I left Poland 26 years ago at the time of the Solidarity union's formation through strikes in Gdansk which would eventually lead to the end of communism's oppressive rule in Poland.
During October last year, on my visit to a now free Poland, I noted many positive changes. However I was saddened at the negative inroads of Western 'culture', particularly through television and the movies, with exposure to violence, drugs, pornography, new age and even witchcraft. I also saw increased poverty and homelessness as well as the prosperity of a few, along with increased alcoholism.
Despite this, in most churches there was a strong devotion to the Divine Mercy and to Pope John Paul II with pictures and sculptures of both prominently displayed inside the churches where people knelt and spent time in prayer after Masses.
The spirituality of Divine Mercy has influenced and dominated Poland in recent years. Lódz, Poland's second largest city, was recently granted Saint Faustina Kowalska as a patron by local Church authorities and politicians with a new church devoted to Saint Faustina built near the park where as a young girl she had her first vision of Jesus.
The procession through Lodz with Faustina's relic on her Feast Day, 5 October, to St Stanislaw Kostka's Cathedral, where she had decided to follow God's will to become a nun, attracted hundreds of clergy and local supporters. A play/ musical 'Prophet of Mercy', based on St Faustina's Diary, was performed by students from Krakow University.
The Divine Mercy apostolate has been flourishing, not only in Poland, but throughout Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, including Australia where it was brought by migrants from Poland in 1950 and was actively promoted by the Polish Jesuit Chaplain Fr Stanislaw Skudrzyk. He arranged the transport of the first picture of Jesus Divine Mercy to Melbourne which was solemnly blessed by Archbishop Mannix on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, 20 April 1952, and given a place of honour in St Ignatius Church in Richmond, until 1959.
Melbourne's Polish community, inspired by Fr Maksymilian Szura, later built a Divine Mercy Shrine under the leadership of Fr Kazimierz Bojda in the suburb of Keysborough. The Shrine was subsequently chosen for Australia Unites in Prayer gatherings to bring the ministry of God's love and mercy to those in need of healing, grace and miracles.
The spirituality of God's merciful love attracts millions worldwide not only because of the miracles that occur, but because it responds to the needs of people living in times of depression, family crisis, confusion, anti-life social values and the marginalising of Christianity generally.
The Merciful Love spirituality offers God's compassion for all and gives answers and comfort to those who suffer and search for love, peace and healing. It further allows for a rediscovery of the profound meaning in our lives through spiritual formation and an understanding of Christian values in the context of acts of mercy and through word and prayer for the world (the Chaplet), which encourage evangelisation and outreach to others in need.
In 2004 John Paul II told Poland's Catholics, 'The message of Divine Mercy is able to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilisation: the civilisation of love'.
For the past two years, various communities have gathered together on the first Sunday afternoon of each month at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Keysborough to pray for healing for individuals, families, youth, Australia, the Church and the world.
Each of the monthly Sundays brings variations on the healing theme. Divine Mercy prayers followed by a Healing Mass seek the healing of depression, release from addictions, forgiveness, the consecration of families to Mary, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the New Evangelisation.
Last December's gathering attracted many young people from a variety of communities who prayed for the formation of a new generation of leaders in preparation for the World Youth Day in Sydney 2008. On 4 February, Fr Brendan Lane, who has witnessed people healed miraculously from cancer through his intercessory prayers, led the Healing Mass with Polish priests and communities to ask for more graces and miracles for all present.
Our first Sunday of each month Australia Unites in Prayer gatherings are based on the Divine Mercy Hour, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, followed by a Healing Mass, led by a two or three priests.
A recent Australia Unites in Prayer gathering was devoted to the needs of Australia and the Church with the theme, 'Flourishing Graces for the Nation Australia'. Mass was celebrated by Fr A. Mundackatt and Fr I. Smaga. The large crowd of supporters witnessed many physical and spiritual healings. Anyone in need, or suffering illness or depression, is welcome to come for healing.
Established Divine Mercy ministries, many prayer groups, Catholic organisations and parishes join the monthly Mass. Young people from the Divine Mercy Shrine regularly assist in the liturgy and music.
This unique ministry of love and grace can be applied to other parishes, and in other dioceses. Through the united support and prayers of many communities we can transform Australia and the world.
Australia Unites in Prayer (AUIP) gatherings commence at 2:30pm on the first Sunday of each month. The Shrine of Divine Mercy is at 337 Greens Road, Keysborough (Melway 94 F1). Phone enquiries: the Priests at the Shrine, 9701 6071 or Eva on 0412 035 685 Email: auip @ optusnet.com.au
Peter Byrne is a journalist and presenter for Catholic Print and Vision Australia Radio. Eva Kimnes is convenor and coordinator of AUIP and has completed a Graduate Diploma in Theology with Catholic Theological College.