Supreme Knight Addresses Divine Mercy Conference in Poland
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, joined Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General for the Vatican City State, and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow and former secretary to Blessed John Paul II, at the Second World Apostolic Conference on Divine Mercy held in Krakow, Poland. As part of the conference, on Oct. 4, Supreme Knight Anderson delivered a speech titled “The Pope of Mercy: The Role of Blessed John Paul II in the Lives of the Laity,” in the late pontiff's home town of Wadowice. Among those present the supreme knight’s speech were Cardinal Comastri; Archbishop Szymon, Eastern Orthodox Church, Archbishop of Łódź and Poznań; and Bishop Tadeusz Szurman of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland.
Supreme Knight Anderson worked closely with Blessed John Paul II and was appointed to several Vatican committees by the late pope. Supreme Knight Anderson also worked with Blessed John Paul to found the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in the United States in 1987. The Knights of Columbus is a major sponsor of the Conference on Divine Mercy. The Knights of Columbus delegation to the event consisted of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson; Associate State Chaplain Rev. Tomasz Kraj; and State Deputy Krzysztof Orzechowski.
The purpose of the Second World Apostolic Conference on Divine Mercy – held under the motto of Mercy as the Source of Hope – is to bring together pilgrims from around the globe as an opportunity for them to share their experiences of mercy in their lives and proclaim it to the world. It also provided an opportunity to examine the message of mercy in the context of a “new evangelization” and ways of spreading that message to the world. The following is the text of the Supreme Knight’s Oct. 4 address to the conference.
The Pope of Mercy: The Role of Blessed John Paul II in the Lives of the Laity
Address at the Divine Mercy Congress
October 4, 2011, Krakow, Poland
Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight
One of the beautiful things about this year’s celebration of Divine Mercy, is its attention to Blessed John Paul II.
For me personally, when reflecting on Divine Mercy, it is also natural to remember Blessed John Paul. Like St. Faustina, he lived with complete trust in Christ. Like Christ, he expressed the urgent need to turn toward the “Father of Mercies.” This was at the center of Blessed John Paul II’s life and at the center of his spirituality.
In 2003, when John Paul celebrated his 25th anniversary as Pope, the Knights of Columbus sought to honor him by devoting a year to spreading devotion to Divine Mercy.
Two other events influenced this. First, John Paul had recently canonized St. Faustina. And second, the United States had recently suffered its greatest act of violent hatred of recent memory: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is said that those terrorists attacked for religious reasons. But if God is love, then there is nothing so God-less as an act of hate-filled violence. At that time, as always, we recognized a great need to remember who God is, in whose image all of us are made.
It became our most popular prayer program. Councils arranged over 28,000 Divine Mercy events for their parishes, and the image of Divine Mercy, entrusted to us by St. Faustina’s Sisters, was brought to cathedrals throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines. The affection for the devotion was striking—over 2 million people attended.
When Pope John Paul personally blessed that image for us, I had the added grace of speaking with him about Divine Mercy. In that meeting, it became clear to me that God’s mercy had captured the gaze of John Paul’s saintly heart.
Some of you may know that in the past several days the Knights of Columbus has purchased the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. Our intention is to transform the Center into the Shrine of Blessed John Paul II. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Washington, His Eminence Donald Wuerl, who has recently designated the Center as a Diocesan Shrine, and it is our intention at the earliest practical date to request that the Center be named the National Shrine of the United States devoted to Blessed John Paul II.
I am also very grateful for the cooperation and support of our beloved Archbishop of Krakow, His Eminence Stanislaw Dziwisz for making available to us a precious relic of blood of Blessed John Paul II. I mention this to you today in order to say that my first action upon taking over the Center was to have the beautiful painting of Divine Mercy that was personally blessed by the Holy Father in 2003 placed prominently in the Chapel of his new Shrine in Washington, D.C.
Some people might deride our devotion to Divine Mercy as another Catholics “obsession” with sin. In the United States, jokes about “Catholic guilt” abound, implying that the Church teaching on sin makes people “feel bad” about themselves for no apparent reason.
Indeed, this negativity is a significant obstacle to evangelization.
But the Church’s unique message is not that human beings sin. You don’t need a church to tell you that people do bad things—just look at history. The world may disagree about some behaviors and whether those behaviors are morally wrong or not, but no one believes that everyone does the right thing all the time. The Church’s real message is that mercy exists. Reconciliation is both possible and worthwhile because God is Love, and God is abundant in mercy.
Thus the Church’s message is one of hope. No sin is greater than God’s love. But only mercy—God’s infinite mercy—can transform the deserts that man creates. God’s mercy is the love that heals. And because God’s mercy exists, we can say with confidence “Love conquers all.”
Thus, in a real way, mercy needs to be at the forefront of the new evangelization.
