History of the Message and Devotion to Divine Mercy
The Marian Connection
The Divine Mercy devotion was brought to the USA from Poland by Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, a member of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1941, hardly three years after the death of Sr. Faustina, The Divine Mercy devotion was brought to the USA from Poland by Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, a member of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Fr. Jarzebowski had at first been skeptical about the great graces received by those who entrusted themselves to The Divine Mercy. But, in the spring of 1940, he vowed that if he were able to safely reach his fellow Marians in America, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Before his departure Fr. Michael Sopocko, St. Faustina’s spiritual director, gave Fr. Jarzebowski materials on Divine Mercy that he prepared. With these materials and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Fr. Jarzebowski set out for the journey.
By 1953, some 25 million pieces of Divine Mercy literature had been distributed around the world.
After an extraordinary journey from Poland into Lithuania, then across Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok, and from there to Japan, he arrived on American soil a year later. True to his vow, he immediately began distributing information about the message and devotion with the help of the Felician Sisters in Michigan and Connecticut. His Marian confreres soon became intensely involved as well. After several years of this activity, in 1944 Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, established the "Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, MA, now home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center, a modern, religious publishing house that has become the international center for the Divine Mercy message and devotion. By 1953, some 25 million pieces of Divine Mercy literature had been distributed around the world.
Banned by the Church
Then, in 1958 and 1959, Sr. Faustina’s prophecy about the apparent destruction of the Divine Mercy work (Diary, 378) began to be fulfilled. The Holy See, having received erroneous and confusing translations of Diary entries, which it was unable to verify due to existing political conditions, forbade the spreading of the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina’s writings.
During the period of the ban, the Marians continued to spread devotion to God’s mercy, but, in obedience to Rome, they based the message and devotion regarding Divine Mercy on Sacred Scripture, the Liturgy, the teachings of the Church, and Our Lady’s revelations at Fatima.
The Lifting of the Ban
Twenty years later (in 1978), the ban was completely lifted, thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Through his efforts, an informative process relating to the life and virtues of Sister Faustina was begun in 1965. Its successful outcome led to the inauguration of her Beatification cause in 1968.
In a new "Notification" on April 15, 1978, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having reviewed many original documents that were not made available to it in 1959, reversed its earlier decision and declared the 1959 prohibition 'no longer binding.'
Six months later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.
Prompted by the pastoral concern of His Excellency, Joseph F. Maguire, Bishop of Springfield, MA, with regard to the resuming of efforts to make the Divine Mercy message and devotion known, the Congregation of Marians asked for an authoritative explanation of the Notification of 1978. On July 12, 1979, they received a reply from the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation, stating that ‘there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy in the authentic forms proposed by the religious Sister mentioned above [Sister Faustina Kowalska]."
Thus, in 1979 — with the local bishop’s permission — the Marians resumed their work of spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion in the forms proposed by Sr. Faustina. The response from laity, priests, and bishops all over the world has been overwhelming, and the devotion has grown faster than anyone ever expected.
Pope John Paul II
One of the reasons for this is certainly the continued support of the Holy Father. In 1981, he published an encyclical letter entitled Rich in Mercy, in which he speaks of Christ as the "incarnation of mercy — the inexhaustible source of mercy."(8) He goes on to emphasize that "Christ’s messianic program, the program of mercy" must become "the program of His people, the program of the Church."(8)
Throughout the encyclical, the Holy Father stresses that the Church — especially in our modern times — has the "right and the duty" to "profess and proclaim God’s mercy," to "introduce it and make it incarnate" in the lives of all people, and "to call upon the mercy of God," imploring it for the whole world. (See Rich in Mercy, 12-15.)
A year after publishing Rich in Mercy, the Pope visited the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy, during his first pilgrimage outside Rome after the attempt on his life. There he emphasized that spreading the message of mercy was his "special task."
On April 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. It was the first Sunday after Easter — the very day that is to be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, according to the Merciful Savior’s revelations to Sr. Faustina. And it was precisely John Paul II who beatified her, the very one who had initiated the Informative Process for her cause in 1965 when he was Archbishop of Krakow, Poland. The event that contributed to her beatification was Maureen Digan’s miraculous healing. Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, a Marian priest, both witnessed the miracle, as well as assisted in the beatification process by serving as Vice Postulator for her cause.
O Faustina... you were chosen by Christ to remind people of this great mystery of Divine Mercy!
In his homily, The Holy Father said: "I salute you, Sr. Faustina. Beginning today the Church calls you Blessed." O Faustina, how extraordinary your life is! Precisely you, the poor and simple daughter of Mazovia, of the Polish people, chosen by Christ to remind people of this great mystery of Divine Mercy! You bore this mystery within yourself, leaving this world after a short life filled with suffering. However, at the same time, this mystery has become a prophetic reminder to the world.
"I feel certain that my mission will not come to an end upon my death, but will begin," Sr. Faustina wrote in her diary (Diary, 281). And it truly did! Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts! This is undoubtedly a sign of the times — a sign of our 20th century. The balance of this century which is now ending, in addition to the advances which have often surpassed those of preceding eras, presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in The Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly.
On April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina as the first saint of the Great Jubilee Year.
Once again through the efforts of Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, the second miracle, the healing of Fr. Ronald Pytel, was attributed to Bl. Faustina's intercession. On April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina as the first saint of the Great Jubilee Year. And again, it was on Divine Mercy Sunday. In fact, the Holy Father also announced during his homily that the Second Sunday of Easter would now be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the universal Church.
In his homily, the Holy Father said: "Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr. Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By Divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind."
"In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted His message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy.
"Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy."
"Jesus told Sr. Faustina: 'Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy,' (Diary, 300). Through the work of the Polish religious, this message has become linked forever to the 20th century, the last of the second millennium and the bridge to the third. It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.
"What will the years ahead bring us? We are not given to know. But the light of Divine Mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr. Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third Millennium. Sr. Faustina’s canonization has a particular eloquence: '... by this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium.'
Special Papal blessing bestowed on the Marians
On the 70th anniversary of the revelation of the image and 60th anniversary of the Congregation of Marians’ involvement in the spread of the Message and Devotion to the Divine Mercy, the Holy Father, John Paul II sent a special apostolic blessing and a renewed call to be apostles of the Divine Mercy under the maternal guidance of Our Lady.
Now, inspired by the Mercy Pope, it is our task to spread the message of Divine Mercy in the third millennium.