Papal pilgrimages to the Shrine of The Divine Mercy
The centre of the Divine Mercy devotion has three times hosted the head of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II made two pilgrimages to Łagiewniki: 7 June 1997 and 17 August 2002 and Pope Benedict XVI came there on 27 May 2006. Each of these pilgrimages has left its mark, not only in the history of the Łagiewniki Shrine, but also in the history of the Church, since it highlighted “a gift of God for our times”, which is the message of Mercy given by St. Sister Faustina. This message recalls the biblical truth of God’s merciful love for every human being.
In the course of ten years the Łagiewniki Shrine experienced no fewer than three papal pilgrimages. What is the reason for this?
The reason for the papal pilgrimages and the pilgrimage of millions of people to this place is surely not its external attractiveness, but the great gift of God, deposited in this place, a gift of the message of His merciful love for every man, which God passed to us through Sister Faustina, today a saint. She lived here and died here, and here lie her mortal remains. That is why the work of her life, the message of Mercy, was also centred here. From here it spreads all over the world. Karol Wojtyła discovered this gift relatively quickly, the reason being that right back when he was an employee of the nearby Solvay quarry, he came to our Łagiewniki convent chapel and prayed before the image of Merciful Jesus. Then, as priest, he celebrated in Krakow the solemn celebrations in honour of The Divine Mercy initiated by Sister Faustina’s Kraków confessor, Father Józef Andrasz SJ. Then, as bishop, Karol Wojtyła also conducted, at diocesan level, the information process that eventually led to Sister Faustina’s canonization; and, as Pope, he himself conducted her beatification and canonization. At the end of his life, in the book “Memory and Identity,” John Paul II wrote that the message of The Divine Mercy, which she handed down, allowed people to survive the cruel time of World War II, and that it is the only truth capable of outweighing the evil of the world: the truth, that is, of the mercy of God. John Paul II spoke about this message in the context of the two totalitarian systems which Europe experienced in the twentieth century: fascism and communism. But this Truth of the merciful God applies to every evil which is present in man and in the world. God’s mercy is greater than this evil. The “Diary” of Sister Faustina, in which this message was written at the command of Jesus, the Holy Father John Paul II called “the Gospel of Mercy written in the perspective of the twentieth century.” As the successor of St. Peter, he came to Łagiewniki twice to proclaim this gift of God to the world, because – as Jesus said to Sister Faustina – “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.” The Holy Father knew that the only hope, salvation and remedy for modern man and for the world is to turn confidently to The Divine Mercy.
The first pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II took place on 7 June 1997. Could Sister describe its circumstances and message?
The first papal pilgrimage to the Shrine in Łagiewniki was a very small-scale event. It was a Saturday evening. After everyone present had waited a long time in prayer, the Holy Father came to the convent chapel of the miraculous image of Merciful Jesus and to the tomb of St. Sister Faustina. It was mainly the sisters of our Congregation who participated in the gathering; they were inside the chapel and outside were the girls from the Youth Educational Centre (run by the sisters), members and volunteers of the “Faustinum” Association, benefactors, donors, and people involved in various ways with the Shrine and the Congregation. Although the meeting was with the sisters, the words spoken by the Pope apply to all.
In this short speech of the Pope there were four thoughts which stuck in my memory: the first message is for all people, and declares that mercy is the most important thing in everyone’s life. “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy – that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God.” The second message is directed to the pilgrims who visit the Shrine in Łagiewniki. The Holy Father said that “Anyone can come here, look at this picture of the Merciful Jesus, his Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Blessed Faustina heard: ‘Fear nothing. I am with you always’ (Diary, 613). And if this person responds with a sincere heart: ‘Jesus, I trust in you!’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears.” The third theme, prayed aloud before the image of Merciful Jesus, is the personal thanksgiving of the Pope for being able to fulfil His will and establish the Feast of The Divine Mercy. At that time this was only for Poland. And in his words he revealed that the message of Mercy was always close to his heart, that he took it with him to the See of Peter, and that it formed the image of his pontificate. The last message was addressed to our Congregation. The Holy Father highlighted the need for the charisma of the then Blessed Sister Faustina and encouraged us to undertake it in all its dimensions. “Christ has made your Congregation the guardian of this place, and at the same time he has called you to a particular apostolate, that of his Mercy. I ask you: accept this responsibility! The people of today need your proclamation of mercy: they need your works of mercy and they need your prayer to obtain mercy. Do not neglect any of these dimensions of the apostolate.”
