May 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 85
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Canonization in St. Peter's Square in the Presence of 200,000 Pilgrims

    VATICAN CITY, APR 30 (ZENIT.org).- "With Faustina Kowalska, the great message of Divine Mercy penetrates the sufferings of the 20th century to reach the Christians of the new millennium," John Paul II said this morning, when opening the solemn ceremony for the canonization of the Polish nun, in the presence of some 200,000 pilgrims.

    Faustina is the first saint of the Jubilee, although her history is totally connected to the century that we are leaving behind, noted for the immense sufferings caused by two Word Wars. It was precisely between these two catastrophic events that Faustina received the message of Divine Mercy from Christ.

    The Holy Father described her as a bridge of hope between the past and future. Her spirituality attracted him during his youth; today he solemnly proposed her as an example to the whole Church. On a beautiful spring morning, St. Peter's Square was filled to capacity, with pilgrims and devotees of Sr. Faustina spilling over into the Via della Conciliazione. Americans and Poles formed the largest groups, though there were many Italians, as well as representatives from other parts of the world. Hundreds of thousands more followed the ceremony live from a field outside the Shrine of the Divine Mercy on Lagiewniki Hill in Krakow.

    "This is not a new message, but it can be considered as a day of special illumination that helps us live the Easter Gospel more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time," the Holy Father said, in explaining the meaning and value of the devotion to the Divine Mercy, which inspired Sister Faustina, and which today has millions of followers around the world. The Pope announced that, in her honor, throughout the world, "the second Sunday after Easter will be designated Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine goodness, the difficulties and trials that await humankind in the coming years."

    "A hymn to mercy," is the way the Pope described the life of this nun, hidden in a convent and consumed by love for her neighbor, a love made up of the gift of self which, according to the Pontiff, can only be learned in the school of God, in the warmth of his charity. From this perspective, the Holy Father emphasized that mercy is implicitly a message on the value of every person, and is well expressed by Jesus' radiant heart in the image propagated by St. Faustina. "But, above all, such an image is the symbol of the consolation that is ready to go out to the one who is weakened by pain or sin, and is tempted to be abandoned to despair," John Paul II said.

    The Holy Father then sang the "Regina Caeli" with a strong voice and greeted pilgrims in a variety of languages, unwilling to overlook any group. Then, seated before a monitor, he was greeted and thanked by the Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, who spoke from the Shrine at Lagiewniki, a Shrine that young Wojtyla visited daily before going to work in the Solvay factory. Two huge crowds in Rome and Krakow, following one another on enormous screens, greeted John Paul II with multicolored handkerchiefs, and sang the song dedicated to him on his last visit to his homeland. John Paul II, who was in good form today after a week of vacation, appeared overwhelmed as he gazed upon the sea of waving colors that united Poland to the entire Church.

    Faustina Kowalska had one single attraction in life: Divine Mercy. This reality consumed all her energy and her brief life. From the pages of her diary, which came to light after her death, she radiated this message to the entire world. Although simple, the message is penetrating. It came at the darkest period between the two World Wars.

    Helena Kowalska was born in Glogowiec, a small rural village in Poland, on August 25, 1905. The third of 10 children, she attended school for only 3 years. As an adolescent, she served as a domestic in the homes of well-off families of the area. But the call to the consecrated life, which she first heard in her infancy, grew in urgency.

    On August 1, 1925, after being rejected by several convents, Helena was admitted by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, changing her name to Maria Faustina. She was 20 at the time. During the 13 years that she lived in various houses of the Congregation, she carried out menial tasks as cook, gardener, and porter. She died in Krakow on October 5, 1938.

    However, parallel to her hidden, humble life, was the unfolding of a rich interior life. Her mystical experience was focused on Divine Mercy. She received visions, revelations, and hidden stigmata. At the suggestion of her spiritual director, all this was recorded in her diary, which ended up with nearly 700 pages.

    The center of Faustina's life was the announcement of God's mercy to each human being and to the world. This message has touched the hearts of many simple people, and caused wonder in the minds of numerous theologians, who were surprised to find in the writings of this religious, not dedicated to the scholarly life, an extraordinary profundity.

    Faustina Kowalska's spiritual legacy to the Church is the devotion to the Divine Mercy, inspired in a vision in which Jesus himself requested that a picture be painted of him with the inscription: "Jesus, I Trust in You," which she commissioned from a painter in 1935. This image shows two beams of light, red and white, shining from Christ's Sacred Heart.

    Because Sr. Faustina was all but illiterate, her diary was written phonetically and almost without punctuation and quotation marks. A poor translation reached Rome, which condemned the book as heretical in 1958.

    When Karol Wojtyla became Archbishop of Krakow, he was faced with a delicate problem -- many people in his Church were intensely devoted to these writings, even calling Faustina a saint. He was advised to start an investigation into the matter. In the course of his study, he had a new translation made, which resulted in the removal of Rome's condemnation of the writings, just six months before he was elected Pope.

    John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina in 1993 on the basis of the miraculous cure of Maureen Digan, who suffered from Milroy's disease, a hereditary form of lymphedema that had already cost her one leg. Today's canonization was made possible by the cure of Fr. Ronald P. Pytel from a serious heart condition.

    The Apostles of Divine Mercy are a movement of priests, religious, and lay people inspired in the Polish nun's experience. The movement is committed to live in mercy in its relations with brothers, to spread knowledge of the mystery of Divine Mercy, and to invoke God's mercy on sinners. This spiritual family, which was approved in 1996 by the Archdiocese of Krakow, now exists in 29 countries around the world. ZE00043006 and ZE00043007.


May 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 85

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