God’s gift to our time
Msgr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Sr. M. Elzbieta Siepak from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: – Who is St Faustina for you?
Sr. Elzbieta Siepak, ZMBM: – Speaking briefly, God’s gift for our times, God’s gift for me personally. It is an extremely rich gift since it does not only contain an example of sanctity of life, way to unity with God, but also the prophetic message about merciful love of God for man. Sr. Faustina discovered before me the biblical truth about the Divine Mercy in a new light. Since her ‘Diary’ is a perfect commentary to the Holy Scriptures showing this truth of faith through the prism of mystical experience. Therefore, she does it with such power and in an extremely convincing way. This is the truth about living God present in man’s life, being closer to him than another person is since he lives in his heart. Sr. Faustina teaches, not only me, the contemplation of God in everyday life, living dialogue with Heavenly Father, which is realised in our lives; she teaches the attitude of trust towards him as well as the beauty and richness of Christian mercy. The Holy Father Benedict XVI said about her that thanks to her spiritual life she showed in full light – and it happened in our times that experienced the cruelty of the official ideologies – the novelty of Christian message. This novelty of the message, i.e. Sr. Faustina placed the mystery of God’s mercy in the centre of her life, is fascinating. She enchants me since she let me look in the light of God’s merciful love at my life and notice its expressions in the history of the world as well as to show the perspectives of hope in every situation.
– Are there any special bonds between you and this extraordinary saint – the Secretary of Merciful Jesus?
– I feel that I am connected to St Faustina very strongly and in many ways. Lord God sent me to the same Congregation the Secretary and Apostle of Merciful Jesus belonged, lived and died in. This is not accidental. Because of that I feel called to her school of spirituality and participation in her mission of proclaiming the message of mercy to the world not only through the media but also in daily contacts with people. Every day I pray to her, ask her to intercede with God so that I can fulfil my tasks well. I can say that I feel her discrete presence, tangible help in spiritual matters and jobs I am to do. I think that I owe to her intercession such spectacular miracles like curing from cancer and first of all, help and leading in my life. She promised that after her death she would be able to ‘settle’ more things with God and she keeps her word.
– Does this translate into the Congregation and particular sisters?
– Sr. Faustina did not only exert influence on particular sisters during her lifetime, which was testified by the memoirs found in our archives, but also on the whole Congregation, which after the World War II began fulfilling gradually the tasks resulting from her mission to proclaim merciful love of God to the world. The mission of St Faustina, building on what was from the beginning of the Congregation, changed her life and service. Appreciating her role in the spiritual life and mission of the whole religious community, the charism God gave our Congregation and the Church through her, her own congregation, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, acknowledged her as its own spiritual co-foundress on 25 August 1995. Today the sisters carry the gift of the message of the Divine Mercy to the word in various ways: through testimony of life, works of mercy, words and prayers. They are supported by the Association of the Apostles of the Divine Mercy ‘Faustinum’.
– You can observe pilgrims coming to the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki. What are their characteristic ways of piety?
– Those who visit the sanctuary have various motifs and the way of their spending time in this holy site depends on them to a considerable extent. Some want to pray before the miraculous picture of Merciful Jesus and at the grave of the Apostle of the Divine Mercy; they come with concrete aims and concrete prayer requests and thanksgivings. They often write them on pieces of paper or in the book placed in the vestibule of the chapel. There are numerous prayer requests, thanksgivings and testimonies (annually over 120,000 requests and ca. 7,000 thanksgivings). Other people want to strengthen their relationships with God or order their lives, return to Lord God often after many years they want to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, receive spiritual help or advice in the counselling centre. Others come to meet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Many a time they spend whole nights praying, asking for graces for themselves, their closest ones and mercy for the world. Of course, there are some who come to Lagiewniki out of curiosity to see the place where the Holy Fathers John Paul II and Benedict XVI made pilgrimages to and from where Mass and prayers at the Hour of Mercy, the chaplet of the Divine Mercy as well as talks about God’s mercy and human mercy are broadcast every week. Pilgrims associate this place with the forms of cult that Jesus gave us through Sr. Faustina. That’s why there are many of them coming to pray at the hour of Jesus’ dying (3 p.m.), i.e. the Hour of Mercy. They eagerly pray the chaplet of the Divine Mercy; they pray before the picture of Merciful Jesus and there are crowds for the Feast of the Divine Mercy although you can receive graces connected with this day in your parish as well. They experience the Divine Mercy in the holy sacraments ministered in this place and during their personal meetings with the Father who is rich in mercy.
