Pope Sends Delegates Forth

In an address on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged all who participated in the first World Mercy Congress.

Benedict Urges Participants: ‘Be Witnesses of Mercy’

By Dan Valenti (Apr 6, 2008)
“Go to the world and be witnesses of Divine Mercy,” Pope Benedict XVI urged participants in the historic first World Mercy Congress held last week in Rome (April 2-6). The Pope made the remark in his Regina Caeli address at noon Sunday. He delivered his brief address from a window at the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

The Regina Caeli came following the Congress’ closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrated by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, congress president.

Here is Benedict’s message from Sunday regarding the World Mercy Congress:

This morning, with the Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s [Basilica], the first World Congress on Divine Mercy has ended. I would like to thank the organizers and particularly all the participants. It is a greeting that has become a gift. Go to the world and be witnesses of Divine Mercy, the source of hope for any man and the source of hope for the world as a whole. May the Risen Lord be with you.

After his address, Pope Benedict lunched with Cardinal Schönborn. Speaking to congressional planners later in the wrap-up strategic session, the Cardinal said the Pope peppered him with questions. “The Pope wanted to know all about the congress.” The Cardinal said he told the Pope that the week had been a great success, citing the presence of thousands of people from throughout the world who traveled to Rome despite great difficulties.

The Cardinal quoted the Pope as saying, “It is impressive to see Divine Mercy spreading throughout the world.” He said Pope Benedict asked him to convey his personal thanks and blessings to all who were involved.

Pope Benedict has been an enthusiastic backer of the World Mercy Congress from the beginning. The Pope launched the congress on Wednesday (April 2) by celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square. In his homily, he urged delegates to be steadfast in their commitment to live the values taught by Divine Mercy.

The Closing Mass: ‘ The Triumph of Living Mercy’

Cardinal Schönborn encourages Congress participants to follow the example of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Only Hearts Transformed by Christ Can Transform the World

Since the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy did nothing short of inflame the hearts of thousands, it could no nothing less than conclude with a mandate.

That mandate was delivered Sunday by Cardinal Christopher Schönborn, the celebrant of the congress’s closing Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“We are now departing after the blessed days of this congress,” he said in his homily, “and we are putting ourselves on the road with burning hearts to be everywhere and always with the Lord as witnesses of His immeasurable mercy.”

He alluded to the societies to which many of the pilgrims return, societies where corruption, poverty and injustice run rampant, where economic interests trump the public good, and where humanity is often stripped of its dignity. Only hearts transformed by Christ can transform the world, he said.

“There are today many disillusioned people,” he said. Such disillusionment, he said, prompts people to ask: “Is God watching? Is justice impotent? Why all the suffering? Where is the power of the arm of God in all this misery and poverty?”

After four full days of delving deep into heart of the gospel message of mercy, the congress participants had filed in for the morning Mass under Michelangelo’s silver-blue dome. An awe-inspiring week ended at an awe-inspiring location, and with a gospel reading that proved to be, in Cardinal Schönborn’s words, “a beautiful coincidence.”

It was from Luke 24:13-35, the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem on the third day after Christ’s death. The two disciples, too, are feeling disillusioned and dejected, until they meet Christ on the road. It’s the journey of every Christian. The two don’t yet know He is the Lord God. Seeing that they are disheartened, He uses the Scriptures to explain that the Messiah had to suffer and die to enter into his glory. He begins to reignite their faith. They see He is in need of food and shelter. Through their hospitality toward Him, they come to see He is the Risen Lord and make haste to proclaim the Good News.

Cardinal Schönborn said that, similarly, we can encounter Christ by opening our hearts to receive His word and through showing hospitality to the many in need.

“What an example for us, to prepare for our encounter with Christ through our hospitality,” said Cardinal Schönborn, who presided over the previous four days of talks, prayer and celebration. “‘Be merciful as Your Father is merciful.’ How many times in living and performing simple works of mercy we have been able to experience the closeness of the Lord. The history of the success of Christianity is not a story of military triumphs or political triumphs. It is rather the triumph of living mercy. Only in this way can you become convinced. The words can be beautiful, but in the end they are only words. But the acts of mercy, instead, are indisputable.”

Congress Looks Ahead

Cardinal Schönborn urged international planners to stay in touch with each other and remain open to the Lord’s guidance

Cardinal Schönborn Makes Key Announcements at Closing Meeting

By Dan Valenti (Apr 7, 2008)
In the wake of a successful World Mercy Congress, what’s next? That is the question.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, president of the Church’s first-ever mercy congress, offered his thoughts and made five key announcements.

“How should we go on?” the Cardinal asked about 200 planners and strategists at a post-congressional organizational meeting Sunday (April 6) in Holy Spirit Church near St. Peter’s Square. His remarks came about two hours following the closing Mass he celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“How do we continue?” he asked. “We don’t have a formal Church structure [dedicated to the Congress].” He said he ended up as chairman of the mercy congress almost as a fluke. “I am president. Father Patrice [Chocholski of Lyon, France] is general secretary. This wasn’t planned. We didn’t seek this. It just happened.”

Nonetheless, Cardinal Schönborn said, this historic week in Rome taught everyone a great deal, enough to begin mapping plans for the future. He then made several announcements:

1. There would be a second World Mercy Congress.
2. Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, would preside.
3. The likely location will be Krakow.
4. Father Patrice will continue as general secretary
5. Vilnius, Lithuania has the inside track as site of the third mercy congress.

“We’ll see how it all comes together,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “We will do it as the Lord indicates.”

He urged international planners to stay in touch with each other, to work closely together, and to share strategies. “National and regional [follow-up] mercy conferences are already being discussed. We ask you to be open and, with great simplicity, seek His will. We want to make known The Divine Mercy through His presence and His merciful heart, [which is] close to all of us.”

“I have a simple proposal,” Cardinal Schönborn told the tired but still enthusiastic strategists. “We should continue to plan in total freedom.” He urged delegates to be creative in their common mission. “We are here for the same reason: to get to know and promote Divine Mercy. But remember, we are not yet a big tree. We are a sapling.” The tender congressional sapling got off to a good start, he said, but needs loving care so it may grow into a great tree.

Cardinal Schönborn said that when he agreed to be the president of the congress, he was at first skeptical. He said that as he became more involved, however, he began to quickly understand the importance of the Divine Mercy message. At that point, he said he poured his energies into organizing the international gathering (April 2-6), which he termed a great success: “I believe the Lord has blessed this event. I thank the Lord for leading us on this beautiful road.”

The message of Divine Mercy St. Faustina received from Jesus in private revelation “added nothing new,” the Cardinal said. Rather, the message “presents the Gospel in its pure form” in a manner conducive for contemporary understanding. He said the Church recognizes the value of private revelation for that very purpose. Such revelation can help guide people to the truth in specific situations at precise moments of time. Divine Mercy, Cardinal Schönborn said, is undoubtedly the message for out time.

“It is important for us always to keep our eyes on Jesus,” the Cardinal said. “The greatest school of The Divine Mercy is Jesus Himself. That’s what we have learned this week. Jesus IS mercy.”

Passing the Ecumenical Test

An area of disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is handled by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (left, with Cardinal Stanislas Dziwisz) with respect and consideration.

Cardinal Schönborn Clarifies Church’s Position on Day 3 Plenary Topic

By Dan Valenti (Apr 6, 2008)
At the opening of Day 4 (Saturday April 5) of the World Mercy Congress plenary sessions at St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, Congress President Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria dealt with the usual housekeeping matters.

He offered a special welcome to the delegates from Lebanon. “The Christians there are in a very dire condition,” Cardinal Schönborn said. He called for prayers of solidarity. The Cardinal then referred to the presentation yesterday (Friday, April 4) of Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Austria, which had stirred much interest and comment.

As pastoral heads of Austria for their respective Churches, the Cardinal and Bishop enjoy a warm and productive relationship many see as a model for ecumenical rapprochement.