On 17 August 2002 Pope John Paul II came to Łagiewniki for the second time and on this occasion for a specific purpose, that is, to dedicate the new church. In the event he not only consecrated the basilica, but entrusted the whole world to The Divine Mercy. What are Sister’s memories of this second pilgrimage and its message?
The second pilgrimage to Łagiewniki was of a completely different nature. The Holy Father came to consecrate the new church in the Shrine. The last pilgrimage to his homeland – as we remember – was under the motto: “God is rich in mercy,” thus it carried so much beautiful content about the mystery of Divine Mercy, the message, and St. Faustina, and this great entrusting of the world to the mercy of God, spoken by the Pope unexpectedly, but to the great joy of all.
The dedication of the basilica created an appropriate context for things that he wished to say connected with the Łagiewniki Shrine. The Holy Father said at that time that although the whole world and every time belong to God, nevertheless there are places and times especially chosen by Him, in which people experience His presence and His grace. People make pilgrimages to these places because they are confident that they actually come face-to-face with God who is present there. “I am convinced” – said Pope John Paul II about the Łagiewniki Shrine – “that this is the special place chosen by God to pour out the grace of his mercy.”
The most moving words, I think are those about a “spark” which is to prepare the world for the final coming of Christ. Some have thought that the spark, referred to in Sister Faustina’s “Diary” is herself, or John Paul II. But in fact, the Holy Father’s speech clearly shows that the spark is the message of The Divine Mercy, which from Łagiewniki radiates throughout the world. The Holy Father said that he desires “that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place to our beloved homeland and throughout the world! May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth ‘the spark which will prepare the world for his final coming’ (cf. Diary, 1732). This spark needs to be lit by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness!” This task of proclaiming to the world the message about God’s merciful love towards mankind John Paul II entrusted not only to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, where St. Sister Faustina lived and died, but also to the Church in Krakow and in all Poland, and to all the pilgrims who visit this Shrine.
Four years later, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul II’s successor to the See of Peter, made his pilgrimage to Łagiewniki. This was the third papal pilgrimage to take place in Łagiewniki.
It was the 27 May 2006. On this occasion the pope visited the convent chapel, the basilica and the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. He prayed before the miraculous image of Merciful Jesus and the tomb of St. Faustina. From Mother Gracjana Szewc, Superior General, he recei- ved the relics of the Apostle of The Divine Mercy and blessed the Congregation in the ministry of spreading the message of Divine Mercy to the world. Then he walked to the basilica, where he met with sick people. He greeted them, their carers, the priests who work in this Shrine, the sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the members of “Faustinum” and all those present. In his words addressed to the sick people he said: “Dear friends who are sick, who are marked by suffering in body or soul, you are most closely united to the Cross of Christ, and at the same time, you are the most eloquent witnesses of God’s mercy. Through you and through your suffering, he bows down towards humanity with love. You who say in silence: ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ teach us that there is no faith more profound, no hope more alive and no love more ardent than the faith, hope and love of a person who in the midst of suffering places himself securely in God’s hands.” Then, for personal prayer, he went into the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. There, after the prayer, he wrote in the Memorial Book, recording his wishes for all the pilgrims who visit the Shrine: “May God who is love, fill the hearts of the pilgrims who come here with the gifts of His mercy, strengthening them with His power so that they can persevere in the true faith and bear the fruit of truth, love and peace in the world today.”
What have been the after-effects of the papal pilgrimages to the Shrine?
