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A Shared Mission of Mercy
The Marians and Our Great Mercy Pope
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, world-renowned expert on the life and spirituality of St. Faustina, meets with Pope John Paul II in Lichen, Poland, in 1999.
Marian priests and brothers from around the world came to greet Pope John Paul II when he visited the Marians' shrine in Lichen, Poland, in 1999.
In perhaps the most prized group photo in Marian history, Marian priests and brothers from around the world stand with their beloved Pontiff.
By Felix Carroll (Jan 18, 2011)
The announcement that Pope John Paul II will be beatified this Divine Mercy Sunday has been met with joy from the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, who have felt a close connection to the "Great Mercy Pope" throughout his 26-year pontificate.
The Pope and the Marians shared not only a Polish heritage, but a mission to make known throughout the world the message of The Divine Mercy, as revealed by St. Faustina in the 1930s.
"Be apostles of Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary," John Paul charged the Marians at their General Chapter in Rome on June 22, 1993. In a written message to the Marians at their Chapter the month before his death on April 2, 2005, John Paul sent the Marians a written message in which he echoed this charge. "Be apostles and witnesses of Divine Mercy for everyone," his message said.
The Marians have been official promoters of Divine Mercy since 1941. In 1981, the Marians prepared and published the original Polish edition of the Diary of Sr. Faustina, whose cause of beatification was initiated by John Paul II when he was the Archbishop of Krakow and known by his birth name, Karol Wojtyla. The Diary serves as the source book of The Divine Mercy message and devotion as revealed by Jesus to St. Faustina. John Paul II quoted from it on a visit to Sr. Faustina's tomb, at her beatification and her canonization, and when he entrusted the world to The Divine Mercy.
Today, Marian Press is known the world over as the publisher of the Diary in English and Spanish.
The Pope's Blessings
In 1985, as the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., celebrated 25 years of service to Christ and the Church, John Paul II gave his blessings to the Marians as well to "the members, benefactors, friends, [the] Association of Marian Helpers, and all who come to the Shrine."
In 1996, the Marians founded the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, based at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. The Institute provides instruction in Divine Mercy theology and spirituality to both parish leaders and clergy.
Pope John Paul II himself entrusted the Institute with the task of providing "formation and research in The Divine Mercy message and devotion as it is revealed in Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and in the life and writings of St. Faustina Kowalska."
"In God's mysterious design, He has used our small community to promote and proclaim this important message and devotion," said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, the Marians' second general councilor in Rome. "Since one of our priests, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC, miraculously brought the message of the Divine Mercy out of war-torn Poland and Lithuania after having received it from the hands of St. Faustina's confessor, Blessed Michael Sopocko, the Marians have sought to proclaim this message to the world.
"The ban on the proclamation of the devotion for almost 20 years — according to the forms received by St. Faustina — was a great trial for our community," Fr. Joe continued. "Like Blessed Sopocko, our motives and intentions were sometimes misunderstood by the hierarchy as a result of that ban. But the Lord saw fit to lift that ban through the efforts of Cardinal Wojtyla and Pope Paul VI. We Marians struggled for some years afterward to discern if this was truly something that our Lord had assigned to us. We needed to discern if it fit with our founding charism.
"Through many meetings and efforts during the last 20 years, we have come to realize that the Divine Mercy message fits beautifully with our charism and it is something that the Lord has called on us to proclaim," said Fr. Joe. "The words of Pope John Paul II to the General Chapter meeting in 1993 to 'be apostles of Divine Mercy...' proved to be particularly prophetic coming in the midst of sometimes heated discussions on the topic at that Chapter. His words called some Marians to rethink their position and to open their hearts more fully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
"Many Marians will be coming to Rome for this great event, his beatification," Fr. Joe said. "We have always felt particularly close to John Paul II. I will never forget when more than 300 of us gathered for a picture with him when he visited our Marian Shrine in Lichen, Poland in 1999. He joked with us in a very familiar way. He has been a blessing to the Church and will continue to be a great intercessor for us into the future."
On Aug. 17, 2002, the Marians crossed paths with the Holy Father in Krakow, Poland, when the Holy Father dedicated the Divine Mercy Shrine and visited the motherhouse of St. Faustina's congregation, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
A group of Marian Helpers from the United States accompanied Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, to Poland for the historic occasion. At an audience with the Holy Father, Fr. Seraphim thanked the Pope for his tireless work on behalf of Divine Mercy, including the canonization of Sr. Faustina two years earlier. The Holy Father returned the compliment, noting Fr. Seraphim's role as vice postulator of the saint's cause.
He Served As an Inspiration
The meeting between these two Divine Mercy leaders exemplified the relationship the Holy Father had with the Marian Fathers.
Father Donald Calloway, MIC, vocation director for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception's Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province, credits both the papacy of John Paul II and the Marians' work in spreading Divine Mercy for the community's unprecedented bumper crop of new vocations. The Marians in the United States now have more than 20 men in formation.
"Every guy that calls me or talks to me or e-mails me finds out about us because the Marians have been getting more and more known as the 'Divine Mercy priests' — because of our appearances on EWTN and our websites, thedivinemercy.org and marian.org," Fr. Donald said.
"I became a Catholic, a Marian, and a priest all during the Papacy of John Paul II," he said. "Needless to say, this saintly Pope played a major role in my life. I am thrilled beyond imagination that he is going to be beatified. On the day it was announced I was almost in tears. I truly consider him to be one of the greatest men who ever lived."
"Many people in the world watched the funeral of Pope John Paul II," noted Fr. John Larson, MIC. "It was an event that brought the world together in some ways. Now, a new focus on this great Pope will be brought through his beatification. Because it will take place on Divine Mercy Sunday, it solidifies this day as strongly connected to the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. He wanted to make God's mercy more fully known, and this will certainly do that."
Why Stress Divine Mercy?
Father Seraphim, a life-long Divine Mercy scholar, said Pope John Paul II took the revelations of St. Faustina so seriously because he knew the revelations of The Divine Mercy are particularly tailored to our times.
"In 1980 he 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," Fr. Seraphim noted. "In 1993 he beatified Sr. Faustina. In 1997 he visited Blessed 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 Blessed Faustina."
Father Seraphim noted, "In 2000 he canonized St. Faustina, the first canonized saint of the new millennium, and on that same day he also established 'Divine Mercy Sunday' as a special title for the Octave Sunday of Easter for the universal Church."
Why did Pope John Paul II so strongly recommend that we pay heed to the Divine Mercy message and devotion so much so that he viewed Divine Mercy as his "personal task before God"?
"Clearly, he did so because he saw it as more than just a collection of 'private revelations'," Fr. Seraphim said. "Rather, he saw them as prophetic revelations. In other words, revelations given to us by God to proclaim the heart of the Gospel in a way especially suited to meet the needs of our era."
For the Marians, the "Great Mercy Pope" was an inspiration in life, and his Divine Mercy legacy will remain an inspiration in death.
"He is close to us," said Fr. Joe.