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In Cathedral of Christ the Light, Rays of Mercy Shine
The Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, stands with Sr. Confida and Sr. Nazareta, two members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, St. Faustina Kowalska's order.
The Most Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland (second from right), invited the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception (to the left of the Divine Mercy image) to hold a regional NACOM in his Cathedral of Christ the Light.
A regional North American Congress on Mercy (NACOM) was held from April 24-26 in the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, bringing together apostles and friends of the Divine Mercy from across the continent. We shared insights, images, and news from the Congress as it was happening. Keep the Congress in prayer!
Day One: Friday, April 24
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Well, the Cathedral of Christ the Light is well-named. The distinctive, modern structure, shaped like a great ark, admits light from the outside through millions of slats of wood, arranged around the walls of the cathedral. Up front, behind the altar, stands a tremendous sheet of metal, pierced with innumerable holes in such a way as to allow the light to shine through in the image of Jesus Christ, seated, blessing the people.
What better place to come to contemplate the Divine Mercy, given us through the Word made flesh, the light who "shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (see Jn 1)? The regional NACOM has convened, currently being held from April 24-26 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, at the invitation of the Most. Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland, and Fr. Carl Arcosa, the chaplain to the Divine Mercy Movement for the diocese of Oakland.
Today saw the Congress open at 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, with the sung Divine Mercy Chaplet, led by award-winning singer and songwriter Annie Karto, followed by a period of Adoration. Silence was interspersed with the praises of Divine Mercy and other passages from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Priests were available throughout the Cathedral to hear confessions from participants, getting the Congress off on the right foot: with the two great Sacraments of mercy, signified by the pale and red rays streaming from Christ's side in the Divine Mercy image.
In place of Fr. Patrice Chocholski, general secretary for the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), who was unable to make it to the NACOM, the first talk was delivered by the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC. Provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina, Fr. Kaz has been a part of organizing the congresses on mercy from their very start. He shared some of the history of the congresses with the participants today.
The idea for the congresses originated in 2005, barely 3 months after the death of St. John Paul II, Fr. Kaz explained. Among the 500 people present at the retreat were Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska; Fr. Kaz; and then-Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC.
The retreat was being led by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and the present WACOM president, who'd been inspired to proclaim the Divine Mercy during St. John Paul II's entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in 2002. As St. John Paul II said the following words, Cardinal Schoenborn felt the call resonate in his own heart:
Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God's merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth "the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming" (cf. Diary, 1732).
This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Krakow and Poland, and to all the votaries of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy!
So, among other initiatives (such as the Missionaries of Mercy, a group dedicated to proclaiming Divine Mercy) Cardinal Schoenborn offered a retreat with Cardinal Barbarin of France. The people who gathered at the retreat in 2005 wanted to make God's mercy known far and wide. A French layman who was attending a retreat being offered by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn stood at the end of the retreat and appealed for an apostolic congress on Divine Mercy.
"We didn't realize it was born at that moment," said Fr. Kaz.
Cardinal Schoenborn sought the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, rapidly received it, and the first WACOM was convened in Rome in 2008 with Pope Benedict's direct participation.
Father Kaz gave an overview of the growth of the congresses from there: the WACOMs in Krakow, Poland, in 2011 and in Bogota, Colombia, in 2014; the first NACOM held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in 2009; as well as a variety of other regional, national, and continental congresses held across the world in the intervening years. The purpose of the Apostolic Congress, explained Fr. Kaz, was to help that spark from Poland set all afire with the message and devotion of Divine Mercy in order to help prepare the world for Christ's final coming, as prophesied in St. Faustina's Diary (1732).
In an awesome bit of symbolism, the crucifix for the cathedral is fixed right behind the pulpit from which the speakers are delivering their talks. We are hearing about the message and devotion to Divine Mercy literally from the foot of the cross, the privileged place where, as Pope Francis has said in Misericordiae Vultus, "God's justice is His mercy."
After Fr. Kaz's talk, Most Rev. Michael Barber, SJ, bishop of Oakland, was lead celebrant at the opening Mass of the Congress. He greeted the assembled Congress, saying, "Thank you for supporting this most wonderful, important devotion of our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church. I know many graces will come to you through your participation in this congress and also many graces will come upon our diocese, upon our state, and upon our world through your intercessory prayer to Jesus, the fountain of all Divine Mercy."