– Can we say that the sanctuary of the Divine Mercy teach deepened piety and introduce us into theological reflection?
– Yes, absolutely. The very message of the Divine Mercy, which sisters proclaim to pilgrims in many languages, calls to deepen the evangelical attitude of trusting God (fulfilling his will) and active love of your neighbour. And this leads to reflecting on your own life and to conversion. The sisters who serve pilgrims in this way are witnesses and many a time they hear people’s testimonies; those who have changed their lives here since they have been touched by Jesus’ words passed through Sr. Faustina. There are days of reflection, retreats, theological symposia and international congresses of the Association of the Apostles of the Dive Mercy organised here. All of this serves to deepen theological knowledge, better understanding of the truth about the Divine Mercy and proper practice of Christian life in the spirit of mercy. The headquarters of the Association of the Apostles of the Divine Mercy ‘Faustinum’ is here. The quarterly ‘Message of the Divine Mercy’, published here, serves this matter. It is dedicated to the issue of mercy and Sr. Faustina. There are also publications of the Publishing House ‘Misericordia.’
– Have you met the pilgrims from Jasna Gora in Lagiewniki? Are there any differences between pilgrimages to Lagiewniki and pilgrimages to Jasna Gora?
– It often happens that the pilgrims from Jasna Gora come to Lagiewniki and the other way round. It also happens that pilgrims, especially from abroad, arrive in Poland because they want to visit Lagiewniki, and they go to Czestochowa, too. So the saying that Mary always leads to Jesus comes true, but Jesus also points to his Mother who knows best the mystery of the Divine Mercy and successfully leads people on these ways.
– Can we say that every pilgrimage is pursuing and seeking God? Can we notice any differences in this pilgriming?
– I think we can although pilgrims coming to Lagiewniki have not always got this aim in mind. It happens that people arrive at this holy place from completely other motives but they experience God’s presence and love. I remember very well some French reporter, accredited to be in the pilgrimage of John Paul II. He told his colleague that he could take him to only one church in Krakow since he was an atheist. Both went to the sanctuary in Lagiewniki, to the chapel with the miraculous picture of Merciful Jesus and the relics of St Faustina. That Frenchman entered the chapel as an atheist, without thinking of meeting God, and he came out transformed; his face was radiant with happiness and he asked in the parlour, ‘Can I get baptised here?’ After a few years he came here with a French TV team to speak about his meeting with God. I also remember a former student of the Academy of Physical Education in Krakow who, in search of happiness, accompanied Captain Baranowski in his travel around the world. The young crew saw many things and experienced even more but that student did not find the happiness he was looking for. When he accidentally arrived at Lagiewniki, he went into the chapel and participated in the prayer at the Hour of Mercy. Then he was touched by God’s grace thanks to which he realised that Jesus died for him and remained in the tabernacle for him… This experience of love changed his life. Lagiewniki turned out to be ‘a harbour’ where he found happiness – God rich in mercy.
– Was the Holy Father John Paul II such a pilgrim of God?
– He looked for God everywhere and he perfectly read his plans. As he said he used to come to our chapel wearing clogs as a worker in the adjacent Solvay factory during World War II. Then he came here as a priest, bishop and twice as pope. Thus he knew very well this place and the message of the Divine Mercy, deposited in this cloister with the death of Sr. Faustina. He said that from here he took it to Peter’s See and it shaped the image of his pontificate. He gave it to the whole Church for the third millennium of faith and called us to kindle this sparkle of God’s grace and carry the fire of Mercy to the world since ‘the world finds peace and man finds happiness in God’s mercy.’ Therefore, he used his pilgrimages to Lagiewniki, the beatification or canonisation of Sr. Faustina as well as other circumstances to show the world ‘this gift of God to our time’. During his last pilgrimage to this sanctuary he admitted that although the whole world and every period of time belonged to God there were places and times that he chose himself so that people could experience his presence and grace. As he said the sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki is such a place, a holy place to which we could refer the words directed to Moses at the burning bush, ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground’ (Exodus 3:5).