The quest for Divine Mercy

After St. Faustina inspired a religious masterpiece, it was stolen and hidden away for many years. A new documentary brings it’s decades-long journey to light.

Crew filming Divine Mercy in New York City

Documentary crew filming the last scene in New York City. Photo Courtesy of Divine Mercy Film

We never cease to be amazed by women of the Church and the beauty they so often bring into the world. In this Year of Mercy, we’re especially excited to see a new documentary based on the amazing visions and writings of St. Faustina. The film, which released on Ash Wednesday and will tour worldwide during the coming year, reveals the mysterious story behind the long-hidden painted masterpiece, The Divine Mercy, inspired by St. Faustina’s beautiful vision from Christ. The documentary includes commentary from a host of respected voices: Bishop Robert Barron, Archbishop Fisichella, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz of Kraków, author George Weigel, and even actors like Harry Connick Jr., and Jim Gaffigan. Special footage with Pope Francis is also included.

It all began in 1931, when the young, uneducated Sister Faustina (then a nun) saw a vision. In it, Jesus Christ appeared before her offering a message of mercy—and instructions for a painting.

From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy.” – St. Faustina

That night, the woman who would one day be canonized St. Faustina, wrote in her diary:

I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me, ‘paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.’

Later, Jesus appeared to Faustina again, explaining the “pattern” he had given her. Again, she wrote:

The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous; the red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross … Fortunate is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for
the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him.

And from these visions, Sr. Faustina and her spiritual director Fr. Michal Sopocko commissioned a local artist to capture Sr. Faustina’s vision of Jesus’ mercy on canvas.

Though Sr. Faustina had specific instructions to offer and though Fr. Sopocko stood in as a model for Jesus, as Jim Gaffigan says in The Original Image of the Divine Mercy, the artist had “an impossible task.” The painters job was to “make the unfathomable, fathomable,” Harry Connick Jr. adds.

Impossible or not, unfathomable or not, the artist created what would become one of the most famous—and most copied—images in the Catholic Church: The Divine Mercy.

The painting’s life, however, has not been easy. According to filmmakers, the brutal anti-Catholic Soviet Occupation forced the painting into hiding. As such, filmmakers say, “this painting was abandoned. It was stolen and smuggled. It was rolled up and put into storage and left for many years. Basically, it was forgotten.”

(Not an unfamiliar story to people of faith. In fact, one that, according to the filmmakers, sounds remarkably like the life of Christ and of the Church.)

But, after a long stint floating about in exile, the masterpiece has been found. It appears two nuns smuggled it to safety, and the painting now enjoys a permanent shrine in Vilnius, Lithuania.

What intrigues us most about the story of this painting—of its 75 years hidden away, kept out of sight, of its rescue, and homecoming—is the reminder that ultimately the Divine Mercy cannot be kept in the shadows. Though some tried to stop this painting from being seen because of St. Faustina’s faithful diaries of her prayers and her visions, others were able to copy the image and further the message of mercy that was intended for the world to hear.

Perhaps even more beautiful than the contrasts and the power of the painting itself, is the faithfulness of the women involved. St. Faustina, who listened and obeyed, and the nuns, who risked personal safety to further Jesus’ message of Mercy.

For information about bringing The Original Image of Divine Mercy to your parish, school, or community, contact their production office at tour@divinemercyfilm.com or 210.232.7647.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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