Supporting Vocations


Photo: Br. Mark Fanders

Lights, Cameras, Mercy!

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The following first appeared in the Summer issue of Marian Helper magazine. Get a free copy.

Lawrence Hampton is kneeling, Rosary beads laced through his fingers, a bullet still lodged near his spine, and a list of prayer intentions running through his mind like teletype.

Beside him is a woman he's only now just met — Mimi Gromek. She's looking front and center at the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Monstrance, thinking of her late husband, Edward, who used to sit beside her in these very pews, dapper in a dark suit.

A few rows up is Marian Missionary Ben Bobadilla feeling the breath of the Holy Spirit upon his soul. And there's Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, and there's longtime Marian Helper Richard Lis, too, and many others — a Shrine full.

All of them come to attention as production crew member Mike Celeri raises his arm with an authoritative flourish.

"OK, we're rolling," says Michael, going by the directive of disjointed voices coming in through his headset from a mobile control room parked out front.

"Stand by," Michael tells the assembly. "Seven, six, five, four, three —"

Lights — a veritable wall of them up on the choir loft and beside the altar of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Cameras — big, chunky, professional-grade technological marvels on booms and tripods, their red recording lights blinking.

Action — "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," begins Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, down on a kneeler in the center aisle, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Behind him, a Shrine full of Marians and Marian Helpers prepares to mark their place by means of their Rosary beads as they chant the words our Lord revealed to St. Faustina back in 1935.

The Power of a Prayer
What's going on here on this bitter, cold day of Monday, April 9, inside the spiritual headquarters for the Association of Marian Helpers?

The Marian Fathers, in conjunction with EWTN and the Flynn family from MercySong Ministries, are filming a new version of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to replace the one that's been airing daily on the global Catholic network for more than a decade — the one that's drawn untold numbers of people to the faith.

People like Anna Wishall of Kansas, who providentially came upon the Chaplet back in 2007 while channel surfing.

"I was working at a group home on the graveyard shift," Anna recalls. "I was switching channels to MTV or something. It was 6 o'clock in the morning, and I landed on EWTN, and the Chaplet was on. To be honest, I was embarrassed to be watching it and worrying that my co-workers were going to come upon me here, but I couldn't turn it off because I felt the grace of God was speaking directly to me. It grabbed my heart, and it led to a huge reversion back to the faith for me."

Now Anna's here, in this very Shrine, praying this very same prayer in a recording that untold millions will view in the years to come.

For the Marian Fathers, the filming underscores the commitment they made before God in the intriguing aftermath of St. Faustina's death in 1938, when her spiritual director, Blessed Michael Sopocko, became the de facto bearer of the Divine Mercy revelations Faustina received. But with World War II raging — and squeezed between the atheist regimes of the Nazis and Soviets, for whom the Lord's name was to be used in vain or not at all — Blessed Sopocko made perhaps the most consequential hand-off in Catholic history, giving key materials concerning Faustina's revelations to a Marian priest who was trying to get out of Europe. That priest, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, vowed that if he made it to America, he would promote Divine Mercy for the rest of his life.

He landed on American shores in May 1941. Stockbridge, now home to the Shrine and the Marian Helpers Center, has since become the world epicenter for the spread of Divine Mercy. And Fr. Jarzebowski's promise became the Marians' promise, later codified by St. Pope John Paul II when he told the Marians in 1993 to "be apostles of Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary."

The Chaplet itself is a keystone in St. Faustina's revelations. Christ gave the Chaplet to the world as an extension of the offering of our prayers at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By means of the Chaplet, He invites us to apply the benefits of that offering to any need, at any time. Countless people have had their lives changed through this simple prayer, which is prayed on ordinary Rosary beads.

"Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will," Jesus said (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1731).

Holy Aches and Pains
The new filming will begin airing on EWTN in about a year, says EWTN's Jody Copeland, the producer and director. All told, it took a full afternoon on April 9, followed by more filming the following morning to get all the footage Copeland and his crew needed before they headed back to EWTN headquarters in Irondale, Alabama. Their plan is to slice and dice the footage down to a succinct 20-minute Chaplet in song.

The 180-plus participants in the filming kneeled for hours, praying a total of 15 full Chaplets in order for the crew to get the sound and images it needed.

In the choir loft, Br. Ken Galisa, MIC, provided the organ accompaniment. The Flynn family — Vinny and Donna, and their children, Brian, Colleen, Erin, and Mary — led each decade of the Chaplet, just as they did in several Chaplet recordings from the Shrine spanning back to the 1980s that EWTN has aired.

For the assembled Marians and Marian Helpers who volunteered in the filming, their responsibility consisted of chanting the words "have mercy on us and on the whole world," time and time again. Achy knees and sore backs amounted to a small price to pay.

"We lift up all the stiff joints, sore knees, and backaches for the people we're praying for," says Vinny.
"This is awesome," says Fr. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, the Marians' postulant director, stretching during a break. "This will be on EWTN for the next 10 or 15 years. People in the future will be looking at this, and it's really great to be a part of that."

And participants were only all too delighted to make use of the opportunity to lift up the intentions of loved ones.

All the way back, in the second to the last pew, Lawrence Hampton of Bronx, New York — a former drug dealer and drug abuser — prayed for his family, his friends, and his enemies.

He still limps from nerve damage caused from a drug-related shooting back in 1994. The bullet remains inside him because it's too risky to remove. It was only a year ago that he checked himself into St. Anthony Shelter for Renewal, founded by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and got clean, physically and spiritually. Several months later, on Nov. 19, he was Baptized.

Now he's here in this Shrine, at this historic filming.

"I had asked God to remove the taste and cravings for drugs, and He did," Lawrence says. "He's been rebuilding me from the inside out."

Everyone has their own story.

A few pews away, Rosemary Tirone of Portchester, New York, prays for her nine grandchildren and four children, including a son serving in Afghanistan.

"With each 'For the sake of His sorrowful Passion,' I lift up a different loved one," she says.

As does Ann Clark of Bedford, New Hampshire. "I'm here with great gratitude," she says. "And among my prayer intentions are for those who will watch this."

Future viewers are precisely whom Fr. Joe has in mind as he leads the congregation in prayer just before the filming commences at 1:15 p.m. on April 9.

"We cry out for mercy today to You, Lord," he said. "We ask for You to pour out Your mercy to the world. We hold up to You the sick and the suffering, the dying, the imprisoned, the people who are far from You, who are alienated from You, people who need healing in so many ways.

"God gave the world the Chaplet," said Fr. Joe, "because He knew we would need it."

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