The Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy began to develop still during the life of St. Faustina, along with the popularisation of the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the forms passed on to us by her. In 1937 Fr. Michał Sopoćko published in Kraków images of the Merciful Jesus with the chaplet of Divine Mercy and a little booklet with prayers, entitled Chrystus, Król Miłosierdzia [Christ, King of Mercy]. The Sisters from the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy who received them, and everyone who got them and said these prayers, realised themselves the task of imploring the Divine Mercy for the world, creating in that way the first multitudes of people in the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy.
A dynamic development of the devotion to the Divine Mercy as well as of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy occurred during the years of World War II and the post-war years. In these difficult times people were looking for hope, light and power in the Divine Mercy, thus images of the Merciful Jesus, the Chaplet and novena dictated to Sister Faustina were very popular. The multitudes of worshippers of the Divine Mercy grew, new communities, apostolates and centres undertaking the task of propagating of the worship of the Divine Mercy came into being.
The spontaneously developing Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy was slowed down by the Holy See’s Notification of 1959 which placed a ban on propagating the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms handed down by Sister Faustina. Then the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, and also the Marian Fathers in the USA and other centres, adapting the directives of the Notification, stopped to spread the life and Sr. Faustina’s mission, and among them the forms passed on by her. The 19-year long period of Notification – which Sister Faustina herself had predicted – turned out to be a blessed time during which the diocesan process about the life and virtues of Sr. Faustina was carried out, and Rev. Prof. Ignacy Różycki, performed an in-depth theological analysis of Sister Faustina’s writings and thereby laid solid foundations for the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms passed on by her. The Congregation of Pallotine Fathers organised theological symposia devoted to the mystery of the Divine Mercy and the mission of Sr. Faustina, which resulted in the publications of books.
The next stage in the development of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy started with the withdrawal of the Notification of the Holy See in April 1978 and has lasted until today, involving old and new religious congregations, different brotherhoods, apostolates, communities, and individual people who undertake the task of proclaiming the mercy of God through the acts of mercy, words and prayer. A great influence for the development of this movement turned out to be the beatification and canonisation of Sister Faustina and also the teaching of the Holy Father John Paul II (e.g. the encyclical “Dives in Misericordia”) and his visits at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki. Today the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy embraces millions of people around the world, who in different ways continue the mission of Sister Faustina.
“The New Congregation” so the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy began to develop already during Sister Faustina’s lifetime, although she herself was not aware of the fact that the work, which the Lord Jesus had asked her to initiate, was already coming about. The gradual development of this Movement started at the moment when the devotion to Divine Mercy, in the forms handed down by Sister Faustina, began to be practiced. For Father Michał Sopoćko published images of the Merciful Jesus with the chaplet of Divine Mercy as well as a little booklet with prayers, entitled Chrystus, Król Miłosierdzia [Christ, King of Mercy]. Those persons who recited with trust the chaplet of Divine Mercy, the novena, or the litany composed by Father Sopoćko, on the base the exclamations written in the Diary, were already realising at least one task of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy, which is to implore God’s mercy for the world. Our Congregation has already purchased a number of them [booklets], wrote Sister Faustina in a letter to Father Michał Sopoćko, Mother Irena distributes these images and booklets. We promised that we would hand them out even at the gate. To one of the Jesuit priests, who gave missions all over Poland, she gave as many as 50 booklets. Further on, Sister Faustina informed her confessor that the sisters from her own Congregation had also received these booklets, with the exception of the Kraków house in which she herself resided so that the confidentiality associated with her revelations would be better protected. At the explicit wish of the Lord Jesus (Diary 1070), adoration for the intention of imploring God’s mercy for the world took place in the Kraków convent on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937; after the adoration Sister Faustina heard the following words, Today My Heart has rested in this convent (Diary 1074). That is how Sister Faustina, at first with her co-sisters and then with lay people practising the devotion to Divine Mercy, began to fulfill the task of proclaiming and imploring God’s mercy for the world.
In Vilnius, on the other hand, inspired by the revelations of his penitent, Father Sopoćko began to fathom the mystery of God’s mercy; the fruit of his contemplation were numerous articles and books in which he tried to present the cult of Divine Mercy in the liturgy of the Church from the theological point of view and the need of introducing a separate feast of Mercy in order to draw the attention of the faithful to this „greatest of God’s attributes”.Thus, thanks to the efforts of Father M. Sopoćko and the superior of the Kraków convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy – Sr. Irena Krzyżanowska – the idea of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy began to develop slowly in her own Congregation and beyond it already during Sister Faustina’s life.
A dynamic development of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy occurred during the years of World War II when refugees and soldiers spread throughout the world the hope-inspiring message of Divine Mercy passed on by Sister Faustina and having the image of the Merciful Jesus as a visual sign. Vilnius, where the faithful had ardently worshipped the first image of Merciful Jesus in the church of St. Michael, continued to be a dynamic centre of the devotion. Father Sopoćko made known the initiator of the devotion to Divine Mercy – Sister Faustina – and he himself did everything in his power to spread the devotion.
In the communities of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the sisters recited the chaplet to Divine Mercy, they celebrated the novena before the Feast of Mercy, and they hung images of the Merciful Jesus in their chapels. The superior general, Mother Michaela Moraczewska, had revealed Sister Faustina’s mission. In 1943, the artist Adolf Hyła presented the painting of the Merciful Jesus to the Kraków chapel of the Congregation as a votive offering, in gratitude that his family had survived the war. Sister Faustina’s confessor in Kraków, Father Józef Andrasz, S.J., initiated solemn devotions in honor of Divine Mercy on the third Sunday of the month which numerous inhabitants of Kraków and its vicinity attended. The houses of the Congregation became centres of prayer for God’s mercy and of proclamation of the message of Mercy handed down by Sister Faustina. The sisters distributed images with the chaplet as well as medals; they also sent them in parcels to concentration camps and prisons.
Those who contributed to the spread of the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms passed on by Sister Faustina were refugees and soldiers from the Polish Army which was created in Russia in 1941; this Army marched through many countries, reaching Iran, Palestine, Egypt, and from there also to the front in Africa and Italy. The army chaplains and soldiers themselves practised the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms passed on by Sister Faustina and also popularised it by distributing images of the Merciful Jesus as well as specially published booklets in the field printing house in Jerusalem with prayers to Divine Mercy.
Already during World War II a centre for the spread of the cult to Divine Mercy was created in the USA. Father Józef Jarzębowski, a Marian, had almost miraculously made his way there from Vilnius, bringing with him a copy of Father M. Sopoćko’s memorial on the devotion to Divine Mercy. Shortly afterwards, the Felician Sisters published the novena, litany, and the chaplet to Divine Mercy which included the image of the Merciful Jesus and an introduction by Rev. J. Jarzębowski entitled The Father of Mercy. The publication was soon exhausted; due to the sheer number of expressions of gratitude for the received graces and to the need for a new edition of the book, the American province of the Marians decided to create the Apostolate of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge which, from then on, undertook the propagation of Sister Faustina’s mission by publishing images, articles, books, and brochures in Polish and English, as well as by supporting these type of initiatives in other countries. Also the rectors of the Polish Catholic Mission in Belgium (Rev. Jacek Przygoda) and in France (Rev. Franciszek Cegiełka) and Rev. Skudrzyk S.J. (in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Australia) popula- rise the devotion to Divine Mercy through different publications.
Already during the war, images of the Merciful Jesus appeared in many chapels and churches, both in Poland and abroad people prayed before these images, asking God for graces for themselves and for the world, in most cases by saying the chaplet to Divine Mercy, the novena, or the litany of Divine Mercy. In those places where the cult of Divine Mercy was already widespread, the faithful also worshipped Divine Mercy in a special way on the first Sunday after Easter: great numbers received the sacraments. Paradoxically, due to the difficult conditions of life and great migration of the population, the difficult years of World War II were particularly propitious to the proclamation and the entreating of God’s mercy for the world, namely, for undertaking the tasks of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy. The number of the faithful involved in this work grew very fast during those years.
The post-war years, too, until 1959 were a time of dynamic development for this Movement. Successive centres which popularised the mission of Sister Faustina were created, among others, in England, France and Italy and thanks to the activity of the centre of the Marians in Stockbridge, English language materials on Divine Mercy reached many countries, among others, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, some countries in Asia and Africa. The published prayers, images, and Rev. J. Andrasz’s booklet Divine Mercy, We Trust in You were subsequently also translated into Spanish, French, Portuguese and other languages. The devotion to Divine Mercy was popularised in many countries: in Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Spain, Portugal, and other countries where Rev. J. Andrasz’s booklet Divine Mercy, We Trust in You was published.
Already then images of the Merciful Jesus were published not only in Polish, English, French, Spanish, Italian, but also in other European languages, such as Portuguese, Slovak, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Latvian and in a few languages spoken in India and the Philippines, as well as in Africa. In many countries, the devotion to Divine Mercy was spread not only by priests, but also by lay people, mainly by undertaking editorial initiatives, popularising the message and materials about the devotion to Divine Mercy and creating the groups of the apostles of Divine Mercy at the churches.
Apart from popular prayer books, brochures, and books, which discus- sed the life and mission of Sister Faustina, there also appeared publications deepening the cult of Divine Mercy from the theological point of view. Shortly after the war, there appeared a book by Rev. Jacek Woroniecki, O.P., entitled The Mystery of Divine Mercy, as well as numerous publications by Rev. M. Sopoćko, among others, De misericordia Dei deque eiusdem festo instituendo (On Divine Mercy and the Institution of Its Feast), O święto Najmiłosierniejszego Zbawiciela (About the Feast of the Most Merciful Saviour), Poznajmy Boga w Jego miłosierdziu (Let us Come to Know God in His Mer- cy). English translations of Rev. Sopoćko’s books came out as well as other theological papers in English, French, and Italian.
The spontaneously developing Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy was slowed down by the Holy See’s Notification of 1959 which placed a ban on propagating the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms handed down by Sister Faustina. The same notification ruled that the removal of images of the Merciful Jesus from churches was to be left to the discretion of local pastors. The reason why the Holy See issued the Notification was, among others, that certain fragments of Sister Faustina’s Diary were erroneously translated and that the popularisation and practise of the devotion to Divine Mercy was in many instances improper (e.g., interpreting the rays on the Divine Mercy image as the Polish national colors).
The Notification of the Holy See was faithfully observed by the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy as well as by the various centers of the cult of Divine Mercy, including the one in Stockbridge. The distribution of all materials associated with Sister Faustina’s life and mission, such as: books, images, prayer books, brochures, leaflets, medals, etc., ceased. Yet, the cult of Divine Mercy was being sustained by lay people who did all that was in their power to prevent the images of the Merciful Jesus from being removed from churches; they continued to say the chaplet as well as other prayers to Divine Mercy, not only in private, but also in churches. They tried to honour God’s Mercy through prayer and through deeds of mercy, as reports written by parish groups of Divine Mercy devotees indicate.
The 19-year long period of Notification – which Sister Faustina herself had predicted – turned out to be a blessed time during which Rev. Prof. I. Różycki, at the explicit order of the then Metropolitan of Cracow, Cardinal K. Wojtyła, carried out an in-depth theological analysis of Sister Faustina’s writings and thereby laid solid foundations for the devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms passed on by her. He revealed the essence and forms of this devotion, which he distinguished from among other prayers recorded in the Diary by means of the criterion of the promises which Jesus connected to their practice.
In the light of this criterion, the new forms of the devotion are: the image of Christ with the signature: Jesus, I Trust in You, the Feast of Mercy celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter, the chaplet of Divine Mercy, and prayer at the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross, referred to as the Hour of Mercy. To each of the above forms of the devotion, as well as to the propagation of the worship of Mercy, the Lord Jesus attached great promises, on condition that they be practised in an authentic way, that is to say, in the spirit of trust in the Lord God and mercy toward neighbours. For the essence of the devotion to Divine Mercy consists in the attitude of trust in God, which is expressed in fulfilling His will, and in the attitude of mercy toward neighbours, shown by deed, word, or prayer, out of love for Jesus.
The period of the Notification furthermore brought successive research of Polish theologians: studies devoted to the mystery of God’s mercy as well as the mission of Sister Faustina which were presented at academic congresses organised by the Pallotines in Ołtarzew and Częstochowa. The research findings were published in two volumes entitled: Ewangelia miłosierdzia [The Gospel of Mercy] and Bo Jego miłosierdzie na wieki [For His Mercy Endures Forever]. During this time too, Rev. Michał Sopoćko completed his greatest, 3-volume work entitled: Miłosierdzie Boga w dziełach Jego [The Mercy of God in His Works], in which the author unveils the mystery of God’s mercy in the work of creation, in the life, passion and resurrection of Christ, as well as in the holy Church.
