Day Two: Day of the Great Mercy Pope

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

View our photo gallery from the day.

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

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

What a morning.

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

Then Fr. Seraphim Michalenko took the ambo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Cardinal DiNardo’s homily:

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

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

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

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

Next: lunch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come!

Day One: Becoming Holy Doors of Mercy

By Chris Sparks (Oct 21, 2016)

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

Visit our gallery for photos of the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 for more information.