On April 30, 2000, the Canonization of Faustina Kowalska took place and the second Sunday of Easter was officially designated as the Sunday of the Divine Mercy in the Church Calendar.
Among Catholic devotions, the Divine Mercy message is well-known, along with, the iconic image of Christ, with rays of red and white pouring from his heart.
St. Faustina Kowalska was a young Polish nun, and over the course of several years had visions of Jesus, whereby she was directed to create an image and to share with the world revelations of Jesus’ love and mercy. St. Faustina received her first revelation in February 1931.
In 1933, after she made her perpetual vows for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, her superior directed her to move to the convent house in Vilnius. She stayed there for three years and this is where she received many more visions of Jesus.
Vilnius is also where she found a priest to be her spiritual director, the now–Blessed Michael Sopocko. With the help of Fr. Sopocko, St. Faustina found a painter to fulfill the request Jesus had made to her in one of the visions—to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You”—and in 1934, the painter Eugene Kazimierowski created the original Divine Mercy painting under St. Faustina’s direction.
The image shows Christ with his right hand raised as if giving a blessing, and the left touching his chest. Two rays, one pale, one red—which Jesus said are to signify water and blood—are descending from his heart.
St. Faustina recorded all of her visions and conversations with Jesus in her diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Here she wrote the words of Jesus about the graces that would pour out on anyone who prayed before the image: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend [that soul] as My own glory.”
When the image was completed, it was first kept in the corridor of the convent of the Bernardine Sisters, which was beside the Church of St. Michael where Fr. Sopocko was rector.
In March 1936, St. Faustina became sick, with what is believed to have been tuberculosis, and was transferred back to Poland by her superiors. She died near Krakow in October 1938, at the age of 33.
Even though St. Faustina, because of her illness, was brought back to Krakow, she left the painting in Vilnius because it was the property of her spiritual director, who had paid for the painting.
Jesus, in one of St. Faustina’s visions, had expressed his wish that the image be put in a place of honor, so on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937, they hung the image of Merciful Jesus next to the main altar in the Church of St. Michael.
In 1948, the communist government closed the Church of St. Michael and abolished the convent. Many of the sacred objects and artworks were moved to other churches to be saved from Soviet hands. Eventually it was brought back to Lithuania in secret and given to the Church of the Holy Spirit.
In the early 2000s its significance was rediscovered and after a professional restoration it was rehung in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity in 2005, which is now the Shrine of Divine Mercy.
God teaches us about his mercy through a holy woman who died at the age of 33, who had lived a very devout life, and endured great sufferings for the sake of Christ. We are taught, through individuals like St. Faustina, how to actually receive God’s mercy and to be merciful to others. (10:20)