Perhaps it was Divine providence…or just a beautiful coincidence as 20 pilgrims from the parish of Divine Mercy In Penang, accompanied by their parish Priest Fr. Martin Arlando set out for Poland on a mission to collect the 1st-class relic of St Faustina on February 22nd; the day their much- loved patron saint received her first image of the Divine Mercy……84 years ago.
After more than 30 hours of travelling the tired but excited group finally arrived in Warsaw, the Polish capital. Despite some hiccups with lost luggage, the pilgrims’ spirits remained high as they set off on the first leg of their 10-day journey…. beginning at Lagiewniki, to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy.
The highpoint of the trip came early for the pilgrims who stayed at the Pilgrim House, conveniently located in the heart of the sprawling sanctuary grounds. After celebrating Mass in the chapel the next morning, excitement peaked as the group took great pride in witnessing the collection of the relic of St Faustina from Sr. Ignatio from the Convent of the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy. Later Fr. Martin placed all the written petitions of the parishioners from Penang which he had carried from home, in the special intention boxes.
The 19th-century brick convent of the Sisters of God's Mother of Mercy is part of the vast Sanctuary of Divine Mercy complete with a spacious main church, chapels, a viewing tower, a pilgrim House and more.
On August 17, 2002 Pope John Paul II consecrated the sanctuary's majestic 1,600-sq-m brand-new basilica. It is estimated that every year some two million pilgrims from all over the world visit the shrine. The small but diverse group from Divine Mercy Penang, ranged in age from enthusiastic 14 year olds to the hearty 60 year olds but most found the peaceful atmosphere of the sanctuary grounds the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of life back home.
The basilica which resembles a ship is said to symbolise a contemporary “ark of God’s covenant with Noah”, in which everyone who puts their hope in the mercy of God can find salvation. Behind a stone altar there is a tabernacle surrounded by a “bush tossed by strong winds”, symbolizing the modern world or man confused by different currents of opinion. Within the bush above the tabernacle stands the image of Merciful Jesus, a copy of the Jan Chrząszcz’ image of the Merciful Jesus “in whom mankind will find happiness”.
|The unusual tabernacle framed by a "bush tossed by strong winds"||Fr. Martin receives the relic of St Faustina from Sr. Ignatio|
Later that morning followed a heart-warming walking tour of the sanctuary grounds by Sr. Maria who not only shared the life, and trials of St Faustina but also added depth and meaning to the tour by adding her own spiritual experiences as a religious, living after the example and image of the great Saint. The crisp morning also saw the group visiting a mock-up of the living quarters of St Faustina, before they continued on with a short trek of the Stations of the Cross built across a vast plain. Trudging on in true pilgrim-style, the group then took the footpath to the John Paul II centre.
Especially interesting here was the octagonal basement shrine to John Paul II known as the “lower church” of the sanctuary or the Church of the Relics Here one can find bright -coloured pictures depicting events from the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, namely his visits to the world’s most famous Marian sanctuaries. The centerpiece of the shrine is a rather simple marble altar in the middle with the relic of the blood of Blessed John Paul II displayed in a glass case.
Before having taken over the Holy See as Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla had lived in Krakow for four decades – practically through his entire adult life until his assumption of the papacy.
In the days to follow, the pilgrims from Penang experienced the grandeur of exquisitely built churches and basilicas. Indeed the pilgrims were privileged to pray and offer petitions and Masses at palatial churches which boasted Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art. The Cathedral of Krakow on Wawel hill which houses the shrine of St Stanislaus, the patron saint of Poland was among them. Over 900 years old, it was here that the then Karol Wojtyla was ordained to priesthood and celebrated his first Mass.
In the words of 18-year old Matthew Stephen: “It was a life-changing experience being able to stand where the saints once stood.” In Wadowice, the birthplace of John Paul II, the group toured the John Paul II Papal museum which artfully provided insights into the life of the great pope and saint.
“I could feel the special atmosphere at the sanctuary and other holy sites we visited. Polish people have great reverence and faith in the Catholic tradition. The regular prayer, thanksgiving and celebration of Masses was amazing. Guess we have to pray harder for this same attitude among Malaysian Catholics,” noted pilgrim, Rodney Gomez.
In Czestochowa, the pilgrims learnt about the miraculous events and spontaneous healings attributed to the Black Madonna, the portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary said to have been painted by evangelist St Luke. Besides visiting famous religious destinations, the pilgrims had the opportunity to visit the Salt Mines and also make a particularly emotional tour of Auschwitz, tracing the footsteps where Saint Maxmillian Kolbe was martyred and where millions lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps
Sharing his experience of the pilgrimage, Fr Martin said: “It was an AWESOME experience to stand on holy ground where the saints physically lived and gave their lives completely for the glory of God. I felt my unworthiness and yet I felt God's love so tremendous and fascinating that I teared when I first held both the relics of Saints Faustina & JPII (which I received earlier) in my palms. My thoughts were on the verse "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," (Phil 4:13) that despite my unworthiness and like the saints I too pledge to live In His Presence always.”
This year the feastweek of the Church of Divine Mercy Penang will have special meaning as devotees will venerate both the 1st class relics of St John Paul II as well as St Faustina. The feast of Divine Mercy runs from Good Friday all the way through to Divine Mercy Sunday on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. The theme for the parish feast this year is “TransformUs… the Journey”.
|The pilgrims with the newly-received relic of St Faustina at the chapel of Divine Mercy, Lagiewniki|