Salt of the Earth

By Chris Sparks (Aug 18, 2014)
The third World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) is being held from Aug. 15-19 in Bogota, Colombia, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from around the world. We’ll be sharing insights, images, and news from the Congress as it’s happening, so stay tuned for more, and keep the Congress in prayer!

Salt of the earth. Light in the darkness. Descending into the earth and rising again. Going to a cave in a mountain and hearing God speak there. So many Scriptural images fit today’s proceedings, which took place in the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, located outside of the Bogota city limits. And then, at the end of the day, an unexpected surprise …

View our WACOM: Day Four photo gallery.

10 a.m.
It’s hard to mind an hour’s bus ride to the Salt Cathedral when the crowd of pilgrims sharing the space with you all gladly join in a Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy, led by the Maroneys of Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM), aided by their colleague Jose Gamez, who spoke Spanish for the benefit of the rest of the bus.

I discovered how unexpectedly easy it was to pray a bilingual Rosary and Chaplet. The prayer breaks in the same place in both languages, so as the majority of the bus said, “Por Su dolorosa Pasión,” I knew when they paused I should say, “have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” The same with the Rosary. When we’d finished the Rosary, suddenly the Spanish-speaking ladies on the bus broke out into some Marian songs. Dave and Joan Maroney responded in kind with the Salve Regina. It was beautiful.

And then we arrived at the entrance to the Salt Cathedral, greeted as we got off the bus with the sight of a “train” on wheels, puffing smoke and everything, heading down the mountain road, presumably to pick up a load of tourists.

There was a picturesque statue of a miner mid-labor and rather modern looking art placed in a great square, where the Congressgoers milled about. Some were greeting bishops and taking pictures with cardinals, while others took photos of the surrounding view of the mountains and forests.

There are moments on this trip where I think I’m looking at something straight out of Italy or Spain. Usually that happens with the architecture or the farms we pass, or the countryside on the slopes surrounding the Salt Cathedral. Other times, I feel like I might as well be back in the USA, such as when I went walking through a supermarket and spied the same brands of jam, pasta, and other basic goods that we have in the USA sitting on the shelves amidst products from Colombian companies.

We’re gathering into groups according to the language spoken, indicating where the groups are by waving the flags of appropriate countries. Who knew I’d end up waving a massive American flag in the middle of a square in the mountains of Colombia?

Well, we just walked perhaps the most unique Way of the Cross I’ve ever made. Our English-speaking group took its turn going deep into the mountain, walking a Way of the Cross carved into the very stones of the mine. Every so often a “miner” in an orange jumpsuit and hard hat would walk by. Each station was marked by a great cross of stone and the Roman numeral of the station carved into the wall opposite. Some of the crosses were set in caves or lower down in great caverns, lit with pale blue or purple light, creating a rather surreal effect, especially since it was still rather dark in the tunnels and passages between stations.

The Most Reverend Robert Finn of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, coordinator of the upcoming North American Congress, and Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, led the prayer and meditation at the first station. The Very Rev. Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Mother of Mercy province, led the pilgrims in singing the prayers from the Divine Mercy Chaplet between the first and second station. Then he and Marie Romagnano, RN, founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, led the prayers at the second and third stations. Others took up the task of leading prayer at other stations, including a bishop from Nigeria. Other hymns were sung between stations, including “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” and “Hail, Holy Queen.”

There’s something so powerful about walking the Way of the Cross as you head deeper and deeper into a mountain, going down into darkness, into the cave, just as Christ was buried in a stone tomb and descended into hell.

And then we reached the three great halls which are the Salt Cathedral itself. The entire Congress fit with room to spare in those three halls, and the ceilings had to be at least five stories high.

Father Jan Machniak delivered a message from Cardinal Dziwisz to the Congress (copy to follow!).

Then Cardinal Audrys Backis, Archbishop Emeritus of Vilnius (where St. Faustina once lived) and a great long-time friend and promoter of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, delivered a talk on the message of Divine Mercy for the whole world.

“Come and drink from sources of fresh water, pure water, so that you may have life,” he said.

Cardinal Backis described the spread of the message and devotion of Divine Mercy, detailing the acceptance of the different practices associated with it, as well as the growth and establishment of the congregation Jesus asked St. Faustina to found. “Now this congregation recognized in Poland has extended God’s mercy to many people,” said the Cardinal.

He drew out the essential connection between Marian devotion and the Divine Mercy, saying of the Mother of God, “She guides our steps softly, leading us toward her Son Jesus, merciful Jesus.”

He talked about those who had fallen away from the Church and Mary’s maternal concern for them. “All of them are called by the Mother of Jesus, and she begs them to come back to the merciful mother’s mantle.”

