On Sunday, 19 April, the Holy Father visited the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia in Rome, not far from Saint Peter’s Square, to celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, instituted by Saint John Paul II in 2000 on the occasion of the canonization of Sr Faustina Kowalska. The Church has become a spiritual centre of devotion to the merciful heart of Jesus as she houses a relic of the Saint donated by Pope Wojtyła himself, who celebrated Mass in this Church on 23 April 1995 and blessed the image of Christ inspired by the Polish nun after her mystical vision in 1931. In the following interview (conducted before Pope Francis’ visit) with L’Osservatore Romano Msgr Jozef Bart, rector of the Church, explains the significance and relevance today of Divine Mercy devotion in light of the tragedy the world is experiencing.
What is the significance of Pope Francis’ visit in this time of coronavirus emergency?
Pope Francis’ visit is an event that we have been awaiting for a long time. At this time in the history of the Church, we are being led by a Pontiff who focuses his magisterium on mercy. His evangelic program is one of mercy. He repeats this and reminds us of it every day. Today we are living not only a time of pandemic, but also that of a “third world war fought piecemeal”. There is disorder and disorientation, somewhat everywhere. Thus mercy becomes a medicine, a prescription to heal the social and ecclesial fabric. The Pope’s visit falls at a time in which many parts of the world are facing the emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many people are suffering from illness, lack of work, economic difficulties, lack of security. Mercy thus assumes the value of a message of comfort, of tenderness, of courage. A message of relief for people who are experiencing great discomfort. In this Church the Pope will send a very strong message of hope reflecting the cry of John Paul II who said: where, if not in divine mercy can the world find refuge and hope?
What is Saint Faustina Kowalska’s message to the women and men of today?
Pope Francis’ visit takes place 20 years after the canonization of Sister Faustina and the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy, but also 15 years after the death of the Polish Pope. Pope Wojtyła emphasized that the message of the Saint (Faustina) was a prophetic cry addressed to all of Europe and the wold. The message entrusted from Jesus to Faustina regards the whole planet because she was sent to announce divine mercy to all humanity. Let us consider how truly current and accessible to all her message is in this moment in history.
How important was this Shrine of Divine Mercy to John Paul II?
From the time he was Archbishop of Krakow, John Paul II followed Sister Faustina’s Cause of Canonization. He had the grace of seeing her beatified and canonized. When he was elected the Successor of Peter, he carried from Krakow the message of divine mercy in his heart. The Feast of Divine mercy has been celebrated in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, ever since the 1950’s, precisely from 1957. This is the first reason why Pope Wojtyła chose this church. The second reason is because every day here we sense the inner vibrations of the pilgrims and Peter. Jesus asked the Saint to bring to all this comforting message of mercy. Therefore John Paul II wanted Santo Spirito in Sassia to be a beacon to spread this wealth, also thanks to a great inner inspiration. He himself was very attached to this church, so much so that he came to visit it and celebrate Mass on 23 April 1995. On that occasion he confided in me: “Every day I feel attached to this Church and I sense the vibrations of your hymns”. There is another detail that is worth remembering. Every day through his private secretary the now Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the Pontiff used to send us messages with prayer intentions for difficult cases that he wanted to entrust to the “hour of mercy” recited in this Church.