyone dispersed to dinner before regrouping for popular apologist and author Jesse Romero.

8 p.m.
Before Jesse Romero’s talk, a raffle concluded. It had been open only to congress participants. The first prize? Five days in Rome with the Marians. Second prize was five days at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy with the Marian Fathers offering special talks and spiritual guidance. Other prizes included canvas Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Guadalupe images, a leather-bound copy of the Diary of St. Faustina, and a copy of the newly released English-language edition of Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message.

Wish you were here? So do we!

Then Jesse Romero of On Fire Evangelization stood to speak. And man, did he live up to the name of his ministry.

He shared the story of a friend who’d lost a child, but couldn’t find a Catholic Church to hold the Rosary wake because everyone was booked for Holy Week. So he went looking for other churches and found a Protestant church, a fundamentalist congregation that was willing to host the wake so long as nobody brought a rosary or prayed the Rosary. So the friend called Jesse and asked him what they should do.

Jesse said they should ask to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet instead. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is all about the blood of Jesus. “If you talk about the blood of Jesus with a Protestant, you build bridges,” said Jesse.

So Jesse went and spoke to the pastor of the church on behalf of his friend, asking if they could pray a prayer calling on the blood of Jesus and sharing the text of the prayers of the chaplet with the pastor.

“When I said the word ‘atonement’ — this makes Protestants levitate,” said Jesse. “‘You Catholics pray and call upon the atonement of Jesus? Absolutely you can pray that prayer in my church!’

“It was a good bridge-building moment,” said Jesse.

9:30 p.m.
After Jesse spoke, Dave and Joan Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM), an apostolate of the Marian Fathers, gave an abbreviated version of their flagship program Tell All Souls About My Mercy.

Before the presentation got going, Dave and Joan shared that they had recently celebrated the 16th anniversary of their ministry, and that this presentation was to be number 995.

Then they began. Incorporating the Divine Mercy image, the Shroud of Turin, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they presented the message and devotion of the Divine Mercy through readings of passages from St. Faustina’s Diary. Confessions were being heard throughout the presentation, and it concluded with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, bringing the evening to a grace-filled close.

Tomorrow: breakout sessions, Mass, and the close of the regional NACOM.

Day Three: Sunday, April 26, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations

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It’s been beautiful these past few days in Oakland. Apparently, we were supposed to have increasingly violent storms as the days went by, but it rained a little Friday night, was beautifully sunny on Saturday, and is so bright on Sunday that it’s a little hard to walk around outside without sunglasses. Maybe someone was praying the chaplet for good weather (see Diary, 1791)!

Throughout the conference, there have been tables in the lower levels of the cathedral for the various ministries and speakers from the congress to share their materials, speak to the pilgrims, and get to know devotees of the Divine Mercy from other parishes, dioceses, and apostolates. People have been very busy exchanging contact information, inviting people to speak at conferences or see their new publications, and generally living the true meaning of “congress,” of walking together in the Lord Jesus with their brothers and sisters in the Church. Many good fruits are sure to come from this congress.

11:20 a.m.

The morning began with another round of break-out sessions. Dr. Bryan Thatcher, the founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) discussed sharing Divine Mercy with the sick and the dying, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, discussed St. Faustina from the perspective of a former vice-postulator for her cause for canonization, and Sr. Nazareta Maleta of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy discussed how living faith serves to offer us the foundation for practicing Christian mercy.

Sister Nazareta began with a brief overview of the life of St. Faustina, indicating that she is a model for living faith enabling true Christian mercy.

“Her spirituality is based on two pillars: trust in God and practicing mercy toward neighbor.,” explained Sr. Nazareta.

Sister Faustina had a mission with three parts: to teach the world that Divine Mercy is for every human and in every heart, insofar as we share in the image and likeness of God; to implore mercy through the Divine Mercy devotions; and to form a great movement of people dedicated to Divine Mercy.

“I think there is no country without an image of Divine Mercy,” said Sr. Nazareta. “The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is recited in many languages. The feast of mercy is in the Church’s liturgical calendar for good. You and other people implore God’s mercy by going to worship the Divine Mercy at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Saint Faustina passed away about 77 years ago now, said Sister Nazareta, and now the whole world speaks of her loudly. Sister Nazareta mentioned that St. Faustina’s relics are at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki in Krakow, Poland.

