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

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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

+++View our photo gallery.+++

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
————

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.

Love: The Measure of Success

By Chris Sparks (Aug 19, 2014)
The third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) is being held from Aug. 15-19 in Bogota, Colombia, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from around the world. We’ll be sharing insights, images, and news from the Congress as it’s happening, so stay tuned for more, and keep the Congress in prayer!

I can’t believe we’re at the end of WACOM already. So many faces have become familiar here; so much goodwill has been shared between pilgrims from vastly different backgrounds and very distant lands. My Spanglish has come along remarkably well, although I must admit that by the end of the Congress, I’d begun to mix French, Italian, German, and English when I tried to speak to the volunteers or my fellow pilgrims.

And yet, somehow, everyone still managed to communicate that they loved one another.

View our WACOM: Day Five photo gallery.

9 a.m.
We’re back at the Colegio Agustiniano Ciudad Salitre for the last day of WACOM III. On this feast of St. John Eudes, the morning prayer and reflection were led by Fr. Camilo Bernal, CJM, the superior general of the Eudists. He offered a reflection on the founder of his order and the teaching of St. John Eudes, the great promoter of devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts.

We began the Congress on the solemnity of the Assumption and concluded on the feast of St. John Eudes. This Congress on the Divine Mercy was contained within the Two Hearts throughout.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn then proceeded to offer some closing remarks, punctuated by regular applause.

11 a.m.
Cardinal Schoenborn, Congress president, and Fr. Patrice Chocholski, general secretary of the Congress, led the assembly in lectio divina as a way of preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for a time of reflection and discernment about WACOM.

Then Fr. Patrice asked everyone to form cenacles, or discussion and prayer groups based around language of around a dozen people apiece. The organizers asked the participants several questions, including:

* Could you tell us what you perceive as the call of the Lord through the Congress concerning the mission entrusted to us?

* Which calls & impulses do you feel for the future?

Some of the answers from one of the English language groups included a call to deeper prayer while still “rowing the boat,” or combining more prayer with persistent action in the service of the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Participants also spoke of the importance of refraining from judging others, especially their enemies, for whom they must pray, remembering that all humans are brethren. They also emphasized the need to reach out to the young, who are the future of the Church and the Divine Mercy movement.

Father Patrice and Adriana Maria Vargas, a member of the communications staff for the Archdiocese of Bogota and one of the emcees who had served throughout the Congress, then went into the audience and asked representatives from an array of the different groups to share their group’s answers with the rest of the Congress, making the exercise a powerful time of world-wide discernment of the Lord’s will for the Divine Mercy movement.

Noon
Wow. I just learned that beneath the floor of the gymnasium is the chapel for this school. I went down below because an announcement had been made that sounded like the litany of the saints.

And lo and behold — there was the Eucharistic Lord Jesus in the monstrance on the altar, flanked by about 10 reliquaries and around that many relics of saints. Saint John Paul II was there, as was St. Faustina Kowalska, her spiritual director Blessed Michael Sopocko, the youth reformer and educator St. John Bosco, the great teacher of the lay path to holiness St. Francis de Sales, his spiritual daughter St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and more.

We’re standing, literally, on the firm foundation of the Incarnate Word of God and members of His Mystical Body.

When I returned to the gymnasium, groups were still sharing their discernment. When it ended, Cardinal Schoenborn approached the microphone, and …

And it’s official: WACOM 2017 will be held in the Phillipines!

The National Coordinator for Divine Mercy in the Philippines invites us all to come to his country for WACOM 2017 and gives us a blessing.

I grabbed Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the former vice-postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska and asked him some questions about that choice.

“The Filipinos have carried the message wherever they go,” said Fr. Seraphim in response to the announcement, “and they are to be found everywhere in the world, even in the northern reaches of Alaska, where they work in the oil fields. They have brought the message and devotion of Divine Mercy [wherever they are]. Wherever you go, and whenever conferences around the country are arranged, many of the attendees are Filipinos! So it’s appropriate that the Congress should be held there. The first one was in Rome. The second one was in Krakow. The third one was in South America under the first South American pope. Now, it should go towards Oceania and the Far East.”

And go east it will.

1 p.m.
Helen Oa from Papua New Guinea took the stage to share some lessons from her work with youth, bringing to the stage with her a man named Vincent. Vincent was one of the many young people blessed by the Church’s works of mercy in Papua New Guinea.

Father Patrice summed up their presentation by saying, “It is very important what they have said to us. Vincent was a drug addict from the margins. The young people are the future of the Congresses. The youth pass through the outskirts” of society and human life, so they are especially deserving of the graces and assistance available through the Divine Mercy message and devotion, as well as the help of those who are missionaries of Divine Mercy.

Cardinal Schoenborn then took the stage to share with the Congress an encounter he’d just had with a Colombian woman, then brought her on stage and allowed her the microphone for several minutes. She has six children of her own, and has apparently taken in over 100 homeless children. She identified herself as someone working in clinical pharmacology and gave a ringing testimony to the power of God’s gracious mercy to bring healing and hope into human existence.

“Nothing is impossible for God!” she proclaimed to strong applause. “I told God, ‘Lord, I am here, a little piece of trash, but you can do anything.'”

“It’s these testimonies that give us the strength to be missionaries of mercy,” said Cardinal Schoenborn. “If every one of us comes out of here with more love, fuller love, then the Congress was a great success.”

He proceeded to thank the conference organizers in turn, working from Fr. Patrice and Cardinal Ruben Salazar, the archbishop of Bogota, and Fr. Edgar Avila, the archbishop’s secretary, on down to the lowest level of volunteers. And then he was followed by Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, the archbishop emeritus of Santiago, Chile, and legate of the Holy Father, who addressed the Congress for a final time.

He led off by thanking the one organizer that Cardinal Schoenborn had not mentioned: Cardinal Schoenborn himself. Cardinal Errazuriz then gave an overview of the saving mercy of God and how it calls those of us who know that we have received mercy to be merciful ourselves. He reminded his audience that St. John Paul II had put mercy at the center of apostolic life, and had said that “only Divine Mercy can put a limit to evil. Only in God’s mercy would man find peace and happiness.”

“We have to resort, once again, to God with all our strength.”

“We will never be missionaries of mercy if we are not children of mercy.”

He emphasized that God had loved us first, before we were faithful to Him, and so we must also lead with love.

And the end. Cardinal Salazar was lead celebrant for the closing Mass of the Congress.

“It is a great honor for Bogota to have hosted the WACOM,” Cardinal Salazar said. “We need the love, we need a God who sees our misery, accompanies us and lifts us, so we can be instruments of God’s love.”

