Photo: Felix Carroll
By Felix Carroll (Mar 8, 2010)
In what could safely be called unanimous agreement regarding five crucial truths, more than 1,100 apostles of The Divine Mercy gathered in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday — the latest Divine Mercy gathering in a series around the country.
The truths can be broken down to this: The world's troubles are deep; but God is real; He is with us always; He loves us; and He has revealed Himself to our age through the revelations of a lowly Polish nun, known to the world today as St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938).
"Through the message of The Divine Mercy, Christ speaks to us today," said Carolina Sexton, a conference attendee from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "He helps us to understand that His mercy is for all of us, no matter what we've done."
Hosted by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, official promoters of The Divine Mercy message since 1941, the conference featured speakers whose witnesses intertwined modern struggles with eternal truths to form a hardwearing lifeline to the merciful Lord.
With the theme "Understanding God's Mercy in a World of Confusion," the gathering also served as a balm for an era defined by economic implosions, geopolitical unrest, and spiritual indifference in nearly every sector of society with some exceptions. Namely, The Divine Mercy movement, an increasing counterbalance penetrating parishes, communities, healthcare facilities, and the hearts of countless people who have experienced healing, hope, and renewal through the revelations of St. Faustina.
[+++ In their own words, meet some of the speakers and attendees in our photo gallery of the conference +++].
The Tampa conference comes on the heels of the first North American Congress on Mercy held in November in Washington, D.C. It also precedes the 5th Annual Divine Mercy Conference on March 27, in Bronx, N.Y.; the 6th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference on May 5-6; special Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations held worldwide this year on April 11, including the annual live telecast on EWTN from the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass.; among many other events.
Speaking to the Merciful Choir
The emcee, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, opened the Tampa conference with a promise: "Today, the love of our Father will be poured out upon us."
No one doubted that. He was speaking to the proverbial choir, a zealous choir of Divine Mercy apostles who promote spiritual formation and engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy worldwide. Most of the attendees were members of one of the thousands of small prayer groups, called cenacles, a program originated by the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, a lay outreach ministry of the Marians founded by Dr. Thatcher.
"We came here to get more information about starting a cenacle because we love Divine Mercy and St. Faustina and we feel called to do works of mercy in our community," said Hilda Campman, one of a group of five women who attended the conference from Curacoa Dutch Antilles.
Those just learning about The Divine Mercy message and devotion and those veterans of the movement were treated to a full day of talks, music, and prayer.
Buttressed by formidable personal experiences, the speakers included a spellbinding convert, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and members of the Marian lay apostolates from the world of academia, healthcare, and frontline evangelization, all of whom offered prescriptions for the ailments of the age.
"These are hard times, indeed," said Dr. Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy and a professor of theology. "So what does the message of God's merciful love have for us in times such as these?"
The first order of business, he said, is for those who have been spared economic crisis to reach out to those in peril like never before, and for those entangled in economic hardship to place their trust in Jesus like never before.
"Sometimes God permits us, for some reason, to get blindsided, to get walloped," Dr. Stackpole said. But the bottom line, he said, is that Christ yearns to dwell in our hearts, to carry us through good times and bad, and to give us the graces to "be saints-in-the-making."
In Hiding, Discovering God
The steps toward sainthood include forgiving those who have hurt us — "one of the most difficult things we can do as humans," said Dr. Thatcher in his introduction of Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose family was killed in the Rwandan genocide 16 years ago.
Until she found herself in hiding for three months from machete-wielding mobs who butchered their way through her central African nation in 1994, Immaculée thought the stories about God "were just stories — made up to make people behave."
In hiding, she prayed the Rosary and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy night and day. She turned to the Bible and came to understand that God is present in our lives and offers the path to salvation by means of love — love for Him and for one another, even those who seek to kill us. "They know not what they do," Immaculée said, quoting the Highest Authority: Jesus, in His prayer on the cross for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him (see Lk 23:34).
Immaculee said that at one point while in hiding, she heard Christ speak to her heart, saying, "I want you to know, I am hurting. My Father is hurting, even more than you are hurting. Even if my children are killing others, they are still all My children. Those who are killing, I am suffering for them. And those who are dying, I'm suffering for them." Immaculée said that "it was in that moment when I truly found what forgiveness was. ... I had found truth in that moment."
She told the crowd that packed the hall of Tampa's St. Lawrence Church to pray, to reach out to God and our Blessed Mother, particularly in our the darkest hours, and to follow His commandments always.
Mercy for Poor Sinners
In perhaps the most quoted and influential passages of St. Faustina's Diary, Christ tells her, "The greater the sinner the greater the right to My mercy " (Diary, 723).
Two conference speakers — Fr. Arthur Proulx and Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC — gave witness to this promise.
Father Proulx, of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, spoke of the first saint, canonized by Christ Himself, St. Dismas, known as the "Good Thief" or "Penitent Thief." Described in the Gospel of Luke, St. Dismas was crucified alongside Jesus. Unlike Jesus, St. Dismas was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused. But he repents and asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. Christ replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (23:39-43).
Perhaps no one today can better attest to the mercy Christ extends to poor sinners than Fr. Calloway, whose conversion was preceded by years of drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. His powerful conversion story is recounted in his new book No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy (Marian Press).
"The Lord wanted me to be a priest because I am part of a lost generation," Fr. Calloway said. "If you remember anything [from this talk], as long as you've got a pulse, you've got hope. Do not give up hope. ... You keep praying, and you keep sacrificing to the point of pain and dying to yourself — because it works, it works, it works, it works."
A Message for Youth
In Fr. Calloway's conversion story is the effectual retort to Satan who preys on the "lost generation" and works to expand his crop of new recruits.
"The youth are bombarded by so much untruth," said Joan Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers, an apostolate of the Marians, who perform a live, multi-media presentation on the revelations of St. Faustina to parishes, schools, and prisons around the United States and beyond.
Those untruths that ensnare youth include the "anything-goes" social senility that happiness can be found though sin — through sexual promiscuity, pornography, drugs and alcohol, money, and other material things, said Joan.
"But when they are presented with the truth," she said, "... they're just absorbed. ... They just soak it in. Jesus wants them to hear this message of The Divine Mercy. He opens their hearts to His love, which is the only place where true peace and true freedom can be found."
Spiritual Needs of the Sick and Dying
To receive the outpouring of His grace, among the channels the Merciful Savior gave the world through St. Faustina was the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Christ told St. Faustina,"When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Savior (Diary of St. Faustina, 1541).
That promise has become the life work of Marie Romagnano, RN, nurse case manager and founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marians, which trains healthcare professionals to provide spiritual needs for patients, particularly through The Divine Mercy message and devotion.
"We have to embrace Divine Mercy in the setting of the hospital," she said. "We call it 'total patient care.' We are always aware that, as healthcare professionals, we are the spiritual link to Christ. Through the chaplet, we become His merciful presence at the bedside of the patient."
Pope John Paul II declared that St. Faustina's revelations are the "message for the new millennium." Through His modern apostles — in Tampa and throughout the world — word is spreading like wildfire.
The funds raised from the Tampa conference will benefit the Marians' mission in Rwanda and local Tampa Catholic Charities.
For a DVD of the Tampa conference, call the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., at 1-800-462-7426. (Product code: TAMDVD $29.95)