Pope John Paul II & Divine Mercy
by Val Conlon
“I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church, and the world” (Bl. Pope John Paul II November 22, 1981)
The knowledge of St. Faustina and the revelations bestowed on her coming from Jesus became known to Pope John Paul II early in 1940. It was at the time when he was studying for the priesthood secretly, in a seminary in Krakow.
The first he heard of these revelations was from another seminarian Andrew Deskur who later became a Cardinal also. Andrew told him about Saint Faustina Kowalska and the message of Divine Mercy she claimed she had received from the Lord.
It was during the time that she received the messages from Our Lord, that Karol Wojtyla was forcibly working under the Nazi occupation forces in the factory, which was in view of the convent and can still be seen today from the convent cemetery where St. Faustina was first buried.
Karol Wojtyla visited the convent frequently, first as a priest and then as a bishop. He went there often to pray and in later years gave retreats there as well. It was Karol Wojtyla, as Archbishop of Krakow, who after St. Faustina’s death, was the first to consider bringing St. Faustina’s name before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for consideration as a figure worthy of being put forward for beatification.
During the Second Vatican Council, he approached Cardinal Ottaviani about the desire of the faithful in Poland to have Saint Faustina raised to the honours of the altar. Cardinal Ottaviani told him the first step to take was to get together the testimonies of all those who knew her, while they were still alive.
Archbishop Karol Wojtyla delegated his auxiliary bishop, Julian Groblicki, to gather the information in order to begin the Informative Process of the life and virtues of Saint Faustina. In September 1967 the process was completed, and in January 1968, the Process of Beatification was inaugurated. Because of the positive outcome of the informative Process, inquiries from many places, especially from Poland and, in particular, from Archbishop Wojtyla, were sent to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They asked whether the prohibitions of the 1959 Notification were still in effect. In response to these inquiries, the Sacred Congregation issued a new “Notification” dated April 15, 1978, which stated, “This Sacred Congregation, having now in possession the many original documents, unknown in 1959 and having taken into consideration the profoundly changed circumstances and having taken into account the opinion of many Polish Ordinaries, it now declares no longer binding the prohibitions contained in the quoted “Notification”.
On the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 1980, Pope John Paul II published his second encyclical letter “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) , in which he describes the mercy of God as the presence of a love which is greater than any evil, greater than any sin and greater than death. In this encyclical he calls on the Church to devote itself to pleading for God’s mercy for the whole world.
The publishing of this second encyclical was probably the most important event in the life of the Holy Father and in his relationship to St.Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy.
It was as Archbishop of Krakow, that Karol Wojtyla defended Saint Faustina when her credibility and the message of Divine Mercy was questioned in Rome. This came about due to a faulty translation in Italian of her diary, which was sent to the Congregation for the Protection of the Faith.
Pope John Paul II, who said that he felt spiritually “very near to Saint Faustina and had been thinking about her and the message of Divine Mercy when he began ‘Dives in Misericordia’. On November 22, 1981, Pope John Paul II made his first public visit outside of Rome following a lengthy recuperation. On the Feast of Christ the King, he travelled to the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, near Todi, Italy. There, within a few days, an international congress was held to reflect on the encyclical ‘Dives in Misericordia’.
After celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, he made a strong public declaration about the importance of the message of mercy.He said, “A year ago I published the encyclical ‘Dives in Misericordi’. This made me come to the Sanctuary of Merciful Love today. By my presence I wish to reconfirm, in a way, the message of that encyclical. I wish to read it again and deliver it again. Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church, and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God”. (Extract from the homily by Pope John Paul II at The Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy, November 22, 1981)
On Mercy Sunday, April 10, 1991, two years prior to the beatification of Saint Faustina, Pope John Paul II spoke about Saint Faustina, relating her to his encyclical and emphasising her role in bringing the message of mercy to the world, “The words of the encyclical on Divine Mercy (Dives in Misericordia) are particularly close to us. They recall the figure of the Servant of God, Saint Faustina Kowalska. This simple woman religious particularly brought the Easter message of the merciful Christ closer to the whole world”.
On Mercy Sunday, April 18, 1993, Saint Faustina was beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. He began his homily with a quotation from her diary: “I clearly feel that my mission does not end with death, but begins”. Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvellous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts!
“Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope?” is an expression of the theme of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. In his ‘Regina Caeli’ talk of April 23, 1995, immediately after he had concluded celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday at the Holy Spirit Church, Pope John Paul II exhorted us to personally experience God’s mercy, “In a special way, today is the Sunday of thanksgiving for the goodness God has shown man in the whole Easter mystery”.
This is why it is also called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Essentially, God’s mercy, as the mystical experience of Saint Faustina Kowalska, who was raised to the honour of the altar in 2000, helps us to understand, reveals precisely this truth: good triumphs over evil, life is stronger than death and God’s love is more powerful than sin.
All this is manifested in Christ’s paschal mystery, in which God appears to us as he is, a tender-hearted Father, who does not give up in the face of his children’s ingratitude and is always ready to forgive.
We must personally experience this mercy if, in turn, we want to be capable of mercy. Let us learn to forgive! The spiral of hatred and violence which stains with blood the path of so many individuals and nations can only be broken by the miracle of forgiveness. When Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, on June 7, 1997, he addressed the Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in a very personal way, reflecting on Divine Mercy and giving an amazing personal witness to the influence of Saint Faustina and her message, “I have come here to this Shrine as a pilgrim to take part in the unending hymn in honour of Divine Mercy. The psalmist of the Lord had intoned it, expressing what every generation preserved and will continue to preserve as a most precious fruit of faith.
There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy, that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God. In this place we become particularly aware of this. From here, in fact, went out the Message of Divine Mercy that Christ himself chose to pass on to our generation through Saint Faustina. And it is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone. Anyone can come here, look at this Image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace and hear in the depths of his own soul what Saint Faustina heard, “Fear nothing l am with you always” (Diary, 586).
And if this person responds with a sincere heart, “Jesus, I trust in you,” he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me. It is as if history had inscribed it in the tragic experience of the Second World War. In those difficult years, it was a particular support and an inexhaustible source of hope, not only for the people of Krakow but for the entire nation. This was also my personal experience, which I took with me to the See of Peter and which in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate. Do not neglect any of these dimensions of the apostolate”.
On Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000, before some two hundred and fifty thousand pilgrims and the television cameras of the world, Pope John Paul II canonized Saint Faustina Kowalska, ‘the great Apostle of Divine Mercy’. In doing so, he also approved the Divine Mercy message and devotion by declaring the Second Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday” for the universal Church. In one of the most extraordinary homilies of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II repeated three times that Saint Faustina is “God’s gift to our time.” She made the message of Divine Mercy the “bridge to the third millennium.” He then said, “By this act of canonization of Saint Faustina I intend today to pass this message on to the third millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their neighbour. In fact, love of God and love of one’s neighbour are inseparable.
Exhorting all of us to join our voices to Mary, Mother of Mercy, and St. Faustina, “who made her life a hymn to mercy” and directing us to “sing the mercies of the Lord forever” (Ps 89:2), he ended the homily with these words, “And you, St. Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood”. Devotion to Divine Mercy is the strong and clear mandate given to the Church in these revelations We have seen in St. Faustina’s canonization to sainthood the fulfilment of this mandate. By canonizing her, the Church itself has established Divine Mercy as today’s devotion for all. So today, fixing our gaze with Bl. Pope John Paul II on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope, Jesus the risen Lord, I trust in you.