Grateful for God’s mercy, the parish of Divine Mercy in Williamsburg celebrated its patronal feast, April 23.
Harmonious voices, violin and organ music could be heard as a diverse congregation gathered at the Hour of Mercy for Eucharistic adoration with benediction and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Mass and a reception followed.
Wearing a chasuble embroidered with images of the Divine Mercy and St. Faustina Kowalska, Auxiliary Bishop Neil E. Tiedemann was the main celebrant of the Mass at St. Nicholas Church, one of the three worship sites of the parish. Concelebrants included Father Thomas F. Vassalotti, pastor, and Father Rafael J. Perez, parochial vicar.
“Today, we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy – that somehow we’re forgiven much, and we’re loved greatly,” Bishop Tiedemann told the faithful.
Devotion to Jesus as the Divine Mercy is based on the writings of St. Faustina, a young Polish nun, who recorded messages of mercy revealed to her by Christ in the 1930s. Pope St. John Paul II designated the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday during the Jubilee Year 2000.
The Gospel passage last Sunday recounted the Risen Christ’s first appearance to the disciples. He gives them His peace – His forgiveness – and new life in the Holy Spirit, with a new mission: bringing His love and forgiveness to others.
“Forgiveness is about being transformed, and making something new again,” the bishop said.
“That’s really what mercy and forgiveness are about. There’s a new way of doing things. We’re a new person.”
Divine Mercy parish knows something about transformation and renewal. The parish is comprised of three churches – St. Nicholas, St. Cecilia and St. Francis of Paola – that merged in 2011 to strengthen the Catholic community in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
As a sign of its new life, the parish was invited to choose a new name, and churchgoers at all three sites were in favor of being united under the title, Divine Mercy, which was approved by the diocese.
“We had a list of possible names and through the grace of God, Divine Mercy was the favorite,” said Dominick Sciangula, who served on the transition committee.
Most Powerful Name
“Divine Mercy is just the most powerful name we could have for our parish because it’s in Jesus’ name,” said Marie Petitto, also on the transition committee.
“We’ve been given a lot of graces and mercy in our three churches. On our own, we could not have lasted. We could not have survived,” she said, due to financial concerns.
Evolving into one parish has required adjustments and sacrifices, but members of all three churches have learned to share their faith and resources with each other and with newcomers to their changing communities. The parish offers Masses in English, Spanish and Italian, and Sunday Masses are celebrated in each worship site.
“We should be very grateful we are all open, alive and doing well,” Petitto said.
“Being together as one, we’ve been given grace and mercy – like what the bishop said today – to forgive and to give love. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our mission here.”
Leading up to Sunday’s feast day, the parish held a Forty Hours devotion, and it was an opportunity for adorers to give thanks for God’s graces and mercy upon the parish.
One of those graces has been the spread of the Divine Mercy message.
“Since we became Divine Mercy parish, I have learned so much about the feast day, the chaplet, the devotion. It’s like every year, I learn something new,” Petitto said.
During Mass, Bishop Tiedemann incensed an image of the Divine Mercy of Jesus bearing the words, “Jesus I Trust in You,” in the sanctuary at St. Nicholas Church. Similar images stand in the parish’s other worship sites, and St. Francis of Paola also has a stained-glass window of the Divine Mercy.
“The devotion to Divine Mercy was very much present in the community before the merger,” noted Father Vassalotti, who came to the parish as a parochial vicar in 2011, then served as administrator before being named pastor in 2014.
He makes sure copies of the chaplet are available in English, Spanish and Italian at each of the parish’s worship sites. The prayers are offered every Friday at St. Francis and St. Cecilia churches, and at all three churches on Sunday mornings.
Coincidentally, the first time he ever prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, he was a seminarian visiting the home of a friend, who happened to be a parishioner at St. Nicholas Church.
“It is a profound devotion for our times, and for the brokenness of our times,” Father Vassalotti added.
The words, “Jesus, I Trust in You,” serve as an important reminder, he said, “that I’m not in control. God is in control and God’s mercy is there for anyone who asks for it.”