October 5, 2011

Feast of St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), the First Saint of the 21st Century

St. Faustina on Spiritual Warfare

“My daughter, I want to teach you about spiritual warfare.

“Never trust in yourself, but abandon yourself totally to My will. In desolation, darkness and various doubts, have recourse to Me…

“Do not fear struggle… Always fight with the deep conviction that I am with you.

“Do not be guided by feeling, because it is not always under your control; but all merit lies in the will.” (1760)

Who was St. Faustina?

Saint Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village west of Lodz, Poland on August 25, 1905. She was the third of 10 children.

When she was almost 20, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, and was given the name Sister Maria Faustina, to which she added, “of the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

In the 1930’s, Sister Faustina received a message of mercy from the Lord that she was told to spread throughout the world. She was asked to become the apostle and secretary of God’s mercy, a model of how to be merciful to others, and an instrument for reemphasizing God’s plan of mercy for the world.

After her death from tuberculosis in 1938, even her closest associates were amazed when they learned what great sufferings and deep mystical experiences had been given to this Sister, who had always been so cheerful and humble.

Her diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul, has become the handbook for devotion to the Divine Mercy.

Two decades after her death, the Divine Mercy devotion was banned by the Vatican, but it was approved again in 1978.

She was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonized on April 30, 2000 — the first saint in the 21st century.

Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated the Second Sunday of Easter (which is the first Sunday after Easter).

“Your mission is to pray”

Cardinal Andrzej Deskur was a close friend of Blessed Pope John Paul II (Deskur is seated behind Pope John Paul in the photo below).

Deskur died just one month ago, on September 3.

We recall him with an article by one of our writers, Wlodzimierz Redzioch which appeared in Italian in the L’Osservatore Romano on September 10, and which appears in the October 2011 issue of Inside the Vatican, which has just been published.

Some of the information contained in this article has never before appeared in English.


by Wlodzimierz Redzioch

On May 1, 2011, more than 1,500,000 faithful filled St Peter’s Square and the streets around the Vatican. All these people had come to pay tribute to the Pope who had become part of their lives in the 27 years of his pontificate.

At 10:35 a.m., the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI pronounced the beatification formula: “Acceding to the request of our Brother Agostino Cardinal Vallini, our Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome and many of our brothers in the Episcopate and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority, we declare that the venerable Servant of God John Paul II, Pope, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated in the places and according to the rules established by law, every year on October 22. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

John Paul II had been proclaimed blessed.

The canvas covering the tapestry with the portrait of the Blessed hanging on the façade of the basilica was removed. An uproar of exultation rang out in St Peter’s Square: the jubilant crowd began to applaud, to sing and to wave flags; a big banner bearing the inscription Deo gratias (“Thanks be to God”) rose up in the sky drawn by red balloons.

While the eyes of the world were watching the holy Mass celebrated in St Peter’s Square, three men came out of the Palazzo San Carlo (St Charles’ Palace) behind St. Peter’s Basilica: a cardinal in a wheel chair, pushed by a strong young priest, and a bishop.

After crossing St Martha’s Square, they entered the basilica through the side door called Door of Prayer. The silence and half light in the basilica contrasted with the jubilation and strong light of the Roman spring outside.

The three men came close to the middle of the basilica where then coffin with the mortal remains of John Paul II had already been placed in front of the main altar and guarded by four Swiss guards standing still. Maybe one of these four guards recognized the first three visitors who were coming to pay homage to the new Blessed: Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Monsignor Pierfranco Pastore, a bishop, who had served as secretary of the same council for years, and Father Stefano Occelli, Cardinal Deskur’s secretary and at the same time his faithful and indispensable male nurse.

The three stayed in prayer for a while, Monsignor Pastore and Father Stefano touching John Paul II’s coffin with devotion.

The cardinal too tried to do so: he raised and reached out his right arm, but did not manage to touch the coffin; the pedestal on which it was placed and the ornament around it made it impossible to move the wheelchair closer to it.

The cardinal’s secretary then took a white handkerchief and a rosary out of his pocket, placed them on the coffin and gave them to the cardinal who kissed them with great emotion.

To Cardinal Deskur, this was a very important moment he had been awaiting for a long time. From the moment he received word that John Paul II would be beatified, Deskur had been counting the days that it took to May 1: 100, 99, 98, etc.

He had hardly expected to live long enough to see the beatification of his friend, given his precarious state of health and his old age — 87 years.

Yet Providence allowed him to live until the day that the Church beatified Karol Wojtyla.

And for Cardinal Deskur this event spelt the end of the mission which John Paul II had entrusted to him way back in 1978.

“I’ve come to pay a visit”

After being elected Pope, Wojtyla went in private to the Gemelli University Polyclinic, which made a great stir, to visit Deskur, who had suffered a stroke.

This was the Pope’s first “journey” after his election.

On this occasion, the Holy Father delivered a short speech in which he said, amongst other things: “I’ve come here to pay a visit to my friend and colleague, bishop Andrzej Deskur, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, from whom I have received a great deal of affection and friendship and who has been in hospital in serious health condition for some days, i.e., since the day before the conclave. I intended to visit not only Cardinal Deskur, but all the other patients too.”

