As Catholics from a wide area gathered at St. Anthony de Padua Church in South Bend on April 8, their special observance of Divine Mercy Sunday evoked memories of trust and faith traced through the lives of God’s children.
Several local traditions surrounded the celebration of Mass at 3 p.m. on what was also the Second Sunday of Easter. The practices have developed over time, and a multiparish Divine Mercy Committee has consistently made annual plans to mark the devotion. St. Anthony Parish has hosted the day’s activities for several years.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited the parish and celebrated a vigil Mass Saturday evening. Then on Sunday the sacrament of reconciliation, offered by eight priests, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began at 1 p.m. A group of musicians, drawn from different parishes, led the assembly in the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Another local tradition, veneration of a relic of the True Cross, and relics of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun to whom Jesus revealed His message of Divine Mercy, followed Sunday’s Mass.
Father Bob Garrow, whom Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades officially installed as pastor of St. Anthony de Padua on April 7, was principal celebrant. His homily looked through a merciful lens at St. Thomas the Apostle, who was recalled in the Gospel reading as having doubted the appearance of the resurrected Jesus.
“There was something rather commendable about that man,” Father Garrow told the congregation that had filled the church. Thomas, by demanding to probe the Savior’s wounds, was seeking the ultimate kind of love — not only the love of a teacher, king or wonder-worker, but a love “that went to death for another.”
Popular cultural references to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” tend to downplay Christ’s demonstration of love as a sacrificial victim, Father Garrow said. Thomas’s desire for the love of a “super scar” drew him into the wounds of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “Thomas sees Divine Mercy in physical form,” he said.
The familiar image of the Divine Mercy, with blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side and the words “Jesus I Trust in You,” was placed alongside the altar.
Father Garrow and concelebrants Father Paul Doyle, CSC, Father Edward Krause, CSC, and Father Edward O’Connor, CSC, blessed rosaries and other holy articles brought to the Mass.
Other participants in the day’s celebrations included Deacon Brian Miller and Debby and Randy Blum, longtime co-directors of the Divine Mercy planning team. Every year, the planners send packets to 33 parishes in the region with materials about the celebration and its history. Father O’Connor has served the committee as spiritual advisor since the 1990s.
“Each of us have been touched by Divine Mercy in one way or another, so this is a labor of love for each of us,” Debby commented prior to the celebration.
“Divine Mercy was especially important to me when my father was dying of pancreatic and liver cancer in 1996,” she recalled. Praying the chaplet was something I could do for my dad. We were all by his side just before he died. I told him, ‘Daddy, I have been praying that Jesus will send His mother to come take you to heaven.’ He responded, ‘She’s here.’ He took two more breaths and then passed peacefully. What an answer to my prayers!”
Separately, Father Garrow commented on a connection that added meaning to the day for him. “Being installed as a first-time pastor on the weekend of Divine Mercy is truly a sign of God’s blessing in my life,” he said. He also recalled, “I was ordained in June of 2016, during the Year of Mercy.” In addition, the feast day for St. Faustina is Oct. 5, “which happens to be my birthday.”
Divine Mercy Sunday was added to the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in 2000, occurring on the Second Sunday of Easter. Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul II, a great champion of the messages given to St. Faustina, died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
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