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Spreading the Spark!
James Sulkowski, painting the image of the Divine Mercy.
During a trip to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Bernadette Conklin (second from left) and Pat Polachek (far right) meet with Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC (far left), and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC (second from right).
By Sr. Pia Teresa Tucker, F.J.
Our world greatly needs families to unite in prayer. Two remarkable women have helped to answer this need in their mission to spread the Family Eucharistic Holy Hour devotion.
Bernadette Conklin and Pat Polachek met in June 2010 while praying in front of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, abortion mill. Bernadette had brought with her a newly painted artwork, titled "Vessel of the Preborn Jesus," to witness to the Incarnation of Jesus within the womb of Mary and to the sacredness of every human life within the womb.
Then a few months later, Pat went on a mission to Poland and met Antoni Zabierowski from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow, who later became the co-founder of their ministry, Jesus —The Divine Mercy Foundation. When she returned to Poland for the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in 2011, she and Antoni met Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, from the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He had been the North American vice-postulator for the canonization cause of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. On the final day of the Congress, on Oct. 5 (St. Faustina's Feast Day), Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who had been John Paul II's personal secretary for 39 years, encouraged those present to go out and enkindle the world with the spark of the Divine Mercy. That is how both Antoni and Pat were inspired to take this ministry to children in schools, hospitals, orphanages, and parishes around the world.
A Spark Becomes a Flame
Back in Pittsburgh, Pat told her friend Fr. John Takyi, vicar general of Techiman in Ghana, about the Divine Mercy message, and he in turn felt inspired to purchase a satellite dish to follow the daily praying of the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN. The devotion thus spread in Ghana, and in April 2013, on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, Bishop Dominic Yeboah Nyarko named his new church at Nkwaeso (a suburb of Techiman) after the Divine Mercy. Jesus — The Divine Mercy Foundation is helping to support this church. Pat inspired another priest from Nigeria, Fr. Peter Abue, to take the message back to his orphanage, and there the children now sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Since then Pat has traveled with a Polish children's ensemble to pray and sing with children in orphanages, schools, and hospitals in Poland, Italy, and Medjugorje. They even prayed at the St. John Paul II Policlinic at St. Pio's Casa in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy.
After the consecration of their ministry, Jesus — The Divine Mercy Foundation, on March 25, 2013, Bernadette and Pat, who had deepened their friendship over the past years, made the newly crafted statue of "Mary, Ark of the New Covenant" an integral part of the Rosary meditations during their Family Eucharistic Holy Hours, and they felt moved to commission a set of oil paintings depicting Jesus, the Divine Mercy, and Mary, Ark of the New Covenant. It was by Divine Providence that they were able to commission a local artist, James Sulkowski, to create these images to be objects of veneration during Family Eucharistic Holy Hours.
During the Holy Hours, participants pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet while in the presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and they meditate upon the image of the Divine Mercy. The World Mission Rosary is prayed while meditating on the preborn Jesus encircled by the rosary within the womb of Mary, Ark of The New Covenant.
Mr. Sulkowski's daughter Monet was the model for the painting of "Mary, Ark of The New Covenant," and it took nearly two months to complete, starting in December 2014. He began painting Jesus, The Divine Mercy, in early February 2015 and was invited to unveil the work only two weeks later, on Feb. 22. That was not only the first Sunday of Lent and the 84th anniversary of the day Jesus commanded Sr. Faustina to paint his image, but also, as Fr. Michalenko reminded them, it's the Feast of Holy Icons. He remarked that "the symbolism of this icon is expressed more directly in the hymns of the Eastern Byzantine branch of the Church celebrating the liturgical feast to be observed on the First Sunday of Lent to commemorate the Church's victory over the heresy of iconoclasm, or the destruction of sacred images." After much prayer, Mr. Sulkowski completed the work on time. It was as though "Jesus was guiding the brush in my hand!" he said.
The two paintings and the new statue were unveiled and blessed as planned in the Gloria Chapel at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Pittsburgh with Fr. Angelus Shaughnessy, OFM, Cap, presiding. A Family Eucharistic Holy Hour was held that included the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the World Mission Rosary.
Combining the Images
When planning a cover image for the program for the first Family Eucharistic Holy Hour, they realized a combined image would most likely be necessary. While pondering God's will for such a unified presentation, Pat received an inspiration through Maureen Flynn, founder and director of the International Week of Prayer and Fasting, about how to combine the two images.
