The first public trip St. John Paul II made outside of Rome after being shot in May 1981 was to the Shrine of Merciful Love in Collevalenza, Italy. The occasion for his visit was to launch an international congress dedicated to his encyclical on mercy, Dives in Misericordia, which was published one year before.
“By my presence I wish to reconfirm, in a way, the message of that encyclical,” he said. “I wish to read it again and deliver it again. Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter’s See in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church, and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God.”
How fitting it is that St. John Paul II’s first event outside of Rome after the assassination attempt was one dedicated to mercy. St. John Paul II’s beautiful, lifelong testimony to the message of mercy was further underscored by God the Father calling him home on April 2, the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.
This week we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s death and the gift of God’s mercy offered to the whole world on Easter. We should allow these two events to serve as a reminder to us of the importance of accepting God’s mercy and letting it transform our lives.
Anyone familiar with the life of the late Holy Father knows that his life presented many opportunities for him to respond to injustices and sufferings with anger or even hatred. Things are no different today. The world of the 21st century is full of suffering and opportunities for mercy, which is why Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, beginning Dec. 8.
For those of you unfamiliar with the message of Divine Mercy, it was first given to Sister Faustina Kowalska in a series of revelations that she received from Jesus between 1931 and 1938.
At her canonization in 2000, St. John Paul II noted that Jesus’ message of mercy is not new “but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.”
People around the world today—Christian and non-Christian alike—are experiencing the scourge of violence and a sense of hopelessness. We see, for example, Christians being persecuted and brutally martyred in the Middle East and Africa. It is in this world that we are called to be messengers of his boundless mercy.
Looking ahead to our current century, St. John Paul II said that by canonizing Sister Faustina he intended “to pass this message on to the new millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren.”
The message of Divine Mercy for our time that St. John Paul II emphasized is that humanity must let itself be “touched and pervaded by the Spirit given to it by the risen Christ.”
“It is the Spirit,” he said, “who heals the wounds of the heart, pulls down the barriers that separate us from God and divide us from one another, and at the same time, restores the joy of the Father’s love and of fraternal unity.”
As we reflect on these words, our hearts should be moved to see the Father’s providential love in Pope Francis and his constant call to encounter the mercy of Jesus Christ, especially in the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. In his homily announcing the year, he stated, “I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’” (cf. Luke 6:36).
May we hear this invitation that has been given to us so strongly, first in the Gospel, and then in the voices of the saints, and now by Pope Francis. May we grow in our trust of God’s merciful love for us, even when trials come our way, and may we become messengers of mercy to everyone we encounter! Saints Faustina and John Paul II, pray for us!