Not Alone

By Marian Friedrichs

Juanita Flores learned to pray from her grandmother. Growing up, Juanita lived with her parents, her three siblings, and her father’s mother in Chicago, Illinois, across the street from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Almost every day, Juanita’s grandmother visited the church, usually bringing at least one of her grandchildren with her. She taught them to pray the Rosary in Spanish. Not until years later, as an adult, would Juanita learn to pray it in English.

Despite the grandmother’s faith, however, she was a troubled woman who had suffered such blows as the deaths of her two young daughters at the ages of 3 and 5, as well as the illness of her son, Juanita’s father, who had been stricken with polio as a child. Juanita’s grandmother was often angry, as was her alcoholic father, and their family life was darkened by physical and emotional abuse. Juanita’s grandmother sometimes walked up to her and hit her without provocation. “I never understood why she was so angry,” Juanita recalls.

As a young woman, Juanita escaped her childhood home through her marriage to John Flores, but that relationship brought struggles of its own. Though blessed with five children, the couple separated several times over the years. Throughout her adult life, Juanita prayed “off and on,” always coming back to the Rosary and an affectionate personal devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Juanita had been faithfully praying the Rosary for several years when a series of special trials came her way. First, in the summer of 2019, Juanita’s granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer, for which she was treated with surgery and radiation therapy. Then, in 2020, Juanita’s mother was hospitalized for COVID-19. She and John came down with the virus as well.

It was during Juanita’s illness that she began, unexpectedly, to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Juanita had been vaguely acquainted with the Divine Mercy message before the pandemic. At a movie theater with John in 2019, Juanita had noticed a poster for the film “Love and Mercy: Faustina.” Gazing at the depiction of Jesus on the poster, Juanita had immediately understood what the rays symbolized — the Blood and Water that flowed from His side on the Cross — although she had not learned about the Divine Mercy Image before.

Months later, Juanita lay feverish, relying on YouTube videos to guide her through praying the Rosary. One day, while adjusting her blanket, Juanita accidentally clicked on a video of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. She was intrigued and simply lay listening to the prayers. When the video ended, another began: this one a talk by a sister of St. Faustina’s order, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. The talk described some of St. Faustina’s revelations and what they teach about God’s love and mercy. Juanita longed to learn more about the Divine Mercy message and began to watch livestreamed Masses and talks by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC.

Since discovering the Divine Mercy message, the Chaplet, and the Image, Juanita has felt a keen desire to spread the word, both to her loved ones and to strangers. “We need to have God’s mercy in our hearts,” she says, “every one of us, during this time.” Juanita now prays the Chaplet daily, while keeping up her devotion to the Rosary and to Mary, whom she calls “my Blessed Mom.” Juanita bought a poster-size print of the Divine Mercy Image for her home and signed up to receive daily excerpts from St. Faustina’s Diary, “Divine Mercy in My Soul,” which she shares on Facebook. She brought one of her brothers back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and often sends intentions to the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline. In June 2021, Juanita and John made a pilgrimage together to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Through the Divine Mercy message and prayers, Juanita has found healing for her marriage and a path to forgiveness and understanding for her departed grandmother. “We all go through our own tribulations,” Juanita says, explaining the new compassion she has found for the woman who both nurtured her spiritual life and hurt her deeply. “I can’t imagine what she went through.”

Today, not all of John and Juanita’s children share their Catholic faith — one son became a Jehovah’s Witness and one daughter embraced Islam — but Juanita confidently prays the Chaplet for their conversion. “I have hope,” she says. “I’m not afraid anymore. Because of St. Faustina, I know I’m not alone.”  

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