Maureen told her about the passage from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska where she quotes Jesus' words, "These rays of mercy will pass through you, just as they have passed through this Host, and they will go out through all the world" (441). The Eucharistic Host was to be in the image below Jesus' Heart so that the rays of his mercy pass through the Host and then through Mary, Ark of the New Covenant before going out through all the earth. Thankful for this inspiration, Pat contacted Mr. Sulkowski, who immediately made a pencil sketch of the image, as described to him. He sent the sketch to Pat for approval, and she sent it on to Fr. Seraphim for his discernment. When she called to ask him what he thought about the icon, he replied with the most eloquent and in-depth explanations of its theological underpinnings. Pat requested that Fr. Seraphim put his thoughts on paper so that others may have the benefit of his knowledge. She called him again in a few weeks after sending him Mr. Sulkowski's newly finished icon, and she entreated him again to write down his thoughts and also pray about a suitable title for the new icon.
Obviously due to the sustained direction of the Holy Spirit, Pat received an email from Fr. Seraphim early the next morning, on March 12, containing a full statement regarding the icon as well as its official new title: "The Virgin Mary of Nazareth, Ark of the New Covenant, Throne of The Divine Mercy Incarnate."
Read the transcript of Fr. Seraphim's letter.
More Reasons for 'Jubilance'
All involved could scarcely believe it when, on the following day, Pope Francis announced the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016). Normally held every 25 years, the next Jubilee Year wasn't supposed to be for another 10 years.
The last jubilee, in 2000, saw the canonization of St. Faustina by the "Great Mercy Pope" John Paul II, making her the first saint of the new millennium. Also that year, the Church declared Divine Mercy Sunday a universal feast day of the Church, as Christ requested through St. Faustina. This past year, on Divine Mercy Sunday 2015, the new icon was unveiled and blessed by Fr. Joseph Sterzinski at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Pittsburgh, and the icon was gifted to the Holy See for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The first few paragraphs of the official Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy show how the icon has turned out to be the very embodiment of the Pope's teachings on the Year of Mercy. In paragraph 24, Pope Francis writes:
Mary ... was prepared by the love of God to be the Ark of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart. ... Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of the home of Elizabeth, was dedicated to the mercy of God ... [and] will be a source of comfort and strength to us as we cross the threshold of the Holy Year to experience the fruits of divine mercy.
God Brings It All Together
Three hundred students, pastor Fr. Ken Keene, and eight Knights of Columbus in full regalia attended the first Family Eucharistic Holy Hour on May 19, 2015, held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Pittsburgh under the direction of Darci Smith and Principal Kimberly Stevenson. Participants prayed the Act of Consecration of the Family to the Divine Mercy and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well as the World Mission "Living" Rosary. All present were blessed profoundly by the Eucharistic presence of Jesus.
Collaboration is underway with the Education and Mission Offices of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to bring the Family Eucharistic Holy Hours to all corners of the diocese and beyond. Please keep this mission in your prayers and join in by making plans to start up a Family Eucharistic Holy Hour in your own parish/school.
A New Song
Everyone had been praying that a suitable melody would be found for the children's Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Renna Family, who had been the opening performers at the 14th Annual Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kansas, were instrumental in arranging and recording the new Divine Mercy Chaplet for Kids, which was sung bilingually for the first time by those present on Divine Mercy Sunday 2015 at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Montevallo, Alabama. View the event at rennamusic.com.
Mission Success in Rwanda
In late June 2015, Pat and Bernadette showed the Renna's instructional video to Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, a Marian missionary in Rwanda. He believes that the Divine Mercy Chaplet prayed in "reverent motion" will be a great encouragement for the children in Rwanda and other countries to pray and sing with joy.
Jesus — The Divine Mercy Foundation and the Preborn Jesus Ministry are grateful to the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception for their collaboration in making this program available through their gift shop and website. For information on beginning a Family Eucharistic Holy Hour in the Jubilee Year of Mercy visit: JesusTheDivineMercy.com and PrebornJesus.com.
Sister Pia Teresa Tucker, F.J., is a member of Sisters of Jacopa, the Family of Jacopa Association, in the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio.