STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Father Kazimierz Chwalek learned about the Divine Mercy behind the Iron Curtain.
As a young graduate student, he happened upon an altar with the Divine Mercy image on it. Later as a priest of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Father Chwalek helped translate the mystical writings of St. Faustina Kowalska into English for the first time. Since that time, he has come to be recognized as one of the leading authorities on St. Faustina and her revelations of Divine Mercy.
Father Chwalek will be a chaplain at the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, which will be held in Rome from April 2-6.
You’ve been involved in spreading the message of Mercy for some time. How did you first come to hear about St. Faustina and Divine Mercy?
When I was in graduate school in Lublin, Poland, there was an altar with the Divine Mercy image in it. That was the first time I’d seen it. Then, just before I joined the community in 1979, one of the Marians asked me if I wanted to take a closer look at Divine Mercy.
Father Seraphim Michalenko later asked me to help translate St. Faustina’s diary into English from the original Polish. He had photographed each page of her diary and smuggled the film out of Poland, which was still communist at the time.
In the process, I had to read the diary very carefully. I began to get into the message and mystery of mercy which gave me an incredible sense of peace and deep union with Christ. I felt very spiritually nourished through this whole message.
John Paul II put Divine Mercy Sunday on the Church calendar on the day he canonized St. Faustina. That was a pivotal moment in fulfilling Christ’s desire to tell the world about his mercy. Is this meeting the next big step?
Absolutely. The idea of the congress was born in the heart of a gathering of Divine Mercy promoters in Krakow in 2005. There Cardinal Christoph Schönborn felt that the flame of mercy that the Lord has given the world should be spread. He was inspired by John Paul II’s consecration of the world to Divine Mercy. The Cardinal asked Pope Benedict to bless the Divine Mercy Congress and he responded very positively.
Secondly, if this congress were to be held every three to four years, whether in Rome or in other locations around the world, it will be a powerful way of promoting the message and spirituality of mercy.
We will do so through pastoral programs, conferences and activities, including works of mercy so that people will share in the incredible gift of forgiveness that God gave to the world though his Son.
What is the event’s goal?
Obviously, the goal is to bring the message of mercy to the world. The theme of the first day will be dedicated to the prophetic vision of Pope John Paul II regarding Divine Mercy. He published his encyclical on Divine Mercy [Dives in Misericordia] in 1980. Then slowly many things led to the beatification and canonization of St. Faustina — and the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday.
Other themes include mercy in the mystery of the Church, communion of the Church, stimulated by mercy, and mercy for the mission of the Church, followed by a closing celebration of the Eucharist on St. Peter’s Square on the final day.
Will the Holy Father preside at that Mass?
There’s a strong belief that the Holy Father will do so. He will hold his general audience on the first day of the congress, so all participants will attend that.
Who will attend the meeting aside from Divine Mercy promoters?
There are several groups. There will be national delegations and diocesan delegations. Bishops have been invited to name representatives who would build a team to witness what happens in Rome and bring that back to their own diocese.
There will be groups who promote Divine Mercy. Also, individuals are able to register. The Church in Poland has already designated over 2,000 people to attend. We believe that a large number from the United States will go, also from South America and other countries like the Philippines.
What is your role?
I assist our national director, Father Matthew Mauriello. I am also a member of the international committee. On that level, we designated the scope, formulated the objectives, and the program itself.
On a personal level, I had many meetings prior to the official proclamation of the World Apostolic Congress. I had the pleasure of accompanying [the congress’ general coordinator] Father Patrice Chocholski to many of the initial gatherings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops because that’s where we were first informed that the bishops were open to Cardinal Schönborn’s idea for the congress.
We were trying to decide whether this would be a one-time only congress or if we’d follow the Eucharistic Congress’ model.
It was my suggestion that we hold it on an ongoing basis because the message of mercy is crucial for the world and for our salvation. So, this will be the first of them, held every four years, possibly.
How will these congresses help explain Christ’s immense mercy — both the scriptural account of his mercy and the message relayed through St. Faustina?
The message of mercy in her diary is not original. It taps into Scripture. There is only one source of mercy and that is Christ. We hope that it will help people deepen their knowledge of Scripture, especially the mystery of mercy in biblical revelation. And we’re hoping to publish a book which would tap into the biblical understanding of mercy.
Another way is to experience mercy through the sacramental life of the Church. So, we’re hoping people will gain a deeper sense of mercy and then participate in the merciful love of God through the sacraments. Another dimension is having people return to the sacraments, especially reconciliation — and the Eucharist, which is the source of all merciful love.
The third one is works of mercy — rediscovering how we can help each other through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Lastly, we’re called to celebrate and rejoice in God’s mercy through worship and adoration. The Congress seeks to highlight that which has already been given by the Lord.
writes from Naples, Florida.