From the Mar/Apr 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
“I guess I’ll always be a physician,” Dr. Bryan Thatcher says. He spends his days caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying, but not in ways you might expect. He was a successful gastroenterologist for many years, but he left his thriving medical practice to devote himself full-time to the ministry he founded: the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy (EADM).
“I had to go through my own conversion when I hit bottom 10 years ago,” Thatcher said. “As I got my life back on track, I began to sense this calling to spread God’s mercy, especially because I had been a recipient of His mercy. Five years ago, I sensed a much stronger call to spread God’s mercy full-time. And a couple of years ago, I formally gave up my medical license.” His family’s reaction? “My wife has always been totally supportive. The older of our six children found it somewhat difficult. We had a dramatic change in lifestyle. But they have all adjusted very well.”
The EADM is a lay outreach ministry that promotes throughout the world the message of Divine Mercy and the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A vital part of its ministry includes praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, especially during Eucharistic adoration, on behalf of the souls in purgatory, the sick, and the dying. Its main method of sharing the Divine Mercy spirituality is through small faith groups known as cenacles. EADM has developed materials for these cenacles drawn from the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, the first saint of the Great Jubilee, who gave us the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before her death in 1938.
When it all began in 1996, Dr. Thatcher had no intention of starting a ministry. He was focused on just one small prayer group in his home parish in Tampa, Florida. But God had other ideas.
“We had a parish of 5,000 families, so our pastor really encouraged us to gather in small Christian communities for spiritual formation and to follow a format based on the next week’s Scripture readings from the Mass,” Thatcher explained. “I said we would like to do Divine Mercy, a guided tour for spiritual formation through the diary of St. Faustina. The pastor approved. We started one cenacle in the parish with a group of 15-20 people. Now there are over 300 cenacles all over the country. They’re multiplying and I can’t always keep track of them all, but they are in most of the states.”
Thatcher says that the cenacles are made up of small groups of eight to 12 people, and that’s the way he wants them. “Part of spiritual growth comes through faith sharing. If the groups get too large, it limits the sharing too much.”
One important reason for the growing number of cenacles is the program’s accessibility and affordability. For example, the cenacle formation book costs $10, and a group can take anywhere from two to four years to work through it, depending on how often they meet. Thatcher said that the cenacle formation book is laid out in a very simple way. “It is cook-bookish, so to speak. It gives you weekly readings from the diary of St. Faustina. The book has references to Scripture with related Catechism passages, and it also has questions that relate to the week’s lesson to facilitate discussion.”
Divine Mercy cenacles are forming in other parts of the world as well, in places even Thatcher would not have imagined: “A friend of a friend lived in Western Samoa, way out in the Pacific Islands. She asked for some materials about the Divine Mercy cenacle and asked me to come and present it to them. I said, ‘I’m not going that far without Church approval.’ Within 24 hours I had a letter faxed to me from the cardinal inviting me to come to Western Samoa. Now, the whole island is on fire for Divine Mercy and Eucharistic adoration, and their vocations are increasing.”
Thatcher continued: “A while back, I went on a retreat in Arkansas. A priest from Ghana was there. We became friends and began to communicate, and consequently one of my sons and I went to evangelize in the Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana. The bishop was very open to our work. We began sending relief items along with Divine Mercy articles, and it really took off.” Thatcher’s work is also spreading to different countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. EADM has built a spiritual and practical relationship with the Divine Mercy cenacles in the developing world.
“Most of the places we’ve been to in Africa are areas of abject poverty. Poverty in many parts of the world is measured by whether or not the people have had a meal that day. They struggle day to day. They are uneducated. The Catholic faith is new to them. They soak up anything that is spiritual, anything that will bring them closer to God. They are starving for the truth,” Thatcher said.
EADM helped to build a trade school in Eikwe, Ghana, and supplied it with sewing machines and computers. The idea was to give the very poor a skill. “It’s a tremendous way to give them some hope and to offer them a chance to get out of that severe poverty. It’s also a tremendous avenue for evangelization, because the people who come in to learn a trade begin talking about God.” EADM also helped build a home for the disabled there.
Thatcher is busy in other parts of the world as well. He is trying to raise money to build a trade school and a free dental clinic for the very poor in the Ukraine. Thatcher said, “We get a lot of things donated. We send used computers, sewing machines, clothing, religious items, and tons of medical supplies to a host of countries.” Those countries include the Philippines, India, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua , Tanzania , Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Ukraine, and Lithuania. EADM ships a 40-foot truckload of supplies about every two months to a poor country. And EADM accomplishes all of that with a staff of three or four volunteers.
“We have no problems getting things donated,” Thatcher explained. “People have been so generous to us. You cannot imagine the things they throw away in our hospitals. We get wheelchairs, walkers, portable toilets, crutches, canes, and boxes and boxes of good medical supplies-gauze, bandages, syringes, tubing, and things like that. We box it and inventory it and ship it out. But our biggest hurdle is raising the money for the shipping. We always just trust in God.”
When EADM began, it was an entirely independent organization, until the day that Thatcher got a call from the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts: “They had heard of our work and asked us to come under them as an official outreach ministry of their congregation. The Holy Father asked their order to spread the Divine Mercy message. They print all of the materials about Divine Mercy in English. In a sense, we were to be the feet of Jesus and the right arm of St. Faustina to help get this message out to lay people. I hope that some day we will be looked upon as a kind of third order organization to the Congregation of Marians.”
Thatcher admitted that St. Faustina’s canonization last year was a real boost to their ministry, but they still encounter skeptics. “I think our biggest deterrent to spreading the message of Divine Mercy is the idea, held by many people, that our message is a devotion, and they think we no longer have devotions in the Church. That’s not true. Plus, this is much more than a devotion. It is much more than a message, a chaplet, an image, or a feast day once a year. Those are all beautiful parts of it, but this is a way of life. The apostle Thomas said, “If I see, I will believe.” We say, “If you believe, then you will see.”
For more information about the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, call toll-free (877) 380-0727, or write P.O. Box 248, Valrico, FL 33595, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.thedivinemercy.org.
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