The 700-plus pilgrims that took part in Church history on Nov. 14-15 in Washington, D.C., came from both proximate and distant parts of the three nations comprising North America. Pilgrims from the nation's capital only had to ride the Metro train to attend the North American congress on Mercy (NACOM). Others had a longer journey.
For example, consider the group of 15 who trekked 1,515.78 miles from Cedar Park, Tex., in just under 24 hours: 23 hours and 50 minutes, to be exact (figures from Mapquest). It was no easy task, especially since the nascent Divine Mercy devotion at St. Margaret Mary Church there is still in its infancy stage.
"We are learning about Divine Mercy, like little babies," said Hilaria Rodriguez, one of the 15 pilgrims who traveled by bus to attend NACOM. She said that her parish responded to the call when they decided, on their own initiative, to form a Hispanic ministry focused on the mercy of God.
"We first learned about Divine Mercy about a year ago," said Marianna Vega. "It was in English, but we started translating the message into Spanish. At first, there were only eight of us. Now, we have grown to 12.
Fernando Rodriguez, Hilaria's husband, said the group has been performing outreach in the Cedar Park community, "not just in our parish but through the area."
Their primary ministry has been to visit terminally ill people, to help in whatever way they can, with meals, running errands, and prayer. "We take this message outside of the walls of the church," Fernando said. "We don't stay in church, because that's not where we find the sick. It has been both difficult, with many obstacles, but also easy, in the sense that God has provided for us each step of the way."
"We visit the sick, we pray with them, we teach them, and sometimes, we simply make ourselves present," said Ninfa Ledezma Flores. "Sometimes, you know, you don't need words. I think that holding someone's hand who is very sick can be more powerful than words. We try to see Jesus in everyone."
Fernando said that the Divine Mercy group ministers to anyone, with no distinctions made, including religious: "They may have faith or have no faith. If they want us, we are there."
He said the group, each wearing the special "mercy shirts" they had custom made for their journey, decided to attend NACOM because "we have so much to learn. We are finding out so much, here, from the speakers and the witnesses, from fellow pilgrims, and from the literature we have collected. We aim to take this back to our parish and enter into the next phase of our mission. What that might be, we don't know. But as has been said by many of the speakers today, that is fine. We don't have to know. God knows. I think that's what it means to trust."
For a group of self-described "babies" in living a life of mercy through action, these 15 pilgrims from Cedar Park, Tex., demonstrate a grasp of God's mercy that would put many theologians to shame.
Out of mouths of babes, it is said.