Polish Spiritual Powerhouse

EDITORIAL: One of the most important lessons that Poland has taught the world is the need to turn always to Divine Mercy.

People take part in a Mass for peace in Ukraine on the 17th anniversary of the death of the late Polish Pope, Saint John Paul II in front of the Pope's window on April 02, 2022 in Krakow, Poland. More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion of that country on Feb. 24. Millions more have been internally displaced.
People take part in a Mass for peace in Ukraine on the 17th anniversary of the death of the late Polish Pope, Saint John Paul II in front of the Pope's window on April 02, 2022 in Krakow, Poland. More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion of that country on Feb. 24. Millions more have been internally displaced. (photo: Omar Marques / Getty)

Universal devotion to Divine Mercy, with its simple and profound message — “Jesus, I trust in you” — is one of the most fitting prayers for today, especially in relation to the upheaval in Eastern Europe. 

The origins of the Divine Mercy prayers, taken from the writings of Polish St. Faustina Kowalska and brought to worldwide importance by Polish Pope St. John Paul II when he established Divine Mercy Sunday, stand as a reminder of the power of prayer in the resistance of evil and despair. 

Poland has a profound history of persevering through adversity, from its reestablishment as a sovereign nation after being wiped from the map for more than a century to its breaking the yoke of Soviet communism. And, again today, the country, like many in that region, faces political and spiritual crossroads.

To be sure, Poland has many challenges. Polish Catholicism is confronted with the tides of secularism, threats of ideological colonization from the West and the terrible toll of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. 

For Polish Catholics, however, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a massive effort to house, feed and care for the literally millions of Ukrainian refugees displaced by the conflict, even as Poland’s bishops have courageously expressed their great concerns about the radical “Synodal Path” taking place in neighboring Germany. 

These heroic efforts are a potent reminder of how much Poland has contributed spiritually to the Church over the last century, especially through such saints as Faustina, Pope John Paul II and Maximilian Kolbe.

The 20th century witnessed two catastrophic world wars, the seven decades of the atheist regime of the Soviet Union, the rise of communist China, and the spread of the culture of death in abortion and the destruction of the family. Of all the countries that suffered throughout much of the last century, Poland stands out particularly. 

Historically under threat from her neighbors to the east and the west, Poland has been ruthlessly targeted for invasion and partitioned repeatedly among Prussia, Russia and the Austrian Empire. The partition in 1939 between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia led to the greatest suffering in Polish history and ultimately a half century of brutality, persecution and violence under the Nazis and then the communists. 

From the time of the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939 to the German defeat and takeover of Poland by the Red Army in 1944-1945, more than 5 million Poles were killed or starved to death. Millions were sent to serve as forced labor in Germany, and the totalitarian Nazi regime ruthlessly persecuted the Catholic Church, which it saw as one of its greatest enemies. Dachau, Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps were places of imprisonment and death for thousands of Polish bishops, priests and men and women religious.

Among the Polish priests who died at Auschwitz was Conventual Franciscan Father Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered for death in the place of a married man. Father Kolbe patiently cared for his fellow prisoners until his own murder by the SS guards on Aug. 14, 1941, at the age of 47. He is honored as a martyr and a powerful role model in charity for the whole world, described by John Paul II at his canonization in 1982 as a witness to Christ, “the witness given in Christ to the dignity of man, to the sanctity of his life and to the saving power of death, in which is manifested the power of love.”

Liberation from the Nazis marked only the end of one era of terrible brutality and the start of a new period of totalitarian oppression at the hands of the Soviet puppet communist regime. Tens of thousands of Poles were arrested over the years, and the Church was targeted for persecution. Among the direct victims of the regime were two blesseds, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. Father Popiełuszko was murdered in 1984 by three members of the secret police at the age of 37. Cardinal Wyszyński spent three years in prison and stood for decades as the symbol in Poland against the communist regime. 

With the fall of communism in 1989, the Polish people were at last able to vote freely, and they rejected communism. The Soviet Army finally left Poland in 1993. 

Through it all, Polish Catholics stood firm in their love of the faith, and that dedication made Poland a true spiritual powerhouse whose saints literally changed the world and whose people continue to resist totalitarianism, whether it is abortion and the progressive family agenda, the dictatorship of relativism within the Church or the savage invasion of their neighbor. 

One of the most important lessons that Poland has taught the world is the need to turn always to Divine Mercy. St. Faustina, the Polish nun who died less than a year before the start of World War II, became the recipient of the message of Divine Mercy. Her life was, as John Paul II said at her canonization, “completely linked with the history of the 20th century.” 

The work of this extraordinary saint found its greatest champion in the Polish Pope, himself a spiritual giant, one of the greatest popes in history and an architect of the fall of the Soviet Empire. He established the feast of Divine Mercy, canonized her, died in April 2005 on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, and was beatified in 2011 and canonized in 2014 on Divine Mercy Sunday. 

The defense of the human person, one of the great pillars of his pontificate, was tied intimately to Divine Mercy. In his canonization of St. Faustina, he taught that the message of Divine Mercy is love. 

“It is this love which must inspire humanity today,” he proclaimed, “if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of Divine Mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one.”

And this message of Divine Mercy is for every age, including our own troubled time. John Paul II declared in 2001 on the first anniversary of Faustina’s canonization, “Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the Risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Let us embrace the wisdom of the saints of the Polish spiritual powerhouse. 

Let us pray for the Polish bishops speaking out regarding the wayward German “Synodal Path” and for the heroic efforts by Polish Catholics to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes, parishes and convents. 

Above all, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday in such dire times, let us pray that the whole world heeds the words of Our Lord to St. Faustina: “Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy” (St. Faustina’s diary, p. 132).

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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