Bishop Barber was warmly welcoming of the regional NACOM to his diocese "because I know so many graces and benefits will come to our diocese because the Church moves forward by faith," he explained. "This is one of the greatest sources of faith and devotion outpouring now since the Vatican Council. I want to encourage you all and I want to thank you for being apostles of Christ's Divine Mercy, for showing to the world that Christ has a loving and merciful Heart, no matter what other people may say."
Bishop Barber discussed the Gospel reading for the day on the conversion of St. Paul, speaking of a more recent convert, the former abortionist and founder of NARAL Dr. Bernard Nathanson, as a similar recipient of extraordinary grace. After having performed around 75,000 abortions in his lifetime, including at least one of his own children, Dr. Nathanson turned from abortion after witnessing, via ultrasound, what exactly was going on in the womb of the mother during an abortion. He was evangelized by Fr. C. John McCloskey and received into the Catholic Church by the famous John Cardinal O'Connor of New York on Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, in 1996.
"God does not give up on anybody," said Bishop Barber.
Hence the power of the message and devotion of the Divine Mercy, a message and devotion which draws deeply upon the power of God's grace available through the mediation of the Church and her hierarchy. Bishop Barber asked all the Congress participants to take the graces they're receiving through the sacraments, the prayers, and the teachings at the Congress, and apply them especially for two special intentions. He asked for intercessory prayers for the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco. "He has been the subject of singular attacks from the media," said Bishop Barber. "An attack on him is an attack on Christ and the Catholic Church."
The second intention was a young man named Jesus, who Bishop Barber had confirmed the night before and who is suffering from leukemia. Please join us all in prayer for these two intentions.
The night concluded with dinner and fellowship.
Day Two: Saturday, April 25, the feast of St. Mark
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As the morning light filled the cathedral, a band composed of volunteers and Annie Karto led the participants in praise and worship.
Next is Holy Mass, celebrated by Fr. George Mockel, vicar general of the diocese of Oakland, with the Marian Fathers and Fr. Carl Arcosa, chaplain for the Divine Mercy movement in the diocese of Oakland, among others.
The readings at Mass for the feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (1 Peter 5:5b-14 and Mark 16:15-20), seemed oddly appropriate to the preceding talk. Passages such as:
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in faith — First Reading.
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover — Second Reading.
resonated very strongly.
Father Mockel's homily centered around our call to be evangelists like St. Mark, saying that though we may wait for other people to invent the next high-speed computer, the next great gadget, or write the next great song, we may not wait for anyone else to proclaim the kingdom of God.
"This is it," he said, surveying the assembled pilgrims. "Or rather, we are it." So we should follow the example of St. Mark, who attached himself to good teachers, such as St. Peter, and learned from them so that he could proclaim the Good News, as well. Indeed, his proclamation shall be read and heard in all ages until the end of the world.
We are called to similar humility, emphasized Fr. Mockel. We must submit ourselves to the teachings of the Church, and not expect those teachings to submit to our arrogance.
And we are called to go out beyond our comfort zones to speak the Good News "to people we might wish to avoid, including confronting issues we may not wish to confront, but must confront because they are contrary to the Gospel."
"As we stand on the threshold of the Year of Mercy," concluded Fr. Mockel, "we must be indicators of mercy by our lives and in our daily interactions with others. Look around you. We are it, and there is no plan B."
The first breakout sessions of the Congress. Congress participants had a choice of talks occurring at the same time, each taking place in a different room. The speaker in the Cathedral itself was Sr. Confida, a Dorchester, Massachusetts, based member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy — St. Faustina's order. Sister Confida talked about the unfettered heart, a heart free to give everything to God because it is not held back by putting creatures before the Creator, by putting anything before God.
We know what we are supposed to imitate, said Sr. Confida, because God had revealed Himself through the Incarnation. "He who dwells in unapproachable light unveils Himself and takes on a human appearance."
Sister Confida drew extensively from St. Faustina's Diary throughout her presentation, describing how God most especially wants us to imitate His mercy. We are to become imbued with mercy and let our hearts become like His: swiftly stirred to merciful love by the misery of others. Sister Confida recounted the Passion of Christ, allowing it to vividly demonstrate what that divine merciful love looks like in action.
She discussed some of the characteristics of the spirituality we are to live, including the value of inner silence, or recollection, to allow the soul to hear and respond to God's will. Sister Confida also emphasized forgiveness, reminding her audience that St. Faustina had written that we are most like God when we forgive our neighbors, and also of the great value in meditating on the Passion of Jesus.
