The Divine Mercy Legacy of Pope John Paul II

Of all the Catholic saints and theologians who have written about the merciful love of God, none has done so with more public and universal impact than Pope John Paul II. Listing all the things that John Paul II did confirms and strengthens the Divine Mercy message and devotion, and leaves one without any doubt that "The mystery of God's merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor" (Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli address, April 23, 2006).

· In 1981 Pope John Paul II 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.

· In 1993 he beatified Sister Faustina, stating in his homily: "Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvellous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!"

· In 1997 he visited Bl. 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 Bl. Faustina."

· In 2000 he canonized Sr. Faustina - making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium - and established "Divine Mercy Sunday" as a special title for the Octave Sunday of Easter for the universal Church.

· In his homily on Mercy Sunday in 2001, Pope John Paul II called the Mercy message given to St. Faustina "The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies.... Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium."

· In Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the new Shrine of the Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to The Divine Mercy, saying: "I do so with the burning desire that the message of God's merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope."

· Finally, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, "Providence decided that he should die right on the eve of that day [Mercy Sunday] in the arms of Divine Mercy." Indeed, just before his death, Pope John Paul II received the Holy Communion of the anticipated Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Pope John Paul II was truly "The Great Mercy Pope," as the title of a recent book so eloquently phrases it (Rev. George Kosicki, CSB, John Paul II: The Great Mercy Pope, Marian Press, Stockbridge, MA, revised edition, 2006). He preached about God's mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it - offering forgiveness to the man who shot him in St. Peter's Square, and doing everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people.

What many people do not realize, however, is that Pope John Paul's interest in St. Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy stretches back to the days of his youth. In his "Foreword" to Fr. Kosicki's book, Fr. Ron Pytel - miraculously healed himself by the prayers of St. Faustina in a miracle investigated and substantiated by the Church - outlines the early history of Karol Wojtyla with the Divine Mercy devotion:

"As a young college student in Krakow, he witnessed man's inhumanity to man during World War II in occupied Poland. He saw many people rounded up and sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many friends of the Jewish faith who would perish in the Holocaust. Death and danger surrounded the young Wojtyla. He experienced the need for God's mercy and humanity's need to be merciful to one another.

"It was during this horrible period in human history that the young Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha's clandestine seminary in Krakow. This decision further jeopardized his life, for he could be executed [by the Nazis] if caught. It was also during this time that another seminarian, Andrew Deskur, now a retired Cardinal at the Vatican, introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the mystic nun, now St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the great suffering soul, who died at the age of 33 in 1938. St. Faustina wrote a diary entitled 'Divine Mercy in My Soul,' in which she recorded the revelations given to her by Jesus about the greatness of God's mercy. The message of God's mercy, as recorded by Sister Faustina, would be a beacon of light and hope for the people of Poland during this dark time in their history.

"In his years as a young priest, and later as Bishop and Archbishop of Krakow (now under the oppression of a Communist regime), Karol Wojtyla would reflect and meditate upon the message of God's mercy. He would often visit the convent in Lagiewniki where Sister Faustina was buried for private times of prayer, and to lead the Sisters in reflective retreats.

(This series continues next week on the Mercy legacy of Pope John Paul II).

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