'Jesus, We Trust in You'
Because the feast of Divine Mercy has special significance for my wife, Mary, and me, we were eager to visit the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Baltimore.
We had heard good things about the site prior to our visit. What we hadn't anticipated was the astonishing beauty of Holy Rosary Church, in which the shrine is located. Nor had we been clued in on how the shrine connects in a unique way to Divine Mercy Sunday — celebrated the second Sunday of Easter — and St. Faustina, Jesus’ Apostle of Divine Mercy who brought his divinely merciful message to the world.
The shrine celebrated its first Mercy Sunday on the very day Sister Faustina was beatified: Oct. 5, 1993. And the miracle that got her declared a saint happened right in this very church on her Oct. 5 feast two years later. After Mass that day the pastor, Father Ronald Pytel, venerated a first-class relic of Faustina. Then he “rested in the Spirit.” Parishioners had been asking Faustina to intercede for Father Pytel, who had a seriously damaged heart that surgery had failed to repair. One of the country's top cardiovascular experts said the priest would never resume a normal schedule.
In short, Father Pytel's heart returned to normal — to that of a 19-year-old, in fact. Doctors, including the world's foremost cardiovascular expert, declared in Rome on Nov. 16, 1999 (the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the name of Faustina's order of nuns), that the healing was medically unexplainable. Rome accepted this miracle for Faustina's canonization, which followed on April 30, 2000 — making Faustina the first saint of the third millennium. Father Pytel concelebrated the canonization Mass with Pope John Paul II.
In light of this, we weren't totally surprised to find out that Father Pytel grew up in this Polish parish, was ordained in this church and remained its pastor until he died last Nov. 3 of cancer at age 56. In fact, he designed this current Shrine of Divine Mercy, the official archdiocesan one, in a chapel off the nave. The new shrine was dedicated April 6, 1997, and includes the area in the nave that encompassed the original shrine founded in 1993.
We were delighted to learn that, during the Philadelphia Eucharistic Congress in August 1976, a certain Polish cardinal came here to pray with parishioners to the Divine Mercy. This was long before the world knew of the devotion — and more than two years before that very Polish cardinal became Pope John Paul II. A wall plaque by the shrine marks the occasion.
Rays of Hope
What a wondrous place to pray this is. From either the nave looking into the serene shrine or from entering the shrine chapel itself, we see the message of Divine Mercy captured and presented very beautifully and directly.
In a mural we see Jesus as the Divine Mercy on one side and St. Faustina on the other. Jesus has a welcoming smile as he raises one hand in blessing. With the other he points to his heart, from which emanate the rays of blood and water toward us. Faustina gestures toward Jesus, the Divine Mercy himself, as she looks toward us. Her gesture also takes in an actual golden tabernacle inserted at the center of the mural. The rays from Jesus’ heart pass through the tabernacle, which itself has golden rays radiating from the host at its center to Faustina and us. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in this tabernacle as well as in the one behind the main altar in the church. The message of the rays and the Blessed Sacrament couldn't be clearer.
Likewise the “signature,” as Jesus defined it to Faustina, that's scripted in Polish at the bottom of the Divine Mercy mural: Jezu, ufam Tobie! — Jesus, I trust in you! There are votive candles and kneelers for prayer by the mural. One contains a first-class relic of St. Faustina for veneration.
This handsome edifice, dedicated on April 15, 1928, is a vision in granite —Woodstock granite, with twin square towers anchoring the façade. Above the three graceful arches and rose window of the main entry, our Blessed Mother holding the Child Jesus stands in a n iche. She looks so friendly, beckoning to visitors to come in.
The church made headlines in architectural magazines of the time because it was designed using steel arches that eliminated the need for pillars, except for a couple supporting the choir loft. Nothing obstructs a view of the altar for the 2,000 people filling the pews.
The unhindered views allow long and careful study of a visual catechism. We were reminded once again that there's something about resplendent Old World liturgical art that spontaneously lifts heart, mind and spirit in prayer like nothing else can. Along the ceilings, for instance, there are paintings of angels unfolding scrolls with titles of the Blessed Mother written in Polish from her litany.
The tall stained-glass windows that also line the nave were fashioned in Reading, Pa., of glass imported from Germany. Near them, the shining, polychrome bas-relief Stations of the Cross with Polish inscriptions practically glow.
Murals on the arches spanning the wide sanctuary and the choir loft reflect heavenly realities mirrored in earthly scenes. The stunning marriage of Joseph and Mary is a rare scene. On the other side of the arch is the holy death of Joseph, with Jesus and Mary keeping watch.
We didn't get to hear the magnificent Moeller organ encased in solid mahogany, but we did admire its regal appearance. Then we did our best to imagine what its pipes must add to the angelic ambience when played by a master musician.
There's more — too much to describe. One thing that deserves special mention is a room off the vestibule with shrines to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Anthony. Between them is a purgatorial altar with a striking bas-relief, in color, of a priest saying Mass before Jesus crucified, ministering angels and holy souls.
Praying for the latter, by the way, is itself an act of mercy — one Jesus, the Divine Mercy himself, must look on with special delight in this shrine.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
- April 18-24, 2004