In his homily, he referred to the Aparecida document, the great charter for the new evangelization which had been largely the work of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the present Pope Francis. Cardinal Salazar exhorted the Congress to raise their hearts to the Lord, to let themselves be transformed by God’s gracious and merciful love so that we might transform our neighbors and our world by the power of that love.

During the Mass at the time when we intercede for the dead, Cardinal Schoenborn mentioned the family members of the Holy Father who had just been killed in a tragic car accident in Argentina.

And it’s over. Done. There’s a lot more content to come, though, so keep checking back at thedivinemercy.org and mercycongress.org for further photos, video, and articles bringing WACOM III from Bogota to you.

May God bless you, and please always keep the Marians, the Marian Helpers, and the Divine Mercy movement in your prayers.
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Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

WACOM Round Up

View our WACOM photo galleries:

 Day One   Day Two   Day Three   Day Four   Day Five

Read our WACOM Daily Blogs:

Day One   Day Two   Day Three   Day Four   Day Five

Other Coverage

Congress host Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez’s talk, called by Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the best, most comprehensive talks on Divine Mercy he’s ever heard.

Marian Apostolates on WACOM 2014

Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy

Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM)

Dave and Joan Maroney, Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM)

Marie Romagnano, RN, Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy

Other Videos
Father Dante Aguero, MIC, shares some thoughts on Cardinal Schoenborn’s talk and the importance of WACOM.

Father Bruce Villacorte Tenorio, the National Coordinator for Divine Mercy in the Philippines, invites us all to come to his country for WACOM 2017 and gives us a blessing.

Bishop Martin Uzoukwu shares about the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in Nigeria.

Salt of the Earth

By Chris Sparks (Aug 18, 2014)
The third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) is being held from Aug. 15-19 in Bogota, Colombia, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from around the world. We’ll be sharing insights, images, and news from the Congress as it’s happening, so stay tuned for more, and keep the Congress in prayer!

Salt of the earth. Light in the darkness. Descending into the earth and rising again. Going to a cave in a mountain and hearing God speak there. So many Scriptural images fit today’s proceedings, which took place in the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, located outside of the Bogota city limits. And then, at the end of the day, an unexpected surprise …

View our WACOM: Day Four photo gallery.

10 a.m.
It’s hard to mind an hour’s bus ride to the Salt Cathedral when the crowd of pilgrims sharing the space with you all gladly join in a Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy, led by the Maroneys of Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM), aided by their colleague Jose Gamez, who spoke Spanish for the benefit of the rest of the bus.

I discovered how unexpectedly easy it was to pray a bilingual Rosary and Chaplet. The prayer breaks in the same place in both languages, so as the majority of the bus said, “Por Su dolorosa Pasión,” I knew when they paused I should say, “have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” The same with the Rosary. When we’d finished the Rosary, suddenly the Spanish-speaking ladies on the bus broke out into some Marian songs. Dave and Joan Maroney responded in kind with the Salve Regina. It was beautiful.

And then we arrived at the entrance to the Salt Cathedral, greeted as we got off the bus with the sight of a “train” on wheels, puffing smoke and everything, heading down the mountain road, presumably to pick up a load of tourists.

There was a picturesque statue of a miner mid-labor and rather modern looking art placed in a great square, where the Congressgoers milled about. Some were greeting bishops and taking pictures with cardinals, while others took photos of the surrounding view of the mountains and forests.

There are moments on this trip where I think I’m looking at something straight out of Italy or Spain. Usually that happens with the architecture or the farms we pass, or the countryside on the slopes surrounding the Salt Cathedral. Other times, I feel like I might as well be back in the USA, such as when I went walking through a supermarket and spied the same brands of jam, pasta, and other basic goods that we have in the USA sitting on the shelves amidst products from Colombian companies.

We’re gathering into groups according to the language spoken, indicating where the groups are by waving the flags of appropriate countries. Who knew I’d end up waving a massive American flag in the middle of a square in the mountains of Colombia?

Noon
Well, we just walked perhaps the most unique Way of the Cross I’ve ever made. Our English-speaking group took its turn going deep into the mountain, walking a Way of the Cross carved into the very stones of the mine. Every so often a “miner” in an orange jumpsuit and hard hat would walk by. Each station was marked by a great cross of stone and the Roman numeral of the station carved into the wall opposite. Some of the crosses were set in caves or lower down in great caverns, lit with pale blue or purple light, creating a rather surreal effect, especially since it was still rather dark in the tunnels and passages between stations.

The Most Reverend Robert Finn of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, coordinator of the upcoming North American Congress, and Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, led the prayer and meditation at the first station. The Very Rev. Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Mother of Mercy province, led the pilgrims in singing the prayers from the Divine Mercy Chaplet between the first and second station. Then he and Marie Romagnano, RN, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, led the prayers at the second and third stations. Others took up the task of leading prayer at other stations, including a bishop from Nigeria. Other hymns were sung between stations, including “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” and “Hail, Holy Queen.”

There’s something so powerful about walking the Way of the Cross as you head deeper and deeper into a mountain, going down into darkness, into the cave, just as Christ was buried in a stone tomb and descended into hell.

And then we reached the three great halls which are the Salt Cathedral itself. The entire Congress fit with room to spare in those three halls, and the ceilings had to be at least five stories high.

Father Jan Machniak delivered a message from Cardinal Dziwisz to the Congress (copy to follow!).

Then Cardinal Audrys Backis, Archbishop Emeritus of Vilnius (where St. Faustina once lived) and a great long-time friend and promoter of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, delivered a talk on the message of Divine Mercy for the whole world.

“Come and drink from sources of fresh water, pure water, so that you may have life,” he said.

Cardinal Backis described the spread of the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, detailing the acceptance of the different practices associated with it, as well as the growth and establishment of the congregation Jesus asked St. Faustina to found. “Now this congregation recognized in Poland has extended God’s mercy to many people,” said the Cardinal.

He drew out the essential connection between Marian devotion and the Divine Mercy, saying of the Mother of God, “She guides our steps softly, leading us toward her Son Jesus, merciful Jesus.”

He talked about those who had fallen away from the Church and Mary’s maternal concern for them. “All of them are called by the Mother of Jesus, and she begs them to come back to the merciful mother’s mantle.”

2 p.m.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons, France, was the lead celebrant at the Mass in the Salt Cathedral. He delivered a ringing homily about the persecution of Christians across the world, and described a trip he and other French bishops had made to visit the persecuted Church. He spoke of the faith he had found amongst the persecuted Christians and recalled marveling at the lack of bitterness amongst those he spoke to. They were sad, yes, he said, and desperate, but there was no hatred for their enemies. He emphasized the need to pray for our enemies, no matter how hard that may seem, and to send assistance to our persecuted brethren across the world.

