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'Faustina' Comes to Town!
In a dark hallway, a lone, lean figure stands, backlit only by a red exit sign. You see only her profile, an eerily familiar, hard-angled habit of a nun. She's in prayer. Father Joseph Roesch, MIC, approaches her and greets her.
"Hello Maria," he says.
The fact that her name is Maria and that her profile bears a striking resemblance to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska makes the whole scene as surreal as it comes.
"Hello!" she says
But the nun is not a nun. It's Maria Vargo, the actress playing St. Faustina in the live drama, Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy, produced by Saint Luke Productions.
As part of the Divine Mercy Weekend Celebration in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Marian Fathers hosted the production before about 500 Marian Helpers at nearby Monument Mountain High School. The production has been barnstorming the country for the past year and a half. Saturday night's performance marked somewhere in the range of number 150. The performance has touched hearts nationwide, including Marian priests and brothers who helped serve as advisors.
"I'm speechless," said the rarely speechless Deacon Allen Alexander, MIC, following the performance.
"She really brought St. Faustina to life," said Jean Mauro of Long Island, New York.
That quiet, contemplative preshow moment in the hallway illustrated just how important Maria considers this role. Upon her request, Fr. Joe led a Hail Mary and asked the Lord, "through the intercession of St. Faustina, that the Holy Spirit be with Maria tonight."
Maria said, "Before each performance, I absolutely need to pray for St. Faustina to guide me, to help me to touch hearts. There is a deep responsibility that comes with this role, unlike anything I've experienced in my acting career. I can't just 'play the saint, proclaim the message, and then just leave the role at the stage door.' I am being called to live this message out, too."
Indeed, Fr. Joe, the Marians' vicar general in Rome, said the production serves as the embodiment of the sorts of efforts called for under the New Evangelization — the Church's push to introduce (or reintroduce) the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.
In 90 minutes, the production sketches out how Christ, in the 1930s, worked in the soul of this lowly Polish nun to proclaim His message of mercy to the world. We see Faustina's torment as she struggles to grasp Christ's extraordinary requests. She is attacked by the devil who pulls upon her soul to derail her, demoralize her, and plant doubts in her heart. The torment — drawn from Faustina's only accounts in her Diary — includes some of the nuns with whom she serves who accuse her of being foolish, self-delusional, and even mentally disturbed.
Christ sends Faustina a champion in the person of Fr. Michael Sopocko, her confessor and the man who would be instrumental in helping to carry out the requests the Lord makes of St. Faustina, including the painting of the Divine Mercy Image and the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday. The Lord tells her that she is to prepare the world for His final coming. In her weakness — compounded by the onset of tuberculosis, which would finally lead to her death in 1938 at the age of 33 — the Lord beseeches her to find her fortitude through the Holy Eucharist.
We see how Faustina puts herself at the foot of the cross and seeks to be a living image of Christ, sharing every moment of His Passion. "If only souls knew the value of suffering," she says.
Through prerecorded video, the drama interweaves contemporary stories of an elderly man, embittered and dying alone, and a young woman who had been sexually abused as a child and goes on to lead a life of promiscuity, which then leads to an abortion and an attempted suicide. The subplots illustrate the central power and beauty of Christ's Divine Mercy — that there is nothing we can do in our lives that can cause Christ to not love us.
"That was an amazing touch," said Br. Christopher, MIC, a Marian seminarian who watched the performance for the first time. "That really encourages me to see this message of Divine Mercy, which the Marians have ben spreading for so long, as one that's universal and able to reach people who are really hurting. And we all know people who are hurting."
Before the performance, Maria took to the stage to address the audience.
"I just ask that if you are moved by the show tonight you go out and spread the message of God's mercy," she said. "I have a feeling you guys already do, but I just hope you are encouraged and inspired even more to be witnesses of God's amazing love and mercy, that nothing we have done in our life should keep us from Him — or can. So please, be messengers."
Speaking of messengers, Fr. Joe was pleased to notify Maria of Pope Francis' Papal Bull released earlier that day that officially declared the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
"It makes mention of St. Faustina in a beautiful way," Fr. Joe told Maria.
"Wonderful. You have to tell Pope Francis about our production. He needs to see it."
"I will. I haven't met him yet," Fr. Joe laughed.
"I'll write him a letter," Maria says with a smile.
"You should. He reads his letters!"
In the meantime, Fr. Joe plans to lobby the organizers of next year's World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, to include the production in the program.
To book Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy in your area, contact Saint Luke Productions at 1-360-687-8029 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, including the show schedule, visit stlukeproductions.com.