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Local nurse blessed by pope’s life

Posted By May 29, 2014 | 12:09 pm | Lead Story #3

By Tanya Connor

A nurse who promotes the Divine Mercy message and respect for life which St. John Paul II advanced during his lifetime takes personal joy in his canonization. She also challenges people to  respond to it.
Marie Romagnano, a catastrophic injury nurse and member of St. Joseph Basilica in Webster, told The Catholic Free Press this week of unexpectedly receiving Pope John Paul II’s blessing while helping sick people, of trying to get her book to him when he was sick, and of attending his canonization.
The late pope was canonized in Rome on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27 this year. He himself had established that feast day in 2000, when he canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun to whom Jesus appeared in the 1930s, entrusting her with the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
“He did what the Lord requested of St. Faustina: to have the second Sunday of Easter proclaimed as Divine Mercy Sunday,” Ms. Romagnano said of the pope. She said that reinforced her own work of applying the Divine Mercy message and devotion to her nursing.
It was at St. Faustina’s beatification in 1993 that she encountered Pope John Paul II. She said he came over to where she and her son, Joseph, were tending to people in wheelchairs. She was leading a beatification pilgrimage, and some of the pilgrims with illnesses or handicaps were able to get up front.
“He actually did a hands-on blessing to my son,” she said of the pope. She said he also extended his hands over her and the sick people.
“How do you react when the pope comes down?” she asked. “It was totally shocking. We were in the first row,” the only place where he could reach people to touch them in blessing.
“His tenderness toward the sick was very powerful for me. He didn’t ignore anyone.”
Ms. Romagnano said Marian Father Seraphim Michalenko, vice-postulator for North America for St. Faustina’s canonization cause, had taught her the Divine Mercy message and devotion in 1984.
The message calls for asking for God’s mercy, extending it to others, and trusting in him. The devotion includes praying the chaplet for his mercy, praying at 3 p.m. (the hour that recalls his death), and venerating his image. The image depicts Jesus as he appeared to Sister Faustina, with red and pale rays representing blood and water streaming from his heart.
Ms. Romagnano said she realized she could use the chaplet, image and 3 o’clock hour in caring for her patients and imploring God’s mercy for them.
Seeking to help others to do this too, she founded Nurses for Divine Mercy, which later became Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy. An apostolate of the Marian Fathers, Healthcare Professionals holds an annual medicine, bioethics and spirituality conference in Worcester. The Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary runs The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, where Ms. Romagnano volunteers.
In 2004 Ms. Romagnano wrote “Nursing with the Hands of Jesus: A Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy.” She said Father Michalenko and his fellow Marian Father Kazimierz Chwalek, who speak at the annual conference, helped. The book teaches health care workers how to spiritually care for their patients using the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
They wanted to personally give a copy to Pope John Paul II, but he was too sick to receive visitors at that time, she said. She said she did not know if any of the attempts to get it to him succeeded.
But she credits him with helping with the Divine Mercy medical conference after his death. She tells that story this way.
At the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, held in Krakow in 2011, she and Father Chwalek met two nuns who experienced the miracle that led to Pope John Paul II’s beatification. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand was healed of Parkinson’s disease in 2005 after the sisters sought John Paul II’s intercession for her. Sister Marie Thomas Fabre, then her superior and later Mother General of the Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity in France, witnessed the change in her condition.
“The first person he cured was a nurse … and gave her back her ministry,” Ms. Romagnano said of the late pope. She and Father Chwalek invited the sisters to speak at the conference in Worcester.
“I feel like John Paul actually heard my prayer and brought these witnesses to us,” Ms. Romagnano said. “I told them there was no way we were taking a ‘no’” for an answer.
In 2012 the Sisters spoke at the conference here, other places in the Worcester Diocese, and the shrine in Stockbridge.
Now the pope who helped them has been canonized.
“I just think it’s a wonderful tribute to his life,” Ms. Romagnano said. “We should read what he has written on many topics and put it into practice.”
She mentioned his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life.”
“He was all about life, and now this is so relevant,” she said. “It was relevant then, but it’s more relevant now, because of … euthanasia, abortions, the complete disrespect of life from conception to natural death. And he shows us how God wants us to treat people.”