“Everybody is welcome,” said Sister Nazareta, who will be returning to Poland herself. “We are preparing for the World Youth Day (WYD) next year at the end of July.”

Next: Mass.

11:20 a.m.
We got to celebrate a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass at Christ the Light Cathedral, so a number of ordinary Catholics from the diocese of Oakland were also in attendance. Our lead celebrant was the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina, as well as one of the key organizers of the regional NACOM.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever,” said Fr. Kaz. “Right from the beginning, Christian art depicted the consoling image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guarding His sheep. Jesus watches through the night; He is never distant from us.”

Father Kaz shared that he had grown up on a farm. He said that sheep tend to become so focused on the patch of grass directly in front of them that they become oblivious to everything else. They can wander off very easily, are blind to danger, and so need a shepherd to survive and flourish.

“Christ is the Good Shepherd, but He wants us to have shepherds according to His Heart,” said Fr. Kaz. He listed some of the saintly popes of the 2oth century, including St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, both canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, and Blessed Paul VI and Blessed Pius XII.

“How Christ takes care of His Church, giving us incredible leadership!”

Father Kaz also pointed to Bishop Barber of Oakland, who had invited the regional NACOM to his diocese so that the people of his diocese could be blessed and strengthened in their faith through the message and devotion of Divine Mercy.

He gave an overview of the purpose of the regional NACOM, citing the letter from Cardinal Schoenborn, president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), who said, “My wish and prayer is that this Apostolic Congress on Mercy may help Christians rediscover in themselves more deeply their missionary identity as prophets of mercy (see Hos 6:6), as priests of mercy (see Rom 12:1; Heb. 2:17) and as kings of mercy through their Baptism and the Eucharist.”

Father Kaz also discussed the recently released papal bull Misericordia Vultus, talking about the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday this year and set to open on Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Father Kaz shared with the faithful that the Holy Father wants everyone to receive reconciliation in the Year of Mercy, to receive the greatest gift all: sanctifying, divinizing grace.

“He will invite us to the green pastures of life,” said Fr. Kaz.

After Mass, the last round of breakout sessions.

1 p.m.
The final round of breakout sessions. Jesse Romero discusses David and Bathsheba’s sin and God’s Divine Mercy; Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, talks about parables of Divine Mercy; and Dave and Joan Maroney give a presentation on their campaign Divine Mercy for America: Hope for Our Country and World.

The Divine Mercy for America campaign began in 2012 as a result of the presidential campaign, the study Dave and Joan were doing of the Diary at that time, and a novena to the Holy Spirit. The Maroneys were discovering a great many things about the historical context for the delivery of the message and devotion of Divine Mercy to Sr. Faustina in Poland in the 1930s.

Among their discoveries: According to St. Faustina, God was angry at Poland for its ingratitude. As Joan said, “If God was angry at Poland then for its ingratitude, what must He think of our entitlement society? How angry must God be with us when we have so much to be grateful for?”

Also: During St. Faustina’s own lifetime, Warsaw became the abortion capital of Europe, apparently due to cultural influence from the USSR, where abortion had been legalized for all reasons since 1920. There, they discovered that demand rose dramatically over time, forcing them to open clinics throughout the population centers where abortions would also be provided, presaging the present system of abortion clinics run by organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

“In our country, this sin has infected so many people, so many families,” said Dave. “We have to know God’s mercy is greater than all sins put together, to know we can still receive God’s love.”

So the campaign is calling on all Catholics and devotees of Divine Mercy to commit to the four-point action plan, sign up for the campaign updates and information, and take to their knees in prayer (especially on May 7, the National Day of Prayer) for God’s mercy for America and on the whole world.

4 p.m.
And the end. After a delicious lunch at tables set outside around the cathedral, pilgrims gathered for the concluding panel: Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for the cause of canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska; Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy; Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy; and Fr. Kaz, all emceed by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, also known as “Fr. Joseph, MIC.”

