It was in Poland during the 1930s that Jesus himself lit the fire of Divine Mercy devotions. He revealed his desire for this special ardor to a humble nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska. And he specifically asked that a feast in its honor be celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.
The flames spread bit by bit until the Jubilee Year 2000, when they burst into a conflagration. This came when Pope John Paul II declared — on April 30, at the canonization Mass for St. Faustina Kowalska — that “this Second Sunday of Easter … from now on throughout the Church, will be called Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Then, on Aug. 17, 2002, at the new Divine Mercy Shrine in Lagiewniki, Poland, the 263rd successor to St. Peter solemnly entrusted the world to the Divine Mercy, adding: “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.”
Seven years after the institution of the feast, and less than five since the papal proclamation, it seems the Spirit has indeed sent Divine Mercy fire all around the world.
If you could stand at the top of the world looking down on creation for evidence to back up that conclusion, here are some of the signs you would see.
Sanctified in Sri Lanka
In Colombo, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia’s Cathedral is marking its 10th year celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday. According to parishioner Jayanthe Rayen, around 600 come to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., with confessions beforehand and Mass following the chaplet.
The fruits? “St. Lucia’s Cathedral was once the only church celebrating the Divine Mercy Mass,” he says. “Now we have more than 35 churches celebrating it — but the cathedral is still packed.”
One of those Sri Lankan churches is Sacred Heart Parish in the city of Rajagiriya. Parishioner and Divine Mercy promoter Marianne Johnpillai reports that, on Mercy Sunday, 350 people arrive at 2 p.m. for a holy hour. This is accompanied by reflections on Scripture, readings from the diary of St. Faustina and meditations on trust and mercy from John Paul’s writings. Priests hear confessions; lapsed Catholics return.
That day there’s also Benediction and a procession with the Divine Mercy image, which is venerated.
“As I stand near the image and the last person has approached it, I am deeply moved by the number of people — young, old, sick, healthy — who come and pray with great fervor at the image,” says Johnpillai. “They lay their hands on it and pray for their private intentions.”
A group from her parish has gathered every Friday at 3 p.m. for six years now to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. They petition the Lord of Divine Mercy for the conversion of sinners, for priests, the dying, against the evil of abortion and for other intentions.
“More parishes are beginning to celebrate this feast on a grand scale,” adds Johnpillai. “Personally, I try to remind myself that true devotion to Divine Mercy is living its message: Our lives are to be transformed so that we may be instruments of God’s mercy.”
In the Philippines, on Divine Mercy Sunday an average 100,000 people arrive at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Marilao, an urban municipality in the province of Bulacan.
According to Francis Bourdon, executive director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Mass., most walk because of the surrounding area’s great poverty.
Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, national spiritual director of the Divine Mercy Apostolate of the Philippines, reports that, in areas and parishes where the devotion is widespread, nearly the entire congregation attends. And, he says, the devotion continues beyond Mercy Sunday.
Msgr. Ramirez describes Filiponos’ reaction as “almost phenomenal. Everywhere is almost saturated with the Divine Mercy portrait and the chaplet or the 3 o’clock prayer is recited almost everywhere by religious groups and private individuals.”
He points out that radio stations and even a TV network have caught the fire. (Check out divinemercytvchannel.com.)
Scores of churches, chapels, private
homes — and yes, government offices — have enthroned the Divine Mercy image.
There are novenas expounding on mercy. And, through the apostolate, Msgr.
Ramirez directs Mercy Centers helping the needy.
In short, it’s safe to say that the Philippines is being transformed into a veritable hot spot of Divine Mercy.
Devotion Down Under
John Canavan, a leader of the Australian Divine Mercy Apostolate, reports that Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated in all dioceses in Australia — but with special intensity in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. There are 44 Divine Mercy Sunday Masses in the province of Victoria alone.
“All the churches that have it are full three-quarters minimum to out-the-door,” says Canavan.