It was the turn of the Filipinos and other members of the Asian delegations to present the gifts, which they did in style, bringing forward offerings of food and Divine Mercy materials to set before the altar, as well as the hosts and wine for the consecration.

4 p.m.
Mary Sandrinhorn, a Catholic lay leader from Thailand, presented her testimony to the saving and transforming power of the Divine Mercy first thing after lunch.

She’d been a Buddhist and a wealthy woman, she said, when she lost control of her business and was arrested due to false charges brought against her of shady dealing. It took her a long time to learn to forgive, but the Lord continued to prompt her until she finally consented, and discovered the healing power of forgiveness. Eventually, she was able to prove her innocence, but lost her husband to divorce and was sustained only by her children and God’s love.

Then she heard a participant in the FESPIC games, a sporting event for the disabled, say on TV, “Nobody wanted to be disabled. However, if we could accept this fact, we could live a normal life.”

That was the turning point for her, a turning point that she believes was sent by God. She accepted what had happened to her and moved on, becoming a baptized Catholic, immersing herself in serving others, starting a new business, and reaching new levels of success as an associate.

“Who would have thought a few years ago that a broken person like me and a troubled family like ours would be healed and blessed like this today?” she asked. “Nowadays, I am having a special kind of fever — Jesus fever.”

“If your heart is full of the Good News and Jesus Christ, it will spill over. You can’t keep it for yourself!”

Then, at the 3 o’clock hour, WACOM general secretary Fr. Patrice Chocholski called up WACOM president Cardinal
Schoenborn to introduce the Hour of Great Mercy. Cardinal Schoenborn, however, said that he thought it best to just leave everyone present in silence for ten minutes or so to be with Jesus.

After that time of prayer, we heard from two priests from the favelas (slums) of Brazil, Fr. João Henrique and Fr. Marcus. Father Henrique is the founder of a religious community which lives and works in the favelas, enduring the dangers and discomforts of living and working alongside the poorest of the poor. He shared several stories of reaching out to drug addicts, the violent, and the desperate, including expanding on Cardinal Tempesta’s talk from the day before about World Youth Day (WYD) 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He spoke of bringing the WYD mission cross to one of the worst slums. As it stood in the public square, several people came running along, knives in hand, intent on killing. When they saw the cross, he said, it was like they suddenly encountered the presence of God. Falling flat on their faces, they allowed the knives to be taken away and, giving up all thought of violence, several asked to be taken into some of the Church’s houses for addicts leaving drugs behind.

He also introduced Fr. Marcus, whom he called the “first priest from the favelas.” Father Marcus shared his testimony of a life of drug addiction, a period of homelessness, and then the life-changing encounter with Fr. Henrique’s community when they treated him as a person with dignity and worth. He eventually, by the grace of God, kicked his addiction and answered a call to the priesthood, though he felt completely unworthy.

At Cardinal Schoenborn’s request, Fr. Marcus gave his first priestly blessing to all the assembled WACOM pilgrims at once.

And there’s the end of the day. Right?

Evening
Wrong. When we load back on the buses, we are told that we are not returning to the Colegio Agustiniano Ciudad Salitre, but rather to Compensar. Originally planned as the site for WACOM, the convention center was no longer the location as of a week before the event. No one seems clear on what’s coming next.

But everyone agrees later that it was lovely. Once off the buses, we are ushered into a large square and up into bleachers facing out over it. A series of fountains dance and splash to the sounds of classical music; masks, sombreros, noisemakers, and wine await. Compensar workers distribute candles, and soon, the bleachers are full of laughing, talking pilgrims, dotted with points of light. I never thought I’d see nuns in paper sombreros, let alone bishops and cardinals, but here we are again with the unexpected and the joyful at WACOM in Colombia!

Several priests are invited to say a few words, including Fr. Dante Aguero, MIC, who leads the crowd in a song in Spanish to much applause and laughter.

Then the real light show starts. The water dances, lasers trace a series of images across its face, showing abstract designs, a talking mask, hands scooping up earth or coffee beans, couples dancing in traditional clothing. It’s a time of beauty. Then a surprise: a video of Pope Francis, addressing a crowd in Spanish! He’s speaking of Christian hope in the face of the reality of death. Then more images, and the evening ends in laughter and fellowship.

Tomorrow: the end of WACOM. Check back here and in the other stories throughout the week for further images and links to other content.
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Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

‘Be Witnesses of Mercy’

The third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) is being held from Aug. 15-19 in Bogota, Colombia, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from around the world. We’ll be sharing insights, images, and news from the Congress as it’s happening, so stay tuned for more, and keep the Congress in prayer!

More Colombian roses adorned the main stage today at WACOM, and of course, the Divine Mercy image had a special place before the gathered pilgrims, serving to mediate the graces promised by Jesus to all the pilgrims below, as well as all the people watching on CTV (see Diary, 327, 742, 313). Also present were a number of relics, including relics of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina. You just never know who you’ll encounter at WACOM, do you?

Oh — and Jesus Himself put in a physical appearance.

View our WACOM: Day Three photo gallery.

10 a.m.
Today the venue shifted to the Colegio San Pedro Claver (the St. Peter Claver School) for what was essentially an all day Divine Mercy market and outdoor festival. We gathered in the schoolyard in the open air, sharing the day with local parishioners and families from the school.

Bogota is an archdiocese, with several different dioceses within its limits. Today’s portion of WACOM took place within the diocese of Fontibon, and the bishop of the Fontibon diocese, Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba Villota, S.J., greeted the Congress pilgrims and welcomed Divine Mercy in his diocese.

Many of his flock also attended the day’s events, filling the spacious schoolyard and outdoor basketball court till it seemed like every flat surface had someone sitting or standing on it. The schoolyard is lined with booths and tables for different Divine Mercy apostolates and ministries, as well as some businesses selling books, liturgical items, and other items of religious interest to those gathered from around the world. The place is really alive, really busy, and yet there’s plenty of room to breathe.

After morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, interspersed with much praise and worship, we heard from Bishop Eugenio Lira, auxiliary bishop of Puebla, Mexico, and general secretary of the Mexican Episcopal Conference. He was very funny, interspersing teachings on mercy with jokes and humorous stories that had the largely Spanish-speaking audience (and the translator whispering in my ear) regularly breaking out in laughter.

Noon
Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, Pope Francis’ personal representative at the Congress, was the lead celebrant at Mass this morning.

Some pilgrims from Papua New Guinea presented the gifts in style, sharing with the Congress some elements of their cultural heritage, all while seeking to honor the Lord.

