Poland Pilgrimage: Misery & Mercy

A relief of Jesus and St. Faustina at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow
"Jesus loves you!"

The room, filled with more than 100 college students, was absolutely still. All listened with rapt attention as the sister with her Polish accent told us of the greatness of the Lord's mercy and love. Our pilgrimage group from Franciscan University's study abroad campus in Austria was visiting the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland on Saturday, the second day of our trip.

We weren't listening to St. Faustina herself, but Sr. Marie Vianney was close enough, keeping the message of mercy alive with her simple and joyful words. She shared about Faustina's diary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the sacraments of mercy: Confession and the Eucharist.

Sister wanted each of us to return home with a word of love from Jesus, so she printed slips of paper for each one of us with a line from St. Faustina's diary. Mine said: "Tell me about everything, be sincere in dealing with Me, reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them, and your suffering will become a source of your sanctification" (#1487). I was comforted by Jesus' compassionate invitation. I knew I could entrust myself to Him, because "all things work for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

Perhaps our ears and hearts were all the more ready for such a message because of what we had already experienced together. 24 hours earlier, we had walked silently through one of the most infamous places of evil and suffering in Poland and in the world: Auschwitz.

I had read stories of what took place there and at other concentration and death camps, but nothing compared to walking through Auschwitz myself. As our guide spoke of the sufferings of the victims and the cruelty of the guards, I felt as though Jesus had suffered His Passion again and again in each person there. Jesus was stripped, beaten, starved, tortured, and killed there. Such rejection of love; such untold evil. What good could come from this?

And yet, even before all of this happened, Jesus was already appearing to little Sr. Faustina Kowalska at her convent. He was already telling her of His mercy for Poland and for the world. Precisely in this place, this place of suffering, Jesus chose to reveal His heart. He told St. Faustina: "Because you are such great misery, I have revealed to you the whole ocean of My mercy" (#718).

From the misery of Auschwitz came the sacrificial love of St. Maximilian Kolbe and perhaps many other unknown saints. From the terror and losses of the war blossomed the vocation of Karol Wojtyla, our beloved St. John Paul II. From the hardships, large and small, of our own lives, come the knowledge of our need and of the Lord's mercy.

Friday afternoon, we walked down the railroad tracks to the ruins of the Birkenau gas chambers. On our right, we saw only chimneys left from the death camp buildings. The tour guide told us the wood from the barracks had been carefully dismantled after the war and used in the restoration of Warsaw, which had been mostly destroyed by Nazi bombs. It was as if Jesus was silently telling us that the wood of the cross must be the means of redemption and the road to resurrection.

At the memorial at the end of the tracks, we stopped to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. It was a golden afternoon, and the light made the grass on either side of the tracks more green and alive. I wondered that there could be beauty in such a place, but then, isn't that what God always does?

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.

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