On Divine Mercy Sunday, the snow fell.
And still the pilgrims came.
The winds blew.
And still they came.
The ground grew muddy.
And still they came.
On April 3, nothing could stop thousands of pilgrims, representing every ethnicity, from descending upon the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, answering the invitation of the Lord to celebrate His infinite mercy and receive extraordinary graces. “We come to worship the Lord, even in the cold,” said the Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield and lead celebrant of the solemn liturgy marking the octave day of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Hosted by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the annual celebration has been televised on EWTN since 1989, part of a long-standing collaboration between the Marian Fathers and EWTN inaugurated by the late Mother Angelica herself, foundress of the largest Catholic media organization in the world.
“As we pray for Mother Angelica’s soul today,” said Bishop Rozanski, “we thank her for her devotion and her work to spread this message of Divine Mercy. She, too, was a great apostle of Divine Mercy and her love for this devotion lives on in this broadcast of the Mass from here at Eden Hill.”
But even with that lengthy collaboration, still this Divine Mercy Sunday was unique.
“Conditions are unlike anything we’ve ever faced here on Eden Hill,” said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, vicar general of the Marian Fathers. “We’re trying to do this [EWTN broadcast] in the middle of a snowstorm. We have to admire the generosity of the pilgrims who have come, sitting out in the cold. But we have to remember that the Lord is never outdone In generosity.”
The 2016 Divine Mercy Sunday is also the first time Divine Mercy Sunday is being celebrated as a universal feast day by the whole Catholic Church in a Jubilee Year. Indeed, as Pope Francis said in his Regina Caeli address today, this day is “like the heart of the Holy Year of Mercy.”
“How appropriate,” said Bishop Rozanski in his homily, “that we come in such great numbers to this National Shrine of Divine Mercy during this extraordinary Jubilee Year declared by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who urges us to dwell on the theme, ‘Merciful Like the Father.’ In a world that is so torn by violence, division and the horrible effects of humanity’s sinful nature, this Jubilee Year is an oasis of hope and of comfort to all those who seek the peace that is rooted solely in the mercy of our loving God.”
View and read his full homily.
The Mass followed by several hours the one presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. “We are all called to become living writers of the Gospel, heralds of the Good News to all men and women today,” the Pope told the crowds during his homily. “We do this by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are the hallmarks of the Christian life.
“By means of these simple yet powerful gestures, even when unseen, we can accompany the needy, bringing God’s tenderness and consolation.”
This papal call followed last night’s papal challenge, issued at a Divine Mercy prayer vigil on the 11th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s death, to the Catholic dioceses across the world: Create an institution in each diocese, whether it be an orphanage, a hospital, or what have you, in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy to continue to perform one of the works of mercy even beyond the end of the year itself.
By answering this challenge, the Church in a sense will consecrate herself to Divine Mercy. Another such consecration occurred as part of the Eden Hill celebration, when pilgrims on the Hill and those watching EWTN were led in the consecration to the Divine Mercy by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, director of the Marians’ Evangelization Office. Author of the best-selling 33 Days to Morning Glory, a preparation for total consecration to Jesus through Mary, Fr. Mike followed up that earlier success with 33 Days to Merciful Love, a preparation for consecration to the Divine Mercy. In the first two weeks after its publication, the Marian Helpers Center distributed upwards of 50,000 copies of the book. Clearly, said Fr. Mike, the faithful are fully aware of how badly the world needs God’s mercy.
“The Consecration to Divine Mercy we’re going to pray is inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux,” explained Fr. Mike. “The height of her Little Way was her consecration to Divine Mercy. Therese looked into the Heart of Jesus and saw that its deepest wound was that He wants to pour out merciful love on sinners, but so many of them don’t want to receive it. Therese told Jesus, ‘Lord, I want all that rejected mercy.'”
This openness to rejected mercy isn’t selfish, said Fr. Mike, because when we receive the mercy of God, we become more merciful ourselves and will share that mercy with the rest of the world.
If you’d like to make the consecration, the next recommended date to start the preparation is April 12, and the date of consecration would be May 15, Pentecost Sunday.
In other good news, the Marian Fathers were also anticipating a uniquely joyous event for their congregation in this extraordinary Jubilee: the canonization of Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski, Founder of the Marian Fathers, which will take place on June 5 in Rome. “We Marians have been waiting more than 300 years for this, and here it is finally happening in the Jubilee Year of Mercy,” said Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine.
He shared with the pilgrims the beatification miracle for Father Founder: the “restoration to life” of a child in the womb. He also told a number of stories of formerly infertile women conceiving children after asking for the powerful intercession of Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski and Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Of two different secretaries for the Marian Fathers in their Scholasticate in Washington, D.C., Fr. Anthony said, “She had so many children, she had no time to work for us!”
Pilgrims had the opportunity to hear two testimonies to the amazing mercy and powerful grace of God in the time before the Mass.
Zach Howick, a seminarian for the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, shared his story of growing up in an anti-Catholic family and being called by a special grace from God to pray the Rosary when he was very young. Born with a heart defect that led to him enduring 18 mini strokes while still an infant, he yet grew up a normal child. At age seven, he woke up in the middle of the night, went to the telephone, picked it up, and heard his aunt, a Catholic, on the other end of the line. He asked her for a Rosary. From then on, he prayed it every night to avoid detection by his parents. Over the years, he discovered EWTN one night at the end of his Rosary when the TV in his room spontaneously turned on to one of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s programs; began making Holy Hours after his family moved to a new home one block away from a Catholic Church; and was introduced to writers such as Dr. Scott Hahn by the local parish priest.
In 10th grade, he and a friend went to the local cathedral to make a Holy Hour. After finding nothing of interest on the bookshelves in the adoration chapel, Howick was reaching for his rosary when a book hit him on the head. He picked it up — the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. He read it for an hour, then asked his friend if he knew of it. The friend said he did and gave Zach a copy, which has been one of the staples of Howick’s spiritual reading ever since. Zach entered the Church when he was 18, and the seminary, shortly thereafter.
Zach’s testimony was only one of the many graces events taking place on Eden Hill. Confession and Adoration were available throughout the day, allowing pilgrims an opportunity to entreat God’s mercy on themselves and on the whole world.
Music was provided by acclaimed singer/songwriter Anna Nuzzo, who has recently collaborated with Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, on a sung version of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Other musicians sharing their talents included award-winning pianist Jessica Roemischer, the blind musician Tanny Labshere, and the Divine Mercy Choir of JJM Garvey. The Knights of Columbus served in various capacities, and took part in the procession at the Mass. After the Mass, Bishop Rozanski led the assembled pilgrims in the Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, then gave Benediction.
The world came to Eden Hill looking for the extraordinary graces God offers on the Feast of Mercy, and by God’s generosity, the pilgrims found them.
“This is the third time I’ve been here Divine Mercy Sunday, but especially during this year, during the Jubilee Year, it’s really, really special,” said Anne Denninger from St. Mark’s Parish in Rochester, New York. “This is such a special, special place, and Divine Mercy is just such a special devotion. Pray to the Divine Mercy no matter what; just keep praying!”