The Spreading of the Message & Devotion to the Divine Mercy
St. Sr. Ma. Faustina Kowalska
Before her death, Faustina predicted that "there will be a war, a terrible, terrible war" and asked the nuns to pray for Poland. In 1939, a year after Faustina's death, when Archbishop Romuald Jałbrzykowski, Archbishop of Wilno (Vilnius), noticed that her predictions about the war had taken place, he allowed public access to the Divine Mercy image which resulted in large crowds that led to the spread of the Divine Mercy devotion. The Divine Mercy devotion became a source of strength and inspiration for many people in Poland.
In 1941, hardly three years after the death of Sr. Faustina, The Divine Mercy devotion was brought to the USA from Poland by Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, a member of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Fr. Jarzebowski had at first been skeptical about the great graces received by those who entrusted themselves to the Divine Mercy. But, in the spring of 1940, he vowed that if he were able to safely reach his fellow Marians in America, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Before his departure, Fr. Michael Sopocko, St. Faustina’s spiritual director, gave Fr. Jarzebowski materials on Divine Mercy that he prepared. With these materials and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Fr. Jarzebowski set out for the journey.
After an extraordinary journey from Poland into Lithuania, then across Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok, and from there to Japan, he arrived on American soil a year later. True to his vow, he immediately began distributing information about the message and devotion with the help of the Felician Sisters in Michigan and Connecticut. His Marian confreres soon became intensely involved as well.
In 1942 the Nazis arrested Archbishop Jałbrzykowski while, Father Sopoćko and other professors went into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. During that period Sopoćko used his time to prepare for the establishment of a new religious congregation based on the Divine Mercy messages reported by Faustina. After the war, Sopoćko wrote the constitution for the congregation and helped the formation of what is now the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy. From 1942 to 1944 Archbishop Jałbrzykowski was imprisoned by Nazi Germany. In 1945 he was freed by the Red Army, only to be quickly deported to Poland as the Soviets tried to destroy the archdiocese of Vilnius in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.
After several years of activities by the Marian Fathers, in 1944, Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, established the "Mercy of God Apostolate" on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, MA, U.S.A., which is now the home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center, a modern, religious publishing house that has become the international center for the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
By 1951, 13 years after Faustina's death, there were 150 Divine Mercy centers in Poland. By 1953, some 25 million copies of literature on the message and devotion to the Divine Mercy had been distributed around the world.
In 1955, under Pope Pius XII, the Bishop of Gorzów founded a religious order called the Congregation of the Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Merciful Redeemer, to spread devotion to the Divine Mercy. Under both Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII, writings on devotion to the Divine Mercy were given imprimaturs by many bishops, making it an approved devotion. Cardinals Adam Stefan Sapieha and August Hlond were among those who gave their approval. During the papacy of Pope Pius XII, Vatican Radio broadcasted several times about the Divine Mercy. On 24 June 1956, Pope Pius XII blessed an Image of the Divine Mercy in Rome, the only one blessed by a Pope before the Second Vatican Council.
Then in 1959, St. Faustina’s prophecy about the apparent destruction of the Divine Mercy work [Diary 378] began to be fulfilled. After a failed attempt to persuade Pope Pius XII to sign a condemnation, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, at the Holy Office, included her works on a list he submitted to the newly elected Pope, John XXIII, in 1959.
On 6 March 1959, the Holy Office issued a notification, signed by Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty as notary, that forbade circulation of "images and writings that promote devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina." The negative judgment of the Holy Office was based both on a faulty French or Italian translation of the diary and, on theological difficulties such as the claim that Jesus had promised complete remission of sins for certain devotional acts without specifying whether the forgiveness would be obtained directly or through undertaking reception of the sacraments and, what may have been thought to be excessive concentration on Faustina herself.
Meanwhile, in 1965, Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków, Poland began, with the approval of the head of the Holy Office, the informative process on Faustina's life and virtues, interviewed witnesses and, in 1967 submitted a number of documents about Faustina to the Vatican, requesting even the start of the official process of her beatification.
Then, on 15 April 1978, almost 2 decades after the ban was placed, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the leadership of Pope Paul VI, issued a new notification, signed by the Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation, that rescinded the previous one, reversing the ban on circulation of Faustina's work.
It decreed: "This Sacred Congregation, in view of the many original documents that were unknown in 1959, giving consideration to the profoundly changed circumstances, and taking into account the view of many Polish ordinaries, declares no longer binding the prohibitions contained in the cited 'notification'." Also, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that, "with the new 'notification' ... there no longer exists, on the part of this Sacred Congregation, any impediment to the spreading of the devotion to The Divine Mercy."
Six months later, on 16 October 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II and what began as an informative process on Faustina's life and virtues concluded with Faustina’s beatification cause.
The formal beatification of Faustina involved the case of Maureen Digan of Massachusetts. In March 1981 Digan reported a healing, while praying at the tomb of Faustina. Digan had suffered from Lymphedema (a disease which causes significant swelling due to fluid retention) for decades and, had undergone ten operations, including a leg amputation. Digan reported that while praying at Faustina's tomb, she heard a voice saying "ask for my help and I will help you" and her constant pain stopped. After two days, Digan reported that her foot - which had previously been too large for her shoe due to her body's liquid retention, was healed. Upon her return to the United States, five Boston area physicians stated that she was healed (with no medical explanation) and the case was declared miraculous by the Vatican in 1992 based on the additional testimony of over 20 witnesses about her prior condition.
Thus, on April 18, 1993 Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. This day was also the 1st Sunday after Easter – the very day that is to be celebrated as the Feast of Mercy (Divine Mercy Sunday) according to the command of our Lord to St. Faustina as written in her diaries,
Then on April 30, 2000, only 7 years later, Pope John Paul II, as well, canonized Blessed Faustina as the 1st saint of the Great Jubilee Year. The said date yet again fell on the Feast of Mercy, which at the same time, the Holy Father also officially proclaimed the 1st Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the universal Church.
Pope John Paul II said: "The message she brought is 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. Jesus said to Sr. Faustina one day: 'Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to My Divine Mercy.'" [ Click Here to read complete homily of Pope John Paul II ]
In 2010, the author, television host and priest, Benedict Joseph Groeschel, C.F.R., considers a modest estimate of the following of the Divine Mercy devotion to be over one hundred million Catholics worldwide.