“My observation is Divine Mercy just grows and grows,” he adds. “It’s the silent achiever. I find over and over that people who didn’t know anything about it are learning about it” at the grassroots level.
Canavan is himself an example of the phenomenon. He only knows about Divine Mercy to spread it because he picked up a pamphlet while in Medjugorje. The devotion “changed my life,” he says.
He finds it spreading in a way that’s “silent and quick.”
“Once you step into the heart of Christ, you fall into the ocean of mercy and stay there,” he says. “This is what’s happening to people in Australia.”
Canavan compares Divine Mercy to a hidden, healing tsunami. “It’s going to one day pour out,” he says, “and God’s mercy will cover the world.”
In India, celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday is a major feast in Shillong, the capital of the northeast state of Meghalaya.
“With the help of Jesus, Our Lady and St. Faustina, we’ve been spreading the Lord’s Divine Mercy in this region since 1997,” says Patrick Thorose, principal of St. Peter’s School. “The simplicity and directness of the devotion attracts our people like a magnet.”
In his parish alone, between 4,000 and 5,000 attend — 30,000 in the state of Meghalaya, conservatively speaking, he says. “There are seven other large Christian states in this little known but substantial vicinity of eastern India,” he says. “Divine Mercy has touched them all.”
In Calcutta, all but one or two parishes out of 14 celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday with churches packed to capacity, say Marjorie and Clare Fernandez of the Divine Mercy Centre for Calcutta. About 500 attend in their parish, the Church of Christ the King.
“The fact that the celebrations are well attended speaks for itself,” says Clare. “In Calcutta it is quite hot at 3 o’clock, often topping 100 degrees, but this does not deter the people from coming — and they come joyfully.”
This year marks the 13th celebration at Christ the King, the first church in Calcutta to begin celebrating the Feast of Mercy.
The devotion also carries over throughout the year.
Says Marjorie, “The people are devoted to the Divine Mercy and their devotion is especially manifested at the 3 o’clock hour, when everyone tries to drop what they are doing and pray the Mercy chaplet. Many have told us they have experienced great graces for themselves and others when they pray the chaplet at that hour.”
“Their devotion to the Divine Mercy is further confirmed by the fact that, when introduced to the devotion, each one immediately passes it on to another,” she adds. “They give out Divine Mercy pictures or prayer cards bearing the image and the prayers of the chaplet.”
Parish priests attest to how widespread the devotion is in Calcutta. “When they go on their round visiting homes,” explains Marjorie, “they will always see a Divine Mercy picture hanging on the wall and hear their parishioners praise the efficacy of the devotion.”
Ablaze in Africa
The Divine Mercy message burns hot in Rwanda’s Kibeho region. There the people believe that the Blessed Mother appeared to three girls in late 1981 and early 1982, reports Marians of the Immaculate Conception Father Anthony Gramlich, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. (thedivinemercy.org).
In 2001, the local bishop affirmed the apparitions. “Yes, the Virgin Mary did appear in Kibeho on Nov. 28, 1981, and in the course of the following six months,” said Bishop Augustine Misago of Gikongoro in a statement published by the Vatican. “There are more reasons to believe this than to deny it.”
Says Father Gramlich today: “Mary and Mercy are there.”
In view of Kibeho’s Marian shrine is an 18-foot statue of the Divine Mercy that came from Chicago in 2004.
“People from all over Africa are coming to that shrine for Our Lady and then they pray at the Divine Mercy statue,” says Marians of the Immaculate Conception Father Seraphim Michalenko, who served as vice-postulator for North America in St. Faustina’s canonization cause. “I was there for the dedication of the adoration chapel. People came from all the surrounding countries in droves to be there. They were there till late at night before the image of Our Lord, constantly praying the chaplet.”
As Father Michalenko considers how Divine Mercy devotions are spreading globally — mostly by the outpourings of the laity — he’s prompted to conclude: “In my opinion, this is the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church.”
Burn, Mercy, Burn.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.