April 8, 2022

Billboard, shrine and service spread the Divine Mercy message in archdiocese

Rebecca Tling, center, lights a candle in the Divine Mercy shrine in St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. Praying in the shrine are Harrison Fey, left, Anthony Lewis, Addie Sheehan and Nora Taylor (obscured). The children are first-grade students at St. Barnabas School. (Submitted photo by Joe Sheehan)

Rebecca Tling, center, lights a candle in the Divine Mercy shrine in St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. Praying in the shrine are Harrison Fey, left, Anthony Lewis, Addie Sheehan and Nora Taylor (obscured). The children are first-grade students at St. Barnabas School. (Submitted photo by Joe Sheehan)

(Editor’s note: Following is the first of two articles looking at how parishes and individuals in the archdiocese are spreading the Divine Mercy message, as revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska in visions of Christ in the 1930s. The second article will appear next week in advance of Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated this year on April 24.)

By Natalie Hoefer

In pre-World War II Poland, in the early 1930s, a young nun dutifully kept a diary. In it, she recorded messages she received from Christ through numerous visions, locutions and revelations between 1931 and her death in 1938.

Those words are now enshrined in Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. The message of Christ relayed through the journal is singular in purpose: “Tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. … Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. … Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy” (Diary, 699).

Christ set the young nun to three particular tasks: to have a painting made of an image of himself as he appeared to her—known as the Divine Mercy image—and for the veneration of that image; to share the Divine Mercy chaplet prayers he gave her; and to establish the first Sunday after Easter as the feast of Divine Mercy.

Pope John Paul II fulfilled the last of the tasks on April 30, 2000, the same day he canonized the Polish nun as a saint.

Before and especially since then, the message of Divine Mercy has spread.

In the archdiocese, many parishes now hold Divine Mercy Sunday prayer services. Some parishes have permanent Divine Mercy shrines—one parish even shares the image on a leased billboard along a busy highway.

This article will tell the story of how St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis and individuals in Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh and St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour are promoting Christ’s message of Divine Mercy.

An image larger than life

“After a while, Jesus said to me, ‘Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated … throughout the world.’ ” (Diary, 47)

Joanne Hollenbeck was learning about Divine Mercy through an adult faith formation group at her parish, Holy Trinity in Edinburgh.

While in the midst of the study, she was driving through southern Indiana when a sight surprised her.

“There was a billboard with the Divine Mercy image on it,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s too weird! Here I am studying about Divine Mercy, and there it is!’ ”

Shortly after the encounter, she noticed a blank billboard near U.S. 31 and State Route 252 East near Edinburgh.

She discussed with the faith formation group the idea of leasing the billboard for a Divine Mercy image, Hollenbeck said.

“I got the design online,” Hollenbeck explained. “I called the billboard company, and they actually had two billboards available together. So we added a pro-life one, too.”

Donations were gathered from individuals and through bulletin announcements. Enough was raised to lease the billboards for one year starting in March of 2021, and recently to renew the lease for another year.

Deacon Russell Woodard, parish life coordinator of Holy Trinity, worked on the project with Hollenbeck. He blessed the billboard once the image was in place.

“He was wondering how he was going to get water up that high, then it started to sprinkle—God took care of that!” Hollenbeck said with a laugh.

She recalled being asked at one point how the effectiveness of the Divine Mercy billboard could be determined.

“There’s no way to measure that,” she said.

But she hopes the image on the billboard will bring “an awareness that God is in charge and that we need to turn to him, especially during these tough times.

“I hope seeing him there will make people say, ‘I need to pray today’ or give them hope.”

Such are the effects the billboard has on Hollenbeck.

“I pass it multiple times a day,” she said. “It makes me say that little prayer [at the bottom of the image], ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’ ”

‘I have had many blessings’

“I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of my tender mercy are open.” (Diary, 699)

Marisa Soto of St. Ambrose Parish recalls first learning about Divine Mercy just two years after St. Faustina was canonized and Divine Mercy Sunday was established.

“Back in 2002, I started to read the diary of St. Faustina,” she said, with her daughter Samantha Soto translating from Spanish. “That’s when my devotion started.”

Four or five years later, Soto felt called to encourage her parish to honor Divine Mercy Sunday and to pray the Divine Mercy novena that starts nine days prior to the feast day.

“I spoke with the pastor at the time, Father Todd [Goodson], and also spoke with our pastor now, Father Dan [Staublin], and continue to reserve the day to celebrate annually.”

To pray the novena nine days prior to the feast, Soto used to take a Divine Mercy image she owns to people’s homes.

“We now do it all at the church” at 3 p.m. starting on Good Friday, she said.

Soto also organizes a bilingual service at St. Ambrose Church on the feast day with the image on display, songs, the praying of the Divine Mercy chaplet and a reception afterward.

“It is important to promote the message of the Divine Mercy because Jesus promised St. Faustina that whoever honors the image should not perish,” she said. Her statement reflects Christ’s words to the saint, as recorded in paragraph 48 of her diary: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. … I myself will defend it as my own glory.”

As for Soto, “Ever since I have prayed the chaplet of Divine Mercy and have celebrated [the feast day], I have had many blessings,” she said. “God willing, I will plan [the novena and feast day celebration] every year to come.”

‘We’re to be mercy for one another’

“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy … .” (Diary 742)

When Father Guy Roberts was assigned to St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis in 2021, he noticed an empty space in the sanctuary of the church.

He had a vision for that space, and the parish council approved: it would become a small Divine Mercy shrine.

“Father left it to me to shop around and see what images were out there and what other church furnishings would fit in that space,” said Joe Sheehan, director of faith formation at St. Barnabas.

Many versions of the Divine Mercy image exist. Sheehan chose one that depicts the original image commissioned by St. Faustina. Kneelers and votive candles complete the shrine.

The creation of the shrine has provided an opportunity for catechesis.

“When the image was first displayed, Father [Roberts] talked at all the school Masses in late January about the message of St. Faustina and the visions she received, what mercy is and how Jesus is that mercy that we receive and are in turn called to share,” said Sheehan.

“For myself in my position, I’ve been asked by teachers to give presentations in their classes about St. Faustina, the image and to help them understand the chaplet,” he said. The students were also given laminated prayer cards of the original Divine Mercy image.

The parish has included information in its bulletin and newsletter “that highlight diary passages explaining the red and white rays [emanating from Christ’s heart in the image], the chaplet and instructions on how to pray it,” said Sheehan.

“Father has talked at homilies about how [the shrine] highlights the importance of the message of mercy, how we’re to be mercy to one another and our own need for mercy as well.”

(For more information on the Divine Mercy message, image, feast, chaplet and novena, go to thedivinemercy.org.)

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