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Divine Mercy conference considers social pariahs

The+Rev.+Mariano+Veliz+shares+his+experience+with+God%E2%80%99s+mercy+in+his+life+at+St.+Anthony+of+Padua+Church.+He+said+God+gave+him+the+strength+to+his+forgive+his+parents%E2%80%99+decision+making.+Photo+credit%3A+Jamal+Melancon
The Rev. Mariano Veliz shares his experience with God’s mercy in his life at St. Anthony of Padua Church. He said God gave him the strength to his forgive his parents’ decision making. Photo credit: Jamal Melancon

The Rev. Mariano Veliz shares his experience with God’s mercy in his life at St. Anthony of Padua Church. He said God gave him the strength to his forgive his parents’ decision making. Photo credit: Jamal Melancon

The Rev. Mariano Veliz shares his experience with God’s mercy in his life at St. Anthony of Padua Church. He said God gave him the strength to his forgive his parents’ decision making. Photo credit: Jamal Melancon

Jamal Melancon and Caleb Beck

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The father of the Rev. Mariano Veliz of St. Anthony of Padua Church moved to the city of Mexicali around the age of seven. There he roamed the streets unsupervised and was recruited by drug traffickers to carry heroin through the tunnels from Mexico to California.

“When he became 12, they started paying him in heroin,” Veliz said.

Veliz told his experience with God’s mercy at St. Anthony of Padua’s divine mercy conference event, which was held Friday, Feb. 26 and Saturday, Feb. 27.

His father became addicted to heroin for 36 years. Veliz said he was seven-years-old when his father left his family household that included his mother and two little siblings.

Veliz said he felt a bit relieved because even at his age he understood the harm in his father’s actions, but Veliz’s mother went looking for her husband and left Veliz at home with his grandparents for two weeks.

“When she came back I was angry,” Veliz said. “I was resentful.”

Veliz said he carried a resentment towards his parents and their decision making until he was 15-years-old. He said he realized intellectually that he had to let go of his anger, but his heart was in a struggle. That’s when he started specifically praying to God to help reconcile his resentment towards both his parents, and he eventually came to a breakthrough.

“From then on, my heart was on fire to be a priest,” Veliz said.

Veliz developed a longing to be a priest from God’s role in his reconciliation with his parents. He said he was able to move past his mother leaving him to find his father and that he was able to be content with claiming and caring for his own father, no matter what he’d done.

“That mercy is not going to fall out of the sky,” Veliz said. “God is going to communicate that mercy through you, through me, through all of us.”

The event was inspired by Pope Francis’ announcement of the Holy Year, the Jubilee Year of Mercy on March 15, 2015.

Mike Hammer, local businessman, and Jerry Christopher Jr., Bag of Doughnuts leader and bass player, were the keynote speakers of Friday night, and they detailed how they met each other after battling their own demons and accepting mercy into their lives.

“Mike’s story was like my story,” Christopher said.

Hammer had a falling out with his faith in his teenage years, and Christopher felt much the same, rejecting the Church in eighth grade.

“This felt like a good time to rebel and kick Jesus out,” Christopher said.

They indulged in their vices and saw the repercussions of a hedonistic lifestyle. Christopher fell into a cycle of sex, drugs and rock and roll excess as a touring bassist, and Hammer lost at least a million in prolonged gambling binges, while coping with the loss of his best friend and sister.

After seeing him struggle, Hammer’s mother prayed for him on Divine Mercy Sunday in April 2002, and on that day he stopped gambling. Christopher said that a prayer meeting Hammer invited him to changed his life.

“I opened up and told him the things I was struggling with,” Christopher said.

He joked that Hammer was “the Wolf of Wall Street” and himself “the Wolf of Bourbon Street.”

Christopher now says that men’s fellowship and faith is a big part of his spirituality.

“We’ve been given the power to live an abundant life,” Christopher said.

He sang “Jesus, Remember Me” to close his testimonial.

Karen Stoehr, who married her husband at St. Anthony of Padua, shared her experience with God’s mercy toward her children. Before the birth of her first child, she said she mistakenly consulted a doctor about birth control.

“We just followed the social trend of contraception,” Stoehr said.

From that point forward, she decided to include God in every aspect of her marriage. Before the birth of her sixth child, she once heard her priest and fellow congregates speaking in tongues during Mass. In this time, she said she was given a word of prophecy from God.

“I heard a voice in my head that said, ‘her name will be Claire and all will be OK,’” Stoehr said.

Stoehr said that it was never clear to her who she should share her prophecy from God with, but she took a pregnancy test later that night and told her husband that they were having a baby. In her fifth month of pregnancy, her doctor for her ultrasound high risk check said that the baby currently had a cleft lip, asymmetrical legs and an arm longer than the other.

“The doctor said this is actually a really good case for termination,” Stoehr said.

Stoehr’s child was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or water on the brain. Her doctor said that these babies tend to live from nine months to 13 years, and Stoehr said he insisted that she consider an abortion by showing her photographs of affected children.

“I think he thought I was brainwashed by the church to say I’m pro-life,” Stoehr said.

She told her doctor that these children were nothing to be afraid of and that if God took her child away from her she would live with it. Now Claire Stoehr is 12-years-old and has healthy arms and legs.

“She is a beast on the soccer field today,” Stoehr said.

Claire faced challenges ever since she was born. She had to have open heart surgery when she was three years old, and Stoehr said her daughter has had several surgeries and has several more to go.

Stoehr recalled that when Claire was 11-years-old, she had to have her lips stitched together for two weeks, and she seemed unfazed by hearing the news. Claire assured her mom that she would be fine by reiterating that God said “her name would be Claire and everything would be all right.”

Pat Landry, an organizer of the conference, said she wanted to help teach others about the message of divine mercy.

“People don’t really feel that God loves them, truly loves them and accepts them where they’re at,” Landry said. “That to me is the biggest hurt in the hearts of youth and adults, everybody.”

Veliz said that God wishes for us to enter divine mercy daily and that even though God’s mercy doesn’t discriminate, society sometimes leaves behind those who also need to be healed.

“Many times the people we reach out to are the undesirables of society,” Veliz said. “But often the divine mercy of Christ moves us to reach out to those people.”

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About the Writers
Jamal Melancon, Senior Staff Writer

Jamal is a mass communication senior with a focus in journalism. Before serving on The Maroon as the Senior Staff Writer, Jamal worked as the Worldview...

Caleb Beck, Wolf Editor

A lanky, beach-wandering fool, Caleb crash-landed in New Orleans at Loyola University's campus after spending his high school years on Destin, Florida’s...

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