APPLETON — Sainthood. It’s not just for folks who lived centuries ago. Speakers Fr. Daniel Felton and Fr. Peter Mitchell encouraged people at Xavier High School Sept. 19 to seek out saints in their own lives and to look inward to find their own call to holiness.
Although the hundreds of people who attended the day of talks and theater were there to learn about Divine Mercy and the life of St. Faustina Kowalska, they also heard that they themselves have what it takes to be a spiritual hero.
The event was sponsored by CIA+FMO, a lay ministry based in Appleton that encourages Catholics to investigate their faith.
“We are wired for holiness — made in the image and likeness of God, baptized into Jesus Christ, confirmed by the Holy Spirit,” said Fr. Felton, vicar general and director of parish ministry services for the Diocese of Green Bay.
He also had an answer for those who would protest that they could ever aspire to sainthood. “Saints are not perfect people,” he said. “The opposite of saintliness is not imperfection. The opposite of saintliness is sinfulness.”
In separate talks, Fr. Felton and Fr. Mitchell, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Greenville, noted that even people living in modern times have been declared saints. They each told about meeting Pope St. John Paul II.
Fr. Felton met Pope John Paul II when he was invited to do the readings at a Mass at the pope’s chapel, he said. In his haste to make conversation after Mass, he told the pope he was from Green Bay, home of the Packers. Realizing quickly that the pope probably was not a fan of American football, he recovered his wits and told him it was the home of Bishop Aloysius Wycis?o. The pope replied happily that he was a friend of the bishop.
It was in 2003 when Fr. Mitchell met Pope John Paul II. He remembered the pope exhorting him personally to, “Go and tell the young people of America about God’s mercy.”
Fr. Mitchell has done exactly that, making numerous trips to Poland, the home of St. Faustina Kowalska, to be inspired by the saint who had apparitions of Jesus. He began his talk by praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a prayer taught to St. Faustina by Jesus.
“This stuff works,” Fr. Mitchell said. “It’s touching the whole world.”
He described how Pope John Paul II became familiar with the story of St. Faustina as a young man living in Krakow, Poland, where he saw a painting of Jesus as he appeared to the young nun. In 2000, Pope John Paul canonized St. Faustina and designated the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Similarly, Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning Dec. 8.
Fr. Mitchell has handed out thousands of holy cards with the Divine Mercy image. “We’re asking God’s mercy to turn evil into good,” he said. “We must be a church that puts the image of beauty before souls. Young people need tangible expressions of faith.”
According to Fr. Mitchell, the lesson is as simple as ABC:
- A: Ask for mercy;
- B: Be merciful;
- C: Completely trust in Jesus.
The talks by Fr. Felton and Fr. Mitchell were followed by a one-woman play, “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy.” The play was also performed Sept. 15 at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay.
Interspersed throughout the drama of St. Faustina are scenes from a modern story of a young woman who slowly comes to terms with her promiscuity that culminated in an abortion.
Los Angeles actress Maria Vargo played the young nun who saw visions of Jesus in the 1930s. After the show, Vargo met audience members who tearfully told her their own stories of pain and mercy, and how much her singing and acting moved them.
Still dressed as Sr. Faustina, Vargo listened carefully to each person, offering hugs and giving autographs. Later, she revealed privately that part of the modern drama was her own personal story.
“I’ve received mercy in my life,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be able to believe the words I’m saying, and it’s a joy to talk to the people.”