VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI inaugurated the 1st World Apostolic Congress on Mercy today on the third anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death.
The German Pope addressed the participants of the congress during his homily at a Mass celebrated for John Paul II today in St. Peter’s Square. He recalled that the Polish Pontiff had considered the mercy of God as a privileged key for interpreting his pontificate.
John Paul II “wanted the message of the merciful love of God to reach all men and women and he exhorted the faithful to be its witnesses,” Benedict XVI affirmed.
The first session of the mercy congress was held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran and included contributions from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and promoter of the congress, and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s vicar for Rome.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and longtime secretary of John Paul II, also spoke.
The program of the mercy congress includes conferences and prayer, but also evangelization activities, for example, a mission to the streets of Rome that will be characterized by Eucharistic adoration in certain churches and priests available for the sacrament of confession.
One of the Spanish prelates participating in the congress, Bishop José Ignacio Munilla of Palencia told ZENIT that the congress, “faced with a secularization of man who does not understand his own existence […] proclaims again: Open wide the gates of your hearts to Christ, because the greatest fruit that he brings us is the gift of his love, the gift of his mercy.”
The bishop called John Paul II the “great father of this devotion to divine mercy,” which spread with St. Faustina Kowlaska. “[John Paul II] wants to transmit to us that right now we need this devotion to divine mercy to bring forward what he called ‘the new evangelization.'”
Bishop Munilla said this consists in “transmitting to the world with new ardor, with new methods, a fully current message, that is, that God loves us, that God is in love with man and looks for us with determination, and doesn’t stop until he finds us, until he personally encounters us.”
“We realize,” he affirmed, “that divine mercy is the instrument to take this evangelization to all peoples.”
Bishop Munilla said John Paul II’s devotion to divine mercy was rooted in the great suffering of the 20th century: “[This devotion] has been providential for many peoples who have felt in a very particular way the claw of evil in their flesh.”
Now, he continued, that Europe is free of dictatorial regimes, “continues being in need of mercy.”
“Western secularization,” the Spanish prelate affirmed, “right now needs meaning, light […] and this devotion to divine mercy transmits a great message: Life has meaning because there is a heart that loves us in a total and unconditional way, the heart of Christ.”