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Celebrating the Mercy Saint!
By Patrick Novecosky
The smell of flowers and a gentle breeze greeted Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC — vice-postulator for Sr. Faustina's cause of canonization — as he took his place only a few yards from Pope John Paul II. The morning sun had cleared away most of the clouds hovering over St. Peter's Square in Rome as the Holy Father read the words of canonization on April 30, 2000 declaring Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska the first saint of the new millennium.
Father Michalenko and the more than 200,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square burst into a thunderous round of applause — as did the 70,000 gathered at the Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland, who were watching a simulcast via satellite.
Likewise, when the Holy Father unexpectedly announced that Divine Mercy Sunday would be celebrated from now on throughout the world, the throng voiced their approval. They waved banners and specially-made nylon scarves that read, "Jesus, I Trust in You!"
"Words can't express what kind of feeling it was," said Fr. Seraphim, who was a concelebrant at the canonization Mass and has worked nearly 20 years for Sr. Faustina's canonization.
The day was also one of elation for Fr. Ron Pytel, the Baltimore, Md., priest who was miraculously healed through St. Faustina's intercession. Standing alongside Fr. Seraphim, he was also chosen to concelebrate the canonization Mass with the Holy Father.
"When the Holy Father read the words of canonization, I felt like my legs were going to go out from under me. It was like the day I first got up to walk again after my surgery. I felt like Gumby!
"The whole process — from my healing to this day — has been a humbling experience," he said. "It's been an experience I never would have dreamed of in my whole life."
Sister Faustina, who belonged to the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland, died of tuberculosis in 1938 on the verge of World War II at age 33. She left behind a diary in which she recorded her mystical experiences — in particular Jesus Christ's desire that the world accept His limitless mercy.
Surprising the world
A festive St. Peter's Square was bedecked with spring flowers and budding saplings as the Church celebrated the first canonization of the Jubilee Year and the Holy Father's announcement that the Sunday after Easter would henceforth be known as "Divine Mercy Sunday."
"It is important," the Pope said in his homily, "that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called 'Divine Mercy Sunday.' "
"This fulfills the Lord's request perfectly," Fr. Seraphim said. "Mercy Sunday is the last day of the Octave of Easter, so it was already a part of the Feast of Easter. So, from now on, that day will take the name 'Divine Mercy Sunday' just as the Lord asked in His revelations to St. Faustina."
On April 30, Divine Mercy Sunday was officially celebrated by the Catholic Church in both Poland and Russia. It was also celebrated in hundreds of parishes and many dioceses throughout the world.
In fact, several months ago, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception launched a petition drive among the faithful that asked the Holy Father to establish Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the Church on the Sunday after Easter.
Marians and Helpers attend
Nearly 150 Marians and Marian Helpers from the U.S. marked the joyous celebration in St. Peter's Square, led on pilgrimage by Fr. Seraphim; Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC; Fr. Walter Gurgul, MIC; Fr. Bernard Backiel, MIC; and Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, founder of the Association of Marian Helpers. Father Pelczynski, Fr. Gurgul, and Fr. Backiel led groups of Marian Helpers.
Father Seraphim and Fr. Chwalek led a delegation of staff and Divine Mercy promoters and leaders, who participated in an on-site seminar organized by the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, a Marian apostolate in Stockbridge.
Also attending were Vice-General Very Rev. John Rokosz, MIC, on behalf of Superior General Very Rev. Mark Garrow, MIC; and Provincial Superior Very Rev. Walter M. Dziordz, MIC, from Stockbridge.
"The Marian Helpers in our group certainly shared the excitement of the moment — the canonization and the Holy Father's announcement about Mercy Sunday," Fr. Pelczynski said.
"Most of them already celebrate it, but some have encountered stern opposition to the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in their parishes. This was a confirmation for them and for the whole Church. It validated the efforts that we Marians and our Helpers have expended for so long in promoting the Divine Mercy message and devotion entrusted to Sr. Faustina."
Mercy More Needed Than Ever
"Even though Sr. Faustina has been declared the first saint of the Jubilee Year and Mercy Sunday will now be celebrated worldwide, the work of spreading the message of God's mercy is far from finished," Fr. Seraphim said.
"In such a sinful age, the need for the Lord's mercy is even greater than ever," he said. "Sister Faustina's canonization shows the truth of her revelations and the truth of God's tender care for us at the most miserable times. And this past century was truly a miserable time for all of humanity."
In his homily, the Holy Father underscored those sentiments, calling Sr. Faustina a daughter of Poland who was tightly connected to the history of the 20th century and recalling the atrocities of the World Wars. "Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants of the events of those years and the horrible suffering they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy," John Paul II said.
Today and down the road, the message of the Lord's mercy is more relevant than ever, said Fr. Pytel. "Faustina's canonization gives impetus to the message of mercy and hopefully the world is going to hear that message and embrace it — not only to trust more in the Lord, but that we, in turn, be merciful toward one another."
Living Witness to Saint
No one has been acquainted with that message of God's mercy for more years than Sr. Beata Piekut, ZMBM. As a young novice, Sr. Beata met Sr. Faustina at their convent in Cracow. But she didn't immediately believe that Sr. Faustina's writings were authentic.
"From the beginning, I wasn't sure if the revelations were true," the 92-year-old nun said, only a few hours after the canonization. "But when I was asked in 1965 to lead the informative process for recognizing her heroic virtues, I prayed very hard to know the truth. So today was a very joyous occasion.
"I'm also grateful to God that He gave me the job to lead the beatification and canonization process because it enriched me spiritually," she continued. "I was able to help Jesus, and He gave me so many graces through this work."
Hope for sinners
Sister Faustina's message of God's mercy is one of hope — especially for those in despair, Sr. Beata said. Her congregation's main work — and the work of Sr. Faustina during her lifetime — is to help young girls in trouble who are in need of moral and spiritual direction.
"Jesus wanted us not only to do works of mercy, but to spread this message to the entire world," the elderly sister said. "The effects of declaring Sr. Faustina a saint will be 100 percent positive. Everything is happening according to our Lord's wishes. He asked that the message of His mercy be spread throughout the world."
Pope John Paul II also expressed that sentiment during his canonization homily. "Jesus told Sister Faustina: 'Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy' (Diary, 300). Through the work of [this] Polish religious, this message has become linked forever to the 20th century. ... It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time. ...
"This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair."
Mercy for the New Millennium
The message of Christ's mercy is a message for the new millennium, the Holy Father said. "What will the years ahead bring us? What will man's future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress, there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of Divine Mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr. Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium."
The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have been sharing that "light of Divine Mercy" through their apostolates in Stockbridge since 1944. "This canonization is the crowning of the vision that the Fathers of the province had," Fr. Seraphim said. "They endured a lot of suffering during the years the message was banned by the Holy See.
"But this shows that they were working under God's direction," he explained. "What they undertook at that time was exactly what Jesus wanted in spreading the message throughout the world before the Sisters of Faustina's congregation in Poland were able to do it more openly after the collapse of the communist government there. People continue to look to the Marians as a reference point when it comes to the Divine Mercy message and devotion."
A Day of Victory
Father Pelczynski, whose vision led to the founding of North America's first Divine Mercy apostolate, said the whole day was like a victory for Christ and the Church. "It's amazing how God chose our simple, small community to begin to spread news of these visions of St. Faustina," he said. "With faith in Divine Providence, we were able to reach the entire world with this message of mercy."
It's that kind of trust in God's providence that the Holy Father said we're all called to exercise. Inspired by the newly canonized saint, Fr. Pelczynski said, the Marians will continue to proclaim God's infinite mercy.