A different air is breathed at Lagiewniki, the hill where the Shrine of Divine Mercy stands, though it is within the city of Krakow, a few kilometers to the south of the evocative historic center. An air of dense spirituality, strong memories and incessant prayer is that of the Sisters, which reverberates the charism of the Founder and of the pilgrims who, by hundreds of thousands, go daily to this place recognized unanimously as the “world capital of Mercy.”
It is here that Christ appeared to the simple Polish Sister Faustina in the spoliation of a beggar, ringing a bell in search of food while she was carrying out her duties as porter, to entrust to her a message to be spread to humanity. It is here that devotion to Divine Mercy was born, so dear to John Paul II to the point of dedicating an encyclical to it, Dives in Misericordia, the second of his pontificate, and to establish that every year on the first Sunday after Easter, its Feast be celebrated.
It is here that now Pope Francis, the Pontiff who wished to give the Church a Holy Year dedicated precisely to Mercy, will come to pray this coming Saturday, on the penultimate day of his visit to Poland – a visit that “emphasizes the message contained in these places, putting it at the center of the attention of the universal Church and of the world,” as Sister Miviana Krzak explained to ZENIT. The 32-year-old native of Warsaw is among the youngest nuns of the Convent.
With her blue eyes crowned by the characteristic square white and black veil, “that ‘look’ of Saint Faustina was the first thing that attracted me,” the Sister tells us. She spoke with great seriousness of the “spiritual and material” preparation that preceded in these months the arrival of the Bishop of Rome, but smiled timidly when asked about the story of her vocation — a story of “love,” the infinite love of God, which the girl discerned at 14, while she was preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and was given Saint Faustina’s Diary.
“From that moment I began to pray to God every day,” she recalled. “Then, at 18, during a General Confession, I felt the desire to entrust my life to God, but I did not yet think I would ever become a Sister. It seemed to me something too lofty, a privilege I didn’t deserve.”
“Yet I felt attracted by God. I wanted to be a missionary, but I met with obstacles, so I approached the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy, through retreats that the Sisters organize for young people who wish to discern their vocation. The cloister is the cloister but in the end I felt such great love that I decided to give myself totally to Him.”
Sister Miviana said she had not yet read the Pope’s new Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere, dedicated in fact to contemplatives. “I was too taken up by the organization of the event.” However, with her fellow Sisters she already embodies the main guidelines, or the invitation to prayerful silence, to prayer and to work in favor of the poor and the weak.
A work that Saint Faustina’s Sisters have carried out for centuries and which is summarized in “showing Mercy with actions, words and prayers.”
“This is our charism!” stressed the Religious. In particular, the nuns’ activity is addressed to women with problems ranging from family conflict to drug and alcohol addiction to prostitution. At present, the convent houses 18 disadvantaged girls, who attend a neighboring College where the Sisters collaborate with lay individuals to rehabilitate them and introduce them into society.
“Our Congregation began with this work already in 1862,” explained Sister Miviana. “Mother Teresa Potozska founded the first House of Mercy for young prostitutes. Then, during World War II and in the dark years of Communism, the service was extended also to War refugees, especially women who were widowed, mothers with children and adolescent girls.”
“There were conversions, but no vocations,” said the Sister.
She explained that a group of these young people will be present in the Convent’s Chapel to greet the Pope. Two hundred nuns of the 400 scattered around the world will also be with them: the majority Polish and others from Brazil, the Philippines, Slovakia and Ukraine. They will all be in the Chapel, “heart of the whole Shrine” — re-painted and re-decorated for the event — already at seven o’clock in the morning, an hour and a half before the Pontiff’s arrival, “to sing and pray.”
They will remain in silence while Francis, kneeling, will pray for a few minutes before the white marble urn that keeps St. Kowalska’s relics, under the painting of the Merciful Jesus — which the Sister had painted in keeping with the indications of Christ Himself — surrounded by votive offerings of the faithful of all countries.
The Holy Father will then go to Faustina’s room, whose window is adorned with white roses, where – explained the Sister – the remains of the Saint’s body are kept at present, gathered during the exhumation desired by John Paul II for the beatification in 1992. Before the remains were kept in a cemetery at the foot of the Basilica, which Faustina herself had built for deceased fellow Sisters. Behind it, on the green lawn splendidly looked after, is now the area with 50 wooden confessionals, where the Pope will hear the confessions of five young people in three languages: Spanish, Italian and French.
Francis, said Sister Miviana, will arrive there in the popemobile, greeting 850 pilgrims up to the Basilica, where the enormous bell tower rises with the statue of John Paul II in bronze, blessing Krakow. The Pope will cross the Holy Door here, built for the occasion, on whose columns are depicted the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy, to then begin the penitential ceremony.
Before the Pope goes to the adjacent Shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II for the Mass, which was built some years ago by his former private secretary, now the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Dziwisz, a pause is planned in the small chapel where every day and night – “except for the two hours necessary for the cleaning “ Eucharistic Adoration takes place. It was opened after the Polish Pope’s death and every day and every night gathers groups of faithful from different parishes of the Archdiocese that pray before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
These, now, will take turns with the numerous young people that are crowding Krakow for the WYD and who will pause in prayer in these places permeated by mercy. Some of them will go to confession with the available priests, or will have photos taken in front of the giant photograph of Saint Faustina or images of John Paul II’s visits. Many girls turn to Sister Miviana and to other nuns who, kindly, accompany them on a visit or give them pointers.
“This is also to carry out a work of mercy: to give one’s time to others,” explained the Religious. And it is a way “to make young people feel welcome and loved, so that they return home full of charity and mercy,” exactly as Saint Faustina desired, she concluded.