And by mercy, I do not only mean “forgiveness.” Mercy is, generally speaking, also the generous response to the needs of man. As Cardinal Wojtyła said in 1958 to a meeting of physicians. “[T]he scope of the need for mercy is much wider than we think…”1
He went on to describe Christian mercy as the very basis for the reality of Christianity. “Each man stands at a point where he is needed by someone. And each man stands at a point where there are people all around him who need his help. Each one of us stands at such a point of always being needed by someone and being surrounded by those who need. This is why Christianity is real.”2
If mercy is what makes what we believe real, then if mercy is taken away we are left with something unreal. But only a real Christianity can evangelize culture and transform real lives. When I think of Blessed John Paul’s death on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, it seemed so appropriate for him to enter new life on the day Christ established as a generous outpouring of graces, a day Blessed John Paul embraced. The prayers, promises, and tasks associated with that feast day mirrored his life so well.
Besides his trust in Christ, one of Christ’s commands for that day stands out: “[T]he first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it.”3
Blessed John Paul II brought out the effect that God’s mercy has in our interactions with others. He communicated the interpersonal expression of God’s mercy—the mercy we share with our brothers and sisters. As a priest, and as human being loved by God, Blessed John Paul saw himself as an instrument of God’s mercy.
Beginning with his first two encyclicals—Redemptor Hominis and Dives in Misericordia—Blessed John Paul revealed the essentials of Christianity before the world.
On the issue of abortion, Blessed John Paul maintained a perfect sense of justice and mercy, defending the lives of the unborn while also extending Christ’s invitation to reconciliation to parents who suffered from abortion. Recognizing that many women after abortion feel as if God would never forgive them, Blessed John Paul encouraged these women to approach Our Lord’s superabundant mercy: “But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.”4
His sense of mercy went beyond forgiving others or inviting others to welcome God’s grace into their lives. Sometimes, asking forgiveness from each other can be harder and more humiliating.
And yet, in the Jubilee year, he surprised Catholics and non-Catholics alike by confronting history and publically apologizing for various offences done by Catholics over the centuries. He made this personal as well. Who can forget his example of forgiveness after the assassination attempt? Mehmet Ali Agca tried to kill him, and his wounds from that assassination attempt continued to be a source of suffering for him throughout the rest of his life. But John Paul forgave him more readily than many people forgive minor offenses.
In preparation for John Paul’s beatification, the Knights of Columbus collected notes of thanks from young people of the “John Paul II generation.” Several notes recalled the 1981 assassination attempt, and for some, the real hallmark moment was afterward: when he left the Vatican and sat down in a prison to speak with and forgive the man who tried to kill him. That act of forgiveness was a sign of contradiction.
As one girl wrote: “You are a great hero. … I still wonder, how did you so easily forgive the person who shot you? Honestly, it takes a kind, understanding, loving, and faith-filled person. I may not know everything about you, but I know that you are the closest thing to our Lord I have ever witnessed.”5
Had John Paul been alive, he might have answered: I forgave “following the teaching and example of Jesus.”6 “Christians hold that to show mercy is to live out the truth of our lives: we can and must be merciful because mercy has been shown us by a God who is Love.”7
Looking at the 20th century, it seems as if, through St. Faustina, God was preparing Poland spiritually to face the horrors of the following decades—the oppression of World War II, the oppression of workers, and most of all, the movement to suppress the strong Catholic faith of the people of Poland.
Although St. Faustina died before these events, John Paul II lived through these events. His experience brought him to the conclusion that forgiveness is a fundamental requirement of peace.8
As he said in his message for the World Day of Peace for 2002: “No peace without justice,” and “no justice without forgiveness.”9
In a similar way, it seems that Sr. Faustina was canonized at a pivotal time. As John Paul wrote in his encyclical on mercy, “The more the human conscience succumbs to secularization, loses its sense of the very meaning of the word ‘mercy,’ moves away from God, and distances itself from the mystery of mercy, the more the Church has the right and the duty to appeal to the God of mercy ‘with loud cries.’”10
For one thing, secularism seems to encourage forgiveness only insofar as it foresees a tangible benefit for forgiveness. The problem is, “Forgiveness in fact always involves an apparent short-term loss for a real long-term gain. Violence is the exact opposite; opting … for an apparent short-term gain, it involves a real and permanent loss.” 11
Without the truth, forgiveness and justice can become arbitrary and, eventually, dispensable. The long-term gain of forgiveness is authentic love. This is one reason why I believe Blessed John Paul’s Catechesis on the Theology of the Body has already made a profound difference in the lives of Catholics. In his words, we discover the beauty of authentic love, and become aware how we are “wonderfully made” in the image of God to love and serve one another.
By the grace of God, that vision of authentic love can lead many to embrace their vocation with joy and hope. As one young man of the John Paul II generation wrote: “Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body changed my life, and, led me back to the Catholic faith!” 12
In our families, communities, and world, we need to be not only the heart of Christ which bleeds for man, but the arms of Christ which stretch out between heaven and earth. Every difficulty, by us or against us, is an opportunity for mercy and therefore an opportunity for love. The family, as John Paul frequently said, is “the school of love”, that first place where children encounter God, witness love, and learn to love God and each other. As the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches, we also see in the family the occasion for Divine Mercy and reconciliation.
