Divine Mercy: From Lithuania to Idaho

Updated: Apr 6

The following story appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register

The original Divine Mercy image is shown in the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, or Holy Trinity Church, in Vilnius, Lithuania.


Producer of Divine Mercy documentary to be in Twin Falls, Jerome, Nampa and Boise


By Gene Fadness

Editor


Every year on Divine Mercy Sunday for going on 15 years now, Daniel diSilva, producer of the documentary, “The Original Image of Divine Mercy,” is in Vilnius, Lithuania, leading pilgrimages at the shrine that houses the original image as revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska.


But, the coronavirus pandemic renders pilgrimages to the former Soviet republic impossible, keeping diSilva stateside. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, he did not travel. This year he will travel, but not overseas. This Divine Mercy Sunday, which, this year falls on April 11, he will be in Boise. Here, he will join Bishop Peter Christensen, Father John Worster and others at St. Mary’s Parish as the Bishop dedicates and blesses an exact replica, even down to the size, of the image of the original that appears in Lithuania, an image that differs slightly from the traditional one on display in most Western churches. Before it is permanently installed on the back wall facing the altar at St. Mary’s, the approximate 4-by-7.5 -foot image will be shown on April 9 and 10 at Jerome, Twin Falls, Nampa and St. John’s Cathedral, where diSilva will also give a presentation about the image and his documentary.


Don’t be surprised, diSilva told Keith Pettyjohn, a St. Mary’s parishioner, if St. Mary’s becomes a pilgrimage site for those wanting to venerate the image, as has happened at other places where replicas of the original image are housed.


How diSilva will spend only his second Divine Mercy Sunday in nearly the last two decades in the United States and in Boise, can be attributed to both providence and happenstance. Pettyjohn is believing in the former. “St. Faustina must really want this thing to happen,” he said.


Pettyjohn and other parishioners at St. Mary’s have been considering a Divine Mercy image for the west wall at the back of the church to replace a large painting that the parish’s former pastor had removed. The space already includes track lighting to illuminate any artwork that hangs there.


Pettyjohn researched places online from which the parish could buy a Divine Mercy image. He found diSilva’s website and left a message. He also found a website operated by the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. The latter website was easier to navigate, so, having determined to purchase an image from there, he did not return calls from diSilva. However, but diSilva kept trying, finally reaching Pettyjohn’s wife, Michelle, on New Year’s Eve day.


Pettyjohn told diSilva that he had decided on the image offered by the Stockbridge shrine operated by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. DiSilva responded that the the Marian Fathers “do very fine work,” but, “they don’t have the original image,” he said, words that piqued Pettyjohn’s curiosity. DiSilva explained the background of the Vilnius image and his documentary, “The Original Image of Divine Mercy.” It was then that Pettyjohn recalled that Salt & Light Radio, of which Pettyjohn is executive director, has sponsored two showings of the documentary in theaters in the Treasure Valley a couple of years ago.


After Pettyjohn decided on the Vilnius image, diSilva explained that, as an employee of the Diocese of Vilmius, he usually gives presentations about the image to those parishes that order them. And, this year, because of COVID, which precludes diSilva’s annual pilgrimages to Vilnius, the installation can happen on Divine Mercy Sunday in Idaho. DiSilva, who is bilingual, will personally drive the image here from his Fort Worth, Texas, office and make presentations to both Spanish and English communities.

Daniel diSilva


The weekend’s events are as follows:

Friday, April 9 – English presentation at St Edward’s Parish, Twin Falls, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Spanish presentation at St. Jerome’s in Jerome from 7 to 8:30 p.m.


Saturday, April 10 – Spanish presentation at St. Paul’s in Nampa from 3 to 4:30 p.m. English presentation at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Boise from 7 to 8:30 p.m.


Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11 – English presentation at St. Mary’s Boise at 9:30 a.m. Dedication Mass by Bishop Peter Christensen at 10:45 a.m. Spanish presentation at St. Mary’s at 1:45 p.m, followed by a bilingual Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m.


Father John Worster, pastor at St. Mary’s, is dedicating this Lent as a time of preparation for his parishioners to receive the image. Special booklets in both English and Spanish produced by diSilva’s organization will be made available to parishioners and guests.


