MOMM's flagship presentation: This film brings the... Read more
Photo: Felix Carroll
They prayerfully pried their way into this place several months ago, like pushing aside a rock to a tomb. Jose clearly didn't want them there. He would hardly look at them. He was dying of cancer.
But his family wanted them there, his wife and their three daughters. They had moved his bed into the living room to make caring for him easier. Bottles of Hydrocodon and Coumadin were placed on a table beside him to numb the pain and help him swallow. A family portrait from earlier days hung above Jose's pillow. He's smiling in the picture. He has a tiny tattoo of a crucifix on his left arm. It was fading by the time these people began showing up last April. It was fading like his faith.
But they kept coming to his door, week after week, to pray for him. Four of them at first. Then six. Then a dozen or more. A whole caravan would pull down Los Vista Drive, outside of Austin, Texas, down a one-lane road lined with sand-blasted mailboxes on crooked posts that disappear into the vanishing point, somewhere out there where the coyotes howl.
These people with their rosaries and homemade food, they'd park their cars every which way on his front yard — frontwards, backwards, knocking into the junipers by his trailer home. He'd be inside, under a blanket, seeing the red and pale rays of the image of The Divine Mercy they placed on the wall in front of him, seeing the flash of red taillights and pale headlights streaking through the curtains.
It was all part of a grand plan. Jose, 57, sees that now. A resurrection was underway — his own — through Christ and through these people, each of whom knows a thing or two about suffering. Each of them, at a dark point in their life, had a rock pushed aside and the light of Christ touch their hearts through similar means — through a neighbor or a parishioner with iron-fastened faith forged by The Divine Mercy.
A Congress Convenes
Faith in action. That's what's going on here in east Texas and throughout North America where the message of The Divine Mercy is touching hearts and changing lives. This is what Pope Benedict XVI called for at the close of the first-ever World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in April 2008, when he gave a "mandate" to the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
This is what planners of the first North American Congress on Mercy also envisioned when they opened the doors to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14-15 for a weekend's worth of presentations and celebration. This is what planners of the Divine Mercy Networking Forum on Nov. 13, sponsored by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, had in mind for the 200-plus Divine Mercy devotees who gathered for workshops and fellowship before the commencement of Congress.
Echoing Pope Benedict's mandate, Mercy Congress President Fr. Matthew Mauriello said, "The mercy, love, and goodness of God excludes no one, and we hope you will bring this message of peace and healing back to your dioceses, parishes, and into your daily lives."
'Hungrier to Learn More'
Among the more than 700 pilgrims who gathered for the Mercy Congress were nine people who had been crowding into Jose's trailer home week after week. They are members of a newly formed Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy prayer cenacle — one of six cenacles from St. Margaret Mary Church in Cedar Park, Texas.
"I felt God wanted us there," says Esperanza Cruz, 59, whose trip to the Congress marked the first time she'd ever traveled in an airplane. "He has plans for us."
Like countless thousands worldwide, the members of the Cedar Park cenacle have been transformed by the revelations in the 1930s of St. Faustina Kowalska that have sparked the modern Divine Mercy movement. Through St. Faustina, Christ calls upon us to trust in Him, receive His mercy, and let that mercy flow through us to others.
"Before the Congress we were inspired to spread Divine Mercy," says Fernando Rodriguez. "But now, after meeting so many other pilgrims from around North America and hearing all the talks, we are even hungrier to learn more, to do more, to be nourished by the Church's sacraments, and help those in need."
"Jesus is not asking us to perform miracles," says Fernando's wife, Hilaria. "He's asking us to do good for others, and that's what we're trying to do, and we see the changes in people's lives."
Knowing What's at Stake
Back home in Cedar Park, three weeks following the Congress, it's clear the members of the cenacle have entered a new, more fervent phase of their ministry They are holding prayer meetings, sharing Congress stories with fellow parishioners, texting each other with prayer requests, and filling their calendars with home visits to the terminally ill, including a mother with cancer and a young woman undergoing spiritual attacks.
They do all this because they know what's at stake. They know souls can be saved. They know if they make small sacrifices for the sake of others, Christ will do the rest. They've seen it.
"We've witnessed conversions, miracles involving pregnancies, health problems, addictions, and depression," says Mary Romero, the cenacle's facilitator. "All of us face so many trials in this world, and we see so many problems, and we have to react with mercy. That's the only way. This is how good things can happen."
Cenacle member Juan Martinez learned this lesson after his wife left him and their two children in 2007.
"I wanted to jump out a window," he says. "I was just overcome with grief and fears. I was lost."
A member of the cenacle invited him to come to a prayer meeting. Then, he tagged along with the group during a home visit to Jose.
"I saw how much other people were suffering, too," Juan said. "I learned through this that God loves us and that He's going to carry us through the difficult times. He gives us peace and directs our attention to the spiritual world, to what's really important. Being a part of this group has been such an amazingly positive experience, and now, following the Mercy Congress, I just want to help others feel loved and cared for, too."
For Ninfa Ledesma, also a cenacle member, the days following the Congress have been filled with opportunities to say "Yes" to God and "Yes" to those in need.
"Friends with sick family members now come to me and give me their names," she says. "I send a text message to everyone to please pray for them. I want to help people. I want to be a missionary of mercy."
"True happiness can only come through God and through serving others," says Miriam Mata, a cenacle member who also attended the Congress.
"All of us feel that way," says Fernando. "We don't look at people the same way anymore. Instead of pulling away from the unhappy things in the world — from people who are sick or suffering or lonely — we are drawn to them. They are no longer strangers we avoid, but friends. They're family. There's a bond."
The Real Miracle
It's Tuesday, Dec. 8. The cenacle members pull up in a cloud of dust in front of Jose's house just after 6 p.m. The clear skies are punctured with the pinpricks of starlight, as if a dark world is being inoculated with the light of mercy.
They still visit Jose every week, but now everything has changed. He smiles now. He sits up in bed. He welcomes them. He prays with them.
The tumor that was on his neck only months ago — once the size of a baseball, from stage-4 tonsillar cancer — is gone now after a regimen of radiation, chemotherapy, and prayer. His doctors call him a miracle. But he's the one who hastens to identify the real miracle — it's that he's returned to his faith, and so has his family.
His wife, Maria, nods and wipes tears from her eyes. She's now a member of the cenacle. This is what happens when faith is put into action.
With a living room full of people, Esperanza leads in the praying of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy in Spanish. Then everyone gathers around Jose and prays over him — for his health, for his family, for his faith. Hugs are exchanged. Arrangements for rides to the doctor are made. Juan disappears for a moment and comes back inside with a big rug he got for Jose to cover a living room floor that had no rug.
Furniture is moved around. Everyone's pitching in.
Jose sits back on the edge of his bed. "I'm so grateful," he says.
He shakes his head in awe at his new friends, these people who put faith to action, who pried their way into his heart.
"Someday soon," he says, "I'm going to give my testimony."
Hilaria's eyes widen.
"How about to our cenacle on a Wednesday night?" she says.
For full coverage of the North American Congress on Mercy and the Divine Mercy Networking Forum, visit mercycongress.org.
To learn more about cenacles in your area or how to start one, visit thedivinemercy.org/eadm.
This article originally appeared in Marian Helper magazine. To receive a free copy of Marian Helper, click here.