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“Churches throughout the Archdiocese of Krakow are ringing as well,” announced Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, standing before a crowd of more than 2,000 people on the very spot where Blessed Pope John Paul II entrusted the world to Divine Mercy.
The bells marked the commencement of the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, whose reverberations will undoubtedly be heard and felt beyond Lagiewniki, where St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, received many of her revelations. They will be heard and felt beyond metropolitan Krakow, too, where in 1967 a man named Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Krakow, submitted documents about Faustina to the Vatican requesting the start of the process of her beatification. That man became Pope John Paul II. He beatified Sr. Faustina in 1993 and canonized her the first saint of the new millennium in 2000.
Through the pilgrims from 69 countries who have packed the Basilica, those reverberations undoubtedly will continue to resound throughout the world.
The Congress theme is “Mercy as the Source of Hope.”
“We’re here because we love Jesus and we loved John Paul II and we love St. Faustina,” said Carol Kennedy, from Great Britain, who is attending the Congress with a group of her parishioners.
Cardinals, bishops and clergy from throughout the world are among the attendees. Most conspicuous in the crowd are the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, whose distinctive, squared-off veils are a profound reminder of their famous fellow sister, Faustina (1905-1938), a lowly nun who died here in the convent just as her revelations were first becoming known.
“From the Lagiewniki hill, the mystery of God who is rich in mercy is reminded to the world,” said Cardinal Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, who spent 40 years working side-by-side with Pope John Paul II. “This is the place from which the message full of hope that Jesus gave to mankind through St. Sr. Faustina and Blessed John Paul II was sent to the world.”
Through the Mercy Congress — five days of talks, testimonies, prayer, song, Holy Mass, and fellowship — attendees look forward to growing ever zealous, ever courageous, ever inspired to bear witness to the world to our Merciful Savior, the Cardinal said.
“Christ is speaking to us just as He once did to St. Sr. Faustina: Tell [all people], My daughter, that I am Love and Mercy itself,” said Cardinal Dziwisz, quoting from St. Faustina’s Diary, passage 1074.
“We come from various parts of the world: Europe and Africa, America and Asia, Australia and Oceania,” said Cardinal Dziwisz. “We all feel drawn by this call of Christ from the Upper Room: As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (Jn 20: 21-23).
The opening day includes Holy Mass. The Chief Celebrant is Cardinal Audrys J. Backis of Vilnius, Lithuania, a city where Faustina also lived. The homilist is Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB, of China.
Before the celebration of Holy Mass, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy and Archbishop of Vienna, spoke of the purpose of the Mercy Congress.
“The main objective,” he said, “is to focus on the life of parishes, congregations and movements on mercy and its radiance. Parishes … are a perfect setting to exercise mercy and thus be a visible sign of God’ love. God in His beauty expresses himself and gives himself by the splendor of Mercy. The local ecclesial community can offer Him to the world in so far as they too shine out with this Mercy.”
“Divine Mercy,” said Cardinal Schonborn, “has the power to change the world.”
Tomorrow in Rome, during his Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI will extend a message to Mercy Congress participants.
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For anyone interested, the Mercy Congress is being broadcast on the Internet. Check it out.
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Hey, look who we just ran into — John Canavan, a Marian Helper from Australia. Check out our video (he pulls his dear friend, the famous Catholic painter Tommy Canning, in for a cameo … Tommy, you’re a good sport!).
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The Congress is set to begin in three hours, and who is that over there? None other than Fr. Patrice Chocholski of France, the general secretary of the Mercy Congress. He sat with us for a few minutes to share his thoughts on the importance of this gathering, how the Divine Mercy movement has spread throughout the world, and whether the Congress will include an ecclesiastical push to declare St. Faustina a Doctor of the Church (that’s been the rumor).
What is this Mercy Congress such an historic event?
“As Fr. Seraphim Michalenko says, Divine Mercy is the biggest movement in the history of the Catholic Church,” says Fr. Patrice, referring to our own Fr. Seraphim, who served as vice postulator for St. Faustina’s beatification and canonization.
