Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 13:00 pm
Pope Francis will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 22. During his first day in the city, the pope will take a walk in the streets of the Old City, and he will head toward the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to the Lithuanian capital. There, he will pray the Rosary and deliver a speech before an icon of Mary Mother of Mercy.
The speech and the rosary were not initially part of the pope's schedule in Vilnius. They were a last minute addition to program, and a very meaningful one.
Inessa Caukaskien, a member of the Vilnius pilgrimage center, told CNA that "the Gate of Dawn is one of the most ancient and important place of pilgrimage in Lithuania."
The Icon of Mary Mother of Mercy is a significant object of devotion. One of the few icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary without the infant Jesus in her arms, it was painted between 1620 and 1630, and dressed and crowned of silver in the 18th century.
The painter is unknown, but the pilgrimage center records more than 8,000 graces obtained thanks to the prayers offered in front of the icon.
It was first known as the painting of the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn Chapel. It was Pope Pius XI who decreed that the name of the icon would become the Icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy.
St. Faustina Kowalska lived briefly in 1929 at the convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, attracted by this veneration. It was in Vilnius that St. Faustina envisioned for the first time her devotion to Divine Mercy.
Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that "Sr. Faustina and the image of Divine Mercy are tangibly put together with the Holy Mother of Mercy icon by the fact that the shrine was the first place where the original image of Divine Mercy was exposed for a public veneration."
He added that "the strong tie with the image of Divine Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Chapel continues to this day, marking Vilnius very much as a City of Mercy."
"When Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, Grusas continued, "he mentioned the cities where she has been, and among them was Vilnius. He gave a mandate of being apostles of mercy and to continue to spread that message, which is what we are continuing to try to do. This is the city where through St. Faustina, with the help of Bl. Sopocko, we spread around the world the message of mercy, we continue to proclaim that message today."
St. John Paul II was linked to the Holy Mother of Mercy, too. There is a reproduction of the Icon in the Lithuanian chapel in St. Peter's Basilica.
"That image," Grusas told CNA, "is very much beloved by St. John Paul II. As a matter of fact, when he was elected pope, he went to the Lithuanian Chapel to pray in front of the reproduction of the icon. There, he prayed for his papacy. When he came to Vilnius, he also brought his cardinal's zucchetto here, to fulfill a promise he had made to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, we have in the sacrity both Cardinal Wojtyla's zucchetto and also his papal zucchetto, which he left as well."
John Paul II kicked off his Sep. 4, 1993 visit to Lithuania with the rosary in the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn. Pope Francis, then, will do the same.
The pope is also scheduled to go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where the original image of Merciful Jesus painted under St. Faustina indications is exposed and where perpetual Eucharistic adoration take place.
In this way, Pope Francis will honor his visit to the "city of mercy."