When Deskur recovered and returned home, he received a personal letter from John Paul II; this letter began with the following sentence: “Now you know what your mission in the Church is…”

It was the mission of prayer for the Holy Father and his pontificate, which he accomplished for 27 years, until John Paul II’s death, and which he continued even after April 2, 2005, praying for the present Pope.

Thanks to the visit which the newly-elected Pope paid to the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the world discovered the friendship between two great Poles: Karol Wojtyla and Andrzej Deskur.

This friendship had begun in the seminary of Krakow way back in 1945, was renewed during Vatican Council II, and strengthened during the Polish Pope’s pontificate, turning into a communion of hearts.

These two friends were regularly in contact and saw each other when the Pope was free from the many engagements of his ministry.

Deskur had lunch in the Pope’s apartment every Sunday, obviously when the Pope was not away from the Vatican.

Among their fixed dates was St Andrew’s day — Deskur’s first name was Andrew.

For many years, John Paul II visited Deskur, whose apartment was situated in the San Sarlo Palace behind the apse of St Peter’s basilica, to celebrate with him, on St. Andrew’s Day.

In the last years of his pontificate, the Pope found it hard to move, so it was the cardinal who visited him in his apartment to celebrate his birthday.

When they were together, they almost looked like each other, even physically: illness had confined both of them to a wheelchair and reduced their left arms to immobility and often prevented them from speaking.
But even without speaking they could understand each other simply by exchanges glances.

John Paul II never forgot his friend’s birthday… because Deskur had been born on February 29 of a leap year, 1924. He therefore celebrated his birthday every four years.

The Pope joked about this, saying that cardinal Deskur, given the number of birthdays celebrated, was still young.

“I have kept it locked all these years”

When Deskur turned 80 in February 2004, John Paul II sent him a personal letter written in Polish.

I paid a visit to Deskur a few days later. He showed me the Holy Father’s letter saying: “Make a duplicate of this letter. Maybe you will make it known one day.”

I have kept it locked all these years, but now I think the time has come to read it in order to understand the role played by Andrzej Deskur in John Paul II’s life and mission.

In this letter the Pope said among other things:

“Thank you, first of all, for the support you have given me in my service at the Apostolic See with the suffering you have borne in your silent commitment to Christ and His Mother, in your constant prayer and spirit of love for the Church and also for your fraternal advice. May your birthday be an opportunity for me to express my gratitude for all you have done, with God’s help, as a priest, bishop and cardinal. It is impossible to list everything.

“In your capacity as president of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications you endeavoured to teach members of the Church to use the media in such a way as to turn them into effective instruments of evangelization.

“In your capacity as president of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate, you draw abundantly on your treasure of Marian spirituality to raise in all the faithful the love for the One who started our redemption when she said fiat (be it done unto me according to Thy word).

“Also, let me mention your active participation in beatification and canonization causes, of Polish saints in particular.

“The Universal and Polish Church owe you a great deal. May your ‘twentieth’ birthday give you the opportunity to experience the love of all those who surround you with their affection, and may your service to the Church in years to come be as fruitful as that of these first eight decades.

“In my prayers I commit you to God’s mercy and bless you with all my heart.”

But who was Cardinal Deskur? He was born at Sancygniów, near Kielce, into a noble Polish family of French descent on February 29, 1924.

During World War II, he attended clandestine courses at the Jagellonian University, obtaining a degree in law in 1945. In that same year he entered the Metropolitan Seminary of Krakow, where he met a student some years older than he, Karol Wojtyla.

He was ordained by Cardinal Gerlier in France on August 20, 1950. He continued his studies at the University of Fribourg, where he graduated in theology. After two years of study and pastoral work he was called to the Vatican in 1952.

He worked at the Curia while studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. In this period he held the post of undersecretary of the Pontifical Commission for Cinema, Radio and Television (1954-1964), of secretary of the Preparatory Secretariat for the Press of Vatican Council II (1960-1962) and of “expert” of the same conciliar assembly (1962-1965) and participated in the conciliar Commissions for Bishops, the Clergy, the Laity, the Press.

His name is associated with the Council’s document Inter mirifica, to whose preparation he made a significant contribution.

He was appointed president of the Pontifical Commission (now Council) for Social Communications in 1973. After being appointed bishop on June 17, 1974, he was consecrated in St Peter’s basilica on June 30 of the same year.

In his capacity as “minister of the media” he was one of those who introduced the Church into the world of social communications; he was also among the creators of the Vatican Press Office and the Vatican Film Library (Filmoteca Vaticana). Radio Veritas, which aired religious programs to Asia and Oceania, was established through his offices.

On June 15, 1980, John Paul II appointed him president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission and made him an archbishop. He also appointed him cardinal in the consistory of May 25, 1985, with the titular church of St Cesareo in Palatio (a deaconship elevated pro hac vice, i.e. for the occasion, to presbyteral title on January 29, 1996).

In his final years, Deskur led a retired life devoted to prayer and reading, owing to his health conditions. The doctors said that, given his clinical picture, he was alive by miracle.

This “miracle” lasted until September 3 this year, when his life came to an end in his Vatican apartment to give way to eternal life beside his friend, the Blessed John Paul II.

His death has deprived the Church of a faithful and intelligent servant, a holy priest, a devotee of the Blessed Virgin and Poland of a great patriot.

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