Pilgrims raised a number of issues, including about the implementation of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Father Kaz said that he’d once been told by a wise old professor that it takes at least 50 years for the Church to even begin to hear and understand the teaching of an ecumenical council of the Church, so here at the end of the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II, the Council of Mercy, on Dec 8, 2015, the Church will begin celebrating the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Father Chris Alar also shared that he’d just returned from a trip to Europe. While there, he and some of his brother Marians had had a meeting with Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, and the former private secretary to St. John Paul II. The Cardinal had said to Fr. Chris, “I want Stockbridge to take the lead in seeking to have St. Faustina made the next Doctor of the Church.”

Now there’s a worthy goal!

Other questions surrounded how we can be merciful to those who are so unmerciful to us and our brethren, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and others. Father Kaz emphasized the importance of praying for the extremists and their victims, as well as being informed about the nature of the ideas driving these groups.

Doctor Thatcher emphasized that we should not allow ourselves to be hardened or embittered toward those committing these atrocities, and never to give into despair. “God could change things in a second. The Blessed Mother could change things in a second. Remember that in this country, we are aborting millions of babies. We also need to pray for this country, for our own conversion.”

Another question had to do with suicide. Father Seraphim shared several passages from the Diary, including 1486, 1684, and 1698, saying, “I think these are some of the most exciting parts of the whole message of mercy. Some people ask me if they think we should pray for these people in these situations. I think we should pray for them every day.”

Father Chris shared his testimony of trying to respond to his grandmother’s suicide and going to a priest, who told him to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for his grandmother’s soul right that night. Father Chris, at the time still a layman, asked the priest how that would help, since his grandmother had died ten years before. Surely she had been judged and her fate was fixed? The priest responded, “God is outside of time. To him, all times are one. Your prayer now can help your grandmother then, at the moment of her death.”

At the end of the Q&A, Annie Karto stood and sang a special song for the priests gathered for the panel, celebrating their priesthood, their special call to become conduits of the Gospel and the Sacraments for the whole people of God, and the eternal consequences of their ordination. Then during the 3 o’clock Hour of Great Mercy, she led the room in singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

And the close. Each priest had thank yous to offer and encouragement to give. NACOM co-organizer and chaplain to the Divine Mercy movement in Oakland Father Carl Arcosa said, “You from the diocese of Oakland: You have the support of your bishop.” Father Anthony Gramlich said, “It was great being here and sharing with everyone. Just keep up the good work with spreading the Good News of the message of Divine Mercy.”

Father Seraphim said, “Thank you to everyone in attendance, and may the Lord bless you and empower you with His mercy.”

Father Chris Alar thanked everyone and appealed for prayer for priests.

Father Kaz called the regional NACOM a leadership conference, bringing together Divine Mercy devotees to be prepared to go forth and bring the message and devotion to their families, friends, parishes, and communities. “Remember, pray for each other, strengthen each other.”

“Through your hands,” the hands of the participants, “I thank the diocese of Oakland.”

Then in his capacity as vice-coordinator for the NACOM, Fr. Kaz declared the Congress closed.

Which, of course, means its work has just begun as the participants take what they have learned, seen, and shared out to their parishes and all the world.

That goes for you who read this, as well! Make the devotions and live the message of Divine Mercy so that God’s grace may flow and all come to share in the life and love of the Blessed Trinity, now and forevermore!

Participants Speak

Denise Gums, from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in West Oakland, said, “What brought me was belief in the Divine Mercy. There are so many killings on the streets of Oakland and people have the tendency to be judgmental about what’s happening in our city. So I couldn’t believe it was actually here. Usually this [sort of gathering] is in San Francisco.

“So believing in Divine Mercy and wanting to feel the spirit of Divine Mercy in my soul — that’s why I came here.”

“What I heard that I really needed to hear is the Lord’s mercy really extends to all, even those groups that are showing no mercy to many persecuted Christians in the world. My friends there are from Nigeria, and when I talk about Boko Haram, they know what I’m talking about. A lot of those girls were never returned. They still continue to kill and maim. I had a friend here yesterday from Kenya, and they were healing while they were here. They’re still in a state of devastation because of what happened at Garissa University. So when you see that, it’s hard to think mercy. So God help me. And the priest’s answer on suicide I thought was very powerful, because many people judge that, and what he said was so powerful, that God hears our prayers outside of human space and time.”

Carla and Chuck Sicotte
came all the way from Bend, Oregon, for the NACOM. “Your hearts are moved by every speaker,” said Carla, “because every one has a slightly different charism that they’re trying to share with you.”

