Photo: Dan Valenti
All the Planning Comes Together
Br. Esteban Ybarra, MIC, offers a reflection for pilgrims prior to the Chaplet and Mass on Saturday, Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend.
Fr. Ken Dos Santos, MIC, left, National Shrine rector, shares a moment with Br. Estaban Ybarra, MIC, prior to the Chaplet and Mass on Saturday, Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend.
Girls dressed in traditional Polish costumes enjoy the sunshine on Eden Hill on Saturday of Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend.
Even the tulips were praising God in the brilliant sunshine of Eden Hill, Saturday, Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend.
By Dan Valenti (Apr 30, 2011)
The Saturday of Divine Mercy Sunday weekend begins the hive of activity that culminates on Sunday. Saturday is a day that's much more than a mere "dress rehearsal" for Sunday. With the Vigil Mass, it is a day that begins the profound spirituality connected with this feast day of the Universal Church.
It is also a day, like Sunday, of enormous practicality and pragmatism. All the logistics of a year's worth of planning have to come together, put to the test by more than 20,000 pilgrims who will visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass.
A Hive of Activity
Look around on Saturday morning and afternoon. EWTN, the worldwide Catholic media network, is installing cameras and miles of cable. Technicians with headphones roam with purpose and a sense of urgency that only curtain time can induce.
Maintenance workers and volunteers assist the Marian Fathers with countless details: Set up and manning the Adoration tent, confession tent, crowd control, helping disabled pilgrims, taking enrollments and Mass requests, food preparation, cleaning porta-a-johns, first aid, gift shop, information tent, international tent, traffic control. Priests, prelates, religious, choir members, directors, and numerous other dedicated men and women labor to make Saturday and Sunday spiritually rewarding, comfortable, and safe.
The Women of Mater Ecclesiae College: Christ's 'Back Up Singers'
One such group of helpers is on Eden Hill for the weekend both to serve and be on pilgrimage. They are 30 extraordinary women of Mater Ecclesia College, Greenville, R.I. The college is a formation center for consecrated women of Regnum Christi, an apostolic movement within the Catholic Church. Upon graduation with degrees in pastoral ministry, the women work in education, mass media, youth ministry, family counseling, and community service under the direction of Rome.
The women are singing at the liturgies on both days of Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend. For almost all them, it's their first trip to the National Shrine.
A Pilgrimage and an Act of Service
"It's a grace to be here," says Natalia Santos, a native of El Salvador (45 percent of the student body is comprised of international students). "I'm really excited to be in such a holy place. I'm not here only to serve, but for me, it's a pilgrimage."
The Mater Ecclesiae Choir has been rehearsing for a couple months, preparing to sing for the tens of thousands on Eden Hill and, on Divine Mercy Sunday, for a countless audience watching from around the world on EWTN. You might call them Christ's "Back-Up Singers." Ray Charles had the Raylettes. Jesus has Mater Ecclesiae Choir.
'It's a Grace'
Emily Roman, from Cary, N.C., is the choir director.
"It's a grace to be given this opportunity to sing on such a beautiful, holy weekend," Emily says. Speaking of the women of the college, she says, "We all share a love of Christ." Love of Jesus, Emily says, is the essential commonality shared by the diverse student body. She speaks of the consecrated life — where the women take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience — not as one of sacrifice but one of joy. Her joy, she says, "is to give oneself to Christ."
As for the weekend and the choir's performance, Emily calls it "a great opportunity to be Christ's hands and feet and experience His love in service to others."
Choir member Mary DeCoecle of Seattle, Wash., says she learned about Diviner Mercy from her father. She expressed her excitement being on Eden Hill and at the National Shrine. Like Natalia, Mary sees her visit as both service and as a pilgrimage.
Skylar O'Hanlon, Clayton, Del., notes, "I have experienced the mercy of God in my life. I'm overjoyed to have as my responsibility the sharing of His mercy with others. It's just beautiful. I'm just honored for the opportunity to be here.
An Ode to Joy
By 3 p.m., the women of the Mater Ecclesiae College Choir had taken their place on the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine field altar on the south lawn of Eden Hill. Under the beaming direction of Emily Roman, they sang the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and at Holy Mass to follow.
If body language can be trusted, when the women sang, they had a lightness of being that was, in its way, translucent. The light of the Holy Spirit, no doubt. This writer had the thought: "Now this is what singing at the liturgy is all about — joy." We scribbled down a title from Bach: "Jesus, Joy of My Desire."
We 'Have Nothing to Do' — Christ Has Done it All
After the chaplet and prior to Mass, Br. Esteban Ybarra, MIC, gave a moving reflection on the spiritual enormity of Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend. He spoke of "waiting" for "The Great Day of Mercy" that would dawn with the Vigil Mass and continue into its fullness on Sunday.
Brother Esteban noted that we, as pilgrim sinners, "have nothing to do" for our own salvation. Christ, as The Divine Mercy, has died for our sins. He has paid the price. He only wants to offer his love, mercy, and forgiveness to every soul on earth. All we need do is ask, and it shall be given.
Father Ken Dos Santos, MIC, rector of the National Shrine, led pilgrims in praying the Chaplet of The DIvine Mercy. Father Ken also presided at Mass.
As the day ended, workers were still busy with cleanup from the day and with organization for Sunday. A million more details awaited.
Mercy had once again dawned.
Dan Valenti acknowledges the help of Jacqueline Lustig of Mater Ecclesiae College for her help in introducing him to the choir.