Divine Mercy Conference Poses a Challenge to the Faithful

Hundreds gathered in Bronx, New York, on Saturday for the 14th Annual Divine Mercy Conference, which featured one of the most talked about Catholics in America today: former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist Abby Johnson.

Co-sponsored by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the conference addressed some of the most pressing issues the Church faces today.

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The tone for the day was set by the first speaker, Chris Sparks, author of How Can You Still Be Catholic (Marian Press) and an editor for Marian Press. In his book, he addresses some of the most common objections to Catholicism, with topics ranging from the Crusades to the role of women in the Church.

Chris began his talk by saying, "Let me start with a fairly blunt assessment of the state of the Church: We're in the greatest crisis since the Reformation. These are hard times - these are uniquely hard times - but we also have great graces in order to meet them."

In these uniquely hard times, Chris said that now, more than ever, we need to understand why we believe what we believe as Catholics.

"It wasn't because we were such faithful Catholics that we harmed other people [throughout the centuries]. It was that we were sinners and so, bad things happened," he said. "Our own faith is better than our worst moments. Our faith is better than we are, which means it's worth believing, even when we screw it up."

Complimentary copies of How Can You Still Be Catholic were given to all attending the conference.

The next speaker, Msgr. Jim Lisante, the pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, New York, followed up Chris' talk about the Church in general by addressing the particulars of where our Church struggles the most today.

"What are we here for today? [To] resist anything that compromises the value of individual lives," Msgr. Lisante said. "That means you and I have to be instruments of God's love in very specific ways."

Monsignor Lisante went on to talk about the importance of speaking up in the face of great evil. He spoke to the sexual abuse crisis within the Church, but also the problem of widespread abortion throughout the United States.

"Our silence gives assent to what is evil," he said. "To me, life is life is life, whether it's that child in the womb or that child who is born or that child who is a victim of abuse - every life is sacred."

Though our Church has failed in times past to speak up for the dignity of life for those who have been sexually abused, Msgr. Lisante argued that we need to do a better job of sticking up for the dignity of life of the unborn, too.

This is especially true since this year, the State of New York passed perhaps one of the most liberal abortion bills in U.S. history, legalizing abortion up until birth. "Let's not be people who saw evil and did nothing. 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world,' Edmund Burke said, 'is for good people to do nothing.' Wherever we see it, we got to call it," he said.

Abby Johnson and Abortion
The next speaker followed up on this sentiment in about as powerful a way as anyone in the audience could have expected.

Abby Johnson, whose biopic "Unplanned" is currently being shown in theaters nationwide, spoke of growing up in a conservative Christian home, but ending up having two abortions early in her adult life. She took a job at Planned Parenthood and worked her way up to the top as clinic director, winning 2008 Planned Parenthood employee of the year.

As clinic director, she oversaw more than 22,000 abortions, all the while believing she was helping make the world a better place. But in 2009, she witnessed a live ultrasound-guided abortion, and in a moment of grace, she came to realize the dignity of human life. She quickly left Planned Parenthood, only to become one of the pro-life most influential activists.

She has since converted to the Catholic faith and is pregnant with her eighth child.

"Just one little lie at a time. One little justification at a time. Little compromises here and there," Abby said. That's how she ended up going from being raised in a conservative Christian home to overseeing 22,000 abortions.

Abby talked about how, as Catholics, we need to do a better job of advocating for an end to abortion.

"I can't even remember how many times a woman laid on that abortion clinic table, clutching a Rosary in her hands while we were aborting her child," she said. She said that 60 percent of women who have had an abortion profess Christianity as their faith.

"Abortion is an issue that plagues our Church, I believe, because our Church has been quietly apathetic on this topic," she said.

Abby said that just as she made little compromises throughout her life to justify her job in the abortion industry, we in the Catholic Church have made little compromises in refusing to fully confront the atrocity that is abortion. Whether it's allowing pro-abortion organizations like the Girl Scouts to sell cookies in parishes or priests admitting Catholic women who work at abortion clinics to Holy Communion, Abby said that our Church in many ways has shied away from standing up to this evil - in the name of not wanting to offend anyone.

"People who are against the Church, they have no qualms about offending you," she told the audience. "In fact, they revel in your offense. Friends, as Catholics, as those who hold the fullness of truth, it is time for us to be bold in our faith, unlike ever before. ... Act. Sacrifice. Do something. The Church is depending on you."

Other speakers also emphasized the need to defend the dignity of human life, inside and outside the womb.

Jim White, executive director of Covenant House-New Jersey, spoke about how for the past 37 years, he's worked to help rescue men and women from human trafficking. Other speakers included Sr. Donata Farbaniec of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and Fr. Herald Joseph Brock, CFR, a missionary.

After the morning and afternoon talks, the conference, held at Cardinal Spellman High School, ended with the Very Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, answering questions submitted by the attendees.

The theme throughout the day was clear - we Catholics need to do our part to stand up for what is right, even when it's hard, for the sake of bringing God's Divine Mercy to a world torn apart by sin and death.

Abby Johnson's talk:

Chris Sparks' talk:

Sister Donata Farbaniec's talk:

Monsignor James Lisante's talk:

Father Herald Brock's talk:

Jim White's talk:

The Q&A:


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