The Last Procession of Saint Faustina's Masterpiece
Over Mother’s Day weekend, an event happened on the other side of the world that was as significant as it was unnoticed
A great masterpiece of sacred art was taken down from its niche above an altar in a beautiful little Shrine and processed throughout one of Eastern Europe’s most ancient cities. The city, known for centuries as the “City of Mercy,” is Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and the work of art is none other than the Original Image of Divine Mercy, painted in 1934 by the uncelebrated Eugeniusz Kazimirowski.
The occasion was the first National Divine Mercy Congress, an impressive event hosted by the Archdiocese of Vilnius commemorating the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy (May 5-8, 2016).
The film crew of the documentary, The Original Image of Divine Mercy, a new film about the history of Saint Faustina’s Divine Mercy painting, was granted exclusive access to document the journey taken by the priceless work of art. The removal of the image from the Shrine is an event not likely to happen again in our lifetimes.
Even Pope Francis dispatched his representative, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Vilnius to serve as the Grand Marshal of the Divine Mercy procession as well as the main celebrant at the Sunday morning Mass attended by an estimated 9,000 worshipers.
During the transfer, the international film crew got the exclusive to film and photograph the painting while the protective (and reflective) 6mm. glass that usually encases the painting was removed. Unimpeded footage of the bare image is already being edited into a short film to be included as one of several Special Features for the DVD release of The Original Image of Divine Mercy, due out in late November of 2016.
Moving a priceless artifact always includes arduous and careful planning, from routing and traffic, to lighting and climate, to special handling and scaffolding.
“Watching the transfer of this painting was a little like watching The Great Wellendas performing a tightrope act – always one step away from unspeakable tragedy,” says Daniel diSilva, director of The Original Image of Divine Mercy, who followed closely behind the Original Image with a small film crew during the 3-day event to document every movement of the painting.
The last time the Original Image of Divine Mercy was involved in a procession of any kind was in Vilnius in 1935 during the time when Saint Faustina was still alive. Fr. Sopoćko, spiritual director to the mystic nun, and the priest who first commissioned the painting from artist Eugeniusz Kazimiroski, arranged for the painting to be hung over an altar during a procession on the Feast Day of Corpus Christi.
As a holy second-class relic of Saint Faustina Kowalska, the work of art stands alone above the innumerable renditions of Divine Mercy because it is the painting done in her presence and according to the elaborate details she gave the artist about her mystical visions of the Merciful Jesus. It was this canvas that Jesus spoke about as quoted by the saint in her famous Diary.
“I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: “Jesus, I trust in You.” (327).
As an unrepeatable masterpiece, it represents a unique moment in Art History when a work of art was commissioned, and perhaps even detailed, by the Divine Artist.
The painting itself is the sacred icon of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and, in a unique way, the ultimate icon of God’s “unfathomable” Mercy.
A Modern Day Triduum
The new documentary details for the first time the entire lifespan of this most venerated image, from its creation to the present day, including 6 or 7 previous transfers of the painting, some more clandestine than others. The film includes eyewitness accounts of a time when the painting was sneaked out of a church by two nuns in the middle of the night. More information about the film is at www.DivineMercyFilm.com
The following are highlights of the 3-day journey taken by the Original Image of Divine Mercy over the past weekend in Vilnius.
Friday, May 6, 216 – Day 1
The Painting is Taken Down and Venerated
On Friday at about midday, the Original Image of Divine Mercy was taken down from above the altar in the Vilnius Shrine. It was placed carefully into a well-constructed wooden display box and then covered with a special piece of plexiglas that contained UV ray protection. The box was sealed and the painting was displayed overnight in the Shrine for veneration with the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration on the altar.
Saturday, May 7, 2016 – Day 2
The Painting is Transferred to the Cathedral
On Saturday at about 2:30 PM, the painting was processes along a short scenic route to Cathedral Square in the center of town. The Divine Mercy procession was simple but as elegant as it was reverent. The procession arrived in Cathedral Square and at 3 o’clock, the Hour of Mercy, the painting was placed on the main outdoors stage which was set up for the National Divine Mercy Congress. After the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was recited by the crowd, Mass was celebrated in the square. The image was then solemnly processed into the Cathedral and placed next to the main altar for all-night veneration with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament coinciding.
Sunday, May 8, 2016 – Day 3
The Homecoming, the Divine Mercy Procession, and Return to the Shrine
Early on Sunday morning, the Original Image was placed inside the hull of a windowless cargo van and returned for the first time to the Chapel of Divine Mercy in the the Convent of the Sisters of the Merciful Jesus. The chapel is formerly the studio of artist Eugeniusz Kazimirowski where the sacred image was first painted, and where Fr. Michal Sopoćko once lived in an upstairs apartment. Here, the Original Image was venerated by the community of sisters which included their beautiful singing and prayers of mercy. The chapel was then cleared by the Lithuanian Secret Service and sealed off in anticipation of the arrival of Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin’s motorcade. Accompanied by Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius, the Cardinal was brought into the chapel where they privately venerated the sacred image.
After this brief sojourn, the painting was driven to the Lithuanian Parliament Building for the start of the 2-kilometer procession back to Cathedral Square where Mass was said with Cardinal Pietro Parolin presiding. Later that evening, the Original Image of Divine Mercy was unceremoniously returned to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Old Town Vilnius and was once again place in the niche above the altar.
A short narrated film documenting this journey of the sacred image is featured on the DVD version of the film, The Original Image of Divine Mercy, which was released in November of 2016. The full documentary is available for screenings in theaters and at parishes around the country. Click here to inquire about hosting a local screening.