What makes the promotion of the Divine Mercy message and devotion particularly special, says Fr. Patrice, is that is has been brought about by the laity. “People around the world have been transformed by the need of Christ’s mercy in their lives,” he says.
“The Church has been listening, and now it’s speaking,” Fr. Patrice says.
Priests, bishops and cardinals have acknowledged the importance of Divine Mercy in the life of the Church, says Fr. Patrice, and now those same priests, bishops and cardinals are working hard to propagate this message and support the laity.
He refers to Archbishop Alapati L. Mataeliga of Samoa who recently spoke at New Zealand’s national Mercy Congress.
“The Archbishop of Somoa said, ‘Yes, I tell my priests to be with these people. It will be good for you. When there is a Congress on mercy, I’m here all the time, because it is good for me.’ This is what Cardinal Barbarin of France also says. He says that every time he participates in a gathering of Divine Mercy devotees something new is created within him. He says, ‘It changes me, it transforms me. There is always something new that brings me to a better relationship with the Lord and also allows me to discover the beauty of the Church, which pushes us to its mission.'”
During the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome in 2008, it was clear the “lay people were already convinced” of the importance of Divine Mercy, says Fr. Patrice. “And now, through the lay people, [Divine Mercy] belongs to the Church. The Church needs it.”
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to make a statement tomorrow from Rome to the Mercy Congress attendees. How much is the Holy Father involved in the Congress?
“Through his bound of friendship with Cardinal Schonborn,” says Fr. Patrice, “… it is clear he is concerned with this. They meet very often … [and the Holy Father] always encourages these Congresses and speaks very often of Divine Mercy.”
Cardinal Schonborn will speak today about how Divine Mercy sparks a “true renewal of our being, our relationship with the Merciful God,” says Fr. Patrice. “This creates renewal in ourselves and our relationships with others, and Pope Benedict is very convinced of this and has been from the beginning of his pontificate.”
What makes this Congress different from the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy?
“This Congress will be a true expression of communion in the mission of The Divine Mercy in the whole world,” Fr. Patrice says. “So many countries, so many movements, so many congregations all together will be witnesses to The Divine Mercy. This a great event. I’m sure that it will be a new impulse in this mission to give witness to Divine Mercy all around the world … that we need Divine Mercy.”
He adds, “Even people who don’t know of St. Faustina have placed great importance on the message Christ shared through her.”
That message, put simply, is that God is Mercy; that He loves us no matter who we are and what we have done; He wants us to reach for Him, to allow Him to enter our heart and lives; and furthermore, we are obligated to share His mercy through loving and serving each other.”
“Divine Mercy is the second name of God,” says Fr. Patrice. “This is a way to meet Him, a way to be in a deep relationship with Him. So Divine Mercy becomes the Light that changes our relationship with people. We become apostles of this Light.”
Why now, in this particular moment of history?
“In Europe and elsewhere in the world, [society] has become more materialistic, more aggressive, more [individualistic],” says Fr. Patrice. “Whereas Divine Mercy pushes us to live each day with the goodness of God, the trust of God. As Cardinal Schonborn will express today, through Divine Mercy we learn to have a deep trust in God. … that we belong to Him.”
Okay, one final matter.
There’s a buzz here regarding whether through this Congress there will be a push made to declare St. Faustina a Doctor of the Church. After all, she is arguably the most popular saint of modern times. Her Diary — a series of personal revelations she received from Jesus Christ in the 1930s — sheds light on the progress of the mystical life of the soul and gives an unparalleled understanding into the mystery of Divine Mercy.
Could she join the ranks of St. Therese and only 32 other saints who have been declared Doctors of the Universal Church? Does Fr. Patrice have anything to share about this?
He smiles. He pauses.
“She is a gift to the whole church, not just Poland. She’s really universal. The Lord says through her that we are to speak of His mercy to the whole world.”
But will there be a push here to honor her with this distinguished ecclesiastical title?
He smiles. “I’m sure that you should interview Cardinal Schonborn on this matter … because it belongs to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
We hope to do so.
Father Patrice said he’d help arrange it.
Thanks for the interview, Fr. Patrice!