In February 1938 Jesus spoke these words to Sister Faustina, “Today I am sending you with My Mercy to the people of the whole world” (Diary, 1588). 73 years later we came, inspired by the message of Divine Mercy, to the place where Faustina heard these words of Jesus in order to take part in the 2nd World Congress on Divine Mercy, 1st—5th October 2011.
We came from 69 countries, more than 2000 of us, including Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious and lay people to the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Krakow—Lagiewniki. This Congress was created by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (who also spoke at the Congress), approved by Pope Benedict XVI, and is supported by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who hosted the Congress at this site where Saint Faustina lived out her last years.
Present also at the Congress, among others, I mention a Nigerian Bishop who founded a community of priests based on the Divine Mercy message, a Muslim convert who saw Merciful Jesus save him from death during a car accident (he later recognised Jesus in Faustina’s painted Image), an Anglican priest who uses the Divine Mercy prayers in England to help reform drug addicts and young people in difficulty, the religious sister who was healed of Parkinson’s disease through John Paul II’s intercession, Father Seraphim, who was Vice Postulator of Sister Faustina’s cause for canonisation (he was also responsible for translating St Faustina’s Diary into English), and the Knights of Columbus.
Last but certainly not least, the Sisters of the Congregation of our Lady of Mercy, that is, St Faustina’s Sisters, were present and assisted at the Congress. They live in the same Convent at the Sanctuary in which Saint Faustina lived and passed away.
The relatively small Chapel where Sister Faustina used to join her sister religious in prayer still stands on the Sanctuary grounds as a testimony to the life and revelations of Saint Faustina, and now houses her mortal remains and the miraculous Image of Merciful Jesus which the Lord asked her to have painted, and which has been the source of countless graces and various miracles.
I have been hesitating to write about this Congress, although not for a lack of enthusiasm or devotion. It is difficult to evaluate the worldwide movement of Divine Mercy which precipitated the birth of this Congress and which will in turn be nourished by the fruits of the Congress. It is difficult also to comprehend the immense value of this Congress, its profound significance, and the measure of its influence which is already being felt around the world. The movement’s dimensions seem to extend in every direction, to increase as the movement spreads, and to transcend normal boundaries and ordinary perceptions.
It is impossible in this short space to recount the testimonies of healing and conversions and spiritual graces attributed by literally hundreds of people to the message and spirituality of the Divine Mercy. Meanwhile, we also heard various academics speak at the Congress. What is evident is that they are working hard in order to demonstrate, on the one hand, that the theological foundations of devotion to the Divine Mercy are at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, on the other hand, to account for and interpret the revelations of Saint Faustina, revelations which exhibit multifaceted and profound teachings on the Divine Mercy which years later Pope John Paul II would call “a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely” (homily at the canonisation of Sister Faustina in Rome, 30th April 2000).
So who is Saint Faustina Kowalska? Born Helena Kowalska on 25th August 1905 in Poland, she is quickly becoming recognised as one of the greatest mystics the Church has ever known. Jesus told her that she will be the secretary of Divine Mercy both in time and in eternity (417, 1605). Jesus also told her that she would prepare the world for His second coming (429).
For her part, young Helena initially neglected the call to religious life when her parents forbade her to join, often evaded Jesus’ invitations and interior inspirations after becoming a religious (cf. 430, 435-437), and finally complained that she was the “most miserable of all creatures” and so unfit for such an office, to which Jesus once responded, “It is precisely through such misery that I want to show the power of My mercy” (cf. 133).
So what is the message of the Divine Mercy? It cannot be summarised in a few words but here is a little window on the message: It is an invitation from Merciful Jesus to each soul to enter into a personal relationship with Him (1693) in which the soul comes to know and experience the depths of the Divine Mercy, God’s greatest attribute (301); that nurtured by the revelations of Jesus to St Faustina, by a life of prayer, and through the exercise of mercy the soul becomes aflame with God’s mercy (745, 1688); that in this way Jesus wants to fan the fire of the Divine Mercy throughout the whole world in order to prepare the world for His second coming (848)—“Before the day of Justice I [Jesus] am sending the day of Mercy” (1588).
Among other things, Jesus also said to Saint Faustina:
“Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.” (699)
Sister Faustina went on to become more and more like the Merciful Jesus as she learned to entrust herself increasingly to Him and to imitate His Merciful Heart. She was immersed in a daily cycle of prayer, work and sacrifice, received deep and profound insights about the union of the soul with God, about the Divine Mercy, she was visited by angels and saints, by the Mother of God, she experienced the invisible Stigmata, and she passed away on the eve of the 2nd World War at the age of 33 years, the day after the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the 5th October 1938, having been utterly transformed into Christ (cf. 1697).
What is coming to light for me at this time also is the fact that the message of Divine Mercy started to spread among the victims of World War II, helping to sustain them in very difficult times, and that the message played a key role in the formation of Karol Wojtyla who would later be known as Pope John Paul II and would change the world forever.
Just over two years after his election to the Papacy, John Paul II gave the world an Encyclical letter on Divine Mercy, “Rich In Mercy” (30th Nov 1980), considered the message of Divine Mercy his “special task” (22nd Nov 1981, visit to the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza near Todi, Italy) and “in a sense the image of this [his] Pontificate” (1997 pilgrimage to the tomb of Sister Faustina), canonised Blessed Faustina in Rome (30th April 2000), and entrusted the world to the Divine Mercy at the newly built Basilica of the Divine Mercy in Krakow—Lagiewniki (17th August 2002), the site of our Congress.
On this occasion, John Paul also said:
“Today, therefore, in this Shrine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth ‘the spark which will prepare the world for His final coming’ (cf. Diary, 1732).”
As Providence had it, Pope John Paul II passed from this world on the eve of the Feast of Mercy, 2nd April 2005, the Feast which he himself had instituted in response to Jesus’ request through Saint Faustina (Diary 49, 50), leaving us a Divine testimony as to the meaning of John Paul II’s Pontificate and the profound relevance of the message of Divine Mercy as revealed through Saint Faustina.
This extraordinary Saint not only became a victim soul for others (135, 136), she was also so transformed in Christ (137) as to become an effective channel of the Divine Mercy for the whole world (441, 1688), able to lead others to become such channels too so that more and more people might come to know the Mercy of God (cf. 438).
There were many extraordinary events in the life and mission of Saint Faustina but I will mention only one in detail as I conclude this letter. One day, perceiving that a certain city was about to be punished for its crimes, Sister Faustina prayed to rescue that city but her prayer did not avail. She was deeply grieved at this and in a moment found herself caught up in spirit before the throne of God. Moved by a strong impulse of Divine grace, she made the following prayer which became the substance of what we know as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the city was rescued from punishment:
“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” (Diary 474,475)