With its trademark depiction of Christ emitting blue and red rays from the center of his chest, the Divine Mercy image is easily recognizable, seen everywhere from church chapels to living rooms to the rear windows of cars on local freeways.
Now, it’s making a home in one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world.
At an Oct. 14 Mass, Archbishop José H. Gomez dedicated a new Divine Mercy Shrine at Christ the King Church in Hollywood, capping a more than twenty-year effort by parishioners to establish a center for this popular devotion, which originated in the mid-20th century visions of the Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska, and was championed by St. Pope John Paul II.
“It has taken a long time, so I hope you are happy!” Archbishop Gomez acknowledged to the nearly 400 faithful gathered for the Mass, and hundreds more following on livestream.
Christ the King parishioners began their devotion to Divine Mercy in the 1990s, encouraged by longtime pastor Msgr. Alexander George. In 2003 his successor, Father Antonio Cacciapuoti, traveled to Rome with a group of parishioners to have an image of the Divine Mercy from Poland blessed by John Paul for the parish.
Today, this remains the only known Divine Mercy image in the U.S. to be blessed by the saint. The shrine also houses relics belonging to St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who chose to die in another man’s place in Auschwitz, and Faustina’s spiritual director, Blessed Michael Sopoćko.
New LA Auxiliary Bishop Slawomir Szkredka, a native of Poland, was among the faithful on hand to dedicate the new shrine. He said he has been devoted to Faustina and Divine Mercy since high school, captivated by Kowalska’s account of how Jesus in a vision told her to have the image created and promised that the image would attract people to his love and be a fountain of graces.
“I think the history of what has happened since this image was painted proves that God is doing something through it,” said Szkredka, who was also joined by fellow new Auxiliary Bishop Matthew Elshoff at the Mass.
The meaning of Divine Mercy, Szkredka said, is best illustrated by the way Christ sought out the disciples after his resurrection, “entering their darkness, bringing them peace and blessing them.”
“They needed that forgiveness more than anyone else because they had betrayed him,” said Szkredka. “They received it and I think it continues to speak to us just as it did to them.”
It’s a message that has made a difference in the lives of local Catholics like Edith Seneres, a parishioner at St. Mariana de Paredes in Pico Rivera who came for the dedication. She credits Divine Mercy with causing a “change of heart” when she struggled with belief earlier in life and more recently, a miraculous recovery from cancer.
“It’s about the mercy that Jesus showers us,” said Seneres.
With the blessed image present toward the back of the church, reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet before every Mass has become a tradition at Christ the King. The parish has hosted an annual Divine Mercy Congress since 2006, inviting speakers and participants from near and far. The dedication Mass coincided with this year’s congress, a weekend event with opportunities for prayer, reflection, and confession.
Now, thanks to its new designation, Catholics who visit Christ the King on Divine Mercy Sunday (the second Sunday of Easter) and fulfill the usual conditions (Confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the pope) can obtain a plenary indulgence, which according to Catholic teaching, removes the temporal punishment due to sins.
The Oct. 14 liturgy — which drew nearly 20 priests and a diverse mix of faithful that included Polish, Filipino, and Latino Catholics from around the archdiocese — became an occasion to pray for peace and healing days in the Holy Land, following the terrorist attacks against Israel by the group Hamas which has led to war there.
The theme of redemption in the weekend’s liturgical readings, said Archbishop Gomez, was a reminder that God “is still the Lord of the nations, the Lord of all peoples.”
“Let’s open our hearts to his mercy, to taste and see his goodness, to know how much he loves us, and the beautiful plans that he has for our lives,” urged Archbishop Gomez in his homily.
Afterward, Christ the King pastor Father Juan Ochoa said that the timing of the dedication was important because “more than ever, the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be heard, that God does not cancel people, he cancels our sins.”
Asked about the shrine’s seemingly providential location in Hollywood — home to an industry perceived as increasingly hostile to the Gospel — Ochoa said he thinks “it’s especially here where God wants to send a message sent to us.”
“Especially in the midst of chaos, the message of God needs to be heard and proclaimed.”