The Book That Sparked the Divine Mercy Movement... Read more
Photo: Deacon Jim McCormack, MIC
By David Came (Apr 2, 2010)
Have you fought the good fight lately with the "armor of light" — the "armor of God's merciful love"?
As an estimated 1,100 people gathered for the 5th Annual Divine Mercy Conference in the Bronx, N.Y., on Saturday, March 27, Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD — emcee for the event and director of the Marian Fathers' John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy — invited them "to throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light."
The passage from St. Paul set the stage for the conference theme "Divine Mercy: The Future Is Now":
It is the hour now for you to wake from your sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light (Rom 13: 11-12).
But Dr. Stackpole didn't stop there, he extended the imagery of St. Paul from Romans to describe fighting the good fight for God's merciful love:
I suggest to you that armor to which St. Paul refers that the Lord wants us to put on is the armor of His merciful love, the armor He fashioned in a wearable form through The Divine Mercy message and devotion that He gave to the world through St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. And if that's true, then to play with my metaphor a bit, the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., are the places we go to put on that armor of God's merciful love.
To play with the metaphor a bit more, that means that the knights on that hill are the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. And to extend that metaphor even further, that means that the commander-in-chief of those knights on Eden Hill is Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, provincial superior of the Marians based in Stockbridge.
So, where was the armor of God's merciful love in evidence? At the all-day conference in the Bronx.
The conference, held at Cardinal Spellman High School, was co-sponsored by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and the Divine Mercy Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn. With the conference selling out several days before the event, organizers had to accommodate an overflow crowd of more than 50 persons through a simulcast.
+ + + View a photo gallery from the day. + + +
The day included presentations on Divine Mercy, a brief visit by special guest Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, confessions, book signings, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It concluded with the Vigil Mass for Palm Sunday celebrated by Msgr. Robert E. Coleman, JCD, who is rector and dean of Immaculate Conception School of Theology.
'In Need of God's Mercy'
After being introduced by Dr. Stackpole as "the commander-in-chief of those knights on Eden Hill," the Marian Provincial Fr. Dan emphasized the significance of the times and then identified those who are called to don the armor of God's merciful love.
Of the significance of the times, Fr. Dan said:
This is a rather critical year, to say the least. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the canonization of St. Faustina and the 10th anniversary of Divine Mercy Sunday being officially celebrated as a feast in the Church. ... Divine Mercy has disseminated throughout the world with unprecedented speed. The early Church didn't grow this fast. The Sacred Heart devotion that was revealed to St. Margaret Mary didn't grow this fast. And the heresies and the hatred that surround the Church continue to grow. Where grace abounds, sin abounds, and grace abounds all the more.
And why is God choosing this time period? I think He is choosing this time period precisely because we are so in need of it.
In identifying those who are called to wear the armor of God's merciful love, Fr. Dan said:
Just as Helen Kowalska became Sr. Faustina Kowalska and God told her how much He loved her, He gave her a share in His Cross. If there is anyone here who hasn't in some way shared in the Cross of Christ, that person should probably leave now. And if you find those who have never had a heartache or a disappointment, no one has ever cut them short or insulted them, no one has ever made them feel uncomfortable or unwanted, tell them that Divine Mercy isn't for them. That's not what this message is about. This message is about something all too harsh, all too real, and all too human. If you and I have been damaged by life around us, if you and I have been offended and trodden down by others, then we are, in fact, in need of a healing touch. We are, in fact, in need of God's mercy.
Father Dan also had a surprise up his sleeve. He honored the current director of the Association of Marian Helpers, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, for his many achievements in spreading The Divine Mercy message. He did so by reading a letter to Fr. Seraphim from the Marian Superior General the Very Rev. Jan M. Rokosz, MIC. [Read the letter in its entirety.]
After Fr. Dan finished reading the letter, Fr. Seraphim received a standing ovation. Father Dan then called Fr. Seraphim up on to the stage at the high school auditorium, so he could present him with the letter, saying, "Fr. Seraphim, you've got to come up." And then to the audience: "He hates this. You can't imagine what a torture this is for him."
Upon receiving the letter, Fr. Seraphim's terse response was: "Don't blame me for this."
Two Keys: Purging Anger and Reconciling with Family
Then, Msgr. Jim Lisante, took the stage. In a rapid-fire delivery, this pastor with 29 years of parish experience — who resides at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa, N.Y., and is a popular author and a regular contributor to Fox News — developed the conference theme in popular ways. "We should purge ourselves of our anger," he said of the call to be bearers of God's merciful love. "We get to receive Holy Communion. I see a lot of glum people at Mass. Where's the joy?"