After the withdrawal of the Notification in 1978, the next phase in the development of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy began; it was facilitated by the publication of John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia, by the beatification and the canonisation of Sister Faustina, by the visit of the Holy Father to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki, and by his numerous addresses testifying to his lively interest in the message of Mercy.
The Shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki, with the grace-abounding image of the Merciful Jesus and the relics of Saint Faustina resting beneath it on the altar, has become the main center of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy. The Holy Father called this place the capital of the cult of Divine Mercy (1985). From here, in fact, went out the Message of Divine Mercy that Christ himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina, he said during his visit to the Łagiewniki Shrine on June 7, 1997.
After the Notification was withdrawn, those centers of the cult of Divine Mercy that had previously been created in different countries resumed their activity, e.g., that of the convents of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Marians in USA, the Pallotines, the Sisters of Merciful Jesus. There have also emerged a lot of new congregations (among others The Hermits of Mercy in Slovakia, The Servants of Divine Mercy, The Community of Brothers of Merciful Jesus), confraternities, associations, apostolates and parish communities. A special role in this Movement, according to the range of influence and formation, has the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki, established by the Metropolitan of Kraków, Franciszek Cardinal Macharski in 1996, and the Faustinum Association of Apostles of the Divine Mercy which comprises priests, consecrated and lay persons from the whole world.
Theological symposia and the Congresses in Kraków, Łagiewniki, Rome and on all continents and also emerging parishes and sanctuaries of Divine Mercy testify about the dynamic of development of the Apostolic Movement of Divine Mercy. Suffice it to say that there were no Divine Mercy parish churches in Poland during Sister Faustina’s life, and nowadays only in Poland there are over 200 churches in honour of Divine Mercy, Merciful Jesus or St. Faustina, and among them – 20 dioceseal sanctuaries. A similar process, although not so dynamic, takes place also in other countries. Many numerous publications about St. Faustina and the message of Mercy, still new translations and large numbers of editions of the Diary in many languages, news in the media, the Internet… , and also, but perhaps most importantly a personal experience of merciful love of God all effect in an increasing number of people fascinated by the mystery of Divine Mercy, who in this spirit want to form their own lives and to share a gift of message of Mercy with others. The Holy Father John Paul II encouraged to do it many times. Before the entrustment of the world to Divine Mercy in the shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków, Łagiewniki, he said that he desired that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope. May this message radiate from this place tour beloved homeland and throughout the world. May the binding promise of the Lord Jesus be fulfilled: from here there must go forth «the spark which will prepare the world for his final coming (C.f. Diary, 1732). This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Kraków, and to all the votaries of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy!».
While the first phase of the development of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy (since 1959) was characterised by a certain spontaneity and a lack of formal structures uniting Divine Mercy devotees, in the second phase – after the lifting of the Notification of the Holy See in 1978 – we can observe a clear tendency to create definite structures; this is evident by the newly created associations, confraternities, various apostolates, or parish groups of Divine Mercy devotees having the approval of church authorities. This phase in the development of the Movement is also characterised by more profound theological reflection concerning the cult of Divine Mercy, Sister Faustina’s mission, and the very identity of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy which sprung from her charism and mystical experience. At this stage of development of the Movement, we also notice an ardent desire for formation in the spirit of mercy. Today, many apostles of Divine Mercy are not satisfied with saying the chaplet and practising even all of the forms of the devotion as passed on by Sister Faustina, nor are they satisfied with apostolic activity realised through works of mercy and the proclamation of the message of Mercy; they are interested in a systematic, profound formation so as to be able to perfect their spiritual life and fruitfully fulfill the apostolic tasks flowing from Sister Faustina’s mission.
In all those places where the devotion to Divine Mercy is being practised, the tasks of the Apostolic Movement of the Divine Mercy are being undertaken to a various degree. Today this Movement is made up of millions of people with different vocations. It includes people living behind papal enclosures, in active male and female congregations, or in secular institutes, and it involves diocesan priests, hermits and lay persons as well.
Parts of the following paper by sr. M. Elisabeth Siepak C.O.L.M. have been used in the present text: Apostolski Ruch Bożego Miłosierdzia: Stan aktualny, perspektywy, w: Być apostołem Bożego Miłosierdzia. Materiały z sympozjum, Kraków 2001. [The Apostolic Movement of Divine Mercy: Current state, perspectives; in: To be an apostle of Divine Mercy. Materials from symposia, Kraków 2001.]
Translated by sr. M. Diana Kuczek, C.O.L.M.