‘Plunged into God’s mercy’
Conversion stories abound at conference focusing on feast of Divine Mercy
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Anne DiBernardo – Florida Catholic
ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC
Archbishop Thomas Wenski speaks at the opening Mass of the Divine Mercy conference held March 12 on the campus of St. Thomas University.
MIAMI GARDENS — “A bucket of liquid peace being poured over me” and “being plunged into the mercy of God and surrounded by grace” are some of the ways people have described their encounter with Jesus on the feast of Divine Mercy, which is celebrated on the Octave of Easter.
This year’s feast will coincide with the beatification of John Paul II, May 1. In order to help parishes celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, a conference was held March 12 at St. Thomas University’s Fernandez Center, drawing about 750 participants from the Archdiocese of Miami.
A special seminar for priests, held the evening before the conference, was well attended by clergy from several dioceses and other countries. The focus was on instructing priests on how to correctly celebrate the Octave of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday. Special stress was placed on the importance of celebrating Easter for a full eight days, as the Church has done since the beginning, although the emphasis on the last day has been lost over the years.
Robert Allard, director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy, has been promoting Divine Mercy Sunday ever since he received a miracle on the feast of Divine Mercy in 1996. He believes the Holy Spirit led him to bring the conference to Miami.
“I felt there was a need to bring a clear understanding of Divine Mercy Sunday to the diocese of Miami. The emphasis on the conference was to pull away from celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday as some type of party for devotees; to rather focusing on what Jesus wants — to bring sinners to him so he can heal and strengthen them on this feast,” said Allard. “Even the earthquake and the tsunami that happened this weekend were very providential. It makes people pay attention to the state of their souls.”
ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC Catholic convert Angelina Girard prays with her husband Dennis during the Mass.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski welcomed the participants to the conference by celebrating the opening Mass. Guest speakers included Father Seraphim Michalenko, Marians of the Immaculate Conception, the world’s leading theologian on the Octave of Easter / feast of Divine Mercy; Father Jose Maniyangat, who actually died on the feast of Divine Mercy and says he was sent back on a mission to heal; and Maria de los Angeles Exposito , founder and director of the Contemplative Cenacle of the Divine Mercy in Miami.
“We are so blessed to have Bishop Wenski. It just warms my heart because he loves Divine Mercy so much,” Allard said, noting that Archbishop Wenski was the first bishop in North America to name a parish after St. Faustina while he served in the Orlando Diocese.
Archbishop Wenski spoke of the history surrounding the Divine Mercy devotion.
“In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized the first saint of the new millennium, St. Faustina Kowalska, the apostle of the Divine Mercy devotion. The canonization took place on the second Sunday of Easter and after the ceremony the Holy Father indicated that henceforth the last day of the Octave of Easter would be designated Divine Mercy Sunday. This designation is, as the official decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship said, ‘…a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come.’”
Archbishop Wenski said he first learned about the devotion when he was a young priest at Corpus Christi Parish in Miami.
“One of the people I brought communion to on First Fridays was an elderly Polish lady who always had in her hand a pamphlet of the Divine Mercy devotion. At that time, in 1976, there was still a bit of a cloud surrounding this devotion — Rome had not yet officially approved of it. But a bishop worked to change that… and that bishop, the Archbishop of Krakow, soon became the Bishop of Rome, John Paul II. And, as he used to say: There is no such thing as coincidences, only manifestations of Divine Providence. And in that Divine Providence, this pope, John Paul II, will be raised to the altars in beatification ceremonies that will take place later this year, on May 1st, Divine Mercy Sunday.”
During Allard’s talk he explained that he had been away from the church for 25 years but in 1993, while he was driving, he had a two-hour encounter with Jesus that changed his life.
“Jesus showed me all of my sins and all the destruction it left in my life and how those sins affected others, my brothers and sisters and friends, and how I was called —and we are all called — to be saints. After this experience I knew that Jesus was alive. He was asking me to help him. He made me feel that if I didn’t help him, that he would be miserable, but I believe that he has called us all to give him 100 percent and if we don’t, we will be hurting him very much.”
In 1996, Allard was led to read the Diary of St. Faustina.
“I read every word of Jesus. I couldn’t put that book down. Jesus told Faustina that she was going to prepare the world for his final coming. Jesus also said the Feast of Mercy he wanted to establish in the Church on the Sunday after Easter will one day be the last hope of salvation. When I heard that our Lord wanted a feast of Mercy celebrated in Church and he made that incredible promise — for the total forgiveness of all sins and punishment for anyone who went to confession and received holy Communion — that led me to go to confession,” Allard said.
ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC
Robert Allard, director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy, gives witness to his experience of God’s Divine Mercy.
He said he had been back in the Church for three years after his experience, but never went to confession because he had the erroneous belief that he could confess his sins directly to God. So, on Divine Mercy Sunday in 1996, after reading the diary, he experienced another miracle.
“Unexpectedly after going to Mass and receiving Communion on that feast day, it felt like someone had come up from behind me and had poured a whole bucket of liquid peace all over me. And while it was happening, I heard Jesus clearly speak to me. He said, ‘When I say something, I mean it.’ It felt like I was in heaven all day long.”
A few days later Allard was flipping through St. Faustina’s diary again. “These words of Jesus jumped right out at me: ‘I pour out a whole ocean of graces to those souls who approach the fount of my mercy.’ When I read those words, the hair just stood up on my arms because Jesus was reminding me of what had happened on the feast of Mercy when I felt that ocean of mercy being poured all over me, like liquid peace. Jesus was showing me that it wasn’t just about the forgiveness of sins and punishment; that is just the enticement. The real ‘biggie’ on that day is the outpouring of a whole ocean of graces like no other day, a day set apart from any other day, a modern day fulfillment of the ‘feast of atonement’.”
Allard said Divine Mercy Sunday is in reality a feast for sinners, not the saved. “Jesus told St. Faustina that the worst sinners are going to receive the greatest sanctity. So this is an automatic evangelization tool. This is not our idea, it is Jesus’. He wants to completely pardon and heal everyone before He comes … giving them a straight ticket to heaven. And what could be better news than that?”
“I was a fallen away Catholic,” said Mary, a conference participant who preferred not to give her last name. “I wasn’t just fallen; my soul was buried and forgotten for 30 years. After the very traumatic illness and death of my husband, I knew that I had to start somewhere to try to prepare my soul for my death. It took me weeks before I found the desire to go to reconciliation and overcome my fear of ‘confessing.’ But I needed more than just the forgiveness. It was not that I doubted God, I doubted me.
“My confessor handed me a scrap of paper with the address of a local Catholic church that was holding a celebration of Mercy Sunday and I went as instructed,” Mary continued. “Sitting in quiet adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and then venerating the cross, brought a peace to me that had not been there before. I knew I was still weak but I was no longer miserable. I do not have the words to explain but I knew I had been plunged into the mercy of God and surrounded by grace. I did not have to do anything — just accept. Each year, Divine Mercy Sunday marks the beginning of my spiritual life.”
“Everybody needs to hear the good news. What could be better good news?” said Allard, who also has a website, www.DivineMercySunday.com and has appeared on EWTN. “Divine Mercy Sunday correctly celebrated has the ability to double the number of parishioners in each parish every year. Jesus told St. Faustina that those that will be filled with his mercy will not be able to be quiet. It is exactly what the church needs today.”