You’ve Got Mail!

A regional North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM) was held from April 24-26 in the Cathedral of Christ the Oakland, California, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from across the continent. Here, we share some letters to the Congress participants from Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy; Most Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, the bishop of Oakland who invited the NACOM to his cathedral; and the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina.

KARDINAL DR. CHRISTOPH SCHOENBORN
ERZBISCHOF VON WIEN
Vienna, April 2, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Dear participants of the Regional North American Congress on Mercy,

How prophetic were the words of St. John Paul II when he spoke before the vast crowd gathered in Krakow:

“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 splendor of truth” (John Paul II, Homily, Krakow, 17 August 2002).

“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” (see 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 (see 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. It is mercy that opens the way to a true relationship with God in the Spirit. It is mercy that leads us to live a more authentic communion with each other.

My wish and prayer is that this Apostolic Congress on Mercy may help Christians rediscover in themselves more deeply their missionary identity as prophets of mercy (see Hos. 6:6), as priests of mercy (see Rom. 12:l; Heb. 2:17) and as kings of mercy through their Baptism and the Eucharist.

Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn
———-

March 19, 2015
Solemnity of Saint Joseph

To the faithful attending the North American Congress on Mercy at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, California April 24-26, 2015

My dear brother and sisters, On behalf of the priests, religious men and women and all the faithful of our Diocese, it is my honor and pleasure to extend our warmest welcome to each one of you.

As we gather to celebrate God’s infinite mercy, revealed to us by His Only Begotten Son, Risen from the dead, I would like to invite you to take this opportunity not only to reflect on the many graces we have received from His mercy, but also on the fact that we are all called to be instruments of that same mercy in the lives of others.

Mercy implies, in many ways, reaching out. That is exactly what God the Father did: to show us his mercy, he sent us His most precious treasure, His Son, who became man to share our sufferings and hopes, our struggles and joys. Christ died and rose from the dead for you and for me. God reached out to the extremes of our human existence to redeem us. Moreover, he continues reaching out to us through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, making His mercy present and available for all those who believe.

Moreover, God is calling us to be instruments of that same mercy. And that is an essential part of our faith. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy that have been taught in our Catechesis generation after generation are the concrete expressions of that mercy flowing from God to us, and, through us, to the lives of those brothers and sisters most in need.

When we, Christians, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bury the dead, counsel the doubtful, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead, or practice any other work of mercy, we can say that we are not just doing philanthropy, we are changing the world through God’s love and mercy. Pope Francis pointed out that during his first Angelus, on March 2013: “Mercy changes the world. A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand God’s mercy well…”

I pray that this Congress will help us all to be agents of the true mercy of God “to the end of time”.

The Most Reverend Michael C. Barber, SJ
Bishop of Oakland

For the greater glory of God
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On behalf of the Regional NACOM organizers, we would like to express our deepest appreciation to the following people and organizations that have made this wonderful weekend of mercy possible:

First and foremost, we thank His Excellency Michael Barber, SJ, Bishop of Oakland, CA, and Fr. Alexander Castillo, his secretary, as well as Fr. Carl Arcosa, Divine Mercy Coordinator for the Diocese of Oakland. All of you have been tremendous hosts for this regional North American Congress on Mercy, and we truly appreciate your invitation to the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception to be your co-hosts for this event at the cathedral.

We also thank Rev. Jay Matthews, Monica Salcedo, and the entire staff of the Cathedral of Christ the Light; Very Reverend George Mockel, Vicar General of the Diocese of Oakland; John Erick Villa and all of the Oakland seminarians; the members of the Divine Mercy planning committee for the Diocese of Oakland; all of the parish volunteers from Good Shepherd in Pittsburg, St. Joan of Arc in San Ramon, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood, St. Agnes in Concord, St. Anne’s in Walnut Creek, St. Francis of Assisi in Concord, St. Anne’s in Union City, Holy Spirit in Fremont, and Holy Rosary in Antioch; all of the diocesan and religious priests of Oakland who heard confessions; all of the Marians — priests, brothers and seminarians, especially Br. Kevin Gregorek, MIC, my personal representative, and postulant Jason Hilliker, his assistant; the Marian Fathers’ Divine Mercy Apostolates; Mary Kay Volpone at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, the staff of the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the members of the Association of Marian Helpers; all of the speakers, presenters and musicians who traveled from around the country to share their experiences in living the message of God’s mercy.

We are deeply grateful to Cardinal Schönborn, President of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy and to Fr. Patrice Chocholski, its Secretary General. Finally, our profound gratitude goes to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has enthusiastically taken up the mantle of mercy from St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to become our beloved “Mercy Pope.”

With best wishes and blessings in our Merciful Lord!

Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC
Vice-Coordinator North American Congress on Mercy

For full coverage and photos, see here.

‘Like One Big Family’

By Felix Carroll (Jun 10, 2010)

It was a meeting of presidents. The topics were mapping, mercy, and mandates. Gratitude and eagerness were the sentiments.

The players were Fr. Matthew Mauriello, president of the North American Congress on Mercy, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

During a pilgrimage in Europe, Fr. Matthew took the opportunity for an impromptu meeting of the minds in Vienna on May 19 with Cardinal Schönborn.

“We talked about the past, the present, and the future,” reported Fr. Matthew upon his return to the United States.

The past includes the Church’s first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, held in Rome in April 2008.

The present includes national and continental Mercy Congresses being held around the world. (The North American Congress on Mercy was held Nov. 14-15, in Washington, D.C.)

The future includes regional Mercy Congresses around the world followed by a second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

A congress is a Vatican-approved initiative in the life of the Church that focuses on a particular aspect of the faith. The Mercy Congress aims to bring greater awareness of — and participation in — the mercy of God as a source of hope, healing, and renewal for all people, all creeds, all families, all communities, and all nations.

A Family of Mercy
The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have assisted in the planning of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy and the North American Congress on Mercy. The Marians will host the Northeast Regional gathering of the North American Congress on Mercy on Oct. 2, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass. Father Mauriello will be among the speakers.

The second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy is scheduled for Krakow, Poland, in October 2011. Father Mauriello, pastor of St. Roch’s Parish in Greenwich, Conn., will again lead the delegation from the United States.

Father Matthew said his meeting with His Eminence Cardinal Schönborn began with an expression of mutual gratitude.

“He told me how he had been briefed of the successful Congress we had here in North America,” said Fr. Matthew.

“I congratulate you on your efforts,” Cardinal Schönborn said to Fr. Matthew. “I congratulate all of you and commend you.”

Father Matthew then expressed his appreciation for Cardinal Schönborn and his efforts to fulfill the Holy Father’s mandate for the Mercy Congress.

“It’s all coming together,” Cardinal Schönborn said of the world, continental and regional congresses. “We are like one big family.”

“You’re our official Daddy of the Mercy Congress,” Fr. Matthew told His Eminence.

“I’m a very absent Daddy, I’m afraid,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “There are so many Congresses going around the world now, and of course I cannot be at all of them.”

“So I pointed to his chest and said, ‘I know, but I’m sure you always have us in your heart,'” said Fr. Matthew.

“It’s true,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

Father Matthew said in an interview last week that the moment was touching, sincere, and edifying.

The Holy Father’s Mandate
The two men then discussed how to proceed. They agreed the top priority is to ensure all future events follow the Holy Father’s mandate given at the conclusion of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

“Go forth and be witnesses of God’s mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his Regina Caeli address on April 6, 2008.

“We have to continue to be witnesses of the Lord’s mercy,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

Father Matthew said Cardinal Schönborn shared his thoughts on what should be given most prominence in all Mercy Congress gatherings.

In order of importance, the focus should be:

• Theology — the study of mercy based on scripture and Church tradition.
• Spirituality — taking the Lord’s mercy and “living the mercy message” through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
• Devotions — the channels for the outpouring of Christ’s grace. As evidenced at the World Congress and North American Congress, a large majority of attendees are Divine Mercy apostles who practice the devotions given to St. Faustina.

Before their meeting, Fr. Matthew had the opportunity to concelebrate the morning Mass with Cardinal Schönborn at his private chapel adjacent to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Vienna.

The Vienna meeting followed on the heels of a gathering of continental coordinators held on April 30 in Budapest, Hungary. Father Matthew, who attended that gathering, said it served to “rally the troops to pull together for the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Krakow.”

“It was the kick off,” said Fr. Matthew.

For more information on previous congresses, visit mercycongress.org.