By Robin Gomes
Some 200 meters from St. Peter’s Square is the Church of the Holy Spirit, the sanctuary and centre of the devotion to Divine Mercy in Rome, where Pope Francis will mark Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19. The Mass that will be streamed and televised live, will have only a handful of faithful because of the coronavirus lockdown in Italy and the Vatican.
Saints Faustina and John Paul II
The devotion to Divine Mercy was popularized by the 20th-century Polish nun, Saint Faustina Kowalska, as requested to her by Jesus in visions and conversations..
Saint Pope John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday on the occasion of the canonization of St. Faustina, April 30, 2000, the Second Sunday after Easter, thus opening the devotion and the feast of Divine Mercy to the Universal Church.
From his early years, Pope John Paul II had an ardent devotion to Divine Mercy, as promoted by Sister Faustina, who died in 1938 at the age of 33 in Krakow, where Karol Wojtyla was to become archbishop, cardinal and was later elected Pope in 1978.
Pope John Paul II who beatified Sister Faustina on April 18, 1993, Sunday after Easter, died on April 2, 2005, the eve of the Sunday after Easter.
John Paul II himself was beatified on May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday, and declared a saint on April 27, 2014, also Divine Mercy Sunday.
In an Apostolic Letter issued on the occasion of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2002, Pope John Paul II granted indulgences to Catholics who go to confession, receive Communion and recite specific prayers on that day. Subsequently, this was formally decreed by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
Popes John Paul II and Francis
During his general audience live-streamed on Wednesday, Pope Francis told Polish pilgrims that on Sunday, April 19, he will celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy, established by St. John Paul II, in response to the “the request of the Lord Jesus to St. Faustina”. “Jesus said: ‘I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls.’ Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My Mercy.”
The Holy Father urged that prayers be said with “confidence to Merciful Jesus for the Church and for all humanity, especially for those who suffer in this very difficult time”.
Divine Mercy is certainly a strong, common bond between the Popes John Paul II and Francis. “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy), the 1980 encyclical of the Polish Pope is often cited by Pope Francis, the hallmark of whose pontificate has been mercy.
In this regard, we particularly recall the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis called from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016.
Both the pontiffs are known for their sensitivity to human dignity, poverty, disease and suffering, and the need to show mercy.
Pope Francis envisages the Church as a “field hospital” that particularly reaches out to the least, the lost and the last. On the eve of his election, he said that “the Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all forms of misery.”
Today, the devotion to Divine Mercy is widespread across the world. Churches and shrines dedicated to Divine Mercy have sprung up across the world, most importantly the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow, which houses the remains of Saint Faustina. Built between 1999–2002, the sanctuary has been visited by 3 popes. Millions of pilgrims from around the world visit it every year.