Tonight I had an opportunity to share some insights into the personal and missionary experience of Divine Mercy in Tanzania during the meeting of Cardinals and Bishops with the continental and national coordinators of World Apostolic Congress on Mercy.
Speakers who wanted to share similar insights were many thus we were allocated just a few minutes. This forced me to cut short what I prepared on behalf of Divine Mercy followers in Tanzania. Here I present the full text of my presentation.
Good evening, esteemed Eminences, Excellences, continental and national coordinators, ladies and gentlemen!
First of all, I have a pleasure and honor to convey to you all the cordial greetings from the Church and people of Tanzania in East Africa - in particular from His Eminence Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam and great supporter of Divine Mercy message in Tanzania and also from my bishop of Diocese of Musoma, Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Msonganzila and from all the Apostles of Divine Mercy in our country.
I am grateful to Rev. Fr. Patrice Chocholski, the general secretary of WACOM, for giving me this opportunity to speak to you on our relatively new experience of Divine Mercy in Tanzania.
My name is Fr. Wojciech Adam Kościelniak, a diocesan priest from Archdiocese of Kraków, Poland, working in Diocese of Musoma, Tanzania, East Africa since 1990. I am a parish priest of Kiabakari parish, the custodian of the diocesan shrine of Divine Mercy in Kiabakari and the founder and formator of the Association of the Apostles of Divine Mercy in Tanzania. On the side of WACOM, I am a national coordinator of WACOM in Tanzania.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF DIVINE MERCY
My first personal encounter with Divine Mercy was on 7 May 1972, on the day of my First Communion. I was nine years old. On that day I was given this small holy card of Divine Mercy. The image of Merciful Jesus with His right hand raised and rays radiating from His heart struck me deeply in my mind and heart.
The second encounter with Divine Mercy was at my Grandfather’s death bed when I was in the first year of philosophy in Kraków’s seminary in January 1983. An inner voice told on my way to the hospital - ‘recite the chaplet, recite the chaplet!’ I said a few chaplets and after a few hours my Grandpa died.
The third encounter with Divine Mercy was at the death bed of my best friend and classmate from secondary school. He fell from the fourth floor and did not die. His Mum called me (It was in April 1987) to the hospital and for the next six days or so I went there every day to pray for him on the chaplet. The same inner voice was urging me to do so. He died on my birthday, April 22.
My fourth encounter with Divine Mercy was in March 1991 on one sunny Lent Sunday morning in Tanzania. My parish priest sent me as a young missionary who have just arrived to Tanzania a couple of months earlier - to go to Kiabakari, one of our outstations of Zanaki parish in Diocese of Musoma in north-eastern Tanzania, located some 20 km from the main mission - to say Holy Mass there for the first time. Some five kilometers before reaching Kiabakari, on the elevation, looking at the small chapel built on top of a hill on the horizon, the same inner voice told me then - ‘This is the Divine Mercy Hill, from which the message of Divine Mercy will spread in the whole Tanzania and East Africa’. Everything that has been happening in Kiabakari since March 1991 till today, in my life and in lives of so many people of good will there on the spot and in the world connected with the Divine Mercy Hill is nothing else but a painstaking, slow and fully committed process of implementation of that momentary vision of Divine Mercy.
DIVINE MERCY IN KIABAKARI AND TANZANIA
It is not an easy task to spread the message of Divine Mercy in our communities and areas of responsibilities - as all of you, my esteemed colleagues and dedicated followers of Merciful Jesus, will without doubt agree. Divine Mercy message is not loved and accepted by all. Sharing with some of you my experience in the past three days of our congress, I have noticed that most of us are having hard times trying to introduce this message and devotion to our respective dioceses and nations. With due frankness and openness, we will agree that some pastors in particular are reluctant to embrace this message. We have experienced, sometimes very painfully, that God, when He gave us this special task, does not do the job Himself, nor makes us walk on a rosy path. To the contrary, we have discovered that God sometimes throws various obstacles at our feet to test our resolve, commitment, our trust in Him and in His Providence and Divine Mercy. Wise people say that God while sending us on a rocky path, does not remove stones from that path, but rather gives us good shoes. These good shoes are our people we serve who pray and suffer for us, who help us in every possible manner, bishops and priests who have been touched by Divine Mercy and I think, in a special way - this World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, which encourages us to not to lose heart but to press on in unity with hope and in total trust in God’s Mercy.
