Apr 27, 2014

Thousands celebrate Divine Mercy message, sainthood of two popes



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

STOCKBRIDGE – Divine Mercy Sunday held special meaning for pilgrims here at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy this year since Pope John Paul II, who instituted Divine Mercy Sunday as a feast day of the church 14 years ago, was made a saint the same day.

More than 20,000 gathered on Eden Hill here April 27, joining in solidarity with the half a million participants in Rome for the canonization of both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

The celebration, held the week after Easter each year, offers a variety of activities for the faithful including Eucharistic adoration, confession, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and an afternoon Mass.

The Mass was celebrated by Msgr. James Lisante, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Massapequa Park, New York. Msgr. Lisante is also an author and regular contributor to Fox News.

“We gather this Divine Mercy Sunday under very special circumstances,” he told the throngs of umbrella-wielding pilgrims seated on the hill of the 350-acre shrine.

“Today, in our spiritual home in Rome, Pope Francis will canonize two extraordinary examples of the power of Divine Mercy being expressed through two amazingly good human lives,” the monsignor said as the sun teased attendees, chasing the rain away for only short snippets of time.

Msgr. Lisante went on to give describe how each saint pope lived as Catholic models for all.

“I believe that the message of Divine Mercy resonated in the heart and soul of Karol Wojtyla,” he said, “because his own belief in the power of compassion, the power of mercy, had been so profoundly tested.”

Now known as St. Pope John Paul II and St. Pope John XXIII, each holy father was canonized by Pope Francis several hours before the 1 p.m. Mass held in Stockbridge, since Rome is six hours ahead of the eastern United States.

“I experienced such a conversion a couple of years ago when I came here,” Danica Sequeira told iobserve. “I just can’t explain the joy and the love that I felt from God being here.”

Sequeira, from Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, traveled the seven-and-a-half-hour journey to Stockbridge for Divine Mercy Sunday with her husband and her one-year-old son.

“If I could tell people that have not been here, I would say you have to come here at least once in your lifetime,” she said. This was, in fact, the first time her husband and son had been able to attend with her. “I felt compelled, that God was calling them to be here,” she said. The family belongs to Merciful Redeemer Parish in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Sequeira saw Pope John Paul II when he traveled to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002. “Today was important for me to be able to come celebrate his canonization,” she said. She recalled, “just how beautiful his sermon was and just the promotion of God’s mercy and love that He has for us.”

Will Alvarez, a resident of Highland Mills, New York and a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Monroe, New York, says that coming to the shrine is very meaningful for him. “It’s like stepping into a sacred place,” he told iobserve. “Being here in person, you can feel the difference, you can sense it.”

Alvarez has been attending Divine Mercy Sunday events at the shrine for the last seven years. “I’m strong-willed and I think I could do things on my own,” he said, “but, in the end, if I look back, I had help. And that’s the mercy of God. (God) is the only one I can credit for that.”

The story of Divine Mercy begins in the 1930’s when now-St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, received a series of revelations from Jesus. She recounted the messages in her diary, messages of urging peoples everywhere to receive the sacraments, especially Communion and reconciliation.

St. Faustina was asked by Jesus to create the Divine Mercy image, an image of the risen Christ with rays emanating from His heart, which is how she saw Him when He appeared to her.

Following his homily, Msgr. Lisante blessed the crowd with a first class relic of St. Pope John Paul II.

At 3 p.m., the Divine Mercy Chaplet was held as numerous attendees, kneeling in the mud, expressed their devotion as they fervently participated.

Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated in parishes all over the world on the second Sunday of Easter each year.

For a video version of this story, tune in to the May 3 edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.