Christian families should be the leading examples forgiveness. Christ says at the last supper, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
Each Catholic marriage can be a saintly witness to the beauty and reality of authentic love. A perfect example of destructive nearsightedness is the prevalence of no-fault divorce, which encourages divorce even for minor offenses. The long-term result often includes depriving children of a parent and leaving a legacy of fear about marriage, lack of trust in resolving disagreement, and the feeling that one is unlovable.
One of the most urgent needs of Christian married couples and families today is to practice a spirituality of mercy and forgiveness after the example of Blessed John Paul II. In this way, may we see more clearly the joy, pride, and love found in couples and families who learn to reconcile, growing closer in authentic love!
Loving one another goes beyond family and marriage—relationships that even non-Christians see as relationships built on love. It extends to every place where man goes—even to those places that are darkest.
During my first visit to Krakow, I had the opportunity to visit also the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. While we were there we found the cell of Saint Maximilian Kolbe in the basement of Building 11, known as the Death Block. I do not need here to recount the extraordinary life and heroic death of this Polish priest and Saint. As I stood at the doorway of his cell and prayed, I asked myself how many times this saint would have prayed the Lord’s Prayer in that room, and whether the Lord’s Prayer had ever been prayed more intensely than it had been by the victims in those camps.
But especially I asked myself how was it humanly possible in those circumstances, without God’s special grace, to be able to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Surely St. Maximilian Kolbe did just that: prayed to forgive those who intended to kill him. His life and death will be an example for the ages – but it should be an example especially for our age.
Blessed John Paul’s “recipe” for peace in the world—justice and forgiveness—is also the recipe for peace in our communities and nations. The message of merciful love needs to resound forcefully anew,” Blessed John Paul reminded us in Krakow in 2002. And he continued:
“The world needs this love. The hour has come to bring Christ’s message to everyone: to rulers and the oppressed, to those whose humanity and dignity seem lost in the mysterium iniquitatis [The mystery of evil].”13
Blessed John Paul’s hope was grounded in realism. Again in 1958, he answered an unspoken question: If mercy is so good, then why is forgiving and seeking forgiveness so difficult? He said: “Basically, man carries within himself a resistance to mercy. However, since he recognizes mercy, he must acknowledge that he himself needs at least the help of other men. Meanwhile, each person carries within himself a strong need of self sufficiency: not to need! Not to find oneself in a situation of need! And from this aspect mercy and a religion of mercy are not looked favorably upon by people. On the other hand, man needs mercy—herein lies the paradox.”14
This paradox is answered by the truth of Christianity. Every person feels the tension between self-sufficiency and mercy. This tension also exists in one’s culture.
Forgiveness often begets forgiveness, even if not immediately. On the other hand, violence, resentment, or indifference to God can capitalize on our need for self-protection, and leads many to believe that revenge is just.
How do we take up John Paul’s exhortation: to “Help modern men and women to experience God’s merciful love”—a love which, “in its splendor and warmth, will save humanity?” For is it possible to have any human community without a love which extends mercy and makes reconciliation possible?
But we cannot do this alone. We can only do it with Him, Christ the redeemer. And so we turn, always, to Christ. The famous Diary of a Country Priest ends with a touching line: “Everything is grace.” Grace is, in a sense mercy, God’s action in our life. If in the end everything is grace, then in the end everything is mercy and everything is love.
This grace, this mercy, this love is at the center of charity, unity, and solidarity.
This is at the center of Christian life. This is at the center of the spiritual life of our blessed pope.
Let us with John Paul recognize this as “the hour … when the message of Divine Mercy is able to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: the civilization of love.”15
Let us bring our hearts, mind, and labors to the Father of Mercies.
Let our homes be eloquent with love, truth and forgiveness.
Let us become new evangelists, bringing the good news of reconciliation and the promise of authentic love to our cultures.
And above all, let us, with St. Faustina, place our trust in the one who never disappoints: Jezu ufam Tobie.
1 John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), Address to a Conference of Physicians, Feb. 21, 1958. The Making of the Pope of the Millennium (Ed. Adam Boniecki, MIC. Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2000). Pg. 166.
3 St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary (Stockbridge, MA: Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Divine Mercy in My Soul , 1987). Pg. 742.
4 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, §99
5 Post by “Melody”, for The JPII Generation Says “Thank You”, gathered by the Knights of Columbus for HeadlineBistro,
6 John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 2002, January 1, 2002. §7.
8 John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 2002, January 1, 2002.
10 John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, §15.
11 John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 2002, January 1, 2002. §10.
12 Post by “Jeremy Boguslawski”, for The JPII Generation Says “Thank You”, gathered by the Knights of Columbus for HeadlineBistro,
13 John Paul II, Homily for the Beatification of four polish saints, Błonie, Kraków, 18 August 2002. §3.
14 John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), Address to a Conference of Physicians, Feb. 21, 1958. The Making of the Pope of the Millennium, pg. 166.
15 John Paul II, Homily for the Beatification of four polish saints, Błonie, Kraków, 18 August 2002. §3.