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top down.”

That is to say, from the Holy Father (who has con-

tinually urged the faithful to prayerfully turn to Christ,

who offers love, not scorn); from Bishop Scharfenberger

(who trusts his diocese can flourish in faith from the tiny

mustard seed of prayers and good works); and from her

pastor, Fr. Slezak (who says, “If it has anything to do

with Divine Mercy, there’s no way it won’t bear fruit”).

That’s why Alice is here — and because the spiritual

decline of her own family painfully mirrors in microcosm

that of the diocese itself. Of her six grown children, only

one remains a regular churchgoer.

“Two come when I beg them to,” she says. “Two are

devout atheists, and one is agnostic. This — and we sacri-

ficed long and hard to send them all to Catholic school.”

It’s an all-too-familiar story.

Due largely to declining Mass attendance, the Albany

diocese has closed dozens of parishes

in recent years. Holy Trinity itself is

the only remaining Catholic parish

in Cohoes. There used to be seven.

The steady slide toward “post-

Christianity” is hardly unique to

Albany; it’s just that it’s happening

more rapidly here than in other

parts of the country, the Barna

survey indicates. In the greater

Albany region, 66 percent of those

surveyed have decoupled them-

selves from affiliation with the

Christian faith. The national aver-

age is 44 percent. Two generations

ago, this would have been unheard

of in a nation built from the beach-

head of European Christian settlers.

What’s missing here?

As they will do each Tuesday evening leading up to

their consecration, the Holy Trinity parishioners partici-

pating in the

33 Days

retreat will break into small groups

to pray and discuss their families, their faith, their dio-

cese, the world, and their Christian responsibilities.

“We need to find out why people are leaving the faith

in the first place,” Doris Blais says to her fellow group

members on that opening night.

To that point, Bishop Scharfenberger, who took over

the 334,000-member diocese in 2014, has a theory

that breaks from the boilerplate excuse of collective

moral abandonment.

“We are in an age where secularism has become

a religion unto itself,” he says. “But we do need to

acknowledge that the secular mentality


to be



to be inclusive,


to be forgiv-

ing. But what’s being lost in all of this is the integration

between a life of good works and a life of prayer, which is

oriented toward God, our Creator.”

To that point, the Diocese of Albany maintains its

long-held role as a powerful force of civic good in its

emphasis on Catholic works of charity, much of that

done in tandem with other denominations and govern-

ment agencies. “But are we praising God as the Source of

all that’s good?” Bishop Scharfenberger asks. The ques-

tion is rhetorical. The answer is, “Hardly.”

And this is where Fr. Gaitley’s program comes in.

The Jubilee Year connection

As Divine Providence would have it, just as Pope

Francis was inaugurating the extraordinary Jubilee Year

of Mercy last Dec. 8, Fr. Gaitley

was finishing writing

33 Days

to Merciful Love

, a do-it-yourself

retreat that — like his 2011 book

on Marian consecration,

33 Days to Morning Glory

can be done

alone or in a group.

Indeed, as the Holy Father

was calling upon the faithful to

rediscover the mercy of God as

the Source of strength and hope,

Fr. Gaitley was unearthing and

unpacking profound insights

from St. Thérèse into the love of

Christ, who longs to pour out His

mercy, especially on sinners; her

discernment that sinners often

close their hearts to the Lord’s

mercy, a rejection that causes

Jesus great suffering; and how she asked Jesus to pour

into her soul all the rejected mercy that others didn’t

want, so that she could distribute it through prayer to a

broken world.

Since its release earlier this year, more than 100,000

people worldwide have made the consecration.

Father Gaitley wrote the book from his home at the

National Shrine of The Divine Mercy,

in Stockbridge,

Massachusetts, a mere four miles from the border of the

Diocese of Albany. When he got wind of Albany’s “post-

Christian” ranking, his Marian charism of going “where

the need is greatest” kicked in.

He and Bishop Scharfenberger formed a close bond.

Father Gaitley has made more than a dozen sorties into

the diocese to speak about the consecration. The parishes

Bishop Scharfenberger opens his diocese’s

Holy Door in Albany last Dec. 8, at the start

of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

On Nov. 20, when that door closes, he knows

other doors will open.