It’s only fitting that the beatification of John Paul II is on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, May 1.
After all, his legacy radiates with Divine Mercy.
“Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome, I considered this message my special task,” John Paul II said in 1981 at the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy, during his first public visit outside of Rome after his recuperation from the assassination attempt. “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.”
A year earlier, he wrote his landmark encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). Even earlier, he had some connections to the message of Sister Faustina Kowalska, who received messages from Jesus about devotion to Divine Mercy.
Divine Mercy expert Father Seraphim Michalenko of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who was vice postulator in North America for the canonization cause of St. Faustina, shares some particulars about John Paul’s devotion to Divine Mercy.
In 1965, as Archbishop Wojtyla and his friend Cardinal (then Father) Andrzej Deskur processed out of St. Peter’s during the last session of Vatican Council II, Wojtyla noted he “was bombarded by the people to start the process (of canonization) of Sister Faustina … but said there is a prohibition of her works,” relates Father Michalenko. (Due to confusion generated by inaccurate translations, a ban on publicizing the Divine Mercy message and devotion was in effect from 1959 to 1978.)
They came across Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who was acquainted with the case, in the square. “What? You haven’t done it yet? Better do it before witnesses disappear,” urged Cardinal Ottaviani.
Wojtyla “immediately went to the phone and called the investigating bishop to start the process” of the cause for the beatification of Sister Faustina, says Father Michalenko. “Paul VI removed the ban (in 1978), and six months [afterwards] to the day, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected Pope.”
In 1978 he re-introduced Faustina’s cause. He spoke constantly of the importance of Divine Mercy.
John Paul II beatified Faustina, often called the “Apostle of Divine Mercy,” in 1993. Then, on April 30, 2000, Divine Mercy Sunday, he canonized her.
Father Michalenko notes that she was the first to be canonized in the third millennium. “Even though Christianity was in Poland more than 1,000 years, she was the first native-born Polish woman to be canonized.”
“In fact, at the canonization of St. Faustina, John Paul II also ‘canonized’ the Divine Mercy message and devotion by declaring the Second Sunday of Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ for the universal Church,” writes Divine Mercy expert Basilian Father George Kosicki in Faustina, Saint for Our Times: A Personal Look at Her Life, Spirituality, and Legacy (Marian Press).
John Paul is quoted as having said, “It is the happiest day of my life.”
“Sister Faustina’s canonization has a particular eloquence: By this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium,” John Paul said that day. “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 brethren.”
Robert Stackpole, STD, author and director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, says that his favorite quote from soon-to-be-Blessed John Paul II on Divine Mercy “comes from a little-known ‘gem’ of his pontificate: the address he gave when he visited the tomb of Sister Faustina at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, back in 1997. In this address he really ‘bares his soul,’ so to speak, and speaks about how important the message and devotion to the Divine Mercy has been to him personally.”
Stackpole quoted a whole section of that speech:
“There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy. … 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 Blessed Faustina heard: ‘Fear nothing; I am with you always.’ And if this person responds with a sincere heart: ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears. ... On the threshold of the third millennium I come to entrust to him once more my Petrine ministry: ‘Jesus, I trust in you!’
“The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me. It was an inexhaustible source of hope for the Polish people during World War II. This was also my personal experience, which I took with me to the See of St. Peter and which, in a sense, forms the image of this pontificate. I give thanks to divine Providence that I have been enabled to contribute personally to the fulfillment of Christ’s will, through the institution of the feast of Divine Mercy [in Poland]. … I pray unceasingly that God will have ‘mercy on us, and on the whole world.’”
John Paul’s legacy of performing works of mercy particularly moves Marie Romagnano, international director of Nurses for Divine Mercy, an apostolate affiliated with the Marians and Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass.
One particularly important point of his legacy was his creation of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers. “That has brought a tremendous awareness of professional health-care providers to the Vatican so that medicine and bioethics are totally in harmony in what the Lord wants,” Romagnano says. “It’s our link with John Paul II. He established a legacy so that forever the care of the sick, injured and dying, which already is encompassed in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, is directly under the Vatican.”
In 2002, when John Paul II returned to Krakow and Lagiewniki for the dedication of the Divine Mercy Shrine, he re-emphasized the message of Divine Mercy.
“Like St. Faustina, we wish to proclaim that, apart from the mercy of God, there is no other source of hope for mankind. We desire to repeat with faith: ‘Jesus, I trust in you!’
“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 St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope.”
To the last, John Paul was connected to the mercy message: The “Great Mercy Pope” died on the evening of April 2, 2005, the vigil of the feast of the Divine Mercy.
John Paul II left one last message for the world on the subject — the Regina Coeli message he wrote for that April 3 Divine Mercy Sunday, which was read on that day by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State, at the end of the Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square for John Paul II.
John Paul wrote: “The risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!
“Lord, who revealed the Father’s love by your death and resurrection, we believe in you and confidently repeat to you today: ‘Jesus, I trust in you. Have mercy upon us, and upon the whole world.’”
And his legacy continues.
“Like Sister Faustina, Pope John Paul II was in his time an apostle of Divine Mercy,” Pope Benedict XVI said on Divine Mercy Sunday 2008. “Many noticed the remarkable coincidence that when he closed his eyes to this world on the evening of Saturday, April 2, 2005, it was on the eve of the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and also at the same time as the Marian devotion of the first Saturday of the month. In fact, this was at the core of his long and multifaceted pontificate; his entire mission in the service of God and man and peace in the world was summarized in the announcement he made in Krakow in 2002.”
Pope Benedict continued, “His message, like St. Faustina’s, leads back to the face of Christ, the supreme revelation of God’s mercy. Constantly contemplating that face: This is the legacy that he has left us, which we welcome with joy and make our own.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.