More than 19,000 pilgrims came to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., with buses registered from 13 states and two Canadian provinces, to celebrate the liturgy on a brisk Divine Mercy Sunday. Holy Mass was broadcast around the world on EWTN.
This year, Divine Mercy Sunday was filled with a special significance, said Shrine Rector Fr. Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, as the universal Church, with Pope Francis, celebrated the dual canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
“This Divine Mercy Sunday fell within the Golden Jubilee of the Second Vatican Council,” noted Fr. Ken, “and this Council was central to the pontificates of both of these Saints — from Pope John XXIII’s convocation of the Council to Pope John Paul II’s long focus on implementing it within the life of the Church.”
Both popes were great models and advocates of Divine Mercy, as was discussed at the Divine Mercy Weekend Conference on Saturday, April 26. John XXIII intended Vatican II to serve as a means of offering the “medicine of mercy” to our times, and John Paul II certainly filled the prescription with his magisterial teaching on mercy, as well as his canonization of St. Faustina and institution of Divine Mercy Sunday as a universal feast of the Church in 2000.
Their work of promoting mercy was the result of an astute reading of a very real problem that faces modern man, said Msgr. James Lisante, main celebrant and homilist at the Divine Mercy Sunday liturgy.
“Our human problem, oddly enough, is not recognizing that we sin,” said Msgr. Lisante. “It’s coming to terms with the beauty of the sacrament [of Confession].
“Because we judge by our limited and sinful measure, we can’t believe in that Mercy, in that unconditional love, in that Divine willingness to totally forgive our sinfulness,” said Msgr. Lisante, pastor of Our Lady Of Lourdes Church in Massapequa, N.Y. “But St. Faustina tells us, without doubt, about a God who does completely forgive, who loves beyond measure, who is the very soul of compassion. Our job, this Divine Mercy Sunday and always, is to accept and embrace His Mercy with praise and thanksgiving.”
And pilgrims certainly did accept that mercy, with glad hearts and staunch fortitude through showers and a cold breeze blowing across the huge crowds on Eden Hill.
“I think what really draws you here is that here we are celebrating, not only Divine Mercy Sunday, but also the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II,” said Carl Weeden from Holy Apostles Parish in Cranston, R.I. “When you look at the lives of both of them, one would have to say that both of them were genuine conduits of God’s love here on earth. Both of them made each and every individual feel the love from God. There could be a thousand people out there, but each one of them had their own personal connection with either one of [the Pope-Saints] and that definitely is a grace from God. You’ll find what draws people here is God’s love.”
A first class relic of St. John Paul II stood beneath flags bearing his coat of arms and the papal colors, off to one side of the outdoor shrine throughout the Divine Mercy Sunday liturgy. After his homily, Msgr. Lisante blessed the crowds with the relic.
“May the blessing of the mercy of God pour out upon each one of us through the intercession of St. John XXIII … and St. John Paul the Great,” the monsignor prayed. “Through their heavenly intercession, may the Father of mercies give us wisdom, hope, and great love for our Church. May their heavenly light shine upon us as we join them and all the saints in singing to the mercy of the Lord forever.”
In the morning before the televised Mass, several talks were offered, bookended by times of praise and worship. Deacon Chris Alar, MIC, served as emcee and offered a short version of his Divine Mercy: 101 presentation (see a clip here), explaining to the pilgrims the essentials of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
Mark Middendorf, cofounder and president of Lighthouse Catholic Media, discussed “Divine Mercy in Action,” focusing on two of the works of mercy: feeding the hungry and instructing the ignorant. He explained that these two works of mercy challenge Catholics to evangelize and share their faith in order to alleviate the spiritual hunger and ignorance of the present age. Middendorf developed his talk around a favorite quote from St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio:
I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission [to the nations]. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.
“That’s a huge statement from St. Pope John Paul II,” said Mr. Middendorf, “and I would like to encourage everyone here today to make a commitment to give someone you meet today — it could be at a gas station, it could be your waiter or waitress at the restaurant you go to — a book, a CD, something that God can use through His mercy to transform their lives.”
Michelle Faehnle, blogger, co-director of the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, and mother of three, talked about “Divine Mercy in the Heart of Jesus,” especially when it comes to trusting in God’s mercy as we experience trials. She told the story of her eight-year-old son’s struggles with a sudden attack of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which left him temporarily paralyzed and required him to relearn how to do everything.
“I finally understood that [saying from] Scripture: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’ (Jn 14:27),” said Mrs. Faehnle. “I understood … that even though you are amidst turmoil, you can feel Christ’s presence and His peace. During that experience, I learned so much about mercy because I was the recipient of it.”
The day abounded with opportunities for pilgrims to allow the rays of Divine Mercy into their lives and the lives of their loved ones. As Jesus told St. Faustina,
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. (Diary, 699)
Confession and Eucharistic adoration were available throughout the day, though if pilgrims had gone to Confession earlier in the week and were still in the state of grace, they could still receive all the graces of Divine Mercy Sunday without going to Confession again on the feast itself. Opportunities for intercession and meditation abounded at the various candle shrines, the Stations of the Cross, and other places of prayer around Eden Hill. Pilgrims had the opportunity to enroll their loved ones in the Association of Marian Helpers, a spiritual benefit society. They could also request Masses to be said or candles lit for their intentions.
Knights of Columbus from a variety of Councils in several states served as ushers, assisting pilgrims to see the Shrine and safely make their devotions, alongside more than 600 volunteers and staffers, all putting forth a tremendous effort to provide the pilgrims with a safe, spiritually fulfilling experience. And the pilgrims agreed: it was all worth it.
“A beautiful experience,” said Fr. Marcel Vogel, pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Fort Shaw and Sacred Heart Church in Cascade, Mont. “I have two friends, Bill and Margie R., and they invited me here. I’m very fortunate and lucky and blessed to be here with them. They’ve provided the trip, and here I am, and may blessings flow.”