Sticky Point Presents Opportunity
In his talk, Bishop Hilarion shared a teaching on God’s mercy. He said Divine Mercy is so great it even places a limit on the punishment due to sin of those in hell. According to Bishop Hilarion, “hell” is actually like the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory. Obviously, it is a point of disagreement between the two Churches.

Bishop Hilarion’s teaching presented an example of one of the sticky points of disagreement that can surface in the ecumenical dialogue referred to — prophetically, as it turned out — by Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin on Day 2 of the Congress (Tuesday April 3). Cardinal Barbarin said on Day 2 that such moments, and many far worse, would inevitably arise, but they present opportunities for Christians to move forward to unity. Not to do so would amount to spiritual cowardice.

Cardinal Schönborn said, “The witness [of Bishop Hilarion] has caused a few doubts in some of us.” He said he holds Bishop Hilarion “in great esteem. What he said about the eternal destiny of man is not a doctrine of the [Catholic] Church. We should follow what great saints of all time have said. [We should] pray that no one should be lost. God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. For this reason, we invoke The Divine Mercy on us all.”

The unscripted comments were noteworthy in that Cardinal Schönborn did not reject or minimize the teaching of Bishop Hilarion. Cardinal Schönborn had invited Bishop Hilarion to address the Congress. The Bishop’s topic had been approved for inclusion in the plenary sessions by the Congress’ International Executive Committee.

The matter offered a real-life, textbook example of what Cardinan Barbarin had talked about Tuesday. Here we had the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church confronting an issue of disagreement with mutual respect, openness, and dialogue.

Cardinal Schönborn had met the moment live on the world stage, in front of the international press. In doing so, he demonstrated why so many hold him in such great regard that they think he may one day be Pope.

‘Who Will Light the Match?’

Enthusiastic applause greeted Cardinal Stanislas Dziwisz’s opening declaration, “I’m convinced this Congress will not be the last one.” Photo: Dan Valenti

Congress Ends Plenary Sessions with Call to Keep Flame of Mercy Alive

The mercy of God must be vigorously proclaimed, said Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka. Photo: Dan Valenti

Rwandan survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, seen with Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, attributed her ability to forgive solely to the intervention of Divine Mercy. Photo: Dan Valenti

By Dan Valenti (Apr 6, 2008)

The final day of plenary sessions brought delegates to the Church’s first-ever World Mercy Congress to their senses, to their feet, and to their funny bone Saturday (April 5) at St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. In the end, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria and Cardinal Dzwisz of Poland called upon delegates to return home to keep the flame of mercy alive.

The senses were stimulated in a wide-ranging talk by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, Secretary of the Doctrine for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on the difficulty of interreligious harmony.

Archbishop Ranjith, formerly Apostolic Nuncio to Indonesia and East Timor, said increasing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka prompted the organization of an interreligious conference in an attempt to foster lasting peace. Leaders of Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faiths met in August 2007. The spiritual leaders sat at a round table as a symbol of their equality and respect for one another, he said.

Shared Values
“It was a very difficult problem to solve,” Archbishop Ranjith said, because of the selfishness and fear caused by ethnic hostility. For this reason, he said, “the shared virtues of goodness and mercy were therefore very important in helping us.”

The prelate pointed out that in addressing such imposing challenges as ethnic hatred and religious intolerance, justice is not enough. Justice alone, he said, would be doomed to failure because it would devolve into revenge and continue the cycle of violence. In fact, justice without mercy would lead to the destruction of justice.

In support of his point, he cited Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Referring to John Paul, the Archbishop said justice needs love to be complete. And calling upon Pope Benedict’s Angelus of September 16, 2007, Archbishop Ranjith said the mercy of God must be vigorously proclaimed.

We must, he said, “find non-violent solutions to our problems with other faiths.” He praised the visit to Sri Lanka by Cardinal Schönborn of Austria to meet with Buddhist leaders. The meeting concluded with a joint resolution that the two faiths would continue to work for peace.

‘Entering into the Mystery of Love
Mankind, especially today, needs Divine Mercy, Archbishop Ranjith said. Mankind needs to discover “true religion,” which he defined as “entering into the mystery of love, which permits us to love everybody.” He said all faiths can do this. The Archbishop said we should all aspire to Jesus’ shining example when He counseled “Judge not, lest you be judged. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

The enemy of mercy is “the anger of selfishness and the rejection of human dignity,” Archbishop Ranjith said. Unfortunately, he observed, these are “growing at a phenomenal rate.” This is not just an economic problem or a political problem, but also a spiritual problem. However, often religion is poisoned by fundamentalism, he observed, which perverts “true religion in the way it links the concept of religion to power.”

The Archbishop called upon all faiths to reject fundamentalism and the literal interpretation of scripture and sacred texts, because such rigid and judgmental approaches “allow no reason for the mercy of God to enter the heart.”

Following Archbishop Ranjith’s talk, Br. Jason Lewis, MIC, praised the witness as “a fantastic testimony. He was right on the money. I hope everyone heard what he said and that more people follow his counsel. Wow! It blew me away.”

The senses had been touched.

Delegates were brought to their feet by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who spoke of her harrowing months hiding from killers during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, when a million people were murdered in a matter of months because of ethnic conflict. Hiding in the 3-foot-by-4-foot second bathroom of a house with eight other women, Immaculee said she was close to losing her mind with terror and blind hatred.

She found the will to survive the nightmare through an appeal to God, daily reciting the Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. Gradually, the light of God entered into her heart, freeing her from the paralysis of despair and anger and replacing them with compassion for the killers.

Delegates Show their Support
When the horror ended, she learned that the killers, some of whom she had previously known as friends and playmates prior to the genocide, had murdered most of her family. This included her parents, grandparents, and nearly all her siblings. At that point in her witness, Immaculee choked up and paused to hold back tears. As she struggled to compose herself, the crowd burst out in applause. It was a merciful show of support that did its job. Immaculee continued.

Despite her grievous personal loss, the devastation of her home, and the wounds the madness had carved into her country, Immaculee said she was able to forgive and let go of the poison of hatred. She attributed this solely to the intervention of Divine Mercy.

Following her address, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

The funny bone was tickled by Cardinal Stanislas Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, ex-member of the Prefecture of the Papal Household and for nearly 40 years personal secretary to Pope John Paul II.

Before the laughter, Cardinal Dziwisz elicited enthusiastically applause when he declared in his opening line: “I’m convinced this Congress will not be the last one.” The Cardinal was clearly directing the attention of the delegates forward, knowing that, in a sense, the first World Mercy Congress can only be declared a success if it sparks a renewal of Divine Mercy worldwide.

That, he declared, would be the task of the regional and national congresses that will take place beginning later this year and continue in 2009 and 2010 on several continents, including North America (the United States), Europe, Africa, Oceania, and South America.

Becoming Merciful
“We have to be devoted to Jesus and the image [of Himself] he ordered St. Faustina to [paint],” Cardinal Dziwisz said. “If you look at a picture of mercy, you will become merciful.”

He said “the theme of Divine Mercy … calls upon all of us here to imagine mercy” for the world. “Pope John Paul II entrusted the whole world to Divine Mercy. He felt concerned for the whole world.” The Pope knew, Cardinal Dziwisz said, that this message could “touch people all over the earth.”

He urged delegates to leave Rome and return home determined to spread Divine Mercy. “We need to keep the spark of God’s mercy alive, and I think that we have lit that spark here in this basilica. We have to convey to the world this force of mercy, because in mercy, the world will find peace and happiness.”

Bringing the House Down
Cardinal Dziwisz brought the proverbial house down when he noted that he would end his comments there, after only a few minutes: “That’s it. No more,” he said. He did this because the program had been running late, and the noon Mass in St. John Lateran had already been delayed so that the plenary sessions could continue.

Cardinal Schönborn retorted with a smile, “This is a very short lecture.” More laughter.

Cardinal Schönborn then used a football analogy: “And so, Cardinal Dziwisz has already thrown the ball onto the football field.” In other words, he had challenged the delegates to return home to spread the fire of Divine Mercy.

Cardinal Schönborn ended the plenary sessions of the historic congress with a provocative question: “But who is going to [light] the match?”

Does anyone have the answer?

What Next?

What Were the Lessons Learned from the First World Apostolic Congress on Mercy?

On the eve of the closing of the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, Rome’s famous Piazza Novona reverberated with music, prayer, testimonies, and a lingering question: What next?

That is, with their hearts afire with the flames of mercy, what will the congress participants do once the congress ends? It was a question on the minds of many of the thousands of people from dozens of nations who gathered at the end of Day 4 with a Missionary Festival in the heart of ancient Rome. The answers are manifold.

They will lead by example.

“We have to be witnesses of Divine Mercy in all of our actions, big and small, every single day,” said Rasa Vyswiauskiene, of Lithunaia. “This is what this congress has placed in my heart.”

They will seek to bring happiness to others.

“We are called to see the face of Christ in the least among us, so I will serve others, because serving others is what brings true happiness,” says Rich Rita of Bosnia.

They will love their enemies.

“We know this message of Divine Mercy can transform hearts. When it transforms hearts, it transforms lives,” said Mikaela Sin, one of 50 South Koreans who came to the congress. “For us in South Korea, we plan to ignite the faith in our own communities, and we pray especially for the reunification of Korean, and that can only happen through extending God’s mercy to others.”

They will walk in faith, knowing that Christ is looking out for them.

“We must make room for Him in our lives and be witnesses as to why others should do the same,” said Antonella Laurenza of Rome. “Christ is not an image on a piece of paper. He is real. He is with us, and we must keep Him with us so we can follow the right way through many obstacles. That’s what I take from this week.”

They will proselytize through words and by example.

“We need mercy. The world needs mercy. I’m prepared to give this message to everyone,” said Michael Miahesh, an Indian native who lives in France.

They will strengthen themselves in the faith.

“Mercy has to be practical, concrete,” said Marko Komparich of Croatia. “It’s not just something you think or something you feel. Saint Faustina teaches us that we can have a personal encounter with Jesus, and that’s what this is about. We can know Him.”

They will speak His name.

“I was saved by Divine Mercy,” said John Greer of Ireland. “I suffered from depression to the point where two-and-a-half years ago I tried to kill myself. Through the prayers of my wife, Christ healed me. I cannot literally have a negative thought anymore. This congress has convinced me that I need to do Christ’s work and help people who suffer from depression. Something is coming from all this.”

They will urge others to attend the upcoming congresses in their own country.

“I’m going to go back home and tell absolutely everybody that they need to go to the next Congress,” said Erin von Uffel, of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. “God wants to shower us all with so many graces.”

They will bring the message of Divine Mercy into their professions.

“Before, I had an intuition that Christ wanted me to integrate Divine Mercy into my therapy,” said Leslie, a doctor of psychology from Virgina. “Now it’s no longer just an intuition; it’s without question. At the most basic level, Divine Mercy affirms the dignity of the human person. It orders everything in a world that has become so disordered.”

They will bring it to their classrooms.

“I want to bring the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy to our campus,” says Sr. Sheila Galligan, IHM, of Immaculata University, in Pennsylvania. “It’s a prayer that can call people to the beauty and wonder of the cross. It’s brief. It’s densely compact, and most of all, John Paul II promoted it, and he’s my man.”

They will change the world.

‘Like One Big Family’

By Felix Carroll (Jun 10, 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s true,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

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

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

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

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

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

In order of importance, the focus should be:

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

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

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

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

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

‘This Is Bigger Than We Think’

Michele “Chelie” Billingsley, left, with her friend Suzie Gauthier, at St. Peter’s Square during the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

Marian Helper Michele “Chelie” Billingsley, of Sterling, Va., was one of several thousand pilgrims from around the world who attended the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome, Italy, on April 2-6. The following interview with Chelie was conducted by Mary Flannery, senior designer and associate editor for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

Mary Flannery: So, how was the Congress?

Chelie Billingsley: It was incredible. It was so moving, it was more than I could even take in.

MF: Really!

CB: Yeah, and one of the funny things that I kept saying to my priest, “My cup runneth over.” And then he would say, “Come on and get a bigger cup! Let’s go!” And then it was on to the next thing. There were so many things to do.

MF: So it wasn’t what you expected; it was more than you expected?

CB: It was much deeper. It was more of a spiritual pilgrimage than I thought it would be. And a lot of that was because of Fr. [Bryan] Belli. Because he knew the ins and outs of where to go. And we would have Mass, just my friend Susie and I and Father, in these beautiful chapels and side altars, and things that we could never do on our own.

The conference itself blew me away, just being around thousands of believers like that who’ve been touched by the Divine Mercy message. It’s amazing just to think that we’re just a fraction of the people who’ve been touched who were able to go.

MF: You told me a little bit before you left about what you were hoping to get out of it — to come back with some tools to get the Divine Mercy message more “on fire” in the parish.

CB: Right.

MF: So, did you get what you went for?

CB: I did. And, you know, it’s interesting because I didn’t necessarily get it from the conference itself. It’s not like I came home with materials. However, just networking with all these other people from different countries is how I’m filled with ideas.

MF: Isn’t that great!

CB: Yeah. This one priest, Fr. Levi from Nigeria, he was telling me how he spread Divine Mercy in his parish in 2000. He said, once a month they do Divine Mercy and they pull it into a Mass, and they also pray over petitions from everybody in the Church.

And they go from parish to parish, and blessing them. That’s the first thing I want to get going here in northern Virginia because there are churches all over the place, but I feel disconnected from other churches. So this would be a great way to see who else is praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and we can kind of feel like you’re part of a bigger movement. That was one on the greatest things I got out of going to this conference. Because sitting here, you know, in my little bubble of the world here, I didn’t realize how many people are affected. Then you go and see thousands and thousands and you want to come back and really share that and find out how many of us are doing that same thing and you don’t even realize they’re right next door.

MF: Yeah. If you can connect yourselves, make like a necklace.

CB: Right!

MF: I heard from another Congress attendee that the high point of the five-day Congress was being able to talk with people from all over who have been touched by The Divine Mercy.

CB: There’s no doubt. The solidarity of all the different countries, too, was interesting. For example, the Philippines had a huge contingent. I don’t know how many hundreds of people came. But they were so joyful. I was thinking, “This is one of the poorest countries around.” They have nothing but God and they show up, joyful as can be. They’re all in matching outfits … someone’s carrying Blessed Mother on their shoulder, they’re singing. Oh my gosh! Those things just blew me away.

MF: (Laughing) You’re making me wish I was there!

CB: I wish you were. Well, they’re saying that next year it might be here in D.C. [Editor’s note: Plans are being firmed up for the U.S. Congress on Mercy in the fall of 2009 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C.]

MF: Right. They’re going to do regional congresses … and then in different parts of the world. And there will be breakouts on an even smaller level, in particular dioceses across the country. And did you hear the news that there will be another Congress, at least two more, World Congresses?

CB: Yes, and Dziwisz [Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. Archbishop of Kraków, Poland] did invite everyone. He said he would have it in Poland, and everyone just about came out of their chair, they were so excited!

MF: And then they’re talking about the third one being in Lithuania, in Vilnius.

CB: Oh, wow! Wow.

MF: So, what surprised you the most?

CB: Honestly, one of the things surprised me the most was on Wednesday when they were going to have Mass with Pope Benedict, celebrating Pope John Paul’s third anniversary, right? We were all thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’ll have to get there two hours before it starts just to get a decent spot.” I never dreamed we would show up — we have our World Congress on Mercy lanyard — and they escorted us right to the front section, we have seats. A perfect view of the Pope. He drove right by. I was six feet from him. And I knew right there and then, this is a major priority for Pope Benedict because he made this whole group a priority. That was a shock to me. I mean, I never dreamt that we would be treated that way. That made a big statement. Everybody that signed up for the Congress had special seating. And I was just amazed.