Bay Area-quality box lunches, eaten in the brilliant California sunshine, sitting side-by-side with fellow Divine Mercy devotees — wish you were here? I mean, wish you were here!
Oakland's chaplain for the Divine Mercy movement, Fr. Carl Arcosa, also announced that the cathedral had donated copies of a prayerbook offering guidance on praying with icons — a highly appropriate gift for those who are venerating the Divine Mercy Image throughout the congress.
And then the first general session presentation was given by the ever-popular Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. The Congress goes from strength to strength!
Father Calloway talked about Our Lady as the masterpiece of God's mercy, the pinnacle of the created order.
But Mary's the Immaculate Conception, the ever-pure virgin! How could a sinless woman have needed God's mercy?
Because, Fr. Donald explained, just as it's a greater act of mercy to keep a person from falling into a muddy pit rather than waiting for them to fall before fishing them out again, so too is God's merciful protection of Mary from all stain of sin greater than His merciful forgiveness of our sins after we've committed them.
Father Calloway quoted St. Thomas Aquinas, who had said that there are three things which even God could not improve upon: paradise; the God-man; and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each is as great as they can possibly be. Why? Because Mary is the daughter of the Father; the mother of the Son; and the spouse of the Holy Spirit.
God could design a daughter, mother, and spouse, said Fr. Donald. Of course he's going to make her the best she could possibly be!
And if we're smart, we'll imitate Jesus and love the Blessed Virgin Mary. "If you want to win my friendship, make me do something: speak highly of my mom," said Fr. Donald. "Give her roses. Sing songs about her. Praise her. But if you start slamming my mom, there's going to be a problem with our relationship."
Next: the Divine Mercy Chaplet, followed by the man who helped smuggle the Diary out of Communist Poland and documented the beatification and canonization miracles for the cause of St. Faustina Kowalska: Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC.
Annie Karto sang the chaplet of Divine Mercy, leading the congress-goers in prayer at the start of the Hour of Great Mercy. Priests are available to hear confessions throughout the hour. There's a roll-up image of Divine Mercy next to the altar of the cathedral, and of course, as the speakers address the Congress, they each take their place standing beneath the stone crucifix and share the Good News about the Divine Mercy message and devotion from the foot of the Cross.
After the chaplet, Father Seraphim shared about the role we all have as Christians in exercising our baptismal priesthood. He was careful to distinguish between the hierarchical priesthood (that is, the bishops, priests, and deacons) and the baptismal priesthood (that is, the role of all Christians as priests, prophets, and kings, sharing in Jesus Christ's priesthood, prophetic ministry, and royalty). Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet is an important part of making an offering of praise to God, an extension of the graces of the Mass.
"Let us offer the praises of God continually," said Fr. Seraphim. "We must offer God a sacrifice in praise and thanksgiving, and we are to be doing good to everyone. Jesus, the image of the Divine Mercy, is to remind us to pray and to offer good work."
Father Seraphim cited Pope Benedict XVI's words when he said Divine Mercy was not a second-rate devotion, but an integral part of a Christian's faith and prayer. Why? Because as Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, among others, has pointed out, Divine Mercy has a face and a name: Jesus.
And the lay faithful know this truth. That's why the Divine Mercy movement is the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church. The sensus fidelium, the instinct for the truths of the faith of the Body of Christ, is manifesting itself.
Due to the cathedral staff needing time to set up for the Saturday vigil Mass, the schedule has been adjusted slightly. Father Donald Calloway offered a brief talk before the breakout sessions, discussing how imitating Mary is an indispensable part of being holy and sharing God's mercy with the world.
"If I want to be pleasing to Jesus," said Fr. Don, "I have to seek to become like her."
How? "Whatever you do, do it in a Marian way." He offered a number of ways to live life in a Marian way: Show your faith. Be willing to pray the Rosary in public and say grace at a restaurant. Wear a Miraculous Medal.
Father Calloway quoted Servant of God Fr. Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, who'd said, "We need to be apparitions of Mary." He told the story of Blessed Bartolo Longo, a man who went from being a Satanic priest ("like Zachary King!") to a practicing Catholic and founder of the great shrine of Our Lady at Pompeii. How? He was prayed for by his friends and introduced to the power and promises of the Rosary. Those promises gave him hope that even he could be saved, even after what he had done and whom he had been serving.