He also stressed the need to reconcile with estranged family members. "To be apostles of Divine Mercy, we must make peace with the members of our family," he said. "You may have tried this a hundred times before, but keep trying. We must be committed to binding the family wounds."
'Everyone Does Matter'
For his part, Fr. Frank Pavone widened the application of merciful love beyond the home and parish to the public arena, especially in protecting the unborn. He is the director of Priests for Life and president of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, a coalition of groups from different denominations working to end abortion.
Father Frank stressed the need for a fundamental understanding that it is all about the value of the human person when we tackle issues in the public sphere. "If each person is a son or daughter of God," he explained, "everyone does matter. Everyone has a voice. Authority and power are called to be in the service of the people. Issues you debate matter only because people are more important."
As people who do matter, the exercise of our citizenship is important. "We who are promoters of Divine Mercy are called to be responsible citizens," he said. "We don't cease to be members of the Church when we enter the voting booth."
What Are You Doing to Save the Babies?
Amy Pedersen gave a dramatic witness to Divine Mercy and the pro-life cause, complementing Fr. Frank's message. She is the author of The Miracle of Me: From Conception to Birth, a speaker, a freelance consultant, an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a volunteer. A mother of two, she wrote The Miracle of Me from the baby's perspective when she was pregnant for the second time.
To her joy, Amy also discovered that the book could help persuade women not to abort their babies by demonstrating, through in-utero photos and simple words from the baby's viewpoint, the reality of the human life growing within the womb. With that goal in mind, she makes her book available to pro-life parish ministries, pregnancy counseling centers, and sidewalk counselors who protest outside the abortion mills.
Amy shared the example of a 16-year-old girl at her home parish in Georgia, who decided not to get an abortion after her mom gave her a copy of The Miracle of Me. She shared the personal example of giving the boyfriend of a woman who had entered an abortion mill a copy of the book. He showed it to his girlfriend, who then decided not to go through with the abortion.
Amy challenged the conference participants: "Are you doing what you can [to save babies] by praying, giving [financially to pro-life causes], fasting, and [performing] some sort of action?"
Devotions Are Powerful
Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR — nationally acclaimed scholar, theologian, author, speaker, and EWTN TV host — shared about the history and important place of devotions. He highlighted Divine Mercy in particular as the "new devotion" in the Church. In a fascinating analogy, he described devotions to Christ, Our Lady, or a particular saint as " a kind of Internet between this world and the next."
Father Benedict emphasized how significant it was that — on the brink of the horrors of World War II, which included the Holocaust — the Church received The Divine Mercy message and devotion. "In the midst of all this horror, we are given the image of the Mercy of God [The Divine Mercy image], in which Christ is walking toward you. Everyone of us knows that we need this mercy."
To show the power of keeping a particular devotion, Fr. Benedict shared how his father prayed the Rosary for 16 years for his other son (Fr. Benedict's brother), who was an atheist. And the son returned to the faith and died a devout Catholic.
The Cross Says It All
The conference's special guest, Archbishop Dolan, showed up while Fr. Benedict was speaking. He jokingly said of Fr. Benedict when he walked up on stage, "I can never pass up an invitation from him. You don't want to get on his bad side."
Since it was the Saturday of Palm Sunday, Archbishop Dolan emphasized our common call to carry the Cross. His comments complemented the message of the conference:
The Cross is the mystery we called to celebrate. We are all called to carry it. We all have the Cross in our lives, and by God's grace and mercy, we are called to carry it. I remember when I visited Port au Prince in Haiti after the earthquake. The cathedral had been leveled. Only the crucifix was unscathed.
Witnesses to Conversion, Forgiveness
After Archbishop Dolan's visit, two prominent authors and speakers spoke, giving their powerful witnesses to mercy: first, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Marian vocation director and author of the new Marian Press release, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy; and then Immaculee Ilibagiza, genocide survivor and author of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide, and Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa.
Since his story is familiar to the readers of this website, suffice it to say that Fr. Donald's witness involves a dramatic conversion from runaway teen to dynamic Marian priest, which offers a message of hope to those with family members, especially young people who have fallen away from the faith. "My story is meant to give you hope," Fr. Donald said. "No one is the exception. I call myself the poster child of Divine Mercy."
