Updated: May 18
Today in the year 2000, the Polish Mystic Faustina Kowalska was declared a saint in the presence of 200,000 people and the first Divine Mercy Sunday was celebrated worldwide. In todays podcast we look at her short but spiritually intense life. How the devotion has spread around the world. Finally we also look at the evil that was perpetrated a few years later, in the neighbouring parts of Poland. A Deep Darkness to contrast the luminous message of Divine Mercy.
Born Helena Kowalska in 1905 in the northwest of Poland. She was the third of ten children. Her father was a carpenter and the family was poor and religious. She grew up with a deep mystical faith and throughout her life, she reported having visions of Jesus and conversations with him, which she noted in her diary, which was posthumously published as The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. This has since been translated into many languages, and published in numerous editions around the world. She would die in 1938, but after her death the fame of her diary and the Icon of the Divine Mercy started to spread rapidly around the world.
When it came to the Vatican’s attention, Cardinal Ottaviani, at the Holy Office, having failed to persuade Pius XII to condemn it, included her works on a list he submitted to the newly elected Pope John XXIII in 1959, and on 6th March 1959, the Holy Office issued a notification, signed by Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty as notary, that forbade circulation of "images and writings that promote devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina" . Backtracking when a new spirit had entered the church after Vatican 2, it was claimed that the negative judgment of the Holy Office was based both on a faulty French or Italian translation of the diary, and theological difficulties with some of her claims.
In 1924, at the age of 19, Kowalska went with her sister Natalia to a dance in a park. At the dance, she claimed to have had a vision of a suffering Jesus and the next day went to the Łódź Cathedral, where, she said, Jesus instructed her to depart for Warsaw immediately and to enter a convent. She took a train for Warsaw, some 85 miles away, despite the fact that she knew nobody there and entered the first church that she saw and attended Mass. She asked the priest for suggestions, and he recommended staying with a local woman whom he considered trustworthy, until she found a convent. She approached several convents in Warsaw but was turned down each time, in one case being told that "we do not accept maids here", which she took as a reference to her evident poverty. Kowalska at that time could read and write and had three or four years of education. After several weeks of searching, a Mother Superior at a convent decided to give her a chance and accepted her under the condition that she could pay for her religious habit.
Six years later when she grew ill with tuberculosis, she was transferred to Płock a city in central Poland, on the Vistula river. In her diaries, Kowalska wrote that on the night of Sunday, 22 February 1931, while she was in her room in Płock, Jesus appeared wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart. She wrote that Jesus told her. ‘Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: "Jesus, I trust in You" (in Polish: "Jezu, ufam Tobie"). I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. Kowalska was transferred to Vilnius two years later to work as the gardener, in a small convent in Vilnius that had only 18 sisters in a few scattered small houses. There she met Father Michael Sopoćko, the newly appointed confessor to the nuns, who was also a professor of pastoral theology at Vilnius University. Understanding the connection of this image to the Sacred Heart, which for long had been a devotion in the Catholic Church, he would be essential in advising her and helping her share the messages she believed she was receiving from Jesus. Sr Faustina, as she had become when adopting a religious name when entering the convent would die at the young age of 33 in Krakow and her body lies in a new basilica there, three Popes have visited the shrine and millions of pilgrims from around the world continue to visit it every year.
Three years after her death, Germany invaded Poland and carried out mass arrests of Poles, killing the Archbishop of Płock and his auxiliary Bishop who are now numbered among the 108 Blessed Polish Martyrs of World War II by the Catholic Church. Tens of thousands more Poles were killed or expelled and Nazi Germany also deported people as forced laborers for German factories, treating them harshly. The Germans also established and operated forced labour camps and 50 kms from Faustina’s birth place the notorious Oswiecim camp (Auschwitz in German) where over 1.1million men, women and children were murdered, mainly Jews. An Evil place which was the direct opposite of Faustina’s message of Divine Mercy.