Cardinal Errazuriz closed the Mass by imparting the Holy Father’s Apostolic Blessing on all who were in attendance, as well as all our loved ones back home. So Marian Helpers and everyone who reads this piece, consider yourself blessed by the Holy Father!

1 p.m.
Father Patrice Chocholski, general secretary of WACOM, shared some thoughts on WACOM III and the role of WACOM in the life of the Church (transcription here).

Then on my way to lunch from that interview, I happened across Cardinal Schoenborn, president of WACOM, and seized the day. The cardinal recognized the name of Stockbridge, and sent a special greeting to all Marian Helpers who live and spread Divine Mercy:

Cordial greetings to Stockbridge, to all the devotees of Divine Mercy! Some of you, I have already met in different occasions. All my blessings and best wishes, and go on courageously to be witnesses of God’s mercy, of Christ’s love, of Our Lady’s mercy. Be witnesses of mercy.

And what’s been the highlight of the Congress for you so far?

I think yesterday the witness of the victims of the violence and their readiness [for] forgiveness and their call to mercy for reestablishing peace in this deeply wounded country.

So, Marian Helpers, you’ve been commissioned by the cardinal: Be witnesses of mercy.

2 p.m.
The apostolates haven’t been idle this Congress.

The Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM), Dave and Joan Maroney, have been distributing stickers related to their Divine Mercy for America campaign which say “Have mercy on US and on the whole world!”

Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy (EADM) has been distributing contact information and sharing his cenacle manuals with all and sundry, greeting old friends and making new contacts for the spread of the cenacles throughout the Congress.

Nurse Marie Romagnano, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, representing the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, have been spending time with the bishops and cardinals, building relationships that will help the Marians’ mission of mercy for a long time to come.

One Healthcare Professional for Divine Mercy, Dr. Helen Jackson, took a bundle of Spanish-language Divine Mercy chaplet prayer cards and began walking amongst the local people gathered at the back of the schoolyard, distributing the cards to whomever would take them. Many took several for friends and family, as well.

Evening
The afternoon has been a “festival of mercy,” with much praise and worship, many testimonies (all, I believe, in Spanish), and a talk by Cardinal Orani Tempesta, archbishop of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the host of the 2013 World Youth Day (WYD). He interwove reflections on the WYD just passed with the teaching of Pope Francis on that occasion on mercy and his challenge to youth to be witnesses of Jesus’ mercy in the world.

Man, it’s joyful in this square.

At 3 o’clock, of course, the Congress paused to observe the Hour of Great Mercy. Guess who got to help lead a decade of the Chaplet in English? Drs. Bryan Thatcher and Helen Jackson! The Chaplet was followed by further prayer, praise and worship, and all the fervor a crowd of Divine Mercy pilgrims can muster. Many in the crowd would either hold up a copy of the Divine Mercy image or have one at their seats which they venerated during the times of prayer.

Later, when the festival had resumed, I caught sight of Dave and Joan Maroney, Fuente de Misericordia editor Marcela Murillo, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, and Dr. Helen Jackson on the move, so, of course, I tagged along. As we passed through the back entrance of the schoolyard between several Policia Nacional, I found out that Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Mother of Mercy Province, had said we had to see Fontibon’s Catedral de Santiago Apóstol (the Cathedral of St. James, Apostle). So to the cathedral we went.

I could go on and on about the beautiful statuary, the gorgeous architecture, and the liberal use of gold, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll say that it seemed like everyone felt a sort of deep relief when they saw that there was a monstrance front and center in the Church, and the Lord was waiting for us there. Everyone spent a considerable amount of time in prayer, just resting in the presence of Jesus.

There we were, thousands of miles from home, strangers in a strange land, and yet we could walk through the doors of the Church and come home to God, the same God that we worshiped in our home parishes, the same God reposing in the tabernacles at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, the same God who holds the cosmos in existence at every moment of every day and so is present in all places at all times.

We can visit Him in His Real Presence “wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,” as Hilaire Belloc put it, and that Catholic sun does shine wherever there’s a Catholic priest to offer Mass. We can talk to Him anywhere, because we wouldn’t exist without His constant, attentive love.

So after a period of prayer, we returned to the Colegio, noticing along the way that the front entry of the cathedral was liberally covered with posters announcing WACOM’s presence right next door at the Colegio San Pedro Claver and inviting all and sundry to attend. Guess what happened shortly after our return?

That’s right: a Eucharistic Holy Hour. Exposition, Benediction, the same prayers that are prayed wherever a Holy Hour takes place, though again, they were prayed in a multitude of languages, but with the same Spirit guiding the prayer.

The meditation was offered by Monsignor Ettore Ballestrero, apostolic nuncio to Colombia, in several languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, and English. He based his meditation of Pope Francis’ teachings on mercy, speaking to Jesus, the Divine Mercy, throughout.

Some highlights:

* “We come today to bring You the whole of humanity. We entrust ourselves to Your mercy, especially our families, the youth, religious people. We bring to Your heart the Christians that are being persecuted because of their faith. Francis tells us that there are more martyrs nowadays [than in the previous centuries of the Church’s history]. Lastly, we entrust to You our enemies. You have taught us to forgive. Please help us to forgive our enemies.”

* “Turning away from mercy is always turning away from humanity because there will always be someone suffering, someone in need.”

* “Alms forgive sins like water puts out fire. If we are able to do deeds of mercy, let us rejoice.”

* “Mary, you are the Mother of Mercy. He wanted that we should receive everything through you, because you are a case of mercy. You, Mary, are the steps through which mercy came down. Mary, help the Colombians to live one next to the other and not against each other. Help us to have mercy in our hearts so that we may be messengers of mercy. Amen.”

It was a very good day. Tomorrow: the Salt Cathedral.
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Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

God’s Grace is Enough

By Chris Sparks (Aug 16, 2014)
The third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) is being held from Aug. 15-19 in Bogota, Colombia, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from around the world. We’ll be sharing insights, images, and news from the Congress as it’s happening, so stay tuned for more, and keep the Congress in prayer!

As soon as we arrived at the Congress site this morning, Dave Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM) pointed and started to laugh. Where the lines of pilgrims had stood waiting to be let into the Congress yesterday morning there now stood a street market. Lines of tents and food vendors stood waiting eagerly, expectantly, ready to serve the 1200 registered pilgrims from across the world whatever they needed or wanted to eat or drink. The spirit of hope and enterprise is certainly strong in this country. From what we heard during the talks, they certainly need it.

View our WACOM: Day Two photo gallery.

