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A Family of Mercy
This article first appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Marian Helper magazine. Sign up for a free issue of Marian Helper.
By Dan Valenti
One day a couple months ago, Debbie Porfiri was praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy while feeding her 13-month-old son, Rocco. She noticed something unusual: "Every time I said the word 'mercy,' Rocco took his hand and struck his shoulder."
Rocco is now 16 months old. Each day, Debbie tries to pray the Angelus and the chaplet. In the evening, she, husband Bruno, and their six children (including Rocco) pray a family Rosary.
"I think babies have their own spirituality," Debbie says. "The last thing we do as a family in the evening is pray the Rosary together. When we do, Rocco tries to imitate our prayers in his own little way. He hears the beautiful rhythm, and he makes this distinctive sound, one that he doesn't make for anything else. He's so pure and innocent, and he teaches me much about prayer."
These nightly lessons occur at the home of the Porfiris in Huntingtown, Md., where you can find them living a life based on receiving God's mercy and sharing it with others.
Bruno and Debbie have been Marian Helpers for years. They homeschool their children. Bruno, 42, a car mechanic, met the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception when he lived in Brookeville, Md., where the Marians had a novitiate house. Bruno attended Sunday Mass in the Marians' chapel. Seventeen years ago, Debbie attended Mass there. Shortly after, they had their first date, and as Debbie says, "We both immediately knew that we were meant to be married."
The Marian chapel in Brookville has a magnificent image of The Divine Mercy, and that spurred Debbie's interest.
"I had never heard of Divine Mercy, the chaplet, or St. Faustina before I met Bruno and the Marians," Debbie says. "I was absolutely enthralled with the story and have since shared it with many souls."
Bruno, who was in his late teens when he met the Marians and learned about Divine Mercy, says he was "really into worldly things, but I knew the importance of my faith. When I became fully aware of the Feast of Divine Mercy and the truth that all my sins throughout my entire life could be forgiven on that day, I thought, 'I'm in the clear!' Since then, my faith has matured. I now understand the importance of the promise our Lord gave to us and the world. I owe all this to the Marian Fathers."
The children have learned not just about Divine Mercy but the importance of sharing it with others.
Nina, 13, says, "We recently experienced God's mercy when He rescued us from our housing crisis." She says in August, her parents sold the family house to move into a dwelling with more room for the growing family. "We were supposed to move into our new house the same night. That's when the trouble with the bank started. We had been asking St. Joseph to intercede for three years for this house, but the bank was giving my mom and dad a hard time. While we waited for settlement, we prayed. Dear friends with a large family of their own generously opened their home to us for the three weeks it took to handle the bank situation."
Nina says that for those three weeks, the family prayed a nightly Rosary "for our housing needs, and Mom prayed the chaplet, begging our Lord to solve the problems that were beyond our ability. We almost lost the house. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to our family. God intervened, though, and we will always remember His mercy."
Mercy on the Road and at Work
The Porfiris evangelize by showing mercy to others. How?
"I do this by doing good, even when I don't want to," says Isabella, 8. "I forgive people right away when I am upset, and I share my toys even if my brothers and sisters forget to ask permission first."
One pragmatic avenue for Bruno to show God's mercy is on the road: "Not extending mercy and charity to one another is one of the main problems in the world. You can't drive down a road these days without seeing someone get cut off and then see the ensuing lack of mercy," he says. "As for me, I used to be like some of those drivers I see on the road. It took a long time and discipline to develop the habit of showing mercy toward my fellow drivers. This simple practice, in turn, helps me treat family, friends, and coworkers with more mercy."
Bruno says he keeps images of The Divine Mercy and Our Lady at his mechanic's workstation and "never hesitates to answer a question [about the images] by anyone." He has worked as a car mechanic for 22 years. In that time, he says, "I have matured immensely as a person and also as a Catholic. My faith has enabled me to perform many outward acts of mercy at work."
He recalls the time, for example, when a customer accused him of not doing the requested work: "I stayed calm, even though I was falsely accused. It was tempting to get right back in the customer's face to defend my integrity, but doing so would have been just as unmerciful."
Praying for Mercy, Feeding the Hungry
Debbie says she prays many chaplets for people in need of prayer, "and in doing so I hope to spread interest in The Divine Mercy devotion. It is such a powerful prayer, and I'm trying to form the habit of praying it daily." She also hands out pamphlets produced by the Marian Fathers, particularly the ones that detail the message and devotion.
"I try to send Mass cards and spiritual enrollments from the Marians and include Divine Mercy prayercards with the famous image of our Lord with the message, 'Jesus, I trust in You.'" Debbie says she has found herself in social settings explaining the image and the message.
"Since we homeschool, my children are usually with me when we run errands, and as our family has grown, so have the glares from people who are obviously surprised to see 'so many' happy, well-mannered children," Debbie says. "I have found the best response when people are counting our children, rolling their eyes, and making comments is to remain patient, smile, and pray for the person."
Another way she shows mercy is when the family travels: "We always pack extra food and water should we encounter someone who is hungry or thirsty. One time, we were stuck in terrible traffic on a vacation. It so happened that there was a homeless man near our minivan, so we were able to provide him with lunch. The children still remember that."
A 'Super' Action by the Children
Last year, just before the Super Bowl, the Porfiris learned about how a player on the Green Bay Packers, one of the teams playing in the big game, pledged to make a donation to the Marian Fathers' mission in Rwanda, Africa.
"That got us to thinking," Debbie says, "that we, too, should make a contribution to that mission. We didn't just want to write a check, though. We taught our children to pray for the poor Rwandan children while they performed their chores: vacuuming sofas, polishing shoes, cleaning out the van, mopping floors, and the like.
"In the end, five of our six children — all except baby Rocco — worked through their 'chore chart' and earned $250, which we sent to the Rwandan mission. The children were thrilled to be able to help others while filling up their heavenly treasure box with so many acts of charity."
In Lent, the family attends more weekday Masses and Holy Hours, they read the lives of the saints together, and pray the chaplet on Friday as a family in honor of our Lord's Passion. She and Bruno also encourage the children to pray the chaplet on their own, daily throughout Lent. She says the children will again perform chores to earn money for the poor.
As you can see, Bruno and Debbie Porfiri are passing on the precious knowledge of Divine Mercy to their children, who show a remarkably mature appreciation.
Antonio, 11, says it is "very important to show mercy. It feels good when the Lord shows mercy to me in confession, so I show mercy to others. This devotion helped us get our new house. We just had to trust Him."
Bruno gives special credit to Debbie: "My wife has done a great job in getting our children to participate in the 3 o'clock devotion to The Divine Mercy, especially during Lent. Two of our children are mature enough to understand the message, and within a few years, should be old enough to read St. Faustina's Diary to understand the whole story."
Bruno says that with such a busy household, "including six children all with different personalities, it is not hard to find opportunities to show mercy. Around here, we see mercy flowing daily. At least, that is what my wife and I pray for. We want our family to be apostles of mercy."