Hyla's image has some characters slightly different from the original one. But spread because the original image was believed lost. The story of the image of the Divine Mercy is fascinating and full of turns of events.
Archbishop Grusas of Vilnius says: “For a long time, the Lithuanian people themselves did not know much about this picture. Because of the difficult geopolitical circumstances, the world has not known for a long time either of the first picture of the Divine Mercy.”
Since 2005, the painting has been in a chapel expressly dedicated to the Divine Mercy, with perpetual Eucharistic adoration. “Since the image was transferred there,” Archbishop Grusas adds, “more and more people are discovering and deeply understanding the Mercy of God, especially in Lithuania.”
Why was the image of the Divine Mercy painted in Vilnius?
Sr. Faustina joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw in 1926. In April 1929, her superiors sent her to a convent in Vilnius, which was then part of Poland. One year after her return from Vilnius, she was transferred to the convent in Plock, where she stayed from 1930 to 1933.
In 1933, after she took perpetual vows, she was again transferred to Vilnius. There she met Fr. Michael Sopocko, her confessor. She reported to him the visions and the conversations she had with Jesus. She told him that Jesus had asked her to craft an image of His Divine Mercy.
Fr. Sopocko took her to the studio of the painter Eugeniusz Kazimierowski. Although an Atheist, Kazimierowski accepted the commission. It was 1934.
Kazimierowski's studio was not far from Sr. Faustina’s convent. She went every day to his studio; she checked and oversaw every small detail of the painting. She wanted to make sure that the picture fully matched the indications Jesus gave her.
Kazimierowski finished the painting in 1935.
The first exposition took place at the Gate of Dawn, whose chapel had been dedicated to Mary, Mother of Mercy, 400 years earlier. For three days, on Apr. 26, 27, and 28, the painting was hung on display in the chapel, and people venerated it. It was a crucial moment: the beginning of the Divine Mercy devotion as we know it today.
More importantly, it took place on the first Sunday after Easter, the very same liturgical moment of the year that St. John Paul II officially set as Divine Mercy Sunday.
In his memoirs, Fr. Sopocko shared a recollection: “During the Holy Week of 1935 Sr. Faustina said to me that the Lord Jesus demanded that I place the picture in the Gate of Dawn for three days where the triduum at the end of the jubilee of Redemption was to be held.”
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“The triduum,” Fr. Sopocko continued, “was planned on the same days as the coveted feast of Mercy. Soon I learnt that the said triduum was going to be held indeed and the parish priest of the Gate of Dawn asked me to say the sermon. I agreed, on condition that the picture would be placed as a decoration in the window of the cloister where the picture looked impressive and attracted more attention than the picture of Our Lady.”
In her Diary, Sr. Faustina wrote: “On Friday, when I was at the Gate of Dawn to attend the ceremony during which the image was displayed, I heard a sermon given by my confessor Father Sopocko. This sermon about divine Mercy was the first of the things that Jesus had asked for so very long ago. When he began to speak about the great mercy of the Lord, the image came alive, and the rays pierced the hearts of the people gathered there. Great joy filled my soul to see the grace of God.”
Things quickly became more difficult.
In 1936, Sr. Faustina had to return to Poland. At first, she went to Walendow, south-east of Warsaw. After she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, she was sent to the sanatorium in Pradnik. Krakow. She died in 1938.
The image of the Divine Mercy stayed in Lithuania, hidden in the church of St. Michael, where Fr. Sopocko was pastor.
The outbreak of the Second World War battered Lithuania. In 1939, Soviet troops invaded the Baltic state and began the process of imposing official Atheism: shutdown of seminaries, the prohibition of teaching religion, seizing of ecclesiastical goods, and the abolition of the State – Church agreement all came in fairly short order.