MF: So it was very well run?

CB: Yes. It was very well run. You showed up, you knew where to go. They treated us very, very well. They had beautiful presentations in the Piazza Navonna, three nights. They would have Adoration in St. Agnes Church until midnight, and I remember looking at the schedule and thinking, “Well, I’ll never last, I’ll never make it till midnight.” But honestly, at midnight, we were the last ones there because you just hated to leave. It was so beautiful there. And singing, they had choirs singing and candles lit and people laying prostrate in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was something that I’d never experienced before and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

MF: Had you been to Rome before?

CB: Yes. I’ve been to Rome before, three years ago for my tenth wedding anniversary. But my husband and I, we went to the Vatican, we lucked out, there was Mass there. But we didn’t know how to get around like with Fr. Belli. We must have seen 20 churches. Just amazing.

MF: Did you go to the Church of the Holy Spirit?

CB: No.

MF: I went there. A year ago Christmas I was in Rome for an eight-hour layover, not very long at all. I was with a girl who had studied in Rome for years and so she knew her way around. It makes such a difference. We went into the Church of the Holy Spirit for Christmas Mass. At the time, I didn’t know much about St. Faustina and The Divine Mercy. I’d seen the image before, but, like with most people, it was just this thing that Catholics do, you know? And I’m regretting it now because apparently the image that is hanging in that Church is the one that John Paul II dedicated for veneration in Rome. I have a vague memory of it off to the right and a little altar with the image. And everyone coming back from Communion would kneel down in front of it briefly. I guess I’ll just have to go back.

CB: The Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, have you heard of that?

MF: No.

CB: You know, Saints Constantine and Helen? They had dirt from Jerusalem brought over to Rome and they built the Church on top of it so they say it’s the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and it’s got relics, it’s got thorns from Jesus’ crown of thorns, one of the nails that went trough his hand, and it’s got part of the cross.

MF: Wow. Oh my goodness. That’s got to be powerful.

CB: It was. It was almost too much for me. At first I felt unworthy like this is holier than me, but after a few days I was, by the grace of God, I was able to just soak it all up.

MF: I have a tough question for you. It may not even be answerable. What was your favorite part?

CB: (Pause) Um. I think my favorite part was hearing Immaculee [Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide]. That was my favorite part. It is hard to answer that. I wrote down a list of favorites here, and I’m looking at it. That and Adoration at St. Agnes honestly, that was so powerful. But Immaculee — hearing a testimony of mercy from someone who could be a living saint, this woman. Her face glowed! She spoke for an hour and we were all on the edge of our seats. I was looking around people to my left and my right. Everyone’s mouth was just hanging open. And we couldn’t believe the story of this journey that took her from fear to hate to love and forgiveness and it’s just … Ugh!

MF: (Relays story about Immaculee’s documentaries)

CB: I have not cried that much over the last week than I have in years! It was so emotional.

Another sweet thing that I will never forget as long as I live was, after we were seated outdoors for the Mass with the Pope. He was walking in, this was the procession, I could hear all these people yelling, “Papa! Papa!” And I almost lost it then. It was such an intimate, tender thing and they’re just calling to him — people from all different walks of life — Papa! Papa! Then I realized this is where I am. This is real. I’m actually in the presence of His Holiness, surrounded by believers. It was just a great way to kick it off.

MF: A little taste of heaven.

CB: It was a little taste of heaven. That’s a great way to say it. It was a real taste. I’ll never forget that.

There were children, on Sunday, the last day, that went to the Mass with Cardinal Schönborn. The Pope leans out his residence window and recited the Regina Caeli. We’re trying to — we’re a herd of people — trying to get out the door. We’re runnin’ out there and runnin’ out there, and we missed him. We could hear his voice, but we couldn’t see him. So he was already gone by the time we managed to get out. And the Cenacolo group, you know the reformed drug addicts — an incredible group — they’re, let’s say, a hundred of them standing there and they start chanting, “Benedicto,” and they’ve got the drums, and they’re like “bum, bum, bum, bum, Benedicto!” And then suddenly everyone is yelling, “Benedicto!” And we all have our hands up. We were just hoping he might come back out. He didn’t, but it was so cute. It was, again, a great way to end it. It was so hard to say goodbye to everybody.

MF: It sounds wonderful! Did any part of it disappoint you?

CB: Gosh. No. Really the only thing that disappointed me was my small cup. Because I just, like I said, I grew every day. I tried to increase my cup every day because there was so much.

MF: Looking forward, what do you see for yourself, your parish for the Church as a whole?

CB: For myself it strengthened my faith. It’s like, I was hungry before I left and now I’m full. (Laugh) I’m full. I come back, and I’m full. So now I feel like I can feed other people around me. This was my faith. I know they can sense it. I could see it yesterday when I was talking to everybody. But, immediately, what I want to do is start that parish-wide Divine Mercy Chaplet, going from parish to parish, and also a program in the school. I got this idea from somebody else to just have parents or families sign up so that we’d have a novena of the Divine Mercy Chaplet said from the first day of school until the last. So everyone just takes a nine-day stretch, and you’d sign up. I heard that and I thought. “Oh, that’s so doable.” I can see that.

MF: How many children do you have?

CB: 225 in Our Lady of Hope School. My children go there. My children are 9 and 11.

I also bought tons of the Divine Mercy rosaries. This one that we found has half of the beads are red and half are pale, to represent the rays [on the image of The Divine Mercy]. And then the little medal, there’s a beautiful picture of Jesus, the Vilnius image, and the other side is St. Faustina. They’re beautiful, so I bought 15 of those. So I’ve been handing them out to people who I think would love them.

My daughter had the idea we should send the rosaries to friends and family along with the CD that comes out of Eden Hill, because when you sing the chaplet like that it just penetrates your heart, your mind, your soul. It’s different if you just hand someone the card with the instructions on how to say it. But if you actually send the CD, you can’t get it out of your head.

MF: I’ve heard so many stories of people really just being transformed by hearing it.

CB: Yes! There was a little girl that I used to — we say it every day after school and I invite the school kids and parents at pick-up. And I used to go into the aftercare program because they’re just sitting there doing homework and have snacks, and I’d say, “Hey, who wants to come sing the Divine Mercy?” And the little kids would follow. And there was one time I ran into a mother at soccer practice. She said, “My daughter told me that you’ve been bringing her in to say the Chaplet. I wanted you to know that every night when I go to put her down for bed she starts to sing it.” I said, “Really?” Because this little girl stopped going after a while. But she said — her name is Molly — and she said, “Yeah, Molly sings it every night before she goes to sleep.” I was just blown away. It affects you that way.

MF: What about your companions? You went with your pastor?

CB: He’s our Parochial Vicar. His name is Fr. Bryan Belli.

MF: And who else was with you?

CB: Another parishoner who is also my next-door neighbor, Suzanne Gauthier.

MF: So how was it for them?

CB: Oh they loved it. I know Suzie feels the same way I do. She just kept saying, “Chelie we’re part of a movement! We’re part of a movement. It’s gonna change the world!” She was really pumped up. And Fr. Belli, he loved it. He was so looking forward to it.

MF: And you said he’d spent some time in Rome?

CB: He’d been there a bunch of times, so he knew the ins and outs. And, boy, when you’re with a priest, doors just open left and right. And everyone’s yelling, “Padre,” and bringing you free drinks and whatever. They just treat you differently.

MF: Isn’t that great. I like that.

CB: It is great. Yeah.

MF: What would you want to say to other Marian Helpers? What would you want to tell them?

