St. Faustina recorded all of her visions and conversations with Jesus in her diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Here she wrote the words of Jesus about the graces that would pour out on anyone who prayed before the image:
"I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend [that soul] as My own glory."
When the image was completed, it was first kept in the corridor of the convent of the Bernardine Sisters, which was beside the Church of St. Michael where Fr. Sopocko was rector.
In March 1936 St. Faustina became sick, with what is believed to have been tuberculosis, and was transferred back to Poland by her superiors. She died near Krakow in October 1938, at the age of 33.
"St. Faustina, because of her illness, was brought back to Krakow by her superiors. But she left the painting in Vilnius because it was the property of her spiritual director, who paid for the painting," Grusas explained.
Jesus, in one of St. Faustina's visions, had expressed his wish that the image be put in a place of honor, above the main altar of the church. And so, though St. Faustina had already returned to Poland, on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937, they hung the image of Merciful Jesus next to the main altar in the Church of St. Michael.
The history of the image
Archbishop Grusas explained that many people have only recently learned about the image because it was hidden for many years, and it was only rediscovered and restored within the last 15 years.
During World War II, Lithuania was under Soviet occupation and in 1948, the communist government closed the Church of St. Michael and abolished the convent. Many of the sacred objects and artworks were moved to another church to be saved from Soviet hands, but the Divine Mercy image was left undisturbed in St. Michael's for several years.
In 1951, two women were able to pay the keeper of St. Michael's church and save the image. Since it couldn't be taken across the border to Poland, they gave it to the priest in charge of the Church of the Holy Spirit for safekeeping.
Five years later it was moved to a church in Belarus, where it remained for over a decade. In 1970 this church too was shut down by the government and looted, but miraculously, again the Image of Divine Mercy was untouched.
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Eventually it was brought back to Lithuania in secret and again given to the Church of the Holy Spirit. In the early 2000s its significance was rediscovered and after a professional restoration it was rehung in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity in 2005, which is now the Shrine of Divine Mercy.
So though it is a more recent arrival on the international scene, the painting "is also probably the most profound of the Divine Mercy paintings," Grusas said. "It has a very deep theology, very closely tied with St. Faustina's diary."
The Shrine of Divine Mercy
Today in Vilnius the archdiocese has begun to set up a guide for pilgrims who come and wish to visit the holy sites, such as the place where St. Faustina lived, the room where the image was painted, and the several churches which all held the painting at different points.
The Shrine of Divine Mercy itself is not a large place, since it's only a converted parish church, but its sacramental life "is really quite something," said Justin Gough, an American seminarian studying in Rome who spent a summer working in the Archdiocese's pilgrim office in Vilnius.
He said that "between Mass, the Divine Mercy chaplet every day in Lithuanian and Polish, adoration 24/7… vespers every Sunday night led by the youth of Vilnius," the rosary and the sacrament of Confession, there is always some sort of prayer or sacrament taking place.