While many pilgrims to World Youth Day will make their way to St. Faustina’s convent in Krakow, there is another image that predates the well-known one hanging on the convent church wall.

I caught up with film director Daniel diSilva to talk about his movie “The Original Image of Divine Mercy” that features the original image, the mystery around it and its theological significance. 

The film features a broad range of theological experts on Divine Mercy including Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków, Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, Fr. Dwight Longenecker and papal biographer George Weigel. Comedian Jim Gaffigan and singer, songwriter Harry Connick Jr. bring some unexpected cultural commentary to the film.

Gress: What was the motivation for this film? You have labored on it for years, traveling to six countries. Why?

diSilva: In 2007, I was invited by a friend to go to the church were the original image in Vilnius, Lithuania is. He said, “This is original painting,” in his best English. I thought he was trying to tell me that this was an original painting done later. But then I realized that he was saying, “This is the original painting.”

Right as he said it, it was like when Christ says, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). When my friend said, “This is the original painting” it just dawned on me that I have never even asked the question “Is there an original painting?” Of course, St. Faustina and her spiritual director Fr. Sopocko worked together on an original painting, so clearly there had to be an original. This left me with a burning curiosity that if this is the original, how come nobody knows about it? Then I realized that the original image of Divine Mercy had never been seen by the world.

Gress: Is the image available for purchase or are people only able to see it in the film?

Of course many have seen the images that have been available online by various propagators and devotees of Divine Mercy. But these images are based on photos necessarily taken from an angle and probably from far away. Because of where the image is hung in the church, there really is no way to get close to it. It is behind glass up on a wall. At best, you put a camera on a stick, but what happens is the glass reflects and it is not a good photograph. Then to correct the photo, it gets digitally tweaked in brightness, contrast, etc… and it ends up looking terrible. So the finished product lacks many details – the halo is not there, the full figure of Christ is not there—and people start to believe that is not a very good painting.

For the documentary, we used an original digital scan of every inch of this higher-than-six-feet tall painting. Every detail shows up on the screen. It is only then that people can get a full appreciation of this painting and love it. The light, the color, the strokes, are all there. These details are important but have been widely obscured until now.

I also think that because this film is coming out in the holy year of Divine Mercy, that the Holy Spirit was involved somewhere in there.

Incidentally, a bad translation of St. Faustina’s diary and the use of the wrong image contributed to the initial prohibition by the Vatican of the devotion to Divine Mercy according to the writings of St. Faustina and the associated image. Pope John Paul, then archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla , was responsible for correcting the misunderstanding about the translation, and now with this film, we are trying to return to the correct image of Divine Mercy.

diSilva: Yes, on our website. Proceeds from all sales will go to foster the development of pilgrimage facilities for the Divine Mercy Shrine in Vilnius, where currently these isn’t even a small shop where pilgrims could purchase a nice copy of the image.

Gress: What is some of the mystery behind the image? What is new that you can tell us without giving away too much of the film?

diSilva: The image in Krakow painted by Adolf Hyła was not based upon this painting because he never saw it. It is based upon a tiny one-inch photo that a guy had sown into his coat in Siberia. This photo and 149,999 others like it, were commissioned by Blessed Fr. Michal Sopocko, St. Faustina’s spiritual director, to get the Divine Mercy message out. Hyła saw the image in Siberia and prayed that if God got him out of the prison camp in Siberia he would spread the devotion. So that is where the other image came from painted 10 years after St. Faustina’s death.

Unforunately, Hyła got a lot of details wrong. Fr. Sopocko asked him to conform his style of painting to the details that St. Faustina thought were important, but by then this was a living for Hyła, so he did it his way. The painting that most of us know as Divine Mercy is not anything like the original mainly because Hyła actually never saw it.

Gress: What other image is there that is on par with this? There are similarities between St. Juan Diego's tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Is this an accurate comparison?

diSilva: I love this question. I have two things to say: First, nothing compares to the original painting of Divine Mercy. Nothing. The painting of Our Lady is not in the same category because it wasn’t painted by a human hand. It is a mystical painting of another class. For me, it is like a butterfly wing. What’s more beautiful the Mona Lisa or a butterfly wing? And the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is colored the same way a butterfly wing would be colored. The fibers themselves are colored. There is no paint on it.

So the images aren’t comparable, but I do want to say this: the original of Divine Mercy is unlike any other painting that my hero Eugeniusz Kazimirowski has ever done. All of his other paintings don’t look like this stylistically.

When theologians get their hands on the real painting they are going to see some stuff in that painting that have never been seen before. Like a Caravaggio, you could do a course on it. There is something in every inch (so in that way it does compare to the tilma), but the fact that it doesn’t compare to any other Kazimirowski images might be some indication that like Mary did with the Our Lady of Guadalupe – she arranged it -- we might also say that Christ himself may have guided the hand Kazimirowski.

Gress: Similar to writers of Scripture where God guided the human hand?

diSilva: Exactly.

Gress: Speaking of theologians, I love the inclusion of the well-known theologians Jim Gaffigan and Harry Connick Jr. (who, of course, are not really theologians). Tell me about their role in the film?

diSilva: (laughing) Gaffigan has been living a very public life as a father of five and a Catholic. He has a devotion to Divine Mercy and has read St. Faustina’s diary clearly through to the end. It is a hard book to get through, but there is some stuff in the end that is really cool that changes everything. Gaffigan new about some of these things. So that says to me that he really got through this long book.

Gress: So one night after giving his “hot pocket schtick” he went home and dove into St. Faustina’s diary? What a juxtaposition!

diSilva: (laughter)

Gress: Where do you see this going long term? Do you have other projects in the works?

diSilva: Currently, I am traveling around the country presenting something I call “The Director’s Cut” of the film, which is an elaboration of the history. I travel with a full-size on-canvas replica of the Original Image of Divine Mercy. I am also transporting a small gallery of art as well as some priceless holy relics as I move around the country. There is a lot more to the story than we could include into an hour and 50 minute film. Proceeds from these presentations are going to the non-existent pilgrimage center that I would love to see built in Vilnius to allow people to visit the original image.

I’m also writing a book that tells the rest of the story. I want to tell more of the story about why this painting has been lost.

Ultimately, my goal is to bring this image to its proper place of primacy in the devotion of Divine Mercy. And this isn’t based on any personal preference, artistic or otherwise. As you can see in the documentary, Fr. Sopocko was present for the painting of the image, and heard every detail given by St. Faustina to the artist Eugeniusz Kazimirowski. Fr. Sopocko considered it important that people venerate this image because it most conforms to the Faustinian description of the Merciful Jesus.