CB: Hmmm. I would want to, I would just want to express that this is a critical movement in our Church. And we have to explore Divine Mercy. We have to accept Jesus’ mercy and we have to be merciful to others. We’ve got to be instruments of change. We’ve got to go out and spread this message. This is our calling. We’re all called to do this. You know, we’re all benefiting from Jesus’ mercy. And we’ve just got to help in this movement.

MF: Beautiful.

CB: And that you are part of something really big and you don’t even realize it. This is bigger than we think. And that we all have these talents … we can’t just keep this to ourselves. We’ve got to get out there and get the word out.

We invite you to read Chelie Billingsley’s journal from the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy!

From Rome: A Congress Journal

Chelie Billingsley, with Fr. Bryan Belli, explores Rome during the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

The following is a journal kept by Michele “Chelie” Billingsley, of Sterling, Va., who, along with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, attended the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome, Italy, on April 2-6.

Last fall I noticed in Marian Helper magazine that there would be a World Congress on Mercy held in Rome in 2008. I’d been saying The Divine Mercy Chaplet for two-and-a-half years, and studying the life and writings of St. Faustina. I mentioned the conference to my husband, never really thinking I would be able to go, and his response was, “You are going!” My parents promised to drive to Virginia from North Carolina to watch the kids, so that I could take this spiritual pilgrimage. My beautiful neighbor, Suzie Gauthier, said that she would love to join me. I proposed to my priest, Fr. Bryan Belli (who is Italian and has been to Rome countless times), that he come, too. It was an easy sell.

Day 1, Tuesday
Suzie and I arrive at Washington Dulles Airport hours prior to our flight. Our priest, however, did not arrive until our plane was boarding! This was an incredible beginning to our journey. Come, Holy Spirit! We arrived in Rome early in the morning.

Father led us to visit St. Paul of the Cross. What a surprise. He said Mass for us in the residence where St. Paul spent the last six months of his life uniting his suffering with Jesus’. We also had the opportunity to see the relic room. This room is filled with hundreds of sacred relics from many, many saints. I want to learn more about St. Gemma. … I thought to myself, I am in over my head. … I am not worthy to be here. It was quite something. We walked around outside in a peaceful courtyard, while nuns prayed the Rosary. I regained my composure. God led me here for a reason.

Day 2, Wednesday
Morning Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. This was a celebration of the third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. We assumed that we’d have to arrive very early to get a good spot. Little did we know that the front row sections were all reserved for members of the Congress. We arrived and were ushered through the crowd to the perfect seats. I could not believe it! Saint Faustina and Pope John Paul II planted the seeds, and now Pope Benedict is watering them. This worldwide Divine Mercy movement is the fruit. We sang the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and some people joined in. The weather was absolutely delightful. As Pope Benedict arrived, pilgrims from many different nations shouted, “Papa, Papa!” and my heart almost burst.

Afterward we visited John Paul’s grave, located around the corner from the tomb of St. Peter in the lower level of the Basilica. He requested to be buried in the earth. Guards allowed us to reach down and touch our rosaries to the sacred ground. Also, we wrote down prayer intentions on slips of paper and left them at the tomb (I prayed for my family members who are sick). There were hundreds of people visiting this soon-to-be saint. I cannot believe it has been three years since he died.

Later that day, we stepped into the Church of the Sacred Steps. These are marble steps Jesus climbed while with Pilate, brought here by St. Helena (Emperor Constantine’s mother). We visited St. Alfonso Church to pray for a fellow parishioner. This church houses the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Absolutely stunning. We were having a difficult time finding an empty cab, so we prayed to Our Lady and within seconds, one pulled over to us.

We stopped into a beautiful little church, The Immaculate Conception. I fell in love with a very unique statue of Jesus falling during the Passion. You can kneel right in front of it, look into His eyes, and put your hand on top of His. Powerful. We learned about Blessed John Duns Scotus, and began a novena of prayer to him.

In the evening we set out for Tres Puppazzi (Three Puppets), Fr. Belli’s favorite restaurant. There we met Fr. Matthew Mauriello, who is the president of the U.S. Mercy Congress, his good friend Brendan, a very Spirit-filled man, who was Chief Financial Officer of the World Congress, and Brendan’s sister and brother-in-law, who were newlyweds. We all sat together outside and enjoyed an Italian feast and good conversation. We proceeded to run into these beautiful people day after day. What a blessing. Actually, we wound up eating at the same restaurants — without planning this — four days in a row. Father Matt says, “Coincidence is a coward’s way of saying Providence.”

Day 3, Thursday
Lectures at St. John Lateran.

When the Mother of Mercy appeared to the three children [in Fatima, Portugal] to teach them how to properly pray the Rosary, she added, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

Saint Faustina was told by Jesus to simply believe and trust in His mercy — and she will receive it.

Bishop Martin of Nigeria sang Morning Praises to our heavenly Mother and Father. Beautiful. Spirit-filled. He doesn’t just say “good morning,” he sings it.

Christ’s love is greater than sin and stronger than death. Always ready to meet the prodigal son.

The Eucharist is Jesus present among us.

A mystic meeting of The Divine Mercy is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

God searches for sinners as lost sheep.

Day 4, Friday
After lectures and Mass, we sat outside for lunch in the bright sunshine. It was so lovely. Father ordered what we refer to as the Gladiator Special (mystery meats galore). We had to laugh. He will eat anything! We had an important discussion about being a capital “C” Catholic, and listening when the Holy Spirit nudges you to do something.

We sang the Chaplet at Our Lady Queen of the Angels Basilica (where the Meridian line crosses) along with hundreds of people from the Congress. Delegates from around the world were represented (especially the Philippines; even China). Very moving. Lots of tears. Each day the singing grew more and more beautiful. I realized that I don’t listen to enough inspirational music. I will change that when I get home.

We Metro’d home to our B & B to rest. We decided we were up for walking to Father’s place, which was a religious institution not far from the Vatican. We estimated it would take 20 minutes. We were wrong! Father waited for us for 45 minutes. Thank you, Father. But, we now knew our way around Rome. This was a good thing, because it would come in handy later …

I exchanged some currency to buy some art. I received exactly HALF the value of my dollars in Euros. The value of the dollar was not something I had time to get upset about. My husband had asked me to buy some art, and I was not coming home empty handed.

Father Belli remembered a fantastic pizzeria along the river. I had the most delicious gorgonzola pizza. Memorable.

We were blown away by a musical presentation of the Passion, sponsored by the Congress, at Piazza Navona. Many tourists were also in attendance. It was performed by the Cenacolo Community, a special group of reformed addicts, led by Mother Elvira (the Mother Teresa of drug addicts). This was a first-class production. The acting and singing were dramatic. I looked around at people watching, and they were silent. Jesus ascended into the sky. Torches aflame lowered down to the Apostles to represent Pentecost. We could hardly believe our eyes. I was moved to tears.

Afterward, Mother Elvira urged everyone (there were hundreds of us) to enter St. Agnes Church for Eucharistic Adoration until midnight. I never thought I’d want to go to Adoration after a long day of running around, but there was nowhere else I would rather be. It was so moving. There were candles lit along the floor in front of the altar, the choir was singing, people were praying, some were lying prostrate. It was the most intimate scene — a true glimpse into Heaven. A priest heard my confession along the side of the church (I had to first find an English-speaking priest). Of all my memories of the Divine Mercy Congress, this ranks as my favorite.

Father Belli asked us if we were up for meeting at St. Peter’s for 7 a.m. Mass. Come, Holy Spirit!

Day 5, Saturday
Father Belli offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at a side altar of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter’s Basilica. This was very emotional for me because, through divine intervention, we were at the tomb of St. Jude. Saint Jude is a special friend of mine. My mother-in-law prayed for years for my husband to find a “devoted Catholic woman,” and when I first met her, she knew instantly that I was the answer to her prayer. So, in return, we have a lovely St. Jude statue and garden in our yard, and I always turn to St. Jude when I need his help. Thank you, St. Jude, for leading us to your tomb.

