Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a holy day for our Church (special Solemnity) that was instituted by Pope Blessed John Paul II in the year 2000, when he canonized a polish nun, Saint Faustina. She had received personal revelation’s from Our Lord Jesus Christ early in the 20th Century and was told to spread the word that God wants his message of mercy to spread throughout the world so that there may be healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is called the Divine Mercy devotion. We are all called to dwell in the love of God, despite our sinfulness. Praying this devotion helps us to receive grace from Jesus Christ, the sole savior of humanity, universal for all.
By God’s providence today is the day that Pope John Paul II has become Blessed, one step away from sainthood. In his first Mass as Pope, Blessed John Paul II said do not be afraid to open wide the doors of Christ. This phrase was shortened to the catch phrase, Be not afraid, which he preached all around the globe.
In 1990 I visited the Vatican as a pilgrim. I happened upon a general papal audience in October of that year, “backpacking” through Europe. I received tickets by following simple instructions in a simple tourist guide book. It was so very simple, it said at the appointed time on Monday, go into the apostolic palace and ask the papal master of ceremonies for tickets to that Wednesday audience. So I did it and I received some. I have to be honest, the day of the Wednesday audience was my last day in Rome, and I was conflicted. I thought I might rather go to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s famous frescoes. However, the guidebook I encouraged attending so I went.
To my somewhat surprise, it was stunning. I can remember that Blessed John Paul II spoke in at least 8 different languages, including Japanese. He responded when pilgrims of different ethnicities sang to him, which seemed to happen about half a dozen times.
Two moments particularly stood out.
After the hour long service in the Pope Paul VI audience chamber, which is an indoor venue that holds about 5000 people, the Holy Father made his way around the chamber. For the next 90 minutes he stopped to greet all the pilgrims. It was near the end of this impromptu stroll that he was closest to me.
About 5 feet away I snapped several photos which would be developed when I returned home weeks later. I remember that night being moved as I made an entry into my travel journal. While reflecting on the day, I remember writing how beautiful his eyes were. They were “icy blue” and seemed if they could look right through you, very powerful. I also remember that his speech was very pure, his clear deep voice beholding. The last thing I remember writing was that I had a profound sense that the Pope had a deep spiritual relationship with God; that he knew God.
Here is Pope Benedict XVI’s homily for today, Divine Mercy Sunday, where he declared his predecessor as Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Pope Benedict XVI: Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday and Beatification of John Paul II