PREFACE

Vilnius, which had experienced many hardships: famine, floods, wars, fire, is now growing and thriving and called the City of Mercy. As evidenced throughout history, its residents cared for those suffering from plague, buried the deceased who had been abandoned, aided the orphans and the poor, gave their lives for those who were persecuted, treasured the truth over their own security in the face of ideological lies, and traded their royal lifestyles to lovingly serve the poor and oppressed.
It is no coincidence that the Vilnius coat of arms depicts St. Christopher carrying Christ, with the hardships and problems of the entire world, on his shoulders.

OUR LADY OF MERCY

OF THE GATE OF DAWN

These battles of good and evil have been watched by Our Lady of Mercy of the Gate of Dawn for over four hundred years. This image, painted by an unknown artist in the 16th century, hung on the City gate. Mary of the Gate of Dawn was called the Protector of the City and the Gateway to Heavenly Jerusalem. The current title of Our Lady of Mercy was given to this image in 1927 by Pope Pius XI, who adorned it with crowns blessed by him. Here, at the Gate of Dawn Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, countless votives sparkle, attesting to the continuous bond between Mary and the faithful, which gets stronger year after year.
In 1933 sister Faustina arrived at the Convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. And so began the story of Vilnius, as the City, from which the message of Divine Mercy spread to the world.

SAINT FAUSTINA,

THE APOSTLE OF MERCY

Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) was born into a modest family during the pre-war period in Poland. She actively sought monastic life, searched for a place in many of Warsaw’s convents, and in 1925 became a Sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy.
During her first year in the convent Faustina rejoiced, feeling like she was finally living a heavenly life. However, because of her mystical experiences – visions of Jesus – Faustina was watched with suspicion by other sisters in the convent. Sometimes she even wondered herself, whether her mystical experiences were not just a figment of her imagination. She thoroughly and tirelessly asked God for a sign and, due to unexpected circumstances, she got a chance to relate an important message of Divine Mercy to the world.

FATEFUL MEETING

In Vilnius, Sister Faustina met Rev. Michael Sopocko (1888-1975), who she had already seen in her visions, while asking God for a spiritual father, who would be capable of assisting her in these confusing circumstances. Rev. M. Sopocko was a professor at the Department of Theology at Vilnius University, the spiritual director and a lecturer at Vilnius Seminary, military chaplain, as well as the chaplain of the Bernardine Sisters and the rector of the St. Archangel Michael Church, which belonged to the Bernardine convent. Additionally, he served as a confessor of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
Father M. Sopocko became Sister Faustina’s confessor and her spiritual director. In order to gain a better insight and also to avoid lengthy confessions, he encouraged Faustina to record her visions of Christ in a diary. Today St. Faustina’s diary is one the most renowned books on mystical experiences.

REQUEST TO PAINT

AN IMAGE OF DIVINE MERCY

In 1931 Jesus asked Faustina to paint an image of Divine Mercy:
“In the evenіng, when I was іn my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed іn a whіte garment. One hand was raіsed іn the gesture of blessіng, the other was touching the garment on his chest. From beneath the garment, slіghtly drawn asіde at the chest, there were emanatіng two large rays, one red, the other white. In sіlence I kept my gaze fіxed on the Lord, my soul was struck with awe, but also with great joy. After a whіle, Jesus saіd to me: ‘Paіnt an іmage accordіng to the model you see, wіth the inscription: Jesus, I trust іn You. (…) I promіse that the soul that wіll venerate thіs іmage wіll not perіsh. I also promіse vіctory over [іts] enemіes already here on earth, and especіally at the hour of death.’”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

IN VILNIUS

When St. Faustina settled in Vilnius, Father M. Sopocko became directly involved with her mission. The priest admitted he was curious to see what Jesus looked like in Faustina’s visions. At that time he lived at the monastery of the Sisters of Visitation and was writing his post-doctoral thesis. The painter Eugenijus Kazimirovskis had a studio there as well, and Fr. M. Sopocko asked him to paint the image. The artist painted the image patiently and humbly, according to Faustina’s instructions, and with Fr. M. Sopocko posing.
The content of the painting is directly related to the events of the Gospel: with Good Friday, when blood and water sprung forth from the Heart of Jesus, after it was pierced by a spear, and with the establishment of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, when the risen Christ gave the apostles the power to absolve sins.
Sister Faustina was not satisfied with the painting, because the image of Jesus she had seen in her visions was more beautiful. But Jesus replied that the majesty of this picture lies not in the beauty of the paint or the brush, but in His grace. The Lord explained to Saint Faustina: “I am giving people a vessel with which they are to come to Me for graces. That vessel is this image with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.”