Immaculee's story is also familiar to visitors to this website. Her witness is of the call to reconciliation and forgiveness. To summarize, hers is the harrowing account of surviving the Rwandan genocide and then of her struggle to forgive those who murdered members of her family. Further, Immaculee is now sharing the message of Our Lady of Kibeho — the only Marian apparition site in all of Africa that is approved by the Church. It is a message of reparation and prayer for the world, and if Rwanda had heeded it, the genocide of 1994 could have been halted. This is covered in her latest book, Our Lady of Kibeho.
What was particularly inspiring in the Bronx was the profound impact of Fr. Donald's and Immaculee's witnesses on the lives of conference participants.
Consider the response of Conon and Ann Marie Zuzarte of Assumption Parish in Peekskill, N.Y., who came to the conference with their niece Kayleigh Fonseca. Conon said, "Fr. Calloway's witness is awesome, especially at the point when he concluded that life wasn't worth living, and then he stepped back from the brink."
His niece Kayleigh agreed, saying, "Fr. Donald Calloway is an awesome role model for young people. Even though you've done bad things, you can still have a life after that."
Then, there's Gianni DiPaolo from Yonkers who came to the conference to meet Immaculee. Gianni said that he was so inspired by Immaculee's witness to forgiveness in her book Left to Tell that he gave a copy to his counseling professor Br. Raymond Meagher, SFO, at Manhattan College in Riverdale, N.Y. "After I showed my professor the book, he read it and now assigns it to his students," Gianni said.
Gianni was able to briefly meet with Immaculee after her talk. What was it like for him?
"I was able to speak with her," he said. "I wanted to tell her how much her words and books have meant to me. She gave me a hug."
Fighting the Good Fight
The last three speakers rounded out the conference by giving powerful personal examples of fighting the good fight with the "armor of God's merciful love."
Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, spoke of bearing numerous family trials, including recently losing both his parents and his father-in-law. He is the founder and director of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, a lay apostolate of the Marian Fathers. He got choked up sharing about caring for his father in his final years the way a parent would care for a young child. Bryan also shared that his 21-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with melanoma.
He summed up, "God doesn't reward for the results but for the effort. Whom do you trust?"
After Bryan's talk, the emcee, Dr. Stackpole, encouraged conference participants to make Bryan's daughter a special intention as they all prayed together The Divine Mercy Chaplet.
For Joe Campo, fighting the good fight of merciful love involves fathering young men who need a structured family environment. He's done it for 19 years as the director of St. Francis House in Brooklyn. Founded by Fr. Groeschel in 1967, the house provides a safe haven for young men who lack a father figure and who have run out of alternatives.
"It might be for economic reasons, drugs, alcohol, or other personal reasons. We have it all," said Joe.
One thing that the young men coming through the house lack is courage, according to Joe. "That lack of courage comes through without a father figure."
Jeff Assize, a young man who accompanied Joe to the conference shared how he, with Joe's help, finally mustered up the courage to forgive his father for not being there for him or for his mom and his two older brothers. And Jeff's father thanked him for forgiving him.
In the case of Sr. Mary Sharon, a Daughter of Mary of the Immaculate Conception from New Britain, Conn., the lesson of merciful love involved learning how to live in the present moment with Christ after a series of devastating health problems nearly claimed her life. Presently, she is a fifth grade teacher at St. Anthony School in Bristol, Conn.
After unsuccessful surgeries in 2007 and 2008, her medical condition included folded-over intestines and a scraped liver that had an abscess. Ordinarily a petite woman, her body had swelled to 250 pounds by Lent 2008, and she was on a respirator.
Sister Mary said that she remembers reflecting on the Passion of Christ that Lent. Further, while she was still on the respirator, she said, "I had difficulty praying. I could only pray the first two words of the Our Father. Then, I was able to say, 'Jesus, I trust in You!'
"I was able to put all in perspective that Lent." Sr. Mary said. "I learned that there is nothing more than trusting in [the Lord's] love and mercy one moment at a time."
Thanks to God's mercy, she is now back to her vibrant and petite self.
Perhaps, the meaning of the conference is best summed up by conference participant Donna Crist of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Mahopac, N.Y.:
[Divine Mercy] is the message for our times, as both Fr. Cambra and Fr. Calloway pointed out. Jesus never gives up on us. He reminds us of what is real.
I fell away and came back. Through the Diary of St. Faustina, confession became real for me. I realized that the priest is only a screen. Jesus is there for me.