Divine Mercy Pilgrimage: A Visit to St. Faustina’s (and John Paul II’s) Krakow
Learn where the ‘Apostle of Mercy’ conversed with Jesus, prayed and lived — and follow in the Mercy Pope’s footsteps, too.
George Weigel fittingly titled his book about Krakow City of Saints. Indeed, throughout the centuries, many saints and blesseds have called Poland’s second-largest city (and the nation’s former capital) home, including Pope St. John Paul II, St. Albert Chmielowski, Casimir Jagiellon and St. Faustina Kowalska. In addition to the adjacent Divine Mercy Sanctuary, pilgrims to Krakow can visit the convent where St. Faustina, one of the great Catholic mystics of the 20th century, lived and is buried.
There are multiple sites in Poland and Lithuania devoted to St. Faustina. Visitors to Lodz (pronounced “woodge”) can see the site in Juliusz Słowacki Park (previously known as Wenecja Park) where, during a dance party in 1924, Jesus appeared to Helena Kowalska (her name prior to becoming a religious) and called her to religious life.
Meanwhile, Faustina’s apparitions of Jesus began in Plock, home to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. Finally, Vilnius, Lithuania (the Polish city of Wilno in the interbellum period), is home to the Divine Mercy Shrine, where visitors can see the iconic image of Divine Mercy painted by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski upon St. Faustina’s extremely detailed instructions. (The 2019 Polish documentary Love and Mercy shows that this image’s features perfectly match up with those of the Shroud of Turin.)
However, it is Krakow that is the world capital of the Divine Mercy devotion. In 1933, Sister Faustina took her final vows in the neo-Gothic convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow’s Łagiewniki (pronounced “wah-gyehv-knee-kee”) district.
St. Faustina is buried in St. Joseph’s Chapel in the convent. Every day at 3pm, the time of Jesus’ death on the cross, the chapel is filled with pilgrims from all over the world who pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet in a succession of languages. Visitors can pray on a kneeler in front of St. Faustina’s tomb and a reliquary.
Although the original Divine Mercy image is in Vilnius, a painting by Adolf Hyła showing Jesus with red and white rays coming from his Sacred Heart hangs just above St. Faustina’s tomb. Although visitors may be disappointed to learn that the sacred relic is more than 500 miles to the northeast, Hyła’s image is also inspirational.
Hyła, a well-known Polish painter, was expelled — along with his wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law — from his home after it had been seized by German Nazis during World War II. Hyła and his family found refuge just outside the convent, and so the artist — who had a copy of Kazimirowski’s painting and had read St. Faustina’s diary — painted his own unique take on the Divine Mercy image in the wartime years of 1943-1944 and gave it to the nuns in Łagiewniki.
A smaller building that makes up part of the convent complex contains a replica of St. Faustina’s cell. Visitors are not permitted to go inside the reconstructed cell but they can view it through a glass window. On display are several of St. Faustina’s belongings: her cape, bed lamp, mug and “altar” from her childhood home in Głogowiec (which includes a cross and ceramic figures of the Sacred Heart and of Mary).
The remaining items in the reconstructed cell did not belong to St. Faustina but do come from her era. They include penitential items such as a discipline and cilice (St. Faustina’s superior never allowed her to wear a cilice, also known as sackcloth), a habit with a rosary attached to it in the pre-Vatican II style, and a bedside table with a copy of a page of the manuscript of St. Faustina’s famous diary (the original manuscript had been handwritten in six notebooks).
The Łagiewniki convent was an important site for the young Karol Wojtyła. During the German occupation of Poland during World War II, Wojtyła, who was in the process of discerning his life’s vocation, worked in the nearby Solvay quarry. After a long day of harsh manual labor, he would often stop by the convent to pray, often for hours.
Due to a faulty Italian translation, St. Faustina’s diary was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Vatican’s list of forbidden books, ultimately abolished by Pope St. Paul VI). As archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Wojtyła lobbied for St. Faustina’s rehabilitation by the Vatican and for her beatification cause to be opened. As Pope John Paul II, he beatified her in 1993 and canonized her seven years later, allowing Divine Mercy Sunday to be celebrated in the universal Church.
As the Pope promoted the Divine Mercy devotion, growing numbers of pilgrims from Poland and around the world flocked to the Łagiewniki convent, which quickly could no longer accommodate such floods of pilgrims. Thus, in the late 1990s, the recently deceased architect Witold Cęckiewicz designed the enormous Divine Mercy Sanctuary next to the convent.
The sanctuary, whose shape recalls the mast of a ship, includes a chapel of perpetual adoration and an observation tower from which panoramic views of Krakow can be seen. (On clear days, visitors can see the Tatra Mountains, where Pope St. John Paul II loved to hike and ski.) Attached to the observation tower is a large statue of the Polish Pope, unveiled in 2006 to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Krakow.
Hungry pilgrims can order all sorts of hearty Polish cuisine in the sanctuary’s Agape restaurant, including pierogi, flaki (tripe soup), golonko (pork knuckle) and kremówki, John Paul II’s beloved cream cakes.
In the nearby former Solvay quarry where a young Karol Wojtyła labored is the “Have No Fear!” John Paul II Center. This center contains a large church with numerous relics (such as the blood-stained cassock from the attempt on the Pope’s life by Turkish terrorist Ali Agca), a museum devoted to John Paul II (more modest than those in Washington, D.C., and his hometown of Wadowice, an hour’s drive from Krakow), and a museum exhibit on the Shroud of Turin.
Visitors to Krakow’s Łagiewniki district, well-connected with central Krakow through rail, buses and streetcars, can pay tribute to two of the 20th century’s greatest saints in one visit.
Like St. Faustina, and in the prayer of St. John Paul II on the day of her canonization, “Fixing our gaze with you on the face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Jesus, I trust in you! Jezu, ufam tobie!”
Filip Mazurczak is a journalist, translator and historian based in Krakow, Poland.