“When I entered the Order of Saint Dominic at 20, I asked, as every Dominican friar, for God’s Mercy and that of my brothers.” In this April 6, 2018, exclusive interview, Monsignor Albert-Marie de Monleon, O.P., evokes the link between Sunday where the newly baptized – the “neophytes’ – of Easter wear their white garment (Sunday “in Albis”), and express their gratitude for the gift received, and the “Sunday of Mercy” desired by Christ and instituted by Saint John Paul II on the second Sunday of Easter.
Monsignor de Monleon stressed the link between the experience of mercy that the catechumens have and the Sunday of Mercy because, when they confess their faith publicly, “it’s as if they said: ‘Jesus I trust in you.’”
As “Friar Preacher,” Monsignor de Monleon also stressed the link with Saint Dominic’s charism.
He recalls especially Saint John Paul II’s words at Krakow in 2002, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Polish Shrine and the consecration of the world to the Divine Mercy.
Monsignor Albert-Marie de Monleon, Bishop Emeritus of Meaux, is the National Coordinator of the Congress of Mercy in France (1) and author of a number of books on mercy, including “At the Heart of Mercy” (Parole et Silence).
–Q: On this Sunday, April 8, 2018, the Church celebrates “Divine Mercy Sunday,” which is also the Sunday in Albis (in white): is there a link between the “two names” of this second Sunday of Easter?
–Monsignor de Monlelon: On this first Sunday after Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday and Sunday in Albis the newly baptized of Easter come to the Cathedral of their diocese or to their parish church, to give thanks, with the white garment that they received during their Baptism (hence the name, yesteryear, of Sunday in Albis, in white).
I notice that all the newly baptized experienced, on one hand, a profound personal encounter with Jesus or with God the Father and, on the other hand, with a Christian man or woman, sign of the Church, which enabled them to make contact, — always difficult for someone “who isn’t of the house” –, with a parish, a Christian community.
In fact in France, for several years, more and more catechumens — of all origins, all ages, all conditions, all religions or estranged from the faith –, ask for Baptism. I discovered in these persons’ journey to what point Divine Mercy is at work. The great link occurred to me between the Divine Mercy and the whole journey of these men and women, at once profoundly desirous of knowing God, of experiencing His infinite Mercy, which gives strength, of being part of the Church yet disoriented in their ignorance of the Christian faith, their fears and sometimes even their hostility in regard to the Church.
God’s Mercy led these persons, at the end of many years, to desire to follow Christ, to become Christians and to come to give thanks on the Sunday of Mercy, Sunday in which the very beautiful Gospel of the Apostle Thomas, so moving, is proclaimed. Thomas was seized by Jesus’ Mercy in his regard and, through him, the newly baptized can recognize themselves, all those “who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).
Thomas wasn’t with the other Apostles on the evening of Easter; he was apart, in “the peripheries.” Alone, he asked himself questions, he doubted Jesus’ Resurrection, then ended by joining the other Apostles, namely, the ecclesial community. Then Jesus appeared again to the Apostles and Thomas was invited to faith. He adored profoundly: “My Lord and my God.” There is an analogy with the journey of the catechumens. Generally, the latter began their steps towards the faith, towards the Church very alone, misunderstood, sometimes rejected by their surroundings, by their milieu. And they come together on Easter night to confess publicly the Creed, to proclaim, sometimes at the peril of their life, that Jesus is their Lord. It’s as if they said: “Jesus I trust in You.”
–Q: It was in the year 2000 that Pope John Paul II instituted this feast of Divine Mercy Sunday, to respond to a request expressed by Christ to Saint Faustina. Has this Divine Mercy Sunday had repercussions in your ministry?
–Monsignor de Monleon: As Bishop of Meaux, sine 1999, I must avow that at first, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about this initiative. At the time, I didn’t yet know Saint Faustina and, as I just said, it was John Paul II’s homilies, in 2002, which “converted” me to Mercy. Beginning with Divine Mercy Sunday, in 2000, I studied, with more attention, the Gospel of this Sunday, which describes Saint Thomas’ journey, and it’s important for the men and women of today.
–Q: How does Mercy “pervade” your life and your priestly and episcopal ministry?
When, at 20, I entered the Order of Saint Dominic, I asked, as every Dominican friar, for God’s Mercy and that of my brothers. Hence Mercy was a major axis for my life. In my personal life and my ministry, it took on progressively more meaning, weight, and even more so in my life as Bishop. I had read, of course, the beautiful encyclical God Rich in Mercy of John Paul II (1980), but I seized the importance of Divine Mercy on reading the Pope’s homilies, when he consecrated the world to Divine Mercy, in the Divine Mercy Shrine, in August 2002 at Lagiewniki-Krakow.
John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, on the eve of the Sunday of Mercy, as happened to so many people, and his funeral in St. Peter’s Square, where I was present, moved me very much — the whole world was there.
Some weeks later, in July 2005, we lived with Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, and Father Patrice Chocholski at Lagiewniki, a retreat of priests with their pastoral teams on the theme: “Mercy, Unique Source of Hope.”
Born from that first retreat was the idea of a world congress on Mercy, which was held in Rome from April 2-6, 2008 (4,000 people came from five Continents).
Beginning in 2005, in addition to my very demanding episcopal ministry, I took part in different activities and works on mercy: articles, books, conferences, sessions, retreats and service of Mercy in the world and national congresses on Mercy.
At the heart of my episcopal ministry, I was able to exercise mercy more and more concretely in the Sacraments, notably in Confession and in the reception and contact with tried persons.
It’s a joy and strength to discover ceaselessly the inexhaustible Mercy of God, to make its beauty, richness <and> urgency known, and to enter into contact with so many other people who want to live mercy, under multiple forms (Cf. in France, Visages de la Misericorde). Of course, as Bishop Emeritus, the teachings and witness of Pope Francis have only reinforced and enriched this appeal to live and proclaim Mercy.