That powerful devotion has been recommended more recently by a bishop from Nigeria, who had a vision of Jesus while praying in his chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. The bishop saw Jesus hold out a sword to him. When the bishop took the sword, it turned into a rosary in his hand. Jesus said three times, "Boko Haram is gone." Boko Haram is a radical Islamist movement that has been kidnapping children and killing Christians in Nigeria, and has recently pledged its allegiance to ISIS. The bishop is now preaching the Rosary wherever he can, asking people to pray it for the conversion of the radicals threatening his flock.
"I carry it everywhere I go," said Fr. Donald of his rosary. "This has power, my friends. This can change lives."
The second round of breakout sessions covered topics such as how to live Divine Mercy in your parish by congress organizer Fr. Carl Arcosa and Divine Mercy in the Sacraments by Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC.
After the breakout sessions, everyone dispersed to dinner before regrouping for popular apologist and author Jesse Romero.
Before Jesse Romero's talk, a raffle concluded. It had been open only to congress participants. The first prize? Five days in Rome with the Marians. Second prize was five days at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy with the Marian Fathers offering special talks and spiritual guidance. Other prizes included canvas Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Guadalupe images, a leather-bound copy of the Diary of St. Faustina, and a copy of the newly released English-language edition of Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message.
Wish you were here? So do we!
Then Jesse Romero of On Fire Evangelization stood to speak. And man, did he live up to the name of his ministry.
He shared the story of a friend who'd lost a child, but couldn't find a Catholic Church to hold the Rosary wake because everyone was booked for Holy Week. So he went looking for other churches and found a Protestant church, a fundamentalist congregation that was willing to host the wake so long as nobody brought a rosary or prayed the Rosary. So the friend called Jesse and asked him what they should do.
Jesse said they should ask to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet instead. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is all about the blood of Jesus. "If you talk about the blood of Jesus with a Protestant, you build bridges," said Jesse.
So Jesse went and spoke to the pastor of the church on behalf of his friend, asking if they could pray a prayer calling on the blood of Jesus and sharing the text of the prayers of the chaplet with the pastor.
"When I said the word 'atonement' — this makes Protestants levitate," said Jesse. "'You Catholics pray and call upon the atonement of Jesus? Absolutely you can pray that prayer in my church!'
"It was a good bridge-building moment," said Jesse.
After Jesse spoke, Dave and Joan Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers (MOMM), an apostolate of the Marian Fathers, gave an abbreviated version of their flagship program Tell All Souls About My Mercy.
Before the presentation got going, Dave and Joan shared that they had recently celebrated the 16th anniversary of their ministry, and that this presentation was to be number 995.
Then they began. Incorporating the Divine Mercy image, the Shroud of Turin, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they presented the message and devotion of the Divine Mercy through readings of passages from St. Faustina's Diary. Confessions were being heard throughout the presentation, and it concluded with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, bringing the evening to a grace-filled close.
Tomorrow: breakout sessions, Mass, and the close of the regional NACOM.
Day Three: Sunday, April 26, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations
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It's been beautiful these past few days in Oakland. Apparently, we were supposed to have increasingly violent storms as the days went by, but it rained a little Friday night, was beautifully sunny on Saturday, and is so bright on Sunday that it's a little hard to walk around outside without sunglasses. Maybe someone was praying the chaplet for good weather (see Diary, 1791)!
Throughout the conference, there have been tables in the lower levels of the cathedral for the various ministries and speakers from the congress to share their materials, speak to the pilgrims, and get to know devotees of the Divine Mercy from other parishes, dioceses, and apostolates. People have been very busy exchanging contact information, inviting people to speak at conferences or see their new publications, and generally living the true meaning of "congress," of walking together in the Lord Jesus with their brothers and sisters in the Church. Many good fruits are sure to come from this congress.
The morning began with another round of break-out sessions. Dr. Bryan Thatcher, the founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) discussed sharing Divine Mercy with the sick and the dying, Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, discussed St. Faustina from the perspective of a former vice-postulator for her cause for canonization, and Sr. Nazareta Maleta of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy discussed how living faith serves to offer us the foundation for practicing Christian mercy.
Sister Nazareta began with a brief overview of the life of St. Faustina, indicating that she is a model for living faith enabling true Christian mercy.
"Her spirituality is based on two pillars: trust in God and practicing mercy toward neighbor.," explained Sr. Nazareta.
Sister Faustina had a mission with three parts: to teach the world that Divine Mercy is for every human and in every heart, insofar as we share in the image and likeness of God; to implore mercy through the Divine Mercy devotions; and to form a great movement of people dedicated to Divine Mercy.
