A festive St. Peter’s Square was bedecked with spring flowers and budding saplings as the Church celebrated the first canonization of the Jubilee year and Pope John Paul II’s formal announcement that the Sunday after Easter would henceforth be known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
“It is important,” the Holy Father said in his homily, “that we accept in its entirety the message that comes to us from God’s Word on this second Sunday of Easter. From now on, throughout the whole Church, this day will take the name of ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.'”
The Holy Father’s declaration of the global celebration of Mercy Sunday another reason for joy, said Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, vice-postulator for Faustina’s cause for canonization. “This fulfills the Lord’s request perfectly,” he explained. “Mercy Sunday is the last day of the Octave of Easter, so it was already a part of the Feast of Easter. So, from now on, that day will take the name ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ just as the Lord asked in His revelations to St. Faustina.
More than 200,000 people packed St. Peter’s Square April 30 as His Holiness canonized the Great Apostle of Mercy, Saint Faustina Kowalska. Sister Faustina, who belonged to the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland, died of tuberculosis in 1938 on the verge of World War II at age 33. She left behind a diary in which she recorded her mystical experiences — in particular Jesus Christ’s desire that the world accept His abundant mercy.
The Vatican announced the canonization date March 10. St. Faustina’s elevation to the honors of the altar follows the miraculous healing of an American priest. The Vatican announced Dec. 20 that the 1995 healing of Father Ron Pytel of Baltimore, Maryland, was a miracle. This set the stage for the Faustina’s canonization.
Her canonization on Mercy Sunday (the second Sunday of the Easter season) took place on the same Sunday on which she was beatified in 1993. She is the first saint of the new millennium.
The healing of Fr. Pytel follows the 1981 miraculous healing of Lee, Massachusetts, resident Maureen Digan. The recognition of her healing as a miracle in December of 1992 led to St. Faustina’s beatification.
In 1995, a massive calcium build-up in Fr. Pytel’s aortic valve due to a congenital heart condition left him with a permanently damaged left ventricle — a condition that is rarely known to heal and if it does, occurs only after a very long time. His doctor, Dr. Nicholas Fortuin, a world-renowned cardiologist from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, said that he expected Fr. Pytel’s heart never to be normal and that the then 48-year-old pastor would likely never be able to return to the full exercise of his parish duties.
On Oct. 5, 1995, the anniversary of Saint Faustina’s death, members of Fr. Pytel’s parish and some friends gathered for a day of prayer to seek his healing through St. Faustina’s intercession. Upon venerating a relic of the Saint, the priest collapsed to the floor, unable to move for about 15 minutes, although he remained conscious.
During Fr. Pytel’s next regular check-up, about a month later, Dr. Fortuin discovered a sudden change in the condition of the priest’s heart — it was now normal.
To the Vatican
Soon after his healing, Fr. Pytel contacted Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC — a member of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — who was the representative for North America in furthering St. Faustina’s cause of canonization. Father Seraphim then began to work with church authorities in gathering the documentation for investigating Fr. Pytel’s healing as the miracle needed for St. Faustina’s canonization.
He played the same role in establishing the healing of Maureen Digan as the miracle leading to St. Faustina’s beatification.
Professional Medical Opinion
On November 16th and December 9th, 1999, respective teams of medical and theological experts at the Vatican concluded their definitive investigation of Fr. Pytel’s healing. The medical professional representing the Postulators of St. Faustina’s cause was Dr. Valentin Fuster, Director of Mt. Sinai’s Cardiovascular Institute in New York City. He is regarded as the preeminent expert in the world in the field of cardiovascular disease.
The medical doctors evaluated the healing as scientifically unexplainable, and the theologians verified that it was definitely to be attributed to the intercession of Saint Faustina. The solemn promulgation of the decree establishing the fact of the healing as a miracle took place at the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II on Dec. 20, 1999.
Apostle of Mercy
In a spiritual diary, Saint Faustina recounts her mystical experiences, including Christ’s requests, declaring her to be the Secretary and Apostle of His Mercy. His urgent message is that mankind shall not have peace until it turns with trust to His mercy.
Pope John Paul II, who made a pilgrimage to Saint Faustina’s tomb in 1997, called her the “Great Apostle of Mercy in our day.” Referring to his own connection with Saint Faustina’s mission, the Pope said at her tomb, “The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me… [and it,] in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate.”