St. Catherine celebrates Divine Mercy

First-class relics of St. Faustina and St. Therese will be on display

Even though Easter is over, Catholics worldwide will be attending services this weekend to celebrate another special observance — Divine Mercy Sunday.

It was established by Pope John Paul II in 2000 for the universal church and is held the Second Sunday of Easter.

The observance will be especially meaningful at St. Catherine of Siena Church where a service of Divine Mercy has been held for the past 30 years. This year’s prayer service will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday and will be preceded by a video at 12:30 p.m. at the parish, Old Route 22, Duncansville.

Divine Mercy celebrations began at the church after Deacon Gene Neral learned more about the devotion in 1988. That year, he chose The National Center of the Divine Mercy at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for his required annual retreat.

When Neral returned to Altoona, he said he kept thinking: “We ought to do something to make the people aware of the devotion.”

The hope was to obtain a picture of Jesus depicting his divine mercy and to have a special program for the people in 1989 at St. Catherine’s. Neral continues to preside at the service there today, but carries out his out diaconate duties at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lakemont where he was reassigned in 1995.

The day includes:

n A video on Devotion to the Divine Mercy and the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who recorded the revelations she received about God’s mercy in a diary.

n Scripture readings on Divine Mercy.

n A talk on Divine Mercy by Neral.

n The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, an intercessory prayer which is sung using rosary beads.

n A special prayer that Jesus asked St. Faustina to say at 3 p.m., followed by the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

First-class relics of St. Faustina and St. Therese of Lisieux, France, will be on display for veneration after the service.

Neral said the relic of St. Faustina came from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland.

In 1991, a donation was given to them to assist with the renovation of their convent in anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s visit to beatify Sister Faustina. She was beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

Six months after the donation, the sisters sent a relic, he said.

Neral said it was available at the devotion in 1992 and every year since then.

The other relic was also a gift.

About four years ago, Neral gave a talk on St. Therese as part of a Divine Mercy devotion.

“She had devotion to the Divine Mercy before St. Faustina was even born,” he said. About a week later, a first-class relic of St. Therese was put in Neral’s care.

The importance of Divine Mercy became evident at his retreat in Stockbridge, Neral said. He was originally to study under the retreat’s director, who was called to Rome. Instead, he learned from Father George Kosicki, who was known worldwide for his teachings and talks on Divine Mercy.

Neral said he spent hours learning what the devotion was all about, including being introduced to St. Faustina’s diary by Kosicki, as well as learning more about the picture of Jesus symbolizing his mercy.

In 1931, St. Faustina had a vision of Jesus.He was dressed in white with his right hand raised to bless and his left hand touching his garment near his heart from which two rays came forth. One was red, symbolizing blood, the other pale, symbolizing water.

St. Faustina was to have the image venerated, first in her chapel, then throughout the world.

An artist painted the image, but St. Faustina was not satisfied with the results.

In her diary, she tells of her question to God: “Who will paint you as beautiful as you are?”

She said his response was: “Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image but in my grace.”

Since then, other artists have painted the image with the words, “Jesus I trust in you” written below it.

A Divine Mercy painting will be on display at St. Catherine of Siena Church.

Neral said many Catholics attend the Feast of Mercy there, but the numbers have gone down through the years. He said there is a good reason for that.

In 1989, he said he was not aware of any other parish in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown celebrating the feast day. Now, parishes through the diocese schedule services. Among them will be Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, which will hold a Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Neral said the prayer service, “gives people a better understanding of the importance of Divine Mercy and especially how important it is for them to trust in God’s love.”