Father taught us to reflect on the Pieta. “Rest in Mary’s arms. She is God’s vessel of grace. Allow this to become a very part of your identity.”

We’d all been looking forward to hearing from Immaculee Ilibagiza of Rwanda, the Tutsi woman who escaped the Hutu death squad in the 90s. She wrote the bestseller, Left to Tell. I chose this book, as I am hosting the May neighborhood book club. How wonderful it will be for Suzie and I to have heard her speak.

Rwanda is a Catholic country. She explained the Virgin Mary’s apparitions in Rwanda, which began in 1981. Mary appeared and said, “Do you know what can happen if this person dies?” She said it three times (a Jewish tradition, which means the Mother really means it). Apparently people were praying for the leader of Rwanda to die. In fact, he was not a good man, but he was keeping the country from civil war. Once he was assassinated, all hell broke loose. She spoke of her father, a holy man and leader in the community, who urged her to hide in a neighboring Hutu minister’s home until the war was over. Along with seven other Tutsi women, she hid in a 3-foot by 4-foot bathroom for 91 days, with very little food or water.

She told us that fear and hatred began to consume her until she learned to fervently pray the Rosary (around 27 times) and the Divine Mercy Chaplet (around 40 times) from dawn until dusk. The minister provided her with a Bible, and she began to study. She was in communion with the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of the terror. She learned how to love her enemy and forgive them for the horrors they committed.

She completely surrendered herself to Christ. She kept praying for the killers. When it was all over, she learned that nearly all of her family members and friends were dead. The God of Mercy that she met in that bathroom assured her that she would not be alone. God was her Father, and Mary was her Mother. She went to the prison to forgive a man who killed one of her brothers. This act astonished those around her. They learned from her example.

She wrote her book, and within two weeks it was a New York Times bestseller. She never really thought anyone would want to hear her story … it is now printed in 15 languages, and has sold millions and millions of copies around the world. Immaculee works for the United Nations, and has since married and had two children.

Cardinal Dziwisz from Poland addressed the Congress. He showed us the Vilnius image [of The Divine Mercy] and explained that we would receive graces even by looking at it. We need to spread The Divine Mercy message throughout the world. Every earthly inhabitant will be filled with hope. Convey to the world this fire of mercy. This will result in world peace and happiness. He invited us all to come to Poland. Sounds good to me. I’d love to attend the World Congress on Mercy every year.

Father and Suzie and I grabbed some lunch. I told Father that I have a fear that the more I grow in holiness, the more I’ll be attacked by the Enemy. He explained that we are already at war. Why enter the battle with one arm tied behind my back? So, I will put on the “armor of God” and trust in Him.

We toured the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. We saw parts of the cross on which Jesus died, along with thorns from His crown, and a nail that pierced His hand. We visited the tomb of Antoinetta Meo, a very young girl that my children have studied in school and who could become the youngest non-martyred saint in history. Afterward, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I told Father that I was emotionally and physically drained ,and I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to do anymore touring. I told him that my cup overfloweth. He said, “Get a bigger cup. Let’s go!” I am so grateful that he challenges me.

Day 6, Sunday
Holy Mass with Cardinal Schönborn, Piazza San Pietro.

It is Sunday, alas, our final day of pilgrimage. Suzie and I are seated in the Congress-designated section, front and center in St. Peter’s Basilica. The choir is singing, and it is a choir of angels as their voices echo off these sacred walls. We are surrounded by believers from every continent and it is a beautiful visual of the Body of Christ. My heart is full as I reflect on “Faith of Our Fathers.” The most important things I will ever do is to pass my faith on to my children, and to make Christ’s mercy known to friends and family. Thank You, God, for choosing me to be an Apostle of Mercy, and I pray for grace in abundance to carry out Your mission.

After Mass, we hurried outside to hear Pope Benedict recite the Regina Caeli. He then blessed all of our religious articles. Thankfully, we thought ahead and brought everything with us! We had bags and bags of religious articles to bring home to our friends and family, the school, Vacation Bible School kids, etc. (Father had taken us to Comandini, a discounted store where we could buy things in bulk.)

We visited Mary Major, where Fr. Belli said Mass for us and some Australians. We also toured the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Wow. It was enormous. Beautiful. Each church in Rome is spectacular in its own way.

Around the corner from St. Paul’s is the Circus Maximus. Apparently, more Christians were martyred here than in the Coliseum. Father Belli read excerpts from a prayer book telling of Saints Felicity and Pertpetua, and how they entered the Circus not as though they were entering hell, but as in ecstasy because they knew they were entering heaven.

Our last evening together was spent enjoying every minute of a three-hour feast at Antiqua Roma. This restaurant is built upon 1,500-year-old catacombs of slaves. They claim to have written the first Italian cookbook, and they still use these ancient recipes. Tonight’s special was a pasta called “Strangled Priest,” which, of course, we ordered. It was delicious. The perfect ending to the perfect trip. Praise God.

Arrivederci Roma! Hello Sterling, Virginia.

Odds and Ends
A practical note to self: Always travel to the Eternal City with a priest!

We were up every morning by 7 a.m. and never went to bed before midnight/1 a.m.

We met so many beautiful people from so many different countries. I feel like I am a member of a large community of believers. It brings me strength.

Someone gave me the idea to begin a Divine Mercy Chaplet novena for the school year. Ask families to sign up to pray for nine days, and do it consecutively throughout the year. We’ll start it in September.

Met Catherine and her husband, who was delivered from depression through the prayers of his uncle, Eddy Stones of Ireland. I e-mailed them and they sent me an inspirational prayer to end depression. I also looked up Eddy Stones on YouTube.

Finally found the Divine Mercy Chaplet rosaries — half-red beads, half-white, to represent the blood and water which gushed forth from Jesus’ divine Heart. We bought them in bulk and decided we would distribute them to friends and family along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet CD from Eden Hill.

Suzie and I met Fr. Levi, a sweet, sweet priest from Nigeria. He gave us lots of great ideas of how to spread The Divine Mercy message when we return home.


Upon returning home, Fr. Belli, Suzie, and I said a novena to Our Lady of Lourdes to continue our conversion, for healing, and to revive the graces we received while at the Congress. We are also doing a 30-day challenge. We are praying for an hour a day and attending Adoration and extra Masses. It has been a blessing. I told Father that it hasn’t been much of a “challenge.” Since I’ve been back from Rome, I can’t wait to visit Jesus every day.

I have passed out many rosaries and 100 Miraculous Medals to friends and family and schoolchildren. Everyone is excited to have a gift blessed by Pope Benedict.

I joined Our Lady of Hope School families to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict as he entered Catholic University, during his visit to Washington, D.C., I have to admit, it wasn’t quite the same as being three feet from him in St. Peter’s Square! It meant so much to me that our Pope would take the time to minister to his flock in America. We need him.

I am in the process of contacting all the churches in our Arlington Diocese to research what Divine Mercy cenacles are already in place.

I am directing our church’s Vacation Bible School, which is the perfect opportunity to introduce The Divine Mercy Chaplet and message.

I pray for Fr. Matt.

The Sacred Liturgy Sings The Divine Mercy

(The following is the transcript of the talk given by Cardinal Francis Arinze on April 4, at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.)

The consoling and deep mystery of God’s mercy permeates the public worship of the Church. The sacred liturgy sings on page after page the wonders of the divine love which shows itself especially as mercy. We can ever say that the history of salvation is the history of the manifestation of God’s loving mercy. I, therefore, welcome the invitation of the organizers of this Congress to propose to you some reflections on the Divine Mercy in the Sacred Liturgy.

Divine Mercy reaches us especially through the celebration of the sacred liturgy. The paschal mystery, which is at the centre of the celebration of Holy Week, is the apex, the highest point. The Cross occupies a key place. The Sacraments are the major liturgical celebrations through which God’s mercy reaches us. It will be proper that we highlight the liturgical texts of Mercy Sunday. The Votive Mass of God’s Mercy is not yet widely known and needs to be reflected upon. A consideration on how divine mercy runs through the Liturgy of the Hours will help us to see further how the sacred liturgy sings God’s mercy.

