Photo: Marian archives
A 'Blessed' Connection
By Felix Carroll (May 6, 2011)
The rounded arms of Bernini's colonnade reached out to embrace the multitudes as Images of The Divine Mercy were hoisted in the air and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy was recited in song. It was Divine Mercy Sunday, no less, and as the bells of St. Peter's tolled it became clear that, detail by detail, the beatification of John Paul II on May 1 in Vatican City underscored two remarkable facts.
The first is that the best way to understand Blessed John Paul II, his 26-year pontificate, and the millions of people whose lives were transformed by his witness is through the very source of his strength: The Divine Mercy message as revealed to his fellow Pole, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938).
The second: The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and Marian Helpers worldwide have accomplished what they've been working to accomplish for decades. Before the largest crowds to swell St. Peter's Square since John Paul's funeral in 2005, the Universal Church in no uncertain terms has embraced the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
"Words cannot describe what my heart feels," said Fr. Kazimierz "Kaz" Chwalek, MIC, director of Evangelization and Development for the Marians. "In front of our own eyes, we saw the fulfillment of what we have sought to do all these years. It was a dream come true for the Marians — especially Fr. Seraphim [Michalenko, MIC, the renowned expert on The Divine Mercy message], who has spent his whole life promoting this message of hope and God's merciful love."
His 'Personal Task Before God'
The details of the beatification were no accident. Pope John Paul II, a giant in 20th century history, once said the message of Divine Mercy "forms the image of this pontificate." In his writings and homilies, he described Divine Mercy as the answer to the world's problems. He entrusted the world to Divine Mercy. He called it the message of the third millennium.
By Divine Providence, Pope John Paul II died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3, 2005, at the age of 84. But before his death, he left behind these words:
As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness, and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!
Father Seraphim, a life-long Divine Mercy scholar, said Pope John Paul II took the revelations of St. Faustina so seriously because he knew the revelations of The Divine Mercy are particularly tailored to our times.
"In 1980 he wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to The Divine Mercy entitled Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father," Fr. Seraphim said. "In 1993 he beatified Sr. Faustina. In 1997 he visited Blessed Faustina's tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and proclaimed: 'There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy. ... From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina."
Father Seraphim noted, "In 2000 he canonized St. Faustina, the first canonized saint of the new millennium, and on that same day he also established 'Divine Mercy Sunday' as a special title for the Octave Sunday of Easter for the universal Church."
Why did Pope John Paul II insist we pay heed to the Divine Mercy message and devotion — so much so that he described Divine Mercy as his "personal task before God"?
"Clearly, he did so because he saw it as more than just a collection of 'private revelations'," Fr. Seraphim said. "Rather, he saw them as prophetic revelations. In other words, revelations given to us by God to proclaim the heart of the Gospel in a way especially suited to meet the needs of our era.
"Through the message of Divine Mercy," said Fr. Seraphim, "our Lord is preparing us for His final coming."
A 'Blessed' on a Blessed Day
"Santo Subito!" — or "Sainthood now!" — has been the slogan of reverence assigned to John Paul II by the faithful since the afternoon of his death in 2005. In the hearts of many, John Paul II already is a saint. But for now, the Great Mercy Pope, whose epic and iconic life revealed the true nature and identity of the Catholic Church, can be called "blessed" due to his intercession two months after his death.
It was then that a French nun, Sr. Marie Simon Pierre Normand of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood, was cured from Parkinson's Disease through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, who himself suffered from Parkinson's disease. A second miracle is needed for Blessed John Paul II to be made a saint.
During the Mass for beatification, Sr. Marie Simon Pierre placed on a pedestal the reliquary containing the blood of Pope John Paul II.
In his homily, Pope Benedict spoke of his predecessor's sanctity, his "love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma," and how "this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel."
He spoke of John Paul's unquantifiable impact on society, culture, political, and economic systems that "he opened up to Christ ... with the strength of a titan."
On a more personal note, the Holy Father spoke of his own experiences with his spiritual mentor.
"I was at his side for 23 years, and I came to revere him," Pope Benedict said, in a translation provided by Fr. Kaz. "My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me. He remained deeply united to God, even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then, too, was his witness in suffering: The Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a 'rock,' as Christ desired."
The Holy Father concluded, "Blessed are you, beloved John Paul II, because you believed."
The Pope and the Marians
The day of the beatification began with more than 1.5-million people jamming together from St. Peter's Square out into the main roads and side streets of Rome.
Father Mark Baron, MIC, who joined in one of two beatification pilgrimages led by the Marians, couldn't help but to note that thousands of people carried Images of The Divine Mercy, an image given to the world by our Lord through St. Faustina. A large Divine Mercy image was also placed at the main outdoor altar. Before Mass began, the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy was sung in five languages and passages were read aloud from the Diary of St. Faustina.
John Paul's beatification was an especially joyful occasion for the Marians, who share with the new blessed not only a Polish heritage, but also a mission to make known throughout the world the message of The Divine Mercy, as revealed to St. Faustina.
Back in 1941, when the Marians first became official promoters of The Divine Mercy message and devotion, few people beyond Sr. Faustina's religious order and her confessor, Blessed Michael Sopoko, knew anything about the image, the chaplet, the Diary, and the Lord's wish that the first Sunday after Easter — Divine Mercy Sunday — be solemnly celebrated as a special feast day. But three years after St. Faustina's death, the Marians began their Divine Mercy mission and have since printed and mailed millions of pieces of Divine Mercy materials throughout the world, helping to spur what has been called the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church.
"Be apostles of Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary," John Paul charged the Marians at their General Chapter in Rome on June 22, 1993. In a written message to the Marians at their Chapter the month before his death on April 2, 2005, John Paul echoed this charge. "Be apostles and witnesses of Divine Mercy for everyone," his message said.
For the Marians, John Paul II's beatification serves as powerful validation to carry on their work of renewing the Church through the mystery of God's mercy.
"In God's mysterious design, He has used our small community to promote and proclaim this important message and devotion," said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, the Marians' Vicar General in Rome. "Since one of our priests, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, miraculously brought the message of the Divine Mercy out of war-torn Poland and Lithuania after having received it from the hands of St. Faustina's confessor, Blessed Michael Sopoko, the Marians have sought to proclaim this message to the world.
"We have always felt particularly close to John Paul II," said Fr. Joe. "I will never forget when more than 300 of us gathered for a picture with him when he visited our Marian Shrine in Lichen, Poland in 1999. He joked with us in a very familiar way. He has been a blessing to the Church and will continue to be a great intercessor for us into the future. He is close to us."
For the world, John Paul's beatification serves as a challenge to be witnesses to God's mercy and to make his unforgettable exhortation our own: "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!"
Standing amidst the pageantry of St. Peter's Square as the Holy Father pronounced the formula of beatification, Fr. Kaz — who has dedicated the past 31 years of his life to spreading Divine Mercy — was overcome with joy.
"Oh God," he prayed, "You are gracious to us."