"I think there is no country without an image of Divine Mercy," said Sr. Nazareta. "The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is recited in many languages. The feast of mercy is in the Church's liturgical calendar for good. You and other people implore God's mercy by going to worship the Divine Mercy at 3 o'clock in the afternoon."
Saint Faustina passed away about 77 years ago now, said Sister Nazareta, and now the whole world speaks of her loudly. Sister Nazareta mentioned that St. Faustina's relics are at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki in Krakow, Poland.
"Everybody is welcome," said Sister Nazareta, who will be returning to Poland herself. "We are preparing for the World Youth Day (WYD) next year at the end of July."
We got to celebrate a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass at Christ the Light Cathedral, so a number of ordinary Catholics from the diocese of Oakland were also in attendance. Our lead celebrant was the Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina, as well as one of the key organizers of the regional NACOM.
"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever," said Fr. Kaz. "Right from the beginning, Christian art depicted the consoling image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guarding His sheep. Jesus watches through the night; He is never distant from us."
Father Kaz shared that he had grown up on a farm. He said that sheep tend to become so focused on the patch of grass directly in front of them that they become oblivious to everything else. They can wander off very easily, are blind to danger, and so need a shepherd to survive and flourish.
"Christ is the Good Shepherd, but He wants us to have shepherds according to His Heart," said Fr. Kaz. He listed some of the saintly popes of the 2oth century, including St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, both canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, and Blessed Paul VI and Blessed Pius XII.
"How Christ takes care of His Church, giving us incredible leadership!"
Father Kaz also pointed to Bishop Barber of Oakland, who had invited the regional NACOM to his diocese so that the people of his diocese could be blessed and strengthened in their faith through the message and devotion of Divine Mercy.
He gave an overview of the purpose of the regional NACOM, citing the letter from Cardinal Schoenborn, president of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), who said, "My wish and prayer is that this Apostolic Congress on Mercy may help Christians rediscover in themselves more deeply their missionary identity as prophets of mercy (see Hos 6:6), as priests of mercy (see Rom 12:1; Heb. 2:17) and as kings of mercy through their Baptism and the Eucharist."
Father Kaz also discussed the recently released papal bull Misericordia Vultus, talking about the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday this year and set to open on Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Father Kaz shared with the faithful that the Holy Father wants everyone to receive reconciliation in the Year of Mercy, to receive the greatest gift all: sanctifying, divinizing grace.
"He will invite us to the green pastures of life," said Fr. Kaz.
After Mass, the last round of breakout sessions.
The final round of breakout sessions. Jesse Romero discusses David and Bathsheba's sin and God's Divine Mercy; Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, talks about parables of Divine Mercy; and Dave and Joan Maroney give a presentation on their campaign Divine Mercy for America: Hope for Our Country and World.
The Divine Mercy for America campaign began in 2012 as a result of the presidential campaign, the study Dave and Joan were doing of the Diary at that time, and a novena to the Holy Spirit. The Maroneys were discovering a great many things about the historical context for the delivery of the message and devotion of Divine Mercy to Sr. Faustina in Poland in the 1930s.
Among their discoveries: According to St. Faustina, God was angry at Poland for its ingratitude. As Joan said, "If God was angry at Poland then for its ingratitude, what must He think of our entitlement society? How angry must God be with us when we have so much to be grateful for?"
Also: During St. Faustina's own lifetime, Warsaw became the abortion capital of Europe, apparently due to cultural influence from the USSR, where abortion had been legalized for all reasons since 1920. There, they discovered that demand rose dramatically over time, forcing them to open clinics throughout the population centers where abortions would also be provided, presaging the present system of abortion clinics run by organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
"In our country, this sin has infected so many people, so many families," said Dave. "We have to know God's mercy is greater than all sins put together, to know we can still receive God's love."
So the campaign is calling on all Catholics and devotees of Divine Mercy to commit to the four-point action plan, sign up for the campaign updates and information, and take to their knees in prayer (especially on May 7, the National Day of Prayer) for God's mercy for America and on the whole world.
And the end. After a delicious lunch at tables set outside around the cathedral, pilgrims gathered for the concluding panel: Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, former vice-postulator for the cause of canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska; Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy; Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy; and Fr. Kaz, all emceed by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers, also known as "Fr. Joseph, MIC."
