Ground Zero for Divine Mercy Devotion

“Trust in me and my mercy will know no bounds.”

That was the simple message Christ began conveying to a 26-year-old nun in 1931.

At first, Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska was startled. Then, over the next seven years, as the visits continued, she grew accustomed to the extraordinary appearances. Christ even followed the nun after she moved from Our Lady of Mercy Convent in Plock, Poland, to the convent at Krakow.

It's understandable that Sister Faustina was perplexed over Jesus' selection of her as his special messenger. She had only three years of education and, in the convent, was responsible for the most menial of tasks. Yet here the Lord was, asking her to bring his message of divine mercy and love to mankind to the world.

He chose well: Sister Faustina got the word out — and became a canonized saint.

Meanwhile, the Krakow convent has become the Divine Mercy Shrine. And a popular pilgrimage site it is. Thousands come to honor St. Faustina and to pray before the original, now-famous image of Jesus with red and white rays streaming from his torso.

Standing adjacent to the original brick convent, the sleek new shrine building seems to proclaim that Jesus' message of mercy is as important today, in our present time of war, as it was in 1930s Poland when World War II loomed.

In the old convent, visitors can see the precise places St. Faustina walked, worked and talked to Jesus. The original basilica, in which the saint's remains are interred, is still used for daily Masses and other services.

A young Karol Wojtyla passed this same convent daily as he walked to his job in the Solvay Plant during the Nazi occupation. We can only imagine his delight when, six decades later, as Pope John Paul II, he canonized his fellow Pole on April 30, 2000.

‘Jesus, I Trust in You'

The girl who would one day become known to the world as St. Faustina was born Helena Kowalska, the third of 10 children, into a very poor family in a small Polish village. After less than three years of schooling, she went to work as a charwoman to help her growing family. On Aug. 1, 1925, at the age of 20, she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, taking the name Mary Faustina. In her 13 years as a nun, she lived in various houses of the order — Vilnius, Warsaw, Plock and finally, Krakow.

When Jesus appeared to Sister Faustina, he asked her to do three things: remind the world of God's merciful love, demonstrate new forms of devotion to the Divine Mercy, and start an apostolic movement that would renew Christian life according to the spirit of trust and mercy.

In his first apparition, Jesus asked Sister Faustina to have an image made of him. This image would become renowned as the “Divine Mercy Image.” The Lord asked that it first be venerated within Sister Faustina's chapel and then propagated to the world. The image shows Jesus with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand held to his heart. Two rays emanate from the center of his chest — a red one, reminiscent of the holy blood he shed out of love for souls, and a white one, recalling the water that gushed from his side when the soldier pierced him on the cross. Water, of course, is the instrumental element in baptism and, thus, indispensable in cleansing souls of their sin. At the bottom of the image are the words, “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

Jesus then asked that a Divine Mercy Sunday be honored annually, celebrated the first Sunday after Easter. As many as Sunday be honored annually, celebrated the first Sunday after Easter. As many as 14 different times, Jesus appeared and asked this of Sister Faustina. In her diary, she tells how Jesus explained the need for this feast. “Souls perish in spite of my bitter passion,” he told her. “I am giving them the last hope of salvation, that is, the Feast of Mercy. If they will not adore my mercy, they will perish for eternity.” During another apparition, Jesus said that “on that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are open.”

Also to come out of St. Faustina's encounters with the Lord: the prayer cycle known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Using rosary beads, the petitioner asks God to, “for the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Additionally, the prayer offers God “the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”

A Mercy Hour, recognized every day at 3 p.m. (the hour Jesus expired on the cross), can also be prayed for divine favors. Jesus recommended to Sister Faustina the parts to make a Mercy Hour — praying the chaplet, meditating on Jesus' passion and death, making the Stations of the Cross and spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus said: “In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of me in virtue of my passion.”

Before St. Faustina's visions started in the 1930s, the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy was closed to the public; gates guarded both the nuns and the young women who were residents of their ministry. Afterward, however, the charism of the order changed to encompass the job Jesus had petitioned the saint to do.

The gates opened and Sister Faustina and the other members of her convent began sharing the image and Jesus' messages immediately. After her death, during World War II, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy distributed the Divine Mercy message and image around the area, including smuggling it to the prisoners in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Later, many Poles attributed their survival amid the atrocities of that war to the Divine Mercy message.

St. Faustina suffered the pains of tuberculosis without complaint, offering her sufferings for the reparation of sinners. In addition to multiple discussions with Jesus, she received extraordinary graces. She had the gifts of contemplation, prophecy, being able to read human souls and of mystical nuptial union with God. She also had the concealed stigmata and the ability of bilocation.

When St. Faustina died in 1938 at the age of 33, she left her diaries for the world. Detailing her conversations with Jesus, these have been translated into many languages and spread throughout the world.

And why not? The central message the Lord conveyed through St. Faustina is timeless as well as understandable in every tongue: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Mary C. Gildersleeve writes

from Gaming, Austria.