We Got Our Assignment, Then Came the Graces
Without the more than 600 volunteers from throughout North America, the Marians could never have pulled off Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend last April. The volunteers come to serve pilgrims for many reasons. One of those volunteers, Linda Condon, shares her story with us:
By Linda Condon
Old and gray and full of sleep?
"Not yet," I thought, as my husband and I registered online to volunteer for the first time for Divine Mercy Sunday Weekend at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Our hope was to serve disabled visitors to the Shrine, and that was the assignment we were given. On both mornings, April 6 and 7, from the frosty northwest hills of Connecticut we traveled, all bundled in fleece and wool and more fleece, layered for the chilly winds of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
But the cold didn't matter. The wind, neither. The people we met had come to pray, to ask for God's mercy, and to show His mercy to their neighbors. Through their humble hearts and their complete trust in Jesus, I knew it was inevitable: The weather on Divine Mercy Weekend would be "... all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord."
On Saturday morning, I met Roland from Worcester, Mass. He came with a heart full of prayer and with the love of his life for more than 40 years, his wife, Norma, and with his beloved disabled son, Anthony. I gave them chairs, blankets, and an ear to listen, and Roland was a talker, a sweetheart. He had a gift to share: his love of God. And if I weren't so busy, I would have taken notes. Roland told me he trusted in God's mercy and prayed for Anthony constantly without doubt or fear, only with joy. Roland's sole regret was that they were not able to return on Sunday. He had always committed to attending both Saturday and Sunday, but this year, Anthony required more assistance than usual, and Roland acquiesced with love to Anthony's needs. When he left, Roland promised to pray for me.
I was also blessed to have met Michael, a disabled, loving young man from Canada. He didn't speak, but he gestured with a sign language that I suspect he had invented. Laughing away the blanket I encouraged him to take, he joked about the weather, pointing with a shiver to the cold sky and looming clouds. He later slipped away into the crowd, returning with a chair — for me. I suggested we offer it to someone nearby who appeared to have difficulty standing, and Michael's smile widened like a flower turned toward the sun. Without words, Michael understood God's mercy.
On Sunday, I met three Glorias. I had never met anyone named Gloria before, but on Divine Mercy weekend, I met three.
The first Gloria was a fellow volunteer, a gentle heart who spoke with a soft, calming voice greeting the swell of visitors who arrived — it seemed, all at once — later in the afternoon. It was the busiest time of the day, and we hardly had a chance to talk, but I will remember Gloria. I will remember the way she offered her chair to another and stood steadfast in the wind, her cane at her side as she organized visitors along the porch to wait in line for confession.
The second Gloria was from Wallingford, Conn. She came with a group of women and sat along the front row of the porch. She kept me hopping, but I loved her sense of humor and her sweet gratitude; though, her heart impressed me the most. Amid the noise and distractions around her, Gloria wanted to pray. She wanted to see the altar, hear the homily, and pray constantly. And she did. At one point, she asked me to ask a tall gentleman standing near the gate to move aside, as he was obstructing her view. I hesitated, but she insisted; so, I went up to the man and asked him kindly to move. When I saw that he was a priest, I smiled, embarrassed, but he was gracious and agreed to accommodate Gloria's view of the altar, and Gloria and I shared a thumbs up.
The third Gloria was from Toronto, by way of Trinidad. She sang. She danced. She praised the Lord with every breath. She was 78 years old and shared her faith out loud and with grace, and it felt contagious. When she finally needed to rest, there were no chairs available. Her only recourse: to sit on the ground. I soon found her a chair, though she soon gave it away to an individual who used a walker. Gloria's rest was over. She had come to pray and to love without limits. She shared such a joyful spirit. I don't think I have ever met anyone quite as genuine and effusive about her faith as Gloria. When she left, Gloria, too, promised to pray for me.
It is an extraordinary experience, this encountering of God's mercy in the humbled, prayerful hearts of so many. Next year, I look forward to meeting Gloria from Toronto again, on Divine Mercy Weekend. I look forward to meeting all three Glorias again, and Michael, and Roland and his family. Others, too. My husband and I are eager to volunteer.
We expect the weather to be inevitable: all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.
Linda Condon lives in Winchester Center, Conn.