2 p.m.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons, France, was the lead celebrant at the Mass in the Salt Cathedral. He delivered a ringing homily about the persecution of Christians across the world, and described a trip he and other French bishops had made to visit the persecuted Church. He spoke of the faith he had found amongst the persecuted Christians and recalled marveling at the lack of bitterness amongst those he spoke to. They were sad, yes, he said, and desperate, but there was no hatred for their enemies. He emphasized the need to pray for our enemies, no matter how hard that may seem, and to send assistance to our persecuted brethren across the world.

It was the turn of the Filipinos and other members of the Asian delegations to present the gifts, which they did in style, bringing forward offerings of food and Divine Mercy materials to set before the altar, as well as the hosts and wine for the consecration.

4 p.m.
Mary Sandrinhorn, a Catholic lay leader from Thailand, presented her testimony to the saving and transforming power of the Divine Mercy first thing after lunch.

She’d been a Buddhist and a wealthy woman, she said, when she lost control of her business and was arrested due to false charges brought against her of shady dealing. It took her a long time to learn to forgive, but the Lord continued to prompt her until she finally consented, and discovered the healing power of forgiveness. Eventually, she was able to prove her innocence, but lost her husband to divorce and was sustained only by her children and God’s love.

Then she heard a participant in the FESPIC games, a sporting event for the disabled, say on TV, “Nobody wanted to be disabled. However, if we could accept this fact, we could live a normal life.”

That was the turning point for her, a turning point that she believes was sent by God. She accepted what had happened to her and moved on, becoming a baptized Catholic, immersing herself in serving others, starting a new business, and reaching new levels of success as an associate.

“Who would have thought a few years ago that a broken person like me and a troubled family like ours would be healed and blessed like this today?” she asked. “Nowadays, I am having a special kind of fever — Jesus fever.”

“If your heart is full of the Good News and Jesus Christ, it will spill over. You can’t keep it for yourself!”

Then, at the 3 o’clock hour, WACOM general secretary Fr. Patrice Chocholski called up WACOM president Cardinal
Schoenborn to introduce the Hour of Great Mercy. Cardinal Schoenborn, however, said that he thought it best to just leave everyone present in silence for ten minutes or so to be with Jesus.

After that time of prayer, we heard from two priests from the favelas (slums) of Brazil, Fr. João Henrique and Fr. Marcus. Father Henrique is the founder of a religious community which lives and works in the favelas, enduring the dangers and discomforts of living and working alongside the poorest of the poor. He shared several stories of reaching out to drug addicts, the violent, and the desperate, including expanding on Cardinal Tempesta’s talk from the day before about World Youth Day (WYD) 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He spoke of bringing the WYD mission cross to one of the worst slums. As it stood in the public square, several people came running along, knives in hand, intent on killing. When they saw the cross, he said, it was like they suddenly encountered the presence of God. Falling flat on their faces, they allowed the knives to be taken away and, giving up all thought of violence, several asked to be taken into some of the Church’s houses for addicts leaving drugs behind.

He also introduced Fr. Marcus, whom he called the “first priest from the favelas.” Father Marcus shared his testimony of a life of drug addiction, a period of homelessness, and then the life-changing encounter with Fr. Henrique’s community when they treated him as a person with dignity and worth. He eventually, by the grace of God, kicked his addiction and answered a call to the priesthood, though he felt completely unworthy.

At Cardinal Schoenborn’s request, Fr. Marcus gave his first priestly blessing to all the assembled WACOM pilgrims at once.

And there’s the end of the day. Right?

Wrong. When we load back on the buses, we are told that we are not returning to the Colegio Agustiniano Ciudad Salitre, but rather to Compensar. Originally planned as the site for WACOM, the convention center was no longer the location as of a week before the event. No one seems clear on what’s coming next.

But everyone agrees later that it was lovely. Once off the buses, we are ushered into a large square and up into bleachers facing out over it. A series of fountains dance and splash to the sounds of classical music; masks, sombreros, noisemakers, and wine await. Compensar workers distribute candles, and soon, the bleachers are full of laughing, talking pilgrims, dotted with points of light. I never thought I’d see nuns in paper sombreros, let alone bishops and cardinals, but here we are again with the unexpected and the joyful at WACOM in Colombia!

Several priests are invited to say a few words, including Fr. Dante Aguero, MIC, who leads the crowd in a song in Spanish to much applause and laughter.

Then the real light show starts. The water dances, lasers trace a series of images across its face, showing abstract designs, a talking mask, hands scooping up earth or coffee beans, couples dancing in traditional clothing. It’s a time of beauty. Then a surprise: a video of Pope Francis, addressing a crowd in Spanish! He’s speaking of Christian hope in the face of the reality of death. Then more images, and the evening ends in laughter and fellowship.

Tomorrow: the end of WACOM. Check back here and in the other stories throughout the week for further images and links to other content.
Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five