Basking in the Son's Rays at Tampa Conference
By Chris Sparks (Feb 20, 2016)
"Strap on your seatbelts," said award-winning singer Annie Karto — there are some powerful graces coming today.
Annie opened the 2016 Tampa Divine Mercy Conference, organized by the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) on Saturday, Feb. 20, at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. She was but the first of an all-star lineup of Marian priests and Marian Helpers, offering some of the finest formation in the Divine Mercy message and devotion available anywhere during the Jubilee Year of Mercy to upwards of 560 people.
"Divine Mercy is really the fastest growing movement in the history of the Church," said Dr. Bryan Thatcher, EADM's founder and director. "It's been 20 years since our first Tampa Divine Mercy Conference. I'm very encouraged to have this conference in the extraordinary Jubilee Year."
The internationally known author and speaker Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, recounted his extraordinary conversion story in the morning, telling the crowd how the Mother of Mercy and Jesus, the Divine Mercy, had brought about his remarkable transformation from youthful criminal and drug addict to radically committed convert to the Catholic faith.
"People look at me and assume I was normal," he said to the crowd, then brought out a picture of himself when he was furthest from God — long-haired, shadows lingering around his eyes, a dramatically different sight from the clean-cut Marian priest standing before them at the podium. He shared with them his witness to hope and message of mercy, a testimony especially beloved by the parents of children who struggle with drug addiction, the loss of their faith, or criminal behavior.
Father Don was followed by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, who fervently explained why we need Divine Mercy so badly.
"This message is not optional," he said. "Devotion to Divine Mercy is devotion to Jesus, the Divine Mercy. A devotion to God is not optional." He gave a survey of the three greatest acts of Divine Mercy — creation, salvation, and sanctification — and talked about the ABCs of mercy.
"Adam and Eve's problem wasn't so much that they sinned as that they didn't know their ABCs!" he said. "We have to ask for God's mercy. We have to be merciful to each other. We have to completely trust."
Consistently, the Marian Fathers emphasized again and again: There is mercy available for all of us, even the worst of sinners, especially the worst of sinners. And that mercy comes to us through Mary, the Mother of Mercy.
Father Dante Aguero, MIC, superior of the Marians in Argentina, shared his testimony of how the Blessed Virgin Mary had given him tremendous grace in the midst of a crisis in his vocation. In a dream, he encountered her and was blessed with a tremendous sense of how deeply and thoroughly he is loved, both by God and by her.
"It never abandons me, the certainty that the Virgin loves me," he said. "I learned many things in seminary, but the most important thing was this gift from Mary.
"In the Year of Mercy, we should go to Mary," said Fr. Dante. "She had mercy in her womb. We need to pray to Mary for everybody. Here I am, not because I am superman or a saint — I am not — but because Mary showed me the path of mercy."
And conference participants walked that path of mercy actively throughout the day. According to Dr. Thatcher, 90 percent of the proceeds from the conference would go to support the Marian Fathers in Argentina, with the other 10 percent going to local charities in Florida. A Eucharistic Adoration chapel was open throughout the conference, allowing the conference participants to spend time before Jesus, the Divine Mercy, present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist. Marian priests were available for Confession during the lunch hour, and Dr. Thatcher brought out a first-class relic of St. Faustina for veneration by the conference goers. At 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, the whole conference received Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, then took the time to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, imploring God's mercy "on us, and on the whole world."
One of the conference volunteers, Debby Connelly from St. Stephen Parish in Valrico, Florida, said of the crowd, "Everybody has a story of Divine Mercy." She explained that she found her EADM cenacle an especially blessed experience in part because everyone shared their stories of the graces received and the miracles achieved through living the message and devotion of Divine Mercy.
And those miracles are achieved by trust, as Fr. Don explained in a very well-received talk in the afternoon. "We're all broken. We're all going to make a mess of things every now and again," he told the conference, since we're all dealing with the consequences of original sin. So we shouldn't start to doubt Christ and His Church when we see sinners inside of it, "since sometimes, those sinners will be us!"
The Church is like Noah's ark, Fr. Calloway continued, the vessel of salvation in the stormy waters of the world — "and it was full of animals! Did it smell good? No. But if you jump out of the boat, you're going to drown!"
We need to look to Our Lady, the woman who stood and trusted at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, even as everything seemed lost, even as everything fell apart. We need to trust in Jesus, the Divine Mercy, in imitation of Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy, and stand with Him and the Church, whether that be on Calvary, in the Upper Room with the apostles, or on the road performing works of mercy and proclaiming the Good News to the world.
The participants signaled: message received.
"Both the main speakers [Fr. Don and Fr. Chris], and certainly Fr. Dante from Argentina, they were just all excellent," said Kathy from All Souls Parish in Sanford, Florida. "The catechesis that Fr. Chris gave, the actual teachings were very meaningful to me. I have to tell you, when Dr. Thatcher said those few words on being present, and how we needed to be present to the sick, present to the dying, meaning essentially show up, that to me is the actual active heart of the message, that presence. … That was very powerful."
Diane Kardash from St. Stephen's in Valrico, Florida, summed it all up nicely.
"One of our Lord's greatest attributes is his mercy, and the more we learn about His mercy, the closer we can get to Him, the more we learn about love. You can't love if you don't know mercy. It just comes together and being the Year of Mercy, I think this conference is very important."
Diane was both present at the conference to attend and to serve as the volunteer in charge of the Adoration Chapel. A member of EADM since the mid-90s, Diane said, "Eucharistic Apostles are a wonderful group. If you can get into a cenacle and learn more about Sr. Faustina and about the mercy of God, do it. There are so many blessings in it."
To learn more about EADM, visit their page on our website.