USA: 18,000 Pilgrims Flock to Shrine Celebration
By Dan Valenti
This one was different.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, 2009, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., the weather made of itself a pleasant gift from God to 18,000 delighted pilgrims. No snow, rain, sleet, wind, cold, or dark of night — only a pleasant, mild, and sunny New England spring day.
Weather, though, ultimately proves incidental to God's infinite love for His creation. Mercy works equally well in a tempest or in temperance.
Umbrellas for the Sun
"People brought all sorts of rain gear and cold weather clothes, and look: They're using their umbrellas for the sun," said a laughing Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. "This [weather] is an extra gift of the Lord on this amazing day of grace," said Fr. Kaz.
The "amazing day" centered on love.
"Divine Mercy is a form of God's love," said the Most Rev. Edward Ozorowski, Archbishop of Bialystok, Poland, in an interview prior to Mass. "Saint John the Evangelist said 'God is love.' He added to that love by sharing with us His mercy." Archbishop Ozorowski emphasized that God's mercy is for all, literally every person on earth regardless of qualifiers.
Awash in a Sea of Pilgrims
Diversity was in evidence in the sea of pilgrims, with people from a dazzling multitude of races, ages, ethnicities, abilities, socio-economic strata, and nationalities converging on Eden Hill to partake of the graces Jesus promised the world on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Three young women wearing identical yellow sweatshirts typified this quilted variety. They had come from East Boston to sing their hearts out. The women represented the Brazilian choir from the Sons of Mary Madonna Queen Shrine, who sang from the altar at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine during the 1 p.m. liturgy. An audience of millions watched the Mass on Catholic television network EWTN.
"We can't live without His mercy. [Without it] we can't believe or be able to move on," said Eudineia Candida. Her two friends echoed the remarks:
"Through mercy, my faith has grown stronger," said Natalia Amorim, a student at Regis College. "This has definitely helped me to grow as a person. When I'm down or have a setback, the Church helps me get back up. God is always willing to forgive and help me become a better person." Maristela Nicolini, speaking in lilting English spiced with an Italian accent, said she could not imagine her life "going forward without God's mercy. If left on our own, we could not do it — but God does not leave us alone or abandon us. He loves us too much."
'Blue Cap' to the Rescue
Mari Camanaha served as a "blue cap" volunteer helping the Marians with crowd control. The more than 500 volunteers performing sundry roles served on this day. This, too, was an act of mercy. They wore caps of different colors so pilgrims and fellow volunteers could easily spot them.
Mari, looking pretty in her baseball cap of powder blue, is a registered nurse from Hawaii. She is a doctoral student at Catholic University, Washington, D.C., part of a group of 14 students who made the trip to Eden Hill as part of a Divine Mercy weekend retreat.
"I've had a longing in my heart to come to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy for over four years," Mari said. She mentioned having recently returned from a nine-day medical mission trip to Haiti sponsored by the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart, a group of religious sisters from Washington, D.C. There, she and the missionaries performed corporal works of mercy of taking care of the sick and giving sustenance to the hungry and thirsty.
"Mercy is so awesome," Mari said. "No matter what you've done in life, God's mercy is so enormous that the joy one gets is inexpressible." Asked if her first trip to the National Shrine lived up to her expectations, she broke out in a radiant smile and said, "Oh, yes!"
Truth for Youth
Deacon Andy Davy, MIC, who will become a Marian priest on May 30, said in an interview before Mass that the Church needs young people to discover the richness of faith and to become part of an evangelical revitalization.
"There are many factors involved in trying to convince more of our youth to turn to God," said Deacon Andy, who read the "Doubting Thomas" Gospel at the 1 p.m. Mass in both English and Spanish. "One of the most powerful [techniques] of sharing faith is to provide a witness to faith. We can do that in our daily lives, in the work we do, and in how we treat one another."
Reminded that through his impending priesthood, he will be uniquely positioned to help people, especially youth, Deacon Andy nodded in assent. He made a crucial point about God's mercy when he said we are invited to receive this gift freely and required to extend this gift freely to others.
A Swap of Relics
At the start of Holy Mass, the Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield, Mass., blessed the Outdoor Shrine as Ordinary of the Springfield Diocese. Also, relics were exchanged.
Archbishop Ozorowski presented the Marians with a first-class relic of Blessed Michael Sopocko, St. Faustina's confessor and spiritual director. Blessed Michael was beatified in the Archbishop's Diocese of Bialystok last year on Sept. 28.
The Marians returned the favor in kind, presenting Archbishop Ozorowski with a relic of Blessed George Matulewicz-Matulaitis, the Marian Renovator. One hundred years ago, in 1909, Blessed George joined the Marians with special papal permission, doubling the membership from one to two. He then revised the Marian Constitution.
Today, from two men the Marians number more than 500 priests and brothers serving throughout the world. Through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, the Marians will celebrate the centennial year of their renovation.
'Mercy Prolongs Love'
In his homily, Archbishop Ozorowski said, "Mercy does not begin where love comes to an end. Mercy prolongs love and makes it even more beautiful. Mercy cannot be taken lightly. God is ever the Father, and every son — even the prodigal son — is to love Him, trust in Him, and keep returning to Him."
Several other events and spiritual graces filled out the day's schedule:
• 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Tent
• 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., presentations on spiritual topics at the Outdoor Shrine
• 3 p.m. Divine Mercy Novena and Chaplet; Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; and blessing of religious articles and water.
In keeping with tradition, the Marians blessed each car and bus as it exited Eden Hill to Pine Street from there to make the journey home. People in the shuttle buses to off-site parking were blessed at the Prospect Hill Road entrance to Eden Hill. Pilgrims in the shuttle busses parked off-site were blessed at Prospect Hill Road, which borders Eden Hill.
The pilgrims left overflowing with mercy and, we hope, determined to share it freely with others.