Day Four: We Turn to the Great Mercy Pope

Today, most of the talks and activities turn to the life and spirituality of Pope John Paul II, whose name is nearly synonymous with Divine Mercy. Following testimonies and Holy Mass here in Krakow, we’ll travel to his home town, Wadowice, where there will be an ecumenical prayer on Market Square for the intercession of Blessed John Paul II “for the mercy to the world.”

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5:30 p.m.

Just a half block away from a house at 7 Koscielna Street where the future Vicar of Christ, Blessed John Paul II, was born and raised. Bands are playing, a choir is singing, and hundreds have gather in the town square of Wadowice. Fittingly, it’s an ecumenical prayer ceremony, gathered together Lutherans, Evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox.

“John Paul formed lasting friendships here [in Wadowice] with people from many faiths, people with whom he remained close to throughout his pontificate,” says Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow and former secretary to Blessed John Paul II. Town dignitaries and Church officials are assembled upon a makeshift stage in front of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church where Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope, was baptized, confirmed, served as an altar boy, and prayed in front of its miraculous image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Led by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the gathering prayed for the intercession of Blessed John Paul II. “We pray to our beloved friend to hear our prayer — to pray through the Merciful Lord for mercy upon the world, ” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus has just spoken to the assembly. He announced that The Knights — the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal organization, with more than 1.8 million members — has purchased the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. The large structure is located near the campus of the Catholic University of America and the Marian Scholasticate.

“Our intention is to transform the Center into the Shrine of Blessed John Paul II,” Mr. Anderson said. “I am grateful to the Archbishop of Washington, His Eminence Donald Wuerl, who has recently designated the Center as a Diocesan Shrine, and it is out intention at the earliest practical date to request that the Center be named the National Shrine of the United States devoted to Blessed John Paul II.”

Cardinal Dziwisz then announced that he will be presenting the Knights of Columbus with a first-class relic of the late Holy Father after the conclusion of the Congress tomorrow.

“It is indeed an honor to receive a relic of Blessed John Paul II,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “This relic will be given a place of honor in Blessed John Paul’s shrine in the United States, and will serve as reminder to all of those who visit it of the saintliness of Blessed John Paul.”

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2:55 p.m.
I missed the train this afternoon to Wadowice, Pope John Paul II’s hometown, where the Congress attendees were gathering to pray for the intercession of the Church’s new blessed — for mercy to the whole world. Thanks to a group of merciful Nigerian Divine Mercy apostles, room was made for me on their bus.

We were traveling on a narrow road in the countryside when we came upon a terrible accident. In the middle of the road was a mangled automobile. To the side, by the guard rail, was a mangled motorcycle. A young man, probably on his early 20s, lay facedown in a pool of blood, clearly dead. The sirens sounded as the ambulance arrived. Our bus was directed around the accident. It was now 3 o’clock. We prayed the chaplet for the soul of the young man and any other victims of the accident.

11:15 a.m.
“Santo Subito!” — or “Sainthood now!” — was the slogan of reverence assigned to John Paul II by the faithful beginning the afternoon of his death in 2005. In the hearts of many, John Paul II already is a saint. But for now, the Great Mercy Pope, whose epic and iconic life revealed the true nature and identity of the Catholic Church, can be called “blessed” due to his intercession two months after his death.

It was then that a French nun, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood, was cured from Parkinson’s Disease through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, who himself suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Sister Marie has just finished her talk, titled, “The Healing Touch of Mercy.” Here’s the full text.

10:16 p.m.

Next up is Frederic Buttigier of Colombe, France, who was converted through the Divine Mercy message and the Diary of St. Faustina. His talk is titled, “In the World of Olympic Prizes.” He dedicates his talk to “Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Divine Mercy.” He says that several years ago he first read about St. Faustina and her revelations. He read her Diary, and soon he began practicing the Divine Mercy devotions praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and venerating the image.

“In this Olympic year, when everywhere we will hear Faster, Higher, Stronger, i.e. the motto of the modern Olympic Games,” he says, “St. Faustina embodies these ideas in the divine dimension. As a sportsman who is used to the greatest commitments and self-sacrifices, I am very impressed or even spellbound by Sr. Faustina and her personality. We are not able to achieve the same level, but we can for sure follow her life, which was filled with love and sacrifice for a neighbor, prayers and begging for Divine Mercy for us and the whole world.”

He mentions another Olympic motto that states, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part?

“In my opinion, as Christians, we can understand this motto as a call for being the witnesses of Christ through our deeds, words and prayers.”

Here are some highlights of his talk:

• Thanks to her book, St. Faustina, has guided me to Christ — humble, noble Jesus, who does not condemn but who saves; who is omnipresent, especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist and confession. However, even the Christians do not always see Jesus the way they should.

• Lord is always ready to take us in and save each of us. We venerate the face of Jesus in the image. … And rays coming from the heart of Jesus … my dear God, let the rays coming from Your humble heart touch my heart as well as the hearts of the whole congregation gathered today. I would like to hide in their shadows not only in sacraments but also in everyday life. I would like to be changed by You, my dear God, into the herald of peace so that my language becomes merciful and my feet take me whenever someone needs me …

Frederic shares that he joined the Faustinum Association, which organizes theology courses on the spirituality Divine Mercy. He began a prison ministry, which includes distributing Divine Mercy materials to convicts. He speaks of his experience following his first meeting with convicts:

I went to church and prayed for those men with hardened hearts, who seemed to me the victims of the sinful society rather than people deserving punishment.