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY

The archbishop of that time was carefully assessing this story and prohibited the image from being venerated publicly, and, therefore, it was hung in Bernardine monastery corridor, facing the wall. Jesus asked St. Faustina to have the image displayed for public veneration. Jesus also asked St. Faustina to request that the Sunday after Easter be celebrated by the entire Catholic Church as the Feast of Divine Mercy – a time of grace for everyone, regardless of their sins and mistakes.
In 1935 on the Sunday after Easter Blessed M. Sopocko used this image as an illustration for his homily about Divine Mercy. The image, decorated with greenery by St. Faustina, was displayed in the Gate of Dawn staircase gallery window. St. Faustina had a vision of the image moving over Vilnius, with Jesus cutting nets, which were covering the City. On the Sunday after Easter, at the end of the Holy Mass, she saw Jesus, as He is represented in the image, giving His blessing. Its rays extended over the entire world. These events are considered the origins of Divine Mercy Sunday.

CHAPLET OF DIVINE MERCY

n 1935, on September 13th and 14th, Jesus dictated to St. Faustina the Chaplet of Divine Mercy – a prayer as a shield in the face of death and an opportunity to entrust one’s life to Divine Mercy. All over the world this prayer is said at three o’clock in the afternoon, which is the hour of Jesus’ death. In this manner the entire world is embraced by Divine Mercy.

THE NEW CONGREGATION

The last wish that Jesus related through St. Faustina was a request to establish a new Congregation of Sisters of Divine Mercy. Fr. M. Sopocko established it in Vilnius, where during World War II the first of its candidates gave their vows. However, because of the war, the Congregation of Sisters of Divine Mercy was officially established only in 1955, in Poland. Today the convent of this congregation in Vilnius is located on Rasu Street, next to the former church of the Sisters of Visitation, and in the same building, where the image of Divine Mercy was painted.

SPREADING THE MESSAGE

OF DIVINE MERCY

While during her lifetime Faustina saw only one of Jesus’s requests – painting of the image – fulfilled, the message of Divine Mercy and its veneration spread rapidly among the faithful after her death.
Servant of God Archbishop of Vilnius Mecislovas Reinys supported promulgating devotion to Divine Mercy. In 1942 he approved the Lithuanian translation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and in 1946 gave his permission to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at Sts. Johns’ Church. After the Second World War, the Archbishop was exiled to Siberia and died in Vladimir prison, in Russia.
Blessed Martyr Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis (beatified in 2017) maintained contact with Blessed M. Sopocko, and during World War II he distributed booklets, which included the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Litany, as well as an illustration with the image of Divine Mercy, in Lithuania.

BLESSED M. SOPOCKO AND DEVOTION TO DIVINE MERCY

While attempting to avoid persecution in 1947, Blessed M. Sopocko was forced to flee to Poland where he continued spreading the message of Divine Mercy until his death. With the wave of immigration that accompanied both the war and post-war years, the story of Mercy reached the United States and, in most unexpected ways, the entire world. Shortly after Fr. Sopocko’s passing, John Paul II was elected Pope, and the devotion to Divine Mercy began to achieve recognition in the Catholic Church. Father M. Sopocko was beatified in 2008.
As he prepared to leave for Poland, Fr. M. Sopocko had planned to take the image with him, but after praying decided to leave it Vilnius. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the painting was moved from one place to another, purchased to keep it safe, stolen and swapped. Now it is venerated in Vilnius at the Shrine of Divine Mercy, which Faustina had seen in her visons and described in her diary. At any time of the day at this Shrine, passersby can trustingly watch Christ, as if emerging from the darkness and abyss and making a step toward humanity.

ST. JOHN PAUL II

St. John Paul II, today also known as the Apostle of Mercy, canonized Sister Faustina and declared the First Sunday After Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday – in 2000.
On the canonization day John Paul II also announced Sister Faustina a patron saint of Vilnius and three other cities – Warsaw, Polotsk and Krakow – he said: “By naming these cities, whose patron is the new saint, I entrust their residents to be especially mindful to spreading the message of Divine Mercy.”

THE ROUTE OF DIVINE MERCY IN VILNIUS

Vilnius has many sites associated with St. Faustina, Blessed Father M. Sopocko and spreading the message of Divine Mercy to the world. They are all encompassed in the Route of Divine Mercy.
On the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, on the streets of Vilnius, an ecumenical “Procession of Light” walks from the Gate of Dawn Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. It serves as a reminder that, despite the differences which are in the history of Christianity, we are all connected by the Mercy of God.

THE IMAGES OF DIVINE MERCY THROUGHOUT THE WORLD

Today, the image of Divine Mercy is being painted in many countries of the world. Although the paintings might look different, the grace of God promised by Jesus, does not depend on the uniformity of paintings.
What matters most, is that these images encourage all to approach Divine Mercy with trust in their hearts.