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SALEM -- The community at St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy held several consecutive events and activities on April 29 to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. These included Eucharistic Adoration, a special Mass, a reception, Stations of the Cross through the streets of Salem, and veneration of a relic of the shrine's namesake.
Formerly St. John the Baptist Polish Church, the St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy emphasizes the contributions of two Polish saints, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska and Pope John Paul II. St. John Paul II instituted the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, in keeping with the instructions that Sister Maria Faustina received in visions of Christ. These instructions also included the commission of the Divine Mercy image.
As part of the celebration, Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley along with Bishop Mark O'Connell, and Bishop Wieslaw Lechowicz, an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Tarnow, Poland. The Mass included readings and hymns in Polish.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley said the first reading in the liturgy, from the Acts of the Apostles, had "great meaning" for him. In this reading, people carried the sick into the street so Peter's shadow would fall on them. Cardinal O'Malley said this reminded him of the first time he met John Paul II in 1979, during the pope's trip to Mexico. John Paul II traveled the 60 miles from Mexico City to Puebla in an open car. Cardinal O'Malley said the crowd extended the whole length of the journey and that people came and slept near the highway the night before "because they wanted Peter's shadow to touch them."
"It was such a liberating experience for these people who had suffered so much and been persecuted for their faith," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He spoke of the many gifts John Paul II gave the Church, such as the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, World Youth Day, and Divine Mercy Sunday.
"It's amazing when we think how quickly the devotion to Divine Mercy spread throughout the world in one generation. I grew up in a world here where no one, at least in America, had ever heard of Divine Mercy. Now, it's part of our life as Catholics," the cardinal said.
He said that World Youth Day was also "a great gift" from John Paul II, and that about a third of men currently attending American seminaries have been to World Youth Day.
"It's just one indication of the impact that this has had on our world," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley examined the Gospel reading about Jesus appearing to the apostles on Easter Sunday and one week later on what is now called Divine Mercy Sunday.
"The apostles were too afraid to accompany Jesus to Calvary. I'm sure that they were ashamed. But Jesus isn't there to scold them or to reprimand them. He's there to forgive them and give them the power to forgive. This is the first gift of Easter, the gift of God's mercy," Cardinal O'Malley said.
The Mass was followed by a reception in the school building next door. Attendees then carried a cross through the streets of Salem to pray the Stations of the Cross, using excerpts from St. Maria Faustina's diary. Upon returning to the shrine for the final station, they recited the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and venerated relics of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina.