METUCHEN, N.J. — James and Colleen Dimino can't wait for April 30. And not just because the Second Sunday of Easter is Mercy Sunday, according to Blessed Sister Faustina Kowalska, to whom they have a special devotion.
This year, April 30 is the day Pope John Paul II will declare Sister Faustina a saint.
The canonization will be the most momentous in a string of recent developments in which the Diminos have seen the Church give its approbation to their work.
Their Metuchen, N.J., group is the first apostolate officially commissioned by a diocese to spread Blessed Faustina's message of Divine Mercy, which is based on apparitions recorded by the Polish nun who died in 1938.
The founding couple said the Diocese of Metuchen Divine Mercy Apostolate began in 1991 when the diocese's bishop gave permission to hold the Divine Mercy devotion at Blessed Sacrament Shrine in Raritan. For that first celebration, 350 people packed the chapel.
As the devotion grew, a lay group at the shrine asked Bishop Vincent DePaul Breen, the next bishop, for permission to form the apostolate.
Granting it in September 1998, he requested that the group spread the message of Divine Mercy to all 108 parishes in the diocese, explained James Dimino.
“As far as I know, he's the first bishop who assigned anybody to spread this to all parishes,” said Father S. Seraphim Michalenko of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who is rector of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.
Father Michalenko was also vice postulator for North America in Blessed Faustina's canonization cause.
Father Anthony Dandry, one of two priests working in the apostolate, described the group: “These are ordinary Roman Catholic men and women from different walks of life who are on fire with zeal for this devotion because of love for Christ and the salvation of others and because their lives have been so deeply influenced by the mercy of Christ.”
In a written statement for the Register, Bishop Breen recalled the “impressive history” of the devotion in his diocese which began with the backing of his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Edward T. Hughes.
“It is my firm belief,” he wrote, “that any devotion that leads the faithful to a more frequent and fruitful celebration of the sacraments — especially reconciliation and the most holy Eucharist — deserves to be supported.”
To spread the message, the Metuchen apostolate speaks to priests attending meetings of the diocese's deaneries, talks to church groups and produces radio messages. The group has also produced a video.
“The video is a good tool, a good starting point,” James Dimino said. It explains both the group and the message of Divine Mercy: from Jesus’ revelations to Blessed Faustina, called the Apostle and Secretary of Divine Mercy in apparitions; to the image of Divine Mercy the devotion promotes; to Pope John Paul II's personal devotion to Divine Mercy.
At deanery meetings, the apostolate shows a condensed version of the video and provides a packet with full details on the Divine Mercy devotion.
“One thing we stress to priests,” Dimino said, “is that we know how busy they are during the Easter season.” To lighten their load, the apostolate shows how to celebrate Mercy Sunday in simple form.
“And we constantly stress the involvement of dedicated laity in each parish,” said Dimino. “They're the ones that help the priests get the information out to others on what Mercy Sunday is all about.”
Two are Albert Alimena of Sayerville, N.J., and Marie Berardi of Old Bridge, N.J.
Alimena was so moved by the Divine Mercy message he learned from Father Dandry that he himself began distributing pamphlets about it to Catholics in New York, Mexico and Portugal. In addition, he raised money through family and friends, and through canisters he placed in diners and pizzerias. The canisters raised money in New Jersey, Staten Island and Brooklyn to build a church for the poor in Ecuador. Named the Church of Divine Mercy, it is nearing completion.
Alimena said he has been inspired to “reach out to souls for God” to tell them that “God's mercy and his love is there and to … keep asking for forgiveness.”
Marie Berardi of Old Bridge had been away from the Church a decade when she went to confession and was given a card explaining the Divine Mercy devotion. When she finally read it, she began praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. “Things started to get better,” she recalled. Her depression lifted.
Then, her devout uncle, going into the hospital, was “extremely afraid to go before his Lord” and frightened of purgatory. He began praying the chap-let of Divine Mercy. He died, but “the day I saw him,” Berardi said, “his head was high, his chest was out, and he was not afraid to die.” Now she is very active in her parish with the Divine Mercy devotion year-round.
Nothing special is needed to celebrate Mercy Sunday, Dimino explained. “You don't have to do an elaborate ceremony that day.”
Because the liturgy can be the Mass of the day, he said this essentially means everyone can celebrate Mercy Sunday and fulfill the request made to Blessed Faustina in her apparitions of Jesus.
In the Metuchen Diocese, the first gathering of 350 devotees has grown to 5,000 people celebrating Mercy Sunday at 20 different churches last year. Because of Blessed Faustina's canonization, this year's celebration is focused at St. Francis Cathedral in Metuchen. The homilist will be Father Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal and EWTN host. The bishop, who will be the main celebrant, will be presented a first-class relic of Faustina.
“If you approve the messenger, you approve the message,” Father Apostoli told the Register.
“As we celebrate it,” Dimino noted, “we're finding people coming back to the sacrament of reconciliation who've been away 15, 20 years.”
Father Dandry offered a vivid description of the promise that day offers those who go to confession within eight days, sincerely repent and practice acts of mercy: “This is an executive pardon from Christ himself.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.