David Came lives with a passion for Divine Mercy.
As the editor of one of the largest Catholic quarterly magazines in the country, he has worked to spread the Divine Mercy message and devotion since the mid-1990s — long before most Catholics had ever heard of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish mystic and “secretary” of Christ’s mercy.
Came, editor of Marian Helper magazine, has just published Pope Benedict’s Divine Mercy Mandate, which chronicles Pope Benedict XVI’s passion to proclaim that Divine Mercy isn’t simply an optional devotion — it’s the heart of the Gospel message. Came spoke to Register correspondent Patrick Novecosky from his office in Stockbridge, Mass.
You’ve been a writer and editor in Catholic circles for several decades. Has faith always been central in your life and work?
It has. I grew up in Nevada as a devout Catholic with devout parents. I had some struggles in terms of dealing with the presence of evil in the world when I was in college. But we prayed the daily Rosary in my family and my parents were daily communicants, so the faith was always there for me.
How did learning about Divine Mercy deepen your experience of the faith?
It opened up for me the whole dimension that God is merciful and loving in an unconditional way. One thing that stands out for me was seeing the Divine Mercy image for the first time in a religious goods store. It was a tug at the heart. In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia, he developed the theme of God’s mercy by unpacking the unconditional love the father shows to the prodigal son. It’s come to the forefront now in my spiritual life. It’s an urgent message for the world as the heart of the Gospel.
John Paul has been heralded as “the Great Mercy Pope.” What inspired you to write a book about Pope Benedict?
Interestingly, it developed from John Paul II’s death back in 2005. We were working on a commemorative edition of Marian Helper magazine, and what really leaped off the page for me was that the day after Pope Benedict’s election, in his first message as Pope, he talked about receiving the gift of Divine Mercy through the intercession of John Paul II. So I began to wonder if this was something that will be indicative of his papacy. I followed his statements over the course of the first 3 1/2 years of his papacy and saw a definite pattern: that he was building upon John Paul II’s commitment to Divine Mercy.
April 19 is Divine Mercy Sunday this year and the fourth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s election. A coincidence?
I think it’s a God-incidence. Not only did he talk about receiving the gift of Divine Mercy on the day after his election, but he also marked his 80th birthday on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2007. On that occasion, he talked about receiving the gift of Divine Mercy through his birth and rebirth. He said rebirth because he was baptized the very day he was born, which was Holy Saturday. Given what he said in his first message and what he said in 2007, it’s going to be fascinating to see what he will say on the fourth anniversary of his election on Divine Mercy Sunday.
What do you think he will say?
I think he’s going to talk about Divine Mercy as a great treasure, a patrimony that has been given to us by John Paul II, and how he has served as a guarantor of that message. I don’t know exactly what his words will be, but he certainly has laid the groundwork for passing this legacy on to the entire Church. He’s talked about it in those terms throughout his papacy.
Why do you think he’s picked up the ball from John Paul II and run with it with regards to Divine Mercy?
He recognizes that it isn’t simply an optional devotion. Some people think this just has to do with a Polish Pope and a Polish nun, that is, St. Faustina, who is the mystic associated with the message. In the opening chapters of my book, I explore how Pope Benedict really gets that Divine Mercy is at the heart of the paschal mystery — the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, on Divine Mercy Sunday 2008, he went so far as to say, “Mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ.” Those are very strong words.
What, then, is Pope Benedict’s Divine Mercy mandate?
He gave the mandate itself at the conclusion of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy last April. He said, “I address my cordial greeting, which now becomes a mandate: Go forth and be witnesses of God’s mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world.”
Those who study his writings and homilies know that Pope Benedict is a deep thinker who chooses his words with care. “Mandate” is a very strong word that packs a punch. And this mandate is global in scope. He talks about it as a source of hope for the whole world.
In terms of us living that mandate, we should enter into prayer with the Lord Jesus Christ, thanking him for his mercy and for saving us from our sins. What this awareness of mercy can do is give us a renewed, fresh appreciation for how much we need God’s mercy.
We need to be merciful ourselves, showing mercy to others. Pope Benedict has great insights along those lines in his book Jesus of Nazareth, where he talks about the Good Samaritan. He says the Good Samaritan was struck in the soul by the lightning flash of mercy. That helped me see the compelling need to help my neighbor who is in desperate straits. It’s not time to stop and think about it. I need to act — like a firefighter who, without any hesitation, will enter a burning building to save lives.
What does Benedict say about the importance of our trust in God’s mercy?
In 2006, he said, “John Paul II echoed and interpreted … a central message precisely for our time: mercy as God’s power, as a divine barrier against the evil of the world.” He’s saying that the Lord limits evil in our world. That runs the gamut, from the personal to the global. For example, we can pray for an end to terrorism in our world and for an end to violence at the local high school. It doesn’t mean that the situation is going to change immediately, but it can become a fundamental disposition of our hearts when we are willing to trust in him.
We should never despair of God’s mercy, even in the face of the great evils of our own time — abortion, terrorism, and the breakdown of the family. There is no evil that the power of God’s love and mercy cannot overcome. To me, that’s incredibly comforting.
Pope Benedict opened the first World Mercy Congress a year ago on the third anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death. What was the congress’s principal significance?
It puts God’s mercy right front and center in the life of the Church. It’s not something that is minor or optional. There will be a North American Congress on Divine Mercy in November at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. There are similar national and continental congresses occurring around the world. In 2011, there are plans for another World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Krakow, Poland, under the direction of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Pope Benedict has really become a mercy pope in his own right. Do you expect it will be a significant part of his legacy?
I do. He’s building upon the foundation laid by John Paul II. It will be an aspect of Benedict’s papacy that we will look back upon. A good example of it is the recent controversy having to do with the four Lefebvrite bishops, whose excommunications he lifted. Bishop Williamson minimized the Holocaust, undermining the Church’s attempt to reconcile with those of the Jewish faith. In a very personal letter, Pope Benedict wrote that the whole point of lifting the excommunications was as a gesture of mercy towards the St. Pius X Society, which is in schism with the Church. It was an act of reconciliation. He couched it in those terms. When this firestorm of criticism came his way, he wrote about his trust in Jesus being key in how he was dealing with it. That indicates he’s bringing the lens of Divine Mercy to bear as he deals with difficulties and challenges in his papacy.
Patrick Novecosky writes
from Naples, Florida.