Certainly not only the memory of these events, but above all very profound teaching on God rich in mercy and pointing to this gift of God for our times, that is, to the message of Mercy handed down by St. Sister Faustina. We know that Pope John Paul II, on the canonization of Sister Faustina (30 April 2000), gave this message to the whole Church for the third millennium of faith. We draw not only from the words which were delivered during the pilgrimages to Łagiewniki, and from the beatification and canonization ceremonies, but from the entire teaching of the Holy Father, especially that which concerns the mystery of Divine Mercy and human mercy. Here the encyclical Dives in Misericordia is an extraordinary treasure – the first encyclical in the history of the Church devoted entirely to this subject. Its content is consistent with the Diary of St. Sister Faustina and to such an extent that one could believe the Holy Father had turned the essential message of the “Diary” into the content of the papal document – the official teaching of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI also re-iterates that mercy is an essential message for our time. “This message is really the main message of our time: mercy as the power of God, as God’s limit for the evil of the world.” He sees in the spirituality and mission of St. Faustina a new element of the Christian message. “The great desire of this holy woman” – he has declared – “was to put God’s mercy at the heart of Christian faith and life. Thanks to the power of her spiritual life she shed fresh light upon what was essentially an aspect of the Christian message needing special appreciation in our times, which have experienced the cruelty of official ideologies.”
At this stage in the history of the Church and the world, we find ourselves living in a time when new light has been shed on the mystery of the merciful love of God to mankind. Thus these days, although so difficult, are beautiful.
An interview with Sr. M. Elżbieta Siepak OLM
Translated by Orest Pawlak
Prayer of Pope Francis at the Tomb of St. Faustina
and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
On July 30, 2016, Pope Francis was already the third pope to have prayed in the chapel with the miracle-famous image of Merciful Jesus and the tomb of St. Faustina. Holy Father mentioned the name of the Apostle of Divine Mercy in the Bull for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and in a letter to young people preparing for the World Youth Day. He not only encouraged them to be inspired by the prayer of St. Faustina in order to deepen and practice the deeds of mercy but he also asserted that Merciful Jesus, presented in the image venerated by the people of God at the Shrine dedicated to Him in Krakow is waiting for you. He trusts you and counts on you! He has so much to say to each and every one of you… Do not be afraid to look into His eyes full of infinite love and let Him hold you with His merciful gaze ready to forgive your every sin. That look can transform your life and heal the wounds of your souls. That look satisfies the deepest desires of your young hearts: the desire for love, peace, joy and true happiness. Come to Him and do not be afraid! Come to tell Him from the depths of your hearts: „Jesus, I trust in You!”. Let His infinite mercy touch you so that you, through your deeds, words and prayers, you will become apostles of mercy in our world of hurt by selfishness, hatred and despair.
For the first time at the Łagiewniki Shrine – in the Basilica – the Pope celebrated a penitential service and served in a confessional, hearing the confessions of eight young people in Italian, Spanish and French. This ministry of the Holy Father enabled us to look at confession in the light of the mystery of Divine Mercy, recalling the words Jesus said in this place to Sister Faustina: „Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, inthe Tribunal of Mercy [the Sacrament of Reconciliation]. There the greatest miraclestake place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated (Diary, 1448).
All papal pilgrimages tell us how important the message that flows from this place – the message of Mercy, which God communicated through St. Faustina is for the life of the modern Church . It is the „gift of God for our time,” as the Holy Father John Paul II said, as he gave this message to the whole world for the third millennium, so that people would better know the true face of God and man. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed that this message It is indeed the main message of our times: mercy as God’s power, as God’s boundary for the evils of the whole world. Holy Father Francis pointed to the source of the mercy of God, prayer and the holy sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation, and to the great mediator in the dispensation of graces, Sister Faustina: the one who was called to enter into the depths of God’s mercy; let her intercede for us and obtain for us the grace of living and always walking in the light of God’s forgiveness and in the unwavering trust in His love.
Sr. M. Elżbieta Siepak, O.L.M.
Translated by Karolina Socha-Duśko