He speaks of his life as a competitive athlete and the opportunity it presents to share the Divine Mercy message:

One French competitor wanted to practice with me. He was a real hulk and weighed 150 kg. He agreed to pray with me in front of the Divine Mercy image, and after a few minutes I saw tears in his eyes. Now, every time he meets me, he speaks about Jesus. Jesus brought him great faith back. At church, people saw me praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy; then they started to do the same every day.

He concludes his talk with a call to “every Christian from the whole world to establish the feast of the Divine Mercy in the place where they live.” He says, “Let us take the words of our beloved Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II, “Do not be afraid to open the door to Christ!”

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9:44 a.m.

The conference and testimonies have just begun. Cardinal Schonborn notes that this day, Oct. 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.

“But the blessing of this day [for us] is Blessed John Pail II, and his witness to Divine Mercy is the sustenance for our day.

Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, Poland, takes the lectern before a standing-room-only basilica. He says it’s impossible to speak of Divine Mercy without speaking of John Paul II.

“He clearly taught us that in the economy of salvation a sin cannot be perceived as a condition of mercy but it should always be treated as an act of objection to the mystery of Redemption finally finding victory in Christ,” the Cardinal said.

Here are some highlights of his talk:

• According to John Paul II, Christ reveals the real nature of God’s mercy through His acts, and this mercy requires reciprocity and moves people’s hearts without depriving them of their freedom.

• The Second Vatican Council emphasized strongly and repeatedly that there is a specific strict connection between the words of revealing God and His acts. Words explain the sense of acts and signs, while acts — on the other hand — illustrate and confirm the truthfulness of the previously expressed words.

• Following John Paul II’s train of thoughts … Jesus Christ performs — in Himself and through Himself — the most absolute revelation of mercy — that is love, which is more powerful than sin and evil, love which lifts man up when he falls into the abyss and frees him from the greatest threats.

• John Paul II emphasizes the role of Christ’s conduct and deeds in revealing the mystery of His Father’s mercy to people.

• It is impossible to know yourself if you show no consideration towards God and exclude Him from the horizons of the life. You cannot know God if you do not know yourself.

• God desires salvation for all people, so the mission of the Church is universal. The Divine Mercy is present in the Church and it may become, in the perspective of the overall Christian and human dialogue, a special meeting place for different religions and philosophical systems. Many religions accentuate the existence of the Divine Mercy, drawing special attention to the role of mercy in human life. A proper insight into the content of different religions might indicate the basic element which connects all religions. Countless works refer to the attitude of ecumenism and hold promise for the future as they indicate the possibility of gaining the natural knowledge of God who manifests himself through mercy. As the universal sacrament of salvation, the Church is given the task of portraying God as being rich in mercy and consequently renewing everything in Christ.

7 a.m.
Yesterday afternoon, we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, taking two old trains on an hour-and-a-half journey into the depths of horror. As we wandered through the gates and along the rusted barbed wire and the endless barracks and the fearsomely straight, one-way railroad line that cuts through the center of it all and stops dead at the gas chambers where more than a million people were murdered and their teeth removed for their gold fillings, their hair cut to the scalp for bodily insulation, their bodies desecrated by so-called doctors, the remains burnt; and as we looked at the old photos taken by the SS troops of the families they separated and the faces of the children who wear caps and knickers, and of the mothers clutching tightly to infants, I thought, “How in the world will I explain this to my wife when I get home?”

There were something like 1,500 of us there from the Mercy Congress. We comprised a procession of plaintive prayer/song. We were led through the camp by a group of Cardinals, including Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, and Christoph Schönborn of Austria, president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.

We gathered at what’s called a “monument,” between the ruins of two gas chambers and crematoriums that the Nazis numbered with cold efficiency — building II and building III. We came to a halt there. But it’s not really a monument. It’s more of an area created to accommodate groups like ours with speakers who have prepared to stop, formally, and sort out all this terror and evil, if such a thing is possible (and I don’t think that it is). I imagine John Paul II, the great apostle of The Divine Mercy, came closest when, during a visit there in 1979, he called Auschwitz “the Golgatha of our time.”

While the ceremony got started, I wandered out of range to walk among the barracks and the ruins. I wondered where that undergound bunker was where that beautiful saint, Maximilian Kolbe — prisoner #16670 — died of starvation. You probably know the story: When he heard a condemned man cry out, “My wife! My children!” St. Maximilian volunteered to die in his place. Among the other condemned men kept in this bunker, Maximilian led in song and prayer, and gave witness, telling them that they would soon be with Mary in Heaven.

That bunker was somewhere out on those plains of low and long barracks that resemble chicken shacks, somewhere within firing range of one of those dreadful wooden guard towers. I could hear singers singing Ave Maria in Polish, pronouncing the lyrics in hard right angles. … Anyway, too many thoughts to gather during a Congress whose pace leaves no time for stopping. I figured it was time to pay attention to the talks at that monument and write some notes, which I did. It can be summed up thusly: In the end, our home rests in God, and goodness and mercy triumph over evil. The camp officials that oversee Auschwitz have seen to it that steel beams be installed to prop up sections of walls of the gas chambers. Why not let these buildings be overtaken by nature? Because evil doesn’t get off that easy. It’s there for all to see. At the end of the ceremony, the choir sang in Latin — it sounded like they were chiseling an inscription of beauty for the ages. When the singing finally stopped and everything fell to silence, an infant started wailing — a wail that cut through the air, the only reasonable inscription for the moment. I thought, “Maybe the choir wasted its breath.” That child’s cry was the days’ greatest moment of eloquence.