Photo: Marie Romagnano, RN
The Marians Have Reason to Celebrate
One essentially saved the Divine Mercy message and devotion. The other declared Divine Mercy the central mission of his pontificate.
Both men are now officially canonized saints of the Church.
Calling them "two men of courage" who "teach us to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of Divine Mercy," Pope Francis canonized Popes John Paul II and John XXIII before a worldwide audience on April 27, Divine Mercy Sunday.
View our photo gallery from Rome.
"Saint John XXIII and St. John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch His torn hands and His pierced side ... because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles ... and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God's goodness and mercy," said Pope Francis in his homily, delivered before a crowd of 800,000 that stretched from St. Peter's Square into the nearby main roads and side streets of Rome. Millions more watched live broadcasts around the world. (Read Pope Francis' full homily.)
The crowd — hoisting flags of dozens of nations, images of Divine Mercy, and portraits of Francis, John Paul II, and John XXIII — erupted with applause after Pope Francis recited the formula for the Rite of Canonization in Latin. After praying for divine assistance, he said, "we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints, and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church."
Among those gathered in St. Peter's Square were members of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, for whom the canonizations held special significance. John Paul II's canonization as a saint served as further validation that the universal Church has embraced the Divine Mercy message and devotion, as revealed to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938).
Father Jim McCormack, MIC, who led a canonization pilgrimage for Marian Helpers, said that before the Mass and Rite of Canonization began, the Vatican "pre-show" included recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, an intercessory prayer given to the world through St. Faustina.
"And at one point, someone read an excerpt from the homily that John Paul II had given at St. Faustina's canonization," said Fr. Jim, the Marians' novice master and prefect of formation. "The thought that struck me was how, in this case here on Divine Mercy Sunday, there's no longer any sense of tension, if you will, between mercy in general and the official Divine Mercy message as given to St. Faustina. Pope Francis — and the Church in general — is very clear that Divine Mercy Sunday doesn't mean just 'generic mercy'; it means the message of Divine Mercy, given through the 'Secretary of Divine Mercy,' St. Faustina."
Sister Faustina, who belonged to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland, died of tuberculosis in 1938 on the verge of World War II. She left behind a diary in which she recorded her mystical experiences — in particular, Christ's desire that the world turn to Him with trust, accept His limitless mercy, and spread that mercy to our neighbors, particularly those most in need of His mercy.
The Marians have worked to spread St. Faustina's revelations throughout the world since 1941, only three years after her death.
Two Popes and a Fulfillment of Christ's Call
A giant in 20th century history, John Paul II 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, and called it the message of the third millennium.
When Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina in 2000, he surprised the world by announcing that Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of the Easter season, was to be a feast day for the entire Church. In doing so, he fulfilled Christ's request made through the revelations of his fellow Pole, St. Faustina. Saint Pope John Paul II declared the day of Faustina's canonization "the happiest day of my life."
By Divine Providence, Pope John Paul II died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005, at the age of 84. He was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2011, and has now been declared a saint on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014. Pope Francis described the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday in his canonization homily as dedicated to "the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus."
The Crucial Role of John XXIII
For his part, Pope John XXIII, known as "Good Pope John," played no small role in the Church's embrace of St. Faustina's revelations.
"John XXIII literally saved the Divine Mercy message and devotion," says Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, the director of the Association of Marian Helpers. "According to Pope John XXIII's secretary, after Pope John's enthronement in 1958, when he took office as Pope, he went to his new desk in the Vatican and there was a pile of documents prepared for his signature. Knowing how the Vatican bureaucracy worked, that people try to sneak in more controversial papers at the end with the hope that they'll just be rubber-stamped, the Pope sat down, made the Sign of the Cross, and flipped the pile upside down. And the very first thing he dealt with was a decree regarding St. Faustina's revelation that forbade the spread of the devotion and called for the removal of the Divine Mercy images from the churches."
The Divine Mercy image was painted under the direction of St. Faustina at the Lord's request. Through St. Faustina, the Lord requested it be venerated throughout the world. The reason that some in the Vatican sought a permanent ban of Faustina's revelations was because, at the time, officials only had access to faulty translations of Faustina's writings.