Working in Tanzania, one cannot spread just verbally or through pure devotion the message of Divine Mercy of God who loves us so much that He has given us His Son on the Cross, God who is our merciful Father and so forth - to the people who live in an abject poverty, tormented by sicknesses which can be cured easily, yet they lack proper medical healthcare, people who have no access to proper high quality education on the grassroots level. You simply cannot just build a Divine Mercy shrine where those people will come, kneel down in front of the Divine Mercy image and say their chaplets, then return to their miserable lives. It is not enough! I realized that my task will be creating a place where Divine Mercy will embrace the whole human person in its three fundamental dimensions - spiritual, corporal and intellectual. So, the shrine to touch, transform and consecrate the spirit. The health center where Divine Mercy heals human suffering. The center for education and formation where Divine Mercy will illumine, form, teach, transform human person from the earliest stages of childhood till adulthood on the basis of our school motto in Kiabakari - ‘enter to learn, depart to serve’.
My fifth encounter with Divine Mercy was on October 5, 1997, the liturgical feast of St. Sister Faustina, in Łagiewniki-Kraków. Shortly before that, the parochial church in Kiabakari and at the same time the shrine of Divine Mercy was dedicated on July 3, 1997. I was left with the debt after construction amounting to almost 40,000$. I had to finish the job with borrowed money. I went for holidays to Poland distressed and when the feast of Sr. Faustina came, I went to Łagiewniki to cry to God through the intercession of Sr. Faustina to help me to find people who would cover the debt as my debtors were waiting for me when I would come back to Tanzania. Sisters invited us for lunch after the Holy Mass. One of the sisters was walking around with a plate on which there were holy cards with short passages and quotations from the Diary of Sister Faustina. I picked up one at random and when turned it over and read the quote, I felt so much ashamed of myself and my doubts in God’s Mercy that I thought my whole face is burning. Do you want to know what was written there? ‘Your duty will be to trust completely in My goodness, and My duty will be to give you all you need’. (548). In a month’s time the money to pay the debt were secured.
As we speak today our quest to spread the message of Divine Mercy in Tanzania has yield a good harvest. In Kiabakari we have managed to build the diocesan shrine of Divine Mercy (elevated to this dignity in 2001), the health center (2007), kindergarten and pre-school in 2013, primary school is under construction since 2007 and still a lot of work is ahead of us.
The petition to raise the shrine to the dignity of the national shrine of Divine Mercy is lodged in Tanzania Episcopal Conference and has been given initial approval pending the completion of necessary infrastructure in Kiabakari to cater for needs of pilgrims.
Personally, I have translated or written a few books in swahili language on Divine Mercy and one franciscan priest was given task to translate the Diary into swahili language as well.
We have witnessed creation of new shrines of Divine Mercy in several dioceses. More will be created in the nearest future. Divine Mercy devotion and message is the fastest growing and expanding pastoral phenomenon in Tanzania at this time. Images of Divine Mercy can be seen everywhere in churches, convents and people’s houses, including their shops, offices and so forth.
In my last encounter with His Eminence Polycarp Cardinal Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, he told me that in cooperation with the bishop responsible for the lay apostolate pastoral care in Tanzania they see the need to spread the message of Divine Mercy in dioceses first and foremost by retreats, workshops and seminaries for priests - to make sure the pure message is being propagated and we stay on the healthy path. Why so?
Here we touch three areas of our pastoral concern as far as the propagation of the Divine Mercy message is concerned in the Church of Tanzania:
1. Importance of the presence of priests in the very core of the message of Divine Mercy. We can interpret the words of Jesus in the Gospel passage read in the solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday in a special way - as a warning to us to be aware of the damage we can inflict upon God’s children by closing their access to Divine Mercy. Priest is by nature the incarnation of God's mercy. But a priest may become also a minister of mercilessness and rejection. We priests, by the nature of Christ's priesthood, are living icons of the image of Merciful Jesus. Putting on a priestly stole we resemble Merciful Jesus and two major sacraments of Divine Mercy are represented here by two ends of the stole. One end of the stole for the reconciliation which restores our dignity as beloved children of God and God's life given to us in Baptism. And the second end of the stole for the Eucharist - the very Incarnation of Divine Mercy. Only an ordained priest has the power to celebrate these two sacraments of Divine Mercy. There is a great need to spread the Divine Mercy among bishops and priests first and foremost. Without them, major avenues of Divine Mercy will become distant reality to our people in need of God intimacy in the sacraments of the Church.
2. The faithful who want to follow Jesus, the King of Mercy, in a deeper manner, wish to form groups and movements and spread the message in their own ways in their good will and apostolic zeal. We witness the mushrooming of various examples of such an urge in our countries. There is a need to stress the importance of proper and deeper formation of the followers of Merciful Jesus on the basis of the Holy Scripture, Magisterium of the Church and the Diary of St. Sister Faustina (translations into vernacular languages being the very first step). We need to deepen our understanding of the full message of Divine Mercy in the Diary and locate it in the landscape of the entire sound doctrine of the Holy Church. Proper formation of the faithful is of utmost importance. If we leave the people on their own, with due respect to the freedom of action of the Holy Spirit, we will witness creation of a modern tower of Babel built by pious people of God and we pastors ourselves by our own inaction will aid inevitably in the creation of a potential new pastoral problem in our dioceses and the Church at large.
3. Mercy by its nature needs missionary action, needs to reach out to people and areas which cry for mercy, mercy needs to be pro-others. Divine Mercy message and devotion is inseparable part of life of the Church in a new millennium, in a new evangelization, in a new Pentecost. All kinds of movements, groups and societies based on Divine Mercy message must constitute an active force directly involved in lives of our communities on every level. In fact, every member of these groups must show mercy to their own communities and become a real and genuine agent of consolation, relief and of God's love and mercy in action. We have to be born again. Born to absolutely new life as an incarnation of Divine Mercy here and now. If the followers of Merciful Jesus restrain themselves only to pure devotional part of the message - images, chaplets, pilgrimages and so forth, and this devotion will become one of many they already like and follow, their lives will remain unchanged in their essential core, their legitimacy in the eyes of God himself will be challenged and their own understanding of what it means to live fully the message of Divine Mercy oversimplified and ineffective. By nature, every member of such groups and movements must be reborn anew and live for others, live for the Church and the community. In any doubt, we must always refer to Chapter 25 of Mathew's Gospel just to mention one of many passages speaking of mercy, to remind ourselves what the mercy is all about. Let us remember and implement in our lives the motto of our WACOM 2014 - Mercy - our mission in one heart!
PRACTICAL PASTORAL SOLUTION
We have been worried for some time now that any notion to cage the Divine Mercy message in the established forms and canons of traditional groups and movements of in the Church, thus making it a new addition to already long list of approved forms of popular piety - will lead to the inevitable implosion of the vitality of the message of Divine Mercy.
That is why after the discussion and initial approval of Tanzanian bishops, we have introduced the Association of Divine Mercy Apostles in Tanzania as a pastoral reaction to the needs of pilgrims to organize themselves in ecclesiastical movements and groups. This association has its own simple constitution, formation plan and the first branches of the association have been established already in a few parishes in Diocese of Musoma.
More will follow as people join the association which will remain as an open platform for the movement of the spirit rather that the formal group which so many times we see so much focused on itself, organization, money, meetings, leaders and so forth. We do not have leaders, nor official attire to show off, we do not have money collections to spend on countless meetings or paperwork. We do not want people to think that spreading the Divine Mercy message means only buying images of Merciful Jesus, saying chaplets, celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, going on pilgrimages and not much else in a sense of direct impact of this devotion in our communities through genuine deeds of mercy. We do not want followers of Divine Mercy message to become a kind of a members’ club focused mostly on themselves.
None of that. In short - this humble association is for anyone - bishops, priests, sisters, laity - to help a follower of Merciful Jesus to be reborn in the spirit of Merciful Jesus to enable him or her to live to the fullest the message of Divine Mercy in an outward manner - this must be an explosion of mercy, love and goodness, this must be pro-life - life of emptying ourselves, becoming mercy for others and reaching out to them in the name of God who is love and mercy.
This is still just a beginning. We thank Merciful God for what has been done so far in Tanzania and we press on with full confidence in the Lord and His Mercy, saying - ‘Jesus, I trust in You!’
Thank you for your kind attention.
God bless us all. Welcome to Tanzania!
Misericordiam Domini in aeternum cantabo!