10 a.m.
Once again, the Congress opened with morning prayer, setting the tone for the day and confirming for all the pilgrims the reason for the gathering: trust in Jesus, who is the Divine Mercy.

And then the Cardinal Archbishop of Bogota, Rubén Salazar Gómez, took the floor. (Whole talk here.)

He spoke movingly of the challenges Colombia has faced in the past: narcoterrorism, violent rebel groups, and government oppression of the people. Cardinal Salazar described some of the very real, truly catastrophic sort of situations faced all too frequently by Colombian citizens, including the disappearance, torture, or murder of loved ones at the hands of one of the many forces tearing at civil society.

“Man can be a victim of man. That is the reality we witness with horror every day,” he said, both in Colombia and around the world. But God will always love man, as the Lord demonstrated throughout the Old Testament in His relationship with the Chosen People. He loved past their sins, most completely in sending His only beloved Son (see Jn 3:16-17).

We come to share in the love of Christ through the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist. “Our love becomes the same love of Christ and has the same characteristics,” declared the cardinal. “Each of us are able to have mercy because the Son of God in His death and resurrection has enabled us to transcend sin and death.”

The cardinal acknowledged that in the past, he had cried out to God, asking why? Where was the love of God when innocent families were destroyed, children killed, communities ripped apart by injustice and a spiraling cycle of violence and revenge? Cardinal Salazar named particular acts of injustice familiar to all Colombians, particular massacres or disappearances.

“Where was God?” Cardinal Salazar asked. “He was on the Cross. Yes, crucified, suffering in the tearing of His own flesh. The suffering of wives and mothers who want to embrace the bodies of their cold dead sons and husbands is like the suffering of His mother” at the Crucifixion.

“God, moved by merciful love, fully wanted to share our human condition and share all the suffering due to sin,” said Cardinal Salazar.

After reiterating that “even those who have committed the most abominable crimes have access to the Lord’s love and mercy,” he issued a strong call for repentance on the part of perpetrators of injustice, whoever they may be, which was greeted with applause.

11 a.m.
A powerful set of testimonies. First, Dr. Diana Sofia Giraldo, the founder of the Fundación Víctimas Visibles, spoke. Her organization aimed to give the victims of the many conflicts and crimes within Colombia a voice, and is now engaged in the same work around the world, as well.

Dr. Giraldo described the deep wounds left upon Colombia by so many senseless acts of violence, how Colombians are “trying to make sense of this “useless pain,” and the importance of faith in this process. “This is when we think for the first time, if all the wounds suffered by Colombians could be put at the foot of the Cross, they could all be transformed and become a seed of reconciliation,” she said. “We have learned from St. Faustina and our St. John Paul II; he did not waste a second of pain.

She brought on stage several victims and proceeded to describe their stories, putting a face on the whole issue. One woman, Emiliana, lost her husband to kidnapping. She still doesn’t know if he’s alive or dead. The other stories run the gamut: one woman lost a loved one to violence, took revenge, and eventually turned to God for mercy and forgiveness. Another lost her father to murder, perpetrated before the family while they were at prayer. Her husband was also murdered, a son kidnapped and killed; a daughter kidnapped and killed; another daughter diagnosed with cancer, given a short time to live, and yet who is alive many years later.

And now we hear from some of those victims of acts of violence.

It’s difficult as a foreigner to hear such a litany of atrocity and pain, of tragedy compounding tragedy, of the sort of grief that we think can only strike rarely, only happen once in a lifetime, or else we would break beneath the pain.

But here stand victims of such tragedies. Some of them have experienced, not one, but a long line of such woe, and here they are at a Congress on mercy, speaking of the love of God, the power of and need for forgiveness, the strength which God has given them to love their enemies and forgive.

It’s a uniquely powerful witness, a uniquely powerful testimony to the Divine Mercy and what happens when we open our hearts to God’s transforming love. The Congress is moved often to applause. One of the victims ends the session by leading everyone in prayer for the perpetrators of the violence, for their countries, for peace in the world, for the Church.

Antonio Jose Garcia Fernandez, a lawyer with the Colombian National Commission of Reconciliation, closes out this first round of sessions with a presentation on the process of justice and reconciliation.

His session starts with the bombshell admission that his younger brother was among the perpetrators of one such atrocity: a battle in a small village between very young people, recruited from amongst the miners in the rural areas of Colombia by some of the armed militias to fight each other.

Garcia Fernandez admits that at the time, he wasn’t interested, wanted nothing to do with the conflicts and struggles in Colombia, and asked the probing question of what degree of culpability he and every other bystander shared for their unwillingness to be involved.

He gives an overview of the peace process, the long road of reconciliation and forgiveness necessary for civil society to heal. He makes the point that those who “demobilize” from the militias and “self-defense” groups involved in the conflict in Colombia must have a way to reintegrate with society, to regain the trust of their neighbors, or else the problems facing Colombia will not end.

Noon
Here we have a presentation on the theology and philosophy of being a Divine Mercy apostle today in light of the Aparecida document. Written under the guidance of former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis), the document stems from the Fifth General Assembly of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Brazil in 2007. The talk is given by Bishop Santiago Silva and Fr. Leonidas Ortiz Lozada. Father Lozada is the adjunct secretary of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ conference.

Father Lozada cited St. John Paul II’s document Ecclesia in America, pointing out that the late, sainted Holy Father had explained that holiness isn’t hard. It’s “nothing more than expressing God’s mercy in my life” to the poorest, the sick, and the needy. (#30) As Pope Francis has pointed out, a little mercy warms the cold world.

1 p.m.
An “African” Mass. The lead celebrant is Bishop Martin Uzoukwu, from Minna, Nigeria. You take a Latin American music ministry, combine that with the African joyful Mass, and the whole Congress hall was filled with a joyful noise unto the Lord.

The bishop thanked God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the WACOM organizers in his homily, putting the thanks in the thanksgiving to God of the Mass. He prayed for all those present and all those who were present in spirit (so everyone reading this, know you were prayed for!), and shared with participants prayers for the Nigerian church he’d had distributed in the wake of the bombing of his parish church on Christmas morning in 2011. The prayers included intercession for the attackers, asking for their conversion and God’s grace to reconcile them with their neighbors.

Bishop Martin Uzoukwu shares about the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in Nigeria.

During the presentation of the gifts, the pilgrims brought up the Diary of St. Faustina and a cloth to drape in front of the altar with images of St. Faustina and Jesus, the Divine Mercy patterned on it.

The reverence of the participants is palpable, though expressed in a range of ways as vast as the distances between their homelands. At the elevation, there is a moment’s pause, then a low rumble swells around the gym as many voices in many languages address their Lord and God with faith and devotion. The Our Father, likewise, is a moment of communion and a certain susurration of sound as everyone prays the prayer that Jesus taught us in their own languages.

