It was in this small chapel of the Mother of Mercy, above the gate, that the image of Divine Mercy was first displayed. So Vilnius has had “mercy upon mercy,” Grusas noted.
The story of St. Faustina and Divine Mercy
St. Faustina Kowalska was a young Polish nun born at the beginning of the 20th century. Over the course of several years she had visions of Jesus, whereby she was directed to create an image and to share with the world revelations of Jesus’ love and mercy.
St. Faustina received her first revelation of the merciful Jesus in Plock, Poland in February 1931. At the time, she had made her first vows as one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
In 1933, after she made her perpetual vows, her superior directed her to move to the convent house in Vilnius. She stayed there for three years and this is where she received many more visions of Jesus. Vilnius is also where she found a priest to be her spiritual director, the now-Bl. Michael Sopocko.
With the help of Fr. Sopocko, St. Faustina found a painter to fulfill the request Jesus had made to her in one of the visions – to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You” – and in 1934 the painter Eugene Kazimierowski created the original Divine Mercy painting under St. Faustina’s direction.
In its creation, St. Faustina “was instrumental in making all the adjustments with the painter,” Archbishop Grusas said.
The image shows Christ with his right hand raised as if giving a blessing, and the left touching his chest. Two rays, one pale, one red – which Jesus said are to signify water and blood – are descending from his heart.
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.
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“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.