The whole of the history of salvation is full of manifestations of God’s mercy and love. After original sin when man disobeyed God and lost his friendship, God did not abandon man to the power of death. He continuously helped all men to seek and find him. Again and again he offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation (cfr Roman Missal: Euch. Prayer IV).

God, for example, called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and through the desert. God heard Moses’ prayer of intercession and agreed to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people. The Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:5-6). God loved the world so much, that in the fullness of time “he gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). “God who is rich in mercy”, St Paul tells the Ephesians, “out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). Jesus made mercy one of the principal themes of his preaching, especially as manifested in the parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Good Samaritan, of the Lost Sheep, of the Lost Coin and even of the Merciless Servant (cf Lk 15:11-32, 10:30-37; Mt 18:12-14; Lk 15:3-10; Mt 18:23-35; cf also Dives in Misericordia, 3).

The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, was a great apostle of the divine mercy. Early in his pontificate, he gave the Church and the world the encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, in 1980. He beatified and canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, Christ’s chosen soul to propagate devotion to this great mystery. In the Great Jubilee Year 2000 Pope John Paul set up a new parish in Rome with the suggestive title of God the Merciful Father, to condense in a few words the significance of that extraordinary spiritual event. Referring to Pope John Paul II on Mercy Sunday, 15 April 2007, Pope Benedict XVI put it beautifully: “In the word ‘mercy’ he found summarized and again interpreted for our time the entire mystery of the Redemption” (Homily on 15/4/2007, in L’Osserv. Rom., 17-18 April 2007, p. 10).

In the same homily Pope Benedict says that it is mercy that puts a limit to evil. In mercy the nature so special to God is expressed — his holiness, the power of truth and of love.

This is the Divine Mercy which we have now the grace and the joy to admire and adore, as it is sung and proclaimed in the sacred liturgy.

It is especially through the sacred liturgy that we come into contact with divine mercy. Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God’s saving and merciful love for all humanity, the one and only mediator between God and man (cf I Tim 2:5), did the work of our redemption. He gave perfect glory to God. He instituted his Church and entrusted to her the preaching of his Gospel and the celebration of his saving mysteries. Jesus thus sent his Church to exercise the work of salvation by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the
entire liturgical life revolves (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium , 6).

Jesus is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the praying liturgical assembly. He is present in the word of God proclaimed in the liturgy. He is present in the Sacraments by his power. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of the celebrating priest but especially under the Eucharistic species. In the sacred liturgy, therefore, full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, by the Head and his members (cf SC, 7).

The liturgy is the chief channel through which we receive God’s mercy and grace. “From the liturgy, therefore, grace is channelled into us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved” (SC, 10). It is in the liturgy that God feeds us with his word, his forgiveness, his mercy and his life. This will become clearer as we consider each of the Sacraments later.

Pope John Paul II in 1980 drew attention to the vocation of the Church to proclaim God’s mercy especially through the liturgy: “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy — the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer — and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser. Of great significance in this area is constant meditation on the word of God, and above all conscious and mature participation in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation … Therefore the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering his mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind” (Dives in Misericordia, 13).

In the sacred liturgy, all time is sacred. All time belongs to God. But the week in which the Church celebrates the central event of our redemption is particularly sacred. We call it Holy Week. It is the week in which the Church celebrates the paschal mystery of the blessed passion of Christ, his death, his resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension, whereby “dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life” (Roman Missal Paschal Preface I).

This is the high point of the manifestation of God’s love and mercy. “From the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross came forth the wondrous sacrament which is the whole Church” (SC, 5). The New Covenant is sealed in the Blood of Christ. In Baptism we are inserted into this mystery of God’s mercy. We celebrate it in the Sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist. We sing and praise God’s loving mercy in the Liturgy of the Hours, or the prayers of the Church for the various hours of the day. This explains why the crucifix occupies a central place in our churches, on our altars, and at other gatherings for the public worship of the Church. From the Cross of the Lord, the Sacraments of the paschal mystery flow (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1182). Jesus suffering and dying on the Cross is a visible and powerful manifestation of God’s loving mercy for all humanity. God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rm 8:32).

Pope John Paul II extols the Cross and God’s mercy: “Believing in the crucified Son means ‘seeing the Father’ (cf Jn 14:9), means believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity or the world are involved. Believing in this love means believing in mercy. For mercy is an indispensable dimension of love” (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

Pope Benedict XVI tells us in his first Encyclical Letter how deep and how far the love and mercy of God have gone: “In Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the ‘stray sheep’ … His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form” (Deus Caritas Est, 12).

It is very significant that the allocutio which Pope John Paul II prepared to deliver to the faithful on April 3, 2005, Divine Mercy Sunday, comes back to this mystery of God’s love that forgives, reconciles and offers hope. Divine Providence called the Pope to himself the night before. The allocutio, a type of testament, was published in the Osservatore Romano of April 4 2005. Pope Benedict XVI extolled it during his pastoral visit to the Parish of God the Merciful Father on 26 March, 2006. Here are the memorable words: “To humanity, that sometimes seems lost and dominated by the power of evil, of egoism and of fear, the risen Lord offers as gift his love that pardons, reconciles and opens the mind to hope. It is love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much need the world has to understand and welcome Divine Mercy.”

This is the Divine Mercy which the sacred liturgy celebrates. And the summit of these celebrations is Holy Week when the paschal mystery of the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ is at the centre.

Although in these reflections there has been mention of the Sacraments as gifts of God’s mercy, it is now necessary to focus on each of the seven. They are Sacraments of redemption (cf Roman Missal: Votive Mass of Divine Mercy, Prayer over the Offerings). They are the major streams through which the graces won for us by our Redeemer reach us. And they are Sacraments of faith because they not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen and express faith (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium, 59; CCC, 1123).

Baptism plunges people into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Christ, are buried with him, and rise with him. They receive the spirit of adoption as God’s children by which they cry Abba, Father. They are also incorporated into the Church as members and receive the capacity to take part in Christian worship. St Peter tells them of their dignity and of the mercy that God has shown them: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (I Pet 2:9).

In Confirmation, Christians receive the Holy Spirit as the fullness of Baptism and in completion of their baptismal grace. They become more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched by a special strength of the Holy Spirit. As true witnesses of Christ, they are more strictly bound to spread and defend the faith by word and deed (cf Lumen Gentium, 11; CCC, 1285).

The Eucharistic Sacrifice, fount and apex of the whole Christian life, is the offering of Christ, Body and Soul, to God the Father in adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation and supplication for mercy and grace. “This is my blood of the covenant”, Jesus tells us, “which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). That Jesus feeds us with his Body and Blood and remains with us in the tabernacle — these are wonderful manifestations of His love and mercy.

The Sacrament of Penance brings us the pardon and mercy of God for offences committed against him. Sinners are at the same time reconciled with
the Church which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example and prayer seeks their conversion ( cf Lumen Gentium, 11). Jesus already declared: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17; cf I
Tim 1:15). “Joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:7; cf 7:11-32),
is his spirit. Jesus shocked the religious authorities of Israel by identifying his
merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude towards them (cf CCC, 589). The parable of the Prodigal Son, which can better be called that of
the Merciful Father, shows the process of conversion and repentance and the
depth of God’s mercy and love (cf CCC, 1439). St Augustine holds “that the justification of sinners surpasses the creation of the angels in justice, in that it bears witness to a greater mercy (cf St. Aug. In Jo. Ev. 72,3: PL 35, 1823; CCC, 1994). Of course, the Sacrament of Penance demands conversion and repentance, as a condition for God’s mercy: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn 1:8-9).

