From the hills of Antakalnis, through the scenic labyrinths of Vilnius Old Town streets, to the little town of Tabariskes, located near the border with Belarus, the Way of Mercy connects places that were settings for the great apostles of Divine Mercy – St. Faustina and her spiritual director Blessed Michael Sopocko.
Sister Faustina Kowalska, who was declared a saint in the year 2000, lived in Vilnius in 1929 and from 1933 to 1936 at the convent house of Our Lady of Mercy. It was in the multicultural Vilnius that St. Faustina experienced her most significant visions of Jesus. In Vilnius she met her spiritual director and confessor, Blessed Father Michael Sopocko. He encouraged St. Faustina to write a diary, and it is thanks to him that the image of Divine Mercy was painted, that the first homilies about Divine Mercy were given and that devotion to the Divine Mercy was initiated.
Bl. Michael Sopocko spent most of his life in Vilnius and its environs: his childhood, when he would visit shrines in the city with his parents, years of study and work at the university, and priestly service at churches in Vilnius and among its communities of the faithful.
The Covent House of Saint Faustina
The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the order St. Faustina belonged to, came to Vilnius in 1908 and established a convent in Antakalnis. The sisters cared for women, former prisoners and juvenile offenders, also tending to a military hospital, baking bread and washing clothes. The convent had a large garden from which several apple trees remain still today. St. Faustina experienced many of her visions while living at the convent house in Vilnius.
The only remaining building of the convent, the one in which St. Faustina lived, has been restored by our Charity Help Us Dry the Tears. The very fact that St.Faustina's convent building was the only one that survived the war and the demolition during communist years is a miracle in itself. In her recreated cell, relics of St. Faustina and Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko are venerated. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which was dictated to St. Faustina in this very building of the convent on September 13-14, 1935, is prayed every day at 15.00 hours. The text of the Chaplet in the Lithuanian language was approved in 1942 by Bishop Mecislovas Reinys, who at the time was an aide to the archbishop of Vilnius.
The Shrine of Divine Mercy
The original image of Divine Mercy, which was painted in Vilnius, is presently venerated at the Shrine of Divine Mercy. The picture was painted in Vilnius in 1934 by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, and was based upon St. Faustina’s description. In His appearances to sister Faustina Jesus said: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on Earth, and especially at the hour of death. I will defend it as My own honor” (Diary 48).
During his visit to Lithuania St. John Paul II prayed by this image, which at that time was venerated at the Church of the Holy Spirit. The Pope urged the faithful to become true children of the Heavenly Father, dedicated disciples of Jesus and obedient instruments of the Holy Spirit. St. John Paul II said that “Faustina, was such an instrument of God. She trusted the words of the Savior and fulfilled His request to have His image painted, which would bring solace and peace to all.”
During the 15th and 16th centuries the Holy Trinity Church stood on the current site of the Shrine of Divine Mercy. The Church was reconstructed in the 18th century, and belonged to Vilnius University. In 1821 the tsarist government converted the Shrine into the Orthodox Church of the Apparition. In 1920 the Shine was reclaimed by the Catholics. During the years of 1946-1947, St. Faustina’s confessor Blessed Fr. M. Sopocko was the pastor at this Church. After World War II the Soviet regime closed the Church. Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis founded the Shrine of Divine Mercy with his decree of March 8, 2004. The image of Divine Mercy was relocated to the Shrine’s central altar.