Pilgrims raised a number of issues, including about the implementation of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Father Kaz said that he'd once been told by a wise old professor that it takes at least 50 years for the Church to even begin to hear and understand the teaching of an ecumenical council of the Church, so here at the end of the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II, the Council of Mercy, on Dec 8, 2015, the Church will begin celebrating the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Father Chris Alar also shared that he'd just returned from a trip to Europe. While there, he and some of his brother Marians had had a meeting with Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, and the former private secretary to St. John Paul II. The Cardinal had said to Fr. Chris, "I want Stockbridge to take the lead in seeking to have St. Faustina made the next Doctor of the Church."
Now there's a worthy goal!
Other questions surrounded how we can be merciful to those who are so unmerciful to us and our brethren, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and others. Father Kaz emphasized the importance of praying for the extremists and their victims, as well as being informed about the nature of the ideas driving these groups.
Doctor Thatcher emphasized that we should not allow ourselves to be hardened or embittered toward those committing these atrocities, and never to give into despair. "God could change things in a second. The Blessed Mother could change things in a second. Remember that in this country, we are aborting millions of babies. We also need to pray for this country, for our own conversion."
Another question had to do with suicide. Father Seraphim shared several passages from the Diary, including 1486, 1684, and 1698, saying, "I think these are some of the most exciting parts of the whole message of mercy. Some people ask me if they think we should pray for these people in these situations. I think we should pray for them every day."
Father Chris shared his testimony of trying to respond to his grandmother's suicide and going to a priest, who told him to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for his grandmother's soul right that night. Father Chris, at the time still a layman, asked the priest how that would help, since his grandmother had died ten years before. Surely she had been judged and her fate was fixed? The priest responded, "God is outside of time. To him, all times are one. Your prayer now can help your grandmother then, at the moment of her death."
At the end of the Q&A, Annie Karto stood and sang a special song for the priests gathered for the panel, celebrating their priesthood, their special call to become conduits of the Gospel and the Sacraments for the whole people of God, and the eternal consequences of their ordination. Then during the 3 o'clock Hour of Great Mercy, she led the room in singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
And the close. Each priest had thank yous to offer and encouragement to give. NACOM co-organizer and chaplain to the Divine Mercy movement in Oakland Father Carl Arcosa said, "You from the diocese of Oakland: You have the support of your bishop." Father Anthony Gramlich said, "It was great being here and sharing with everyone. Just keep up the good work with spreading the Good News of the message of Divine Mercy."
Father Seraphim said, "Thank you to everyone in attendance, and may the Lord bless you and empower you with His mercy."
Father Chris Alar thanked everyone and appealed for prayer for priests.
Father Kaz called the regional NACOM a leadership conference, bringing together Divine Mercy devotees to be prepared to go forth and bring the message and devotion to their families, friends, parishes, and communities. "Remember, pray for each other, strengthen each other."
"Through your hands," the hands of the participants, "I thank the diocese of Oakland."
Then in his capacity as vice-coordinator for the NACOM, Fr. Kaz declared the Congress closed.
Which, of course, means its work has just begun as the participants take what they have learned, seen, and shared out to their parishes and all the world.
That goes for you who read this, as well! Make the devotions and live the message of Divine Mercy so that God's grace may flow and all come to share in the life and love of the Blessed Trinity, now and forevermore!
Denise Gums, from St. Patrick's Catholic Church in West Oakland, said, "What brought me was belief in the Divine Mercy. There are so many killings on the streets of Oakland and people have the tendency to be judgmental about what's happening in our city. So I couldn't believe it was actually here. Usually this [sort of gathering] is in San Francisco.
"So believing in Divine Mercy and wanting to feel the spirit of Divine Mercy in my soul — that's why I came here."
"What I heard that I really needed to hear is the Lord's mercy really extends to all, even those groups that are showing no mercy to many persecuted Christians in the world. My friends there are from Nigeria, and when I talk about Boko Haram, they know what I'm talking about. A lot of those girls were never returned. They still continue to kill and maim. I had a friend here yesterday from Kenya, and they were healing while they were here. They're still in a state of devastation because of what happened at Garissa University. So when you see that, it's hard to think mercy. So God help me. And the priest's answer on suicide I thought was very powerful, because many people judge that, and what he said was so powerful, that God hears our prayers outside of human space and time."
Carla and Chuck Sicotte came all the way from Bend, Oregon, for the NACOM. "Your hearts are moved by every speaker," said Carla, "because every one has a slightly different charism that they're trying to share with you."
For more information on the regional NACOM, visit us at mercycongress.org.