John Paul II – prophet of the Divine Mercy
Fr Andrzej Witko
On 30 November 1980, on the first Sunday of Advent, in the third year of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II promulgated his second encyclical on God’s mercy ‘Dives in misericordia’. On the same day, during the prayer of Angelus the Holy Father presented the main reasons for preparing this document, ‘I wanted very much to connect the promulgation of the encyclical «Dives in misericordia», its main aim being to remind people of the Father’s love revealed in the entire messianic message of Christ, from his coming to the world till the paschal mystery of his cross and resurrection, with the first Sunday of Advent… The Church and the world need mercy that means love stronger than sin and all evil that man and his earthy living are entangled in.’
Origin of ‘Dives in misericordia’
In his latest book ‘Memory and Identity’, published almost 25 years after ‘Dives in misericordia’, the Holy Father presented more details of the origin of this encyclical, showing the background that had been unknown to most believers, ‘The reflections included in «Dives in misericordia» were the fruits of my pastoral experiences acquired in Poland, and especially in Krakow. There is the grave of Sr. Faustina Kowalska who Christ let be especially inspired expression of the truth of the Divine Mercy. This truth shaped an extraordinarily rich mystical life in Faustina. She was a simple, uneducated person but those who read the diary of her revelations are astonished by the depth of the mystical experience it contains. I speak about it because the revelations of Sr. Faustina, focused on the mystery of the Divine Mercy, refer to the period before World War II. It is that time when those ideologies of evil, i.e. Nazism and communism, originated and developed. Sr. Faustina was the advocate of the message that the only truth, able to balance the evil of those ideologies, was that God is Mercy – the truth about merciful Christ. And that’s why, called to Peter’s See, I felt a special need to show my native experiences that surely belong to the treasury of the universal Church.’
Krakow encounter with Sr. Faustina
It is true that the mystery of the Divine Mercy was especially close to the Holy Father John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, from his youth. Working in the Solvay factory during World War II, as he himself spoke during his last visit to Poland in 2002, he often came by to ‘Jozefow’ in Lagiewniki, the convent of the Sisters of God’s Mother of Mercy where just several years earlier Sister Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of the Divine Mercy, had lived a holy life and where she had been buried. It was exactly on the dramatic war days that the Message of the Divine Mercy, transmitted by the simple nun from Lagiewniki, became more and more known, carrying hope to millions of believers. Young Karol Wojtyla, coming in wooden shoes to the convent, prayed before the picture of the Divine Mercy, painted by Adolf Hyla, and he must have participated in the solemn service to the Divine Mercy, celebrated on the third Sunday of the month.
The way to the altars
The rapidly developing devotion to the Divine Mercy was, however, stopped by the decree of the Holy Office issued in November 1958, which was published in March 1959 in the form of ‘Notifications’, forbidding practising the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the forms given by Sr. Faustina. That stand of the Apostolic See was first of all influenced by the translation of the ‘Diary’, which included numerous mistakes, and by the improper spread of the devotion to the Divine Mercy, without appropriate theological foundations but excessive emphasis of the figure of Sr. Faustina.
Considering the decision of the Holy See Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was afraid of initiating the informative process of the Apostle of the Divine Mercy but he wanted to continue this matter and during his visit to Rome during Vatican Council II he asked for the opinion of the Prefect of the Holy Office Cardinal Ottaviani who encouraged him to begin the process as quickly as possible because of the still living witnesses and the possibility of collecting full documentation. The informative process concerning the life and virtues of Sr. Faustina was conducted in the years 1965-67 and a few months after its completion the cause for beatification began in Rome. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla paid special attention to the analysis of the letters of Sr. Faustina and he asked the outstanding specialist of dogmatic theology Rev. Prof. Ignacy Rozycki to prepare the theological documentation. However, Rev. Rozycki kept refusing as he was not convinced about the importance of private revelations. But being constantly asked by the Metropolitan of Krakow he read Sr. Faustina’s Diary. He was fascinated by its contents and prepared over 500-page analysis of the Krakow Mystic. To avoid any interpretation and translation errors he wrote his analysis in French, which was a crucial contribution to the annulment of the decision of the Holy See concerning the devotion to the Divine Mercy. The annulment was made in April 1978 and soon his analysis was published by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as a fundamental document in the beatification process. The Holy Father John Paul II used this analysis while working on the encyclical ‘Dives in misericordia.’
Besides Sr. Faustina one should mention another figure that Karol Wojtyla was fascinated by from his youth. It was Adam Chmielowski, Brother Albert, who gave up his career as a painter and became a witness of mercy for the poorest. We are astonished to find out that young Karol Wojtyla’s meditations on the idea of God’s mercy and on human mercy, included in the play ‘Brat naszego Boga’ [Brother of our God] written just after World War II, powerfully echoed in the papal encyclical on God’s Mercy.
Dedication of the world to the Divine Mercy
Canonising Sr. Faustina on 30 April 2000 John Paul II instituted the Feast of the Divine Mercy in the whole Church, asking God through the intercession of the Saint from Krakow, ‘And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters.’
The Holy Father John Paul II completed this act by solemn dedication of the world to the Divine Mercy, made on 17 August 2002. Then he reminded the community of the Church of the universal truth about the Divine Mercy and in the newly consecrated sanctuary in Lagiewniki, which he called the ‘world centre of the devotion to Merciful Christ’, he dedicated the fate of the world and every individual to God the Merciful Father who revealed his love in the Son, Jesus Christ, and poured it upon us in the Holy Spirit the Comforter.
On 2 April 2005 at 9.37 p.m., after the Mass of the Divine Mercy, on the eve of the feast, the Holy Father John Paul II saw the face of Merciful God who he had contemplated all his life.