Up until 2015, diSilva worked for a Hollywood-based company making movie trailers. He would of-ten travel during the off-season and, in 2007, was in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. On his last night in town, diSilva was approached by an elderly Russian priest at an outdoor concert. The priest asked diSilva if he wanted to “spend the night with Jesus.” The priest took him to a small church and shrine that the priest claimed had the original image of the Divine Mercy, painted in 1934 by Eugeniusz Kazimierowski under the supervision of St. Faustina. Initially, diS-ilva did not believe the old priest. “Everyone knows the original is in Poland, why Russia? I didn’t call him a liar, but I knew the story wasn’t true.”


However, upon further research, he confirmed that the Vilnius painting is indeed the original. “I knew little about Divine Mercy, but I knew that few people realize this is the original.” So, in 2015, during the “slow season” in Hollywood, he returned to Vilnius and asked the faithful there if they would help him with funding for a documentary. “We started filming on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and just as we started, Pope Francis declared the ‘Year of Mercy’ that was to begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception later that same year, diSilva said.


Filming took about six months. After receiving a license from the Diocese of Vilnius, diSilva began making high-resolution copies of the original image. He now sells the images, with all proceeds going back to the pilgrimage center in Vilnius. DiSilva was soon receiving requests from churches and cathedrals for his presentations and orders of the image. “I left the movie trailer gig” and now he does the work for the Divine Mercy Center full-time as an employee of the Diocese of Vilnius.


To diSilva, promoting the image and its message is a mission. When thinking about St. Faustina, many may think of her diary, he said. “But Jesus never asked her to write a diary. He asked her to paint a painting. He said, ‘Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world.’ ”


On Feb. 22, Pope Francis observed the 90th anniversary of the first appearance of Jesus to St. Faustina by urging Catholics to ask Christ for the gift of mercy.


The full-time ministry has become far more than di Silva, educated in a Catholic school in Chicago, would ever have envisioned for his life. Only later did he learn that the Catholic school he attended was built by Lithuanians.


To learn more or to purchase copies of the documentary “The Original Image of Divine Mercy,” go to originaldivinemercy.com. It can also be viewed on the streaming service, Vimeo.


Image miraculously survives war, Communist oppression


Catholic News Agency


Vilnius, Lithuania – Among Catholic devo-tions, the Divine Mercy message is well-known: the iconic image of Christ, with rays of red and white pouring from his heart; St. Faustina, called the “Apostle of Divine Mercy;” and the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland.


But, what you might not know is that more than 450 miles north of Krakow, in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, there is another Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, one which houses the first image of the merciful Jesus created, and the only Image of Divine Mercy St. Faustina herself ever saw.


Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that the city, often called the “City of Mercy,” is not only “a place of the Divine Mercy revelations, but also a place that is in need of mercy, throughout history, and a place that in the last couple decades has been a place where we need to show mercy.”


Since long before St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy revelations, the Mother of Mercy has been the patroness of Vilnius, Grusas said.


In fact, in the 1600s, a painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn was created and placed in a niche above one of the prominent city gates. Many miracles are attributed to the image, which was canonically crowned Mother of Mercy by Pope Pius XI in 1927.


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.


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-Blessed Michael Sopocko.


With the help of Father 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,” Arch-bishop 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, “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 Father 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.


History of image


Many people have only recently learned about the image because it was hidden for many years; rediscovered and restored within the last 20 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 also was shut down by the government and looted, but, miraculously again, the Image of Divine Mercy was untouched.


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.”


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 Arch-diocese’s pilgrim office in Vilnius.


He said that “between Mass, the Divine Mercy chaplet every day in Lithuanian and Polish, adoration 24/7 and 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.


This article was originally published by Catholic News Agency on Nov. 26, 2017.



The key differences in the two most well-known Divine Mercy images can be found in the upper portion of the image. In the original (Vilnius) image on the left, Jesus has darker skin, His eyes are cast downward, His hand raised not as high and the halo around his head a different hue. The colors emanating from the image are also different. In the Vilnius image, two rays, one pale and one red – which Jesus said are to signify water and blood – are descending from His heart. The feet of Jesus are also differently situated in the two images.





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