"John XXIII read their decree carefully, shook his head, and said, 'No, no, no! This must be looked into further. The bishops of Poland need to be consulted,'" said Fr. Michael. "But they couldn't be consulted because of the situation with the Communists [who kept a tight grip on the comings and goings of Poland]. So, instead of a decree forever forbidding the message, it was just a decree of prohibition, which could eventually be lifted and was lifted through the efforts of Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II."
"What the ban did," says the Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' provincial superior for the United States and Argentina, "was it forced the issue. It created the opportunity for a proper investigation of her writings drawing from the original documents."
Upon the lifting of the ban, the Divine Mercy message and devotion became what many consider the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church.
The Marians' many efforts in making Divine Mercy known to the world include publishing in English and other languages St. Faustina's Diary, now known today as Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a modern spiritual classic. Pope John Paul II acknowledged and encouraged the Marians' Divine Mercy evangelization efforts more than once, including in a Papal Blessing on Oct. 5, 2001:
And I encourage you to "be Apostles of the Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary ... " That "by deed, word, and prayer" you would proclaim this urgent and salutary message of and devotion to Jesus, the Divine Mercy, especially as you minister to the needs of the faithful who come on pilgrimage to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, placed in your country, by God's Providence, under your solicitous care. As a token of an abundance of Divine Blessings, upon you, your Marian Associates, Helpers and Benefactors, I impart My Most Heartfelt Apostolic Blessing!
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,'" says Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who served as the vice-postulator for St. Faustina's canonization cause. "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," says Fr. Seraphim, "our Lord is preparing us for His final coming."
Tying Two Papacies
The canonizations — the first time in Church history that two popes were simultaneously canonized — must all be placed within the context of the man performing the Rite of Canonization: Pope Francis, for whom "mercy" has been the theme of his papacy from the beginning.
As John L. Allen, Jr., writes in his new book Against the Tide: The Radical Leadership of Pope Francis (Liguori), "Of all the catchphrases Francis has popularized since his election, none is more familiar than his mantra, 'The Lord never tires of forgiving ... it's us who get tired of asking for forgiveness.'"
When Pope Francis announced the canonization double-header last summer, many saw it as a bold move to underscore the spiritual bond between Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and Pope John Paul II, who sought to interpret and implement the Council's teachings.
Indeed, in his opening address for the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said, "[F]requently the Church has condemned [errors] with the greatest severity. Nowadays ... however, [the Church] prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity."
Through his 26-year pontificate, John Paul II defined the new evangelization through the lens of Divine Mercy.
"There is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy — that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights to the holiness of God," he said at the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, on June 7, 1997.
And now we have Pope Francis — informed by Vatican II, as well as the papacies of John XXIII and John Paul II — who has made it clear the Church must go about the business of spreading the Gospel message of mercy. He has even echoed Faustina's revelation that now is a time for mercy when he referred to the present time as a Kairos, using a New Testament term in Greek that means a "privileged moment ordained by God."
In his homily at the Mass for Canonization, Pope Francis said the Second Vatican Council was a call to see "Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles."
"In convening the Council, St. John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit," the Holy Father said. "He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.
"In his own service to the people of God, St. John Paul II was the pope of the family," Pope Francis continued. "He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family."
Pope Francis noted in his homily his own desire to address the needs of family, particular through a Synod on the family, which begins this fall. He said:
May these two new saints and shepherds of God's people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.
'A Beautiful Church'
At the Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., the 19,000-plus attendees included many bleary-eyed pilgrims who had awoken at 3 a.m. to watch the live canonization broadcast from Rome.
Donna Foley, who traveled with a parish group from northern New Jersey, noted how pleased she was to see that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was in attendance at the Mass for Canonization.
"In the new saints and Benedict and now Pope Francis, we have a [continuity] that brings the Church together to share with the world that God is love," Donna said, " ... that no matter what we have done in our pasts, God will forgive us and heal us."
"We have such a beautiful Church," said Timothy Van Meter of Clifton Park, N.Y., who watched the broadcast. "Pope Francis is our new Divine Mercy Pope."