Evening
Marcela Murillo, editor of Fuente de Misericordia, shares what she saw in the afternoon:
Today we went to the La Esperanza de Vivir (The Hope to Live) Center located in Suba, Bogota’s District 11 in the northern part of the city. This Center is a nonprofit organization that provides support to people with disabilities through educational programs and activities. The center was founded 27 years ago by a group of mothers who had children with disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, etc. Today, more than 40 young men and women attend the center. Some of them have been attending the Center since the Center began. They are organized in three classrooms depending on their disability:

*Pre-Workshop: This is a big classroom where children are evaluated to determine their skills and abilities. Teachers work closely with parents and children to set goals and develop their talents.

*Workshop: In this room, they do different crafts, such as pottery, painting, crafts with recycled materials, etc. They sell some of their creations to raise funds for their organization.

*Stimulation: This area specializes on children with autism and their needs.

After a heartfelt welcome, the children entertained their guests with dances and a tour of the building. They shared raspberry juice and empanadas, a very typical dish of Colombia, with the guests. Then we made a circle, held hands, and prayed to the Lord.

Sandra says, “My son and I came to this center 14 years ago. Since then, he has learned how to eat by himself and he has improved significantly.”

Maria Eugenia, one of the founders, says, “It’s amazing. the things these children can do if you just give them a little bit of love. This is what mercy is all about. Like in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are helping each other here; we are a family.” Maria Eugenia is the mother of Andrea, a young adult who has been attending the Center since its founding, and still comes to the Center every day to participate in the different activities.

Martha says, “Each one of our kids is a testimony of love, of mercy. Each one of them is a blessing. They found a place of love and freedom where they can express themselves freely.”

Before we left, Maria Eugenia said, “Today we felt the mercy of the Lord. Why? Because it didn’t matter that we all spoke different languages and we come from different countries, but today we are united as one family.”
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Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

‘Our Suffering Has Not Been Useless’

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the second day of the Third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy last August in Colombia, Cardinal Ruben Salazar, archbishop of Bogota, Colombia, delivered a stemwinder — an address on Colombia’s need for Divine Mercy and its capacity to be transformed by it.

Though his focus was mainly on Colombia, the talk has a universal appeal and earned a standing ovation from delegates around the world. Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, a world-renowned expert on the Divine Mercy message and devotion, called it one of the best and most complete explanations of Divine Mercy he had ever heard. We share below the translated talk in its entirety:

By Cardinal Ruben Salazar (Aug. 16, 2014)

If man is capable of [knowing] God, as St. Pope John Paul II says in the Preface of the Catechism, then man is capable of love, and if he is capable of love, it is because his heart is capable of mercy and has been transformed by grace into a heart of flesh. As Pope Francis affirms, “a heart capable of compassion is the heart of Christ.” I invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit to infer, then, that Colombia is capable of mercy.

Man is capable of God precisely thanks to the Incarnation of Christ, that He took on in His own flesh every possible type of human suffering. It is a mystery. It is madness; As St. Paul says, “He made Him to be sin who did not know sin” (2 Cor 5:21) when He took upon Himself the entire reality of sin itself in order to be able to destroy it and give to man the possibility of beginning to live a new life, of being resurrected with Him.

And so that we may be capable of receiving and bestowing His Mercy, we must begin by coming to know ourselves in our misery, in our sin, in our pain, in our weakness, in our fragility and confusion. We can do nothing, nothing at all without Him. The words of Jesus to the Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska echo today for Colombia: “My daughter, you have not offered Me that which is really yours. … Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property” (Diary, 1318).

I am grateful that God has cast His eyes upon the extreme suffering that we Colombians have endured, that with love He has embraced our still-raw wounds by choosing us as hosts of the Third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. It is a sign that brings us a message of hope and tells us that our suffering has not been useless, it has not been in vain, that that immense deluge — which has torn us apart through decades of conflict and which has left 6.5-million human beings victimized — by the work of His Grace, will be the seed that yields reconciliation as its fruit.

All of our suffering — past, present and future — and also all of our sins: Today we leave them all at the foot of the Cross, we unite them to the suffering of Christ, which is to say the suffering of God with us and for our sake. Only in this way does it acquire all of its redemptive and salvific power: When God takes it through the mediation of Christ, His Son made man. He accepts our offering and takes it on [Himself]. In that moment, the pain through love acquires all of its redemptive power, as a pain transformed by grace into love-mercy. It is not suffering itself that redeems us, but rather love. A suffering that we offer today for all those who have caused us so much pain, those who have spilled the blood of their brothers, so that He may transform them and have compassion on their hearts of stone as well as on our own hearts, hardened by decades of violence.

Forgive, Even If It Hurts
Some people will be asking themselves, “Why start the Congress asking for (mercy) for the murderers of Colombia? For those who have refused to ask for forgiveness and to show any repentance for their atrocious acts?” It is precisely they who — behind their apparent inhumanity — are the most wounded; they who have the greatest thirst for God, although they may not know Him, although they may not yet know that they, too, are His children; they are the ones most in need of His Divine Mercy and who most need to reach it, precisely through our intercessory prayer, by offering up our pain, and by offering our forgiveness. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” prayed Christ while on the Cross (see Lk 23:34), and so we ask ourselves, “Even if they don’t ask for our forgiveness?” Yes, even if they don’t ask for our forgiveness. And yes, I know that by human logic, this mystery remains completely undecipherable. And it hurts, it hurts a lot!

Courage and heroism are necessary, just before making ourselves docile to the logic of love, docile enough to experience the grace of forgiving with His forgiveness — a love that cleanses. And justice? The Divine One? In His hands. So then does mercy imply renouncing justice? It’s not a renunciation. It’s a letting go, an abandonment and utter trust in Him, in His justice. To more trust, more mercy. Mercy is the most perfect expression of Divine Justice.

Theresa of Jesus [St. Theresa of Avila], in her Autobiography, which she had originally entitled “On the Mercies of God,” leads us, by some of its lines, to intuit the dimension of this mystery of love, the mystery which she reached not by way of the intellect but rather by way of experiencing it:

The time will come, Lord, in which we will have to give ourselves over to understanding Your justice, and if it is equal to mercy (12.5 158).

May your mercy shine among such enormous evil! (8.3 154)

One need not fear, but rather hope in His mercy, which must be found to be the truth of everything (284.2 177).

And Divine Mercy brings her — today a saint and a Doctor of the Church — to gaze upon herself in the first place, to recognize herself in her smallness as a sinner, needy of His mercy:

The Mercy of God gives me surety — for it has pulled me away from so many sins — that it will not wish to let go of me so that I am lost (38.7 33).

Blessed be such mercy, and rightfully will those be damned who would not wish to take advantage of it and would thus lose this Lord (4.9 115).

Where was God?
At the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis asked 3,000 priests of the Diocese of Rome, “Do you struggle with the Lord? Do you argue with the Lord as Moses did?” As the pastor of a divided flock — both facing and needful of the embrace of God to heal its wounds — I want to share with all of you those moments of distrust, weakness, moments of questions without answers and hopelessness in which we have, from the depths of our misery, cross-examined God Himself.

I put myself in Bojayá. A guerrilla fighter facing paramilitary soldiers tosses a pipe-bomb over the church in which dozens of families with children are taking shelter. The bomb’s deafening noise is a prelude to the mangled bodies of those who only seconds earlier were desperately clinging to life. Where was God? Why didn’t He shelter those fragile bodies in His mighty arms, at the very least those of the smallest children there? Why didn’t God have compassion on those who ran terrified into His house looking for protection? Why didn’t He have mercy on the parish pastor, Fr. Antún Ramos, who saw 12 of his 15 parishioners’ bodies torn to pieces and flung across the church structure, parishioners who had been there lending help to the 400 people who had taken shelter in their church?

I move to another scene: soldiers and policemen with lifeless gazes, abductees looking past the wire cages inside which they spent their days and nights, some for as long as 14 years. The chains hanging from their necks weighed less than their tears. The darkness within them grew to become even darker than the lack of sunlight in their prison. Why is it that even now the pain remains, frozen in the souls of those who have been unable to bring their mourning to an end?

Why forgive those who haven’t asked for forgiveness? Why be merciful to those jailers who stole away the precious gift of freedom and kept soldiers and policemen caged like prisoners in a concentration camp?

Machuca, 1998: A guerrilla group blows up an aqueduct that runs through the tiny village, the resulting fire spreads out of control, and 89 human beings — among them children, teens and adults — die tragically, burned to ashes. Why did God let María Cecilia Mosquera live, having watched her husband and three children perish in agony among the flames?

Where was God when an inconsolable mother received the defenseless corpse of her mentally handicapped son, who — to make matters worse — had died like a rebel combatant?

He was on the Cross. Yes, crucified, suffering in His own ravaged and torn flesh the pain of those who had taken refuge in the church in Bojayá. He lives today in the heart of Fr. Antún, who survived to reflect the joy of the presence of God in his life. He was next to the wives and mothers who, like María, were hoping against hope to be able to embrace once more the cold corpses of their children, even for just a moment; like Mrs. Mery Moreno, mother of the police sergeant Álvaro Moreno, on whom she waited, at the foot of the Cross, for 11 years, 9 months and 29 days, all while a thousand and one rosary beads helped her to count her prayers. He was in Machuca embracing the heart of María Cecilia, which hasn’t ceased beating out of love for Him, not even for a moment, since that tragic day. He was at our side in the moments of our greatest despair, asking, “Father, why have You abandoned Me?” He was there in the sweetness with which Pastora Mira attended to the wounds of her own son’s killer. He was there on His knees, next to María Teresa de Mendieta, setting her heart ablaze with hope for the return of her beloved husband.

And where was God the Father? I turn to St. Augustine: “God, who made you without your help cannot save you without your cooperation.” God — who loves us immensely, who gave His only Son over to death on the Cross to redeem our sins — endowed man with free will, the gift of freedom even to turn away from Him, to have no desire to receive Him, to cause Him the pain of being rejected. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit of which the Gospels speak.

The love of God respects freedom; it is not coercive; it does not intrude upon the inner sanctum of the responsibility of the other person; that love allows — precisely because it is love — the other person to bear full responsibility for his acts. But even he who rejects God, through his dignity as a child of God, retains its outlines in the depths of his soul, where He waits patiently and with arms wide open in blessing, to be able to satiate the thirst of His creature for resurrection, through divine grace.

What About the Victims?
So if God respected the freedom of the killers, why didn’t He consider the fiat of the victims in order to protect them? Out of love for His Son in us, who did not get down from the Cross. The pain of the Father, out of love.

Was God in the midst of the hurricane, in the earthquake, in the spread of the fire? No. He could be found with His children in the intimacy of their souls, in the whisper of a soft breeze, as happened to the prophet Elijah. In the solitude and abandonment of the creature, there He was. “Then the LORD said. ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by.’ There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD — but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake — but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire — but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kgs 19:11-13).

The Divine Mercy is unfathomable. It is the mystery of the love of God that, as mankind, we cannot manage to unveil, but that through His grace we can receive in order to bestow it in abundance. “Be merciful as I am merciful” (see Lk 6:36).

Because by way of reason and in a country that has suffered the rigors of confrontation and has gone through a Via Crucis of pain, like Colombia, it seems incomprehensible that our God waits in the doorway of His house for the return of His sons the murderers, like in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son. For these reasons let us invoke the light of the Holy Spirit so that, through prayer, we receive and bestow the mercy that becomes love and redemption for this suffering Colombia.

And so God offers His mercy equally to both victims and killers, to every tired, grieving man. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Even the repentant sinner, he who has committed the “most scarlet sins,” has preferential access to it. Even those who threw the pipe-bomb into the church in Bojayá? Yes. And those who held captive, like slaves, other human beings, for as long as 14 years? Yes. And those who shot dead 11 defenseless legislators, after having held them captive for five-and-a-half years? Yes. There will also be mercy for them. And for those who blew up the Machuca aqueduct where 89 human beings burned to death? And also for those who assassinated the handicapped in Soacha and made them pass for guerrillas? For those who massacred entire towns? Yes, yes, and yes! God’s offer is broad and generous.

But it requires our “fiat,” our “yes” to God, our sincere repentance and our firm intention to do better.

The Limit Imposed on Evil
As John Paul II wrote in his final book Memory and Identity, “The limit imposed on evil is, ultimately, Divine Mercy.” And in a letter written to his would-be assassin, Alí Agca, who shot him on May 13, 1981, and who even today has yet to ask for forgiveness, John Paul II told him, “It’s important that not even an episode like that which happened on May 13 may be able to open an abyss between two people, to create a silence that means the breakdown of communication. Christ — the Word Incarnate — has taught us words regarding this truth, which never stops producing contact between people, in spite of the distance that events may be able to provoke, events that sometimes pit some people against others.”

John Paul II was a living homily, he was a victim, like Jesus! As Cardinal Walter Kasper describes him in his book Mercy, “The witness of his suffering was a homily more eloquent than the many homilies he preached and the numerous documents written during his long pontificate.”

To address the topic of mercy from the victims’ perspective, we must look at Christ as victim. Because if Christ is not seen as victim, then what the role of the victim is cannot be understood. What was Christ’s role as victim? It was to accept pain. The Lord did not refuse when faced with pain. He did not try to escape from pain, to avoid it. No, the Lord accepted the pain, looked face-forward at the pain, and upon making it His own, permitted that His heart be filled with love towards those who were causing that pain.

Therein lies the step in the right direction: I am truly capable of forgiving a person when I see him with other eyes. Not when I see him with the eyes of the murderer, but rather when I see him with the eyes of a brother of mine who also deserves love, and who in Christ has been redeemed, who in Christ has been transformed by the love of God. And so, therefore, I begin to look at the murderer with the same eyes of Christ, who loved His enemies, who prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive them because they know not what they do.” At no time did He adopt an attitude of vengeance, at no time did He try to destroy His enemy; rather, on the contrary, He offered Himself up for him.

And rightfully, by man’s reasoning, the victims present in this auditorium could cross-examine me, saying, “But we’re not like Christ, we are not as good as He is, we’ve gone through periods of rage, of pain, of enormous sadness, hopelessness and loneliness. And now they’re asking us to forgive, like Christ, those murderers who are unrepentant and have no intention of doing better?

What Forgiveness Takes Away
Mercy on the part of the victim is called forgiveness, and forgiveness cleanses first and foremost him who grants it. It frees him from the ties to which senseless suffering condemn him; it takes away from the murderer the power to keep his victim psychologically bound, and most importantly, it turns over to God, humbly, the fate of the oppressor. Trust in divine justice operates like the balm of abandonment — it is like the loving hand that stops the hemorrhaging of the soul, closes up our wounds, and caresses our scars.

And indeed you may still insist, “Christ was capable of that, but I am not!” And I return to the beginning of my talk to reiterate: If man is capable of God, then man is capable of love. And if he is capable of love, then he is capable of mercy, which in the victim acquires the beautiful name of forgiveness.

Gazing upon Christ, one may, as a victim, donate his pain. That is to say, offer it up. And as for the explanation of this difficult reality, we find it in the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews. It is an extraordinary letter that helps us to understand: The Son, as Son, wanted to learn obedience through suffering. That is to say that the Son wished to take on all suffering to offer it up to His Father on behalf of the disobedient ones, human beings. Then, upon offering to God His suffering on behalf of the disobedient, immediately He makes it so that all of the love and mercy of God in Christ is bestowed upon the disobedient one.

In this way we understand that victims are called to [do] something active, not simply something passive. It is not the attitude of the one who suffers overwhelmed by suffering, of the one who suffers without finding meaning in the suffering, but rather it is precisely [the attitude] of him who suffers, taking the suffering in his hands and offering it up on behalf of the one who hurt him in the first place, for that person who caused him pain, so that that very person can discover the love and mercy of God.

And so where do we begin? By shutting reason off and, on our knees, imploring the grace to forgive with His forgiveness, to donate oneself with His donation, to look with His gaze of love and to trust with His trust: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my Spirit!” “Father, into Thy hands, I commend Colombia!”

His Revolutionary Message
The vast majority of victims in Colombia have a vocation to forgiveness and reconciliation. They have walked with Christ on the periphery of pain, loneliness, and also of hope. But whenever I listen to some of them saying, for example, “I am incapable of forgiving my son’s killer,” or “I don’t forgive the man who left me handicapped by a landmine,” then I ask God to show us how His Son, Jesus Christ, took upon Himself all pain, all suffering, all injustice, and still forgave His murderers in order that God could grant us, through Christ Jesus, forgiveness and the capacity to forgive. That’s why we insist upon asking Him to make us capable of forgiveness, to make us capable of restorative justice, that He make us capable of reconciliation. And that this process of victims and killers drawing closer to one another, which is being seen nowadays in Havana, be supported by our prayer. That means becoming aware that our heart is a weak heart, a fragile heart, a selfish heart, a stingy heart that needs God’s heart to be able to forgive, to be able to receive and to give mercy.

The message of Jesus is a revolutionary one — to go out today, right now, and tell Colombian murderers that they, too, can receive redemption. So then, where must that murderous human being begin? Where should the men and women of FARC, of the ELN, of the paramilitary groups, or agents of the State begin, those who have spilled Colombian blood?

By recognizing themselves in their woundedness, in their misery, in their thirst for God. The murderer — precisely in order to move from his identity as a killer to that of someone worthy of mercy — has to undergo a complete interior process, completely a process of the heart. Because if we begin with the principle that his mind, his will, and his heart are bewildered, then he must necessarily undertake a process of finding the truth in freedom. It is not an automatic process. This can be clearly demonstrated upon observing the difficulty that the guerrillas currently have in accepting that they are indeed murderers.

God Is Thirsty for Their Fiat
Now I address the militants of [the armed guerilla groups] FARC and the ELN, [telling them all] to undertake that process of discovering the truth about themselves. Let them stop covering up their crimes with lies. May they be capable of discovering the reality of crime, the reality of the offense they have committed. In the process of conversion, one must always start from the principle that one must come to recognize the nature of sin and the reality of sin, the examination of conscience. That is the first step. May they be able to set aside all of the lies that have been told during this whole time, and therefore, may they discover the whole truth, little by little. And in light of that truth that they discover, may they be able to realize the enormity of the crime [they] committed and the pain caused to the dignity of other human beings.

The second step is that, upon taking stock of their sin, may they be able to ask for penance. They may realize that they have caused real harm, that they have committed a crime, and that therefore they repent of having done it. And upon feeling sorry, may they be capable of asking for pardon, which is the next step of confession. And may they promise never to do it again, with a firm purpose of amendment and temporal satisfaction for the wrongs committed. Therefore, let them be capable of entering into processes of reparation for the hurts they caused. Without this process of confession, through which they make themselves an object of God’s mercy, there is no conversion possible for that heart.

I call them to conversion, and I pray for them so that they come across the freedom and the truth that lie in the depth of their hearts as children of God.

Thousands of them were born in Catholic homes, and they have their parents down on their knees, interceding for them, imploring their return. God is thirsty for their fiat, and He will have compassion for them, just like He promised Sr. Faustina in the “Conversation of the Merciful God with a Sinful Soul”:

My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace (Diary, 1485).

And together with the prayers our grandmothers said, we invoke Mary through the most perfect expression of the infinite love of God for man:

“Mary, Mother of Grace and Mercy: In life and in death protect us, Our Mother!”