In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick the Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord Jesus and exhorts them to be associated with the passion and death of Christ.

Those of the faithful who are consecrated by the Sacrament of Holy Orders are appointed to minister God’s love and mercy to the people of God by word and sacrament.

Christian spouses, by the Sacrament of Matrimony, receive grace to help each other attain to holiness and to educate their children in the fear of God. Thus each of the seven Sacraments is, in its own way, a powerful means of sharing in the work of salvation, in God’s love and mercy, and in the call to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (cf Mt 5:48).

It is now necessary for us to focus our reflection on the liturgical texts of the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday. It was at the ceremony of the Canonization of St Faustina Kowalska on 30 April 2000 that Pope John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would henceforth have the name of “Sunday of the Divine Mercy.”

Theologically, it is significant that this Sunday is the conclusion of the octave of Easter. Thus is shown the strict link between the paschal mystery of the Redemption and the Feast of Divine Mercy. Novena in preparation for Mercy Sunday begins on Good Friday. This is eloquent. We are adoring the merciful God who sent his Son to save us through the Cross. Pope John Paul II did not create new liturgical texts for the Mass of Mercy Sunday. Providentially, the reform of the texts of the 1962 Missal, following on the Second Vatican Council, had already supplied us with prayers and readings that speak of the mystery of God’s mercy.

The Collect for the day prays God whose mercy is eternal, who increases the faith of his holy people in the paschal celebration, to increase the grace he has given them, so that they may better understand by what fount they have been washed, by what spirit they have been reborn and by what blood they have been redeemed. The major concepts are clear: mercy, grace, baptismal cleansing, regeneration and redemption. The First Readings for the 3-year cycle speak of the early Church community where the faithful lived together and owned everything in common, prayed together and were highly esteemed. The Second Readings touch on the following: St Peter telling us that in his great mercy God has given us a new birth as his children by raising Jesus from the dead and St John stressing faith in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God who has risen from the dead and lives for ever.

The Gospel for each of the years A, B and C is the same. It is the great account of Jesus appearing to his Apostles, showing them his pierced hands and side which are signs of his love and mercy, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them the power to forgive sins. The Sacrament of Penance is a powerful and moving act of God’s mercy. The Gospel account continues with our beloved Saviour appearing again a week later when Thomas was present and inviting the doubting Apostle to put his finger and indeed hand into his side, into his wounded heart. That is the heart from which St Faustina saw two rays of light spring on the world and representing blood and water.

Commenting on this in his homily at the Canonization of St Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “Our thought goes to the testimony of the Evangelist St. John that, when a soldier on Calvary pierced with a lance the side of Christ, blood and water came out (cf Jn 19:34). And if blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist, water, in the symbol language of John, recalls not only Baptism, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf Jn 3:5; 4:14; 7:37-39). Through the heart of Christ crucified, divine mercy reaches people” (Homily on 30/4/2000, n. 2, in L’Osserv. Rom., 2-3 May 2000, p. 6). The Pope goes on to say that Jesus is Love and Mercy personified and
that mercy is another name for love, especially the love that bends down to
the needs of the loved one, the love that forgives.

The Prayer over the Offerings begs God to receive our gifts and bring us to eternal life through our confession of his name and through our baptismal renewal. The Postcommunion Prayer is that God may grant that the reception of the paschal sacrament may have permanent effect in us. These reflections can help us to appreciate the riches in the liturgical texts of the Sunday of Divine Mercy.

This Votive Mass is recorded for the first time in the Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition, issued in 2002, on pages 1158-1159. It was approved on September 1, 1994, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, according to the directives of Pope John Paul II,
and sent to Bishops’ Conferences on October 24, 1994. The Decree of approval (Prot. 1769/94/L) notes that in our times the spiritual sensitivity of the Christian people towards the mercy of God and its wonders has increased enormously and worship of the Divine Mercy is today very widespread. No doubt, the Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, issued in 1980 has greatly contributed to this. In this Encyclical Letter the Pope exalts the Divine Mercy with powerful considerations. This Mercy reaches the high point of its manifestation in the paschal mystery of Christ that is now rendered perpetually present in the Church at the Eucharistic Celebration.

The Decree concludes by saying that by the explicit directive of Pope John Paul II, the Roman Missal now includes this specific reference to God’s Mercy. It prays that God may grant that praise and love towards the Divine Mercy may grow daily and produce abundant fruit until we glorify eternally in heaven this Mercy which is eternal (Decree published in Notitiae 30 (1994) pp.

Translations of the 2002 Roman Missal into the local languages around the world are now going on. Here are a few comments on this Votive Mass on God’s Mercy.

The Antiphon to the Introit quotes Jeremiah 31:3 and I John 2:2. God has loved us with and everlasting love. He sent his only-Begotten Son as propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. The alternative Antiphon quotes Psalm 88:2: “I will sing of your
mercies, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations”.

In the Collect, the Church prays God whose mercies are without number, and the treasures of whose goodness are infinite, to graciously increase the faith of the people consecrated to him. This will help people to understand better by what love they have been created, by what blood they have been redeemed and by what Spirit they have been regenerated. Here we notice these beautiful concepts form the Collect of Mercy Sunday. The Readings indicated are I Pet 1:3-9 (By his great mercy we have been born anew) for First Reading, Psalm 117 for Responsorial Psalm, and for Gospel, Mt 20:25-28 (The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many) or Jn 15:9-14 (Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends). It is also indicated that readings can be taken from the Votive Mass of the Most Precious Blood or from that of the Most Sacred Heart.

The Prayer over the Offerings begs God to mercifully accept our offerings and to change them into the sacrament of redemption, memorial of the death and resurrection of his Son, so that by the power of this sacrifice, trusting all the time in Christ, we may arrive at eternal life. The Communion Antiphon sings Psalm 102:17: “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him”. The alternative recalls the Gospel passage reflected in the well-known Divine Mercy image: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34).

The Postcommunion Prayer touches on the dimension of our showing mercy to our neighbour. It prays the merciful God to grant that as we are nourished by the Body and Blood of his Son, we may draw with confidence from the fountains of mercy and show ourselves more and more merciful towards our brothers and sisters. This recalls what Pope John Paul II wrote in 1980: “Christ, in revealing the love-mercy of God, at the same time demanded from people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 3).

Priests will discover riches for meditation and homilies from these texts and further conviction why they should not deprive their people of this Votive Mass.

Let us conclude our reflections with a hint on how the theme of Divine Mercy runs through the Liturgy of the Hours. The major liturgical times of Advent and Lent stress God’s mercy as can be seen from the chosen scriptural texts and the prayers. In Advent, the Prophet Isaiah is often read. He presents us with the promised Saviour who is so gentle and merciful that the prophet says of him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:3). Lent tells us of God who is merciful, who brings his people out of the land of slavery and who walks with them in spite of their repeated falls — a God who loves and forgives.

The Psalms occupy a major place in the Divine Office. They speak abundantly of trust in God who forgives. They make constant appeal to him for deliverance from enemies and for help during persecution. Psalms that sing of the mercies and love of God abound (cf especially Psalms 88, 117, 135). Deserving of special mention is the mercy of God as reflected in the Gospel Canticles of Zechariah and of the Blessed Virgin Mary which the Church sings daily in her morning and evening prayers. In the Benedictus, Zechariah praises God who has visited and redeemed his people to perform the mercy promised to their patriarchs. John the Baptist is to go before the Lord who through the tender mercy of our God will rise like the dawn from on high to visit us. In the Magnificat, the Virgin of Nazareth praises God whose mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. God has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy which he promised to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.

Indeed one could go through the entire Divine Office, intent on discovering the many references in it to the Divine Mercy. And the discoveries will be very enriching.

There is no doubt that the sacred liturgy sings of God’s love which is mercy. May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, obtain for us the grace to sing, love and live the riches of Divine Mercy as reflected in the public worship of the Church.