by KATHLEEN CASEY
CHRISTCHURCH — Realising the mercy of Christ when he was a teenaged atheist was a turning point for French priest Fr Patrice Chocholski,who was keynote speaker at the Divine Mercy Congress held in Christchurch from August 26-28.
In a very secular environment, Patrice Chocholski’s non-Catholic parents were dismayed by his turnaround and later at his decision to become a priest. After ordination, he taught French in a seminary in Bethlehem where, along with Christian and Jewish interaction, he made Muslim friends who seemed to know more about the mercy of God than he did. He gradually realised that this divine mercy would underpin a new civilisation.
In Poland in 2002, with 2 million others for Pope John Paul’s visit in 2002, Fr Chocholski heard the Pope call the whole Church to resume divine mercy as a model for evangelisation, rather than a devotion.
Cardinals Barbarin and Schonborn organised a retreat for priests and pastoral teams in 2005 to find out how to answer this call. The result was a World Congress of Mercy.
Fr Chocholski now spends his time organising and speaking at divine mercy national and intercontinental congresses around the world.
“It was not intended as a division,” said Fr Chocholski, “but as a deepening of the Word of God and the mercy of God as the fundamental nucleus of the Gospel.
“We cannot evangelise if we are not presenting the face of the merciful God.”
St Faustina’s revelations were downplayed by the Church for 20 years. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was appointed to research these and, before his appointment as Pope John Paul II, concluded her revelations were spiritually authentic. This was accepted by the Church, and miracles led to her canonisation.
In a hard world, this mercy, presented also as tenderness and passion, is appealing to young people. “We could see that with the continental congresses in Manila [and] many young people [at the] France, Panama and Bogota congresses. It is a strong tool for evangelisation,” said Fr Chocholski.
Transcending religious boundaries, divine mercy has led to deep dialogue with Muslims and Jews, as well as with Buddhists, two of whom attended the Manila congress in 2008.
Fr Chocholski has seen young people leave jobs in multi-national companies to work with new communities among the poor in Brazil and said, “I saw how important mercy is between tribes in Rwanda”.
In another “beautiful initiative” he described how, through divine mercy, Christians and Muslims travelled to Algeria where Christian monks were murdered, to pray and beg for forgiveness from God.
The road to Damascus enabled St Paul to discover the merciful love of the Father. “You did not choose me but I chose you. It is important for us every day to renew our baptism . . . to receive the divine mercy every day.”
Fr Chocholski is heading for the world congress in Poland in October.
Other speakers in Christchurch were Archbishop Alapati Mata’eliga of Samoa-Apia archdiocese, Fr Rory Morrissey and John Canavan.
In a packed auditorium, attendees came from all regions of New Zealand, with a large contingent also from Samoa.
by KATHLEEN CASEY