Photo: Felix Carroll
Bishop of Springfield Timothy McDonnell blesses the crowd as Mass begins.
A view of Eden Hill from the heavens.
By Dan Valenti (Apr 15, 2012)
Some 22,000 pilgrims, a record turnout for Eden Hill on Divine Mercy Sunday, flocked to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, Mass., to partake of the amazing graces promised by our Lord to St. Faustina on this day.
The Marian Fathers — who on Eden Hill administer the National Shrine, have their provincial headquarters for the U.S. and Argentina province, and run the Association of Marian Helpers — knew there would be heavy attendance, but even they were surprised.
"More people are finding out about us [the Marians]," said Fr. Ken Dos Santos, MIC, Shrine rector, who welcomed pilgrims to the Hill at the start of the Mass. "We expected a good turnout, first, because of the [ideal] weather. This good, though, I don't think anyone could have predicted."
Asked to account for the record attendance beyond the brilliant sunshine and warm weather, Fr. Ken mentioned several factors. These included the extensive outreach the Marians have made during the past two years with their visits to parishes all over the country; more exposure through programming on EWTN; the work of dynamic, young, and highly visible priests such as Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, and Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC; and the life-sized Stations of the Cross on Eden Hill, which will be completed later this year.
The Word for the Day: Mercy
They came for mercy, and they received in abundance.
"Divine Mercy Sunday is a day I look forward to every year," said Violette Wysocki of New Haven, Conn. "To be able to experience God's mercy reminds us how strong Jesus' mercy is for us and how much He loves sinners. As much as a person might sin, so much more mercy flows out of His heart. God's mercy will always be more than the wrongs of the worst sinner."
Violette, 30, says she has been coming to Eden Hill for Divine Mercy Sunday with her family since her parents began taking her when she was five years old. It's a day she says she wouldn't miss.
"I learned from an early age how Jesus loves everybody, even sinners," she said. "For me, this day represents a cleansing of the soul. It purifies the heart. God's mercy takes away any burden you carry, because you can give all of them it to Jesus."
For Jean Noel, a Haitian native who now lives in New York City, Sunday's visit to Eden Hill was his first.
"I only recently heard about Divine Mercy," Jean said in his lilting, island accent. "I love it here, love seeing all the people coming together. We came today to share in His love, His mercy. That's what prayer is all about — coming together as one."
The Word is Out
The highlight of Divine Mercy Sunday, of course, is the Holy Mass. In the liturgy, God opens the "floodgates of Divine Mercy" for all mankind, as Jesus revealed to St. Faustina. The Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, bishop of Springfield, Mass., served as the main celebrant, as he did last year. Many other priests — both Marians and non-Marians — concelebrated at the altar.
In an exclusive interview before Mass, Bishop McDonnell said he has noticed how the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, particularly on Eden Hill, has grown over the years: "The word is out about the message of Divine Mercy.
People are realizing more and more that God's love is there for them. Our job [when we realize this] is to be merciful to others. Our relationship with God is vertical. Our relationship with others is horizontal. That's the cross. At the center, we find Christ."
The bishop noted, though, "Christ's message has yet to be heard by some. In every way, people are so caught up in the stresses of everyday life. Some do not hear, while others have heard but the message has been distorted. They reject the distortion, and rightly so."
Bishop McDonnell said that is the basis for the "new evangelism" called for by Pope Benedict XVI. The bridge between our human frailty and the perfection of God is His truth, the bishop said.
Bishop McDonnell said we must trust in God's truth: "Truth always trumps everything. Our problem is that we don't always see it. We must try, though, and never get discouraged. We must be open to God. Even if we fail through our fault, we can return to the Lord, always. That's mercy."
'Jesus is talking about you … and me'
In his homily, Bishop McDonnell referred the Gospel reading of "doubting Thomas," the Apostle who wouldn't believe unless he could see and touch Christ's wounds with his own hands. Jesus tells Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
"Jesus is talking about you, gathered here on this Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus is talking about me. Jesus is talking about all those generations through the ages who have not seen but have come to believe that He is our Lord and our God. We believe because we have heard the Good News. We believe because we have experienced the peace that Christ gives. We believe because we have been showered with His mercy."
Later in the day, after countless thousands of confessions, after the outdoor Mass for 22,000, and after the singing of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, the hundreds of busses and the other pilgrims made their way home from Eden Hill.
They took Bishop McDonnell's ringing endorsement, which he delivered to conclude his homily: "Let us repeat, then, the request we made at the very beginning of this Mass: 'Lord have mercy [Crowd: Lord have mercy]. Christ have mercy [Christ have mercy]. Lord have mercy [Lord have mercy].' Peace be with you."
Learn how you can become a Marian Helper — helping the Marians to spread the message of The Divine Mercy and devotion to Mary Immaculate.