Sisters practise divine mercy in many ministries

Srs. Justyna Kwak, left, and Annunciata Cornelio, bring many ministries to Maskwacis.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Srs. Justyna Kwak, left, and Annunciata Cornelio, bring many ministries to Maskwacis.

July 27, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Divine mercy is more than just a prayer for the Polish religious congregation Sisters of Merciful Jesus.

It's more than an image, a novena, an hour or a feast day. Divine mercy is their charism – their special gift, and it is their spirituality – their way of living the Gospel.

The relatively young congregation, founded in the 1940s during the Second World War, has been living out that spirituality in the Archdiocese of Edmonton for almost 20 years.

"Divine mercy is not just praying the chaplet at 3 o'clock or hanging up the image of divine mercy in our house so that we receive the blessings," said Sister Annunciata Cornelio, 39. She is house superior of the convent based in Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema).

Divine Mercy is "also our way of life," she said.

For the apostolic congregation, whose members wear habits and live in community, their mission is to worship, to proclaim and to obtain – by prayer and sacrifice – mercy for themselves and for the whole world.

Their apostolate is broad, and includes anything to do with sharing God's love and making known his divine mercy to those they encounter.

For the six sisters in Western Canada, that has taken the form of serving in parishes, through ministries such as adult faith formation to preparing children for the sacrament of First Communion, First Reconciliation, Confirmation and Baptism. They also give retreats, Lenten missions, Advent missions, Bible camps for children. One sister also does prison ministry.

At one time they had a radio ministry – of course, at the hour of mercy, 3 p.m. – when the sisters would broadcast a time of prayer, reflection and meditation on the local airwaves for the Maskwacis community.

It is that hour, the hour Jesus died on the cross, from which the sisters draw their strength.

"It's such an important hour for us to pause and reflect because that is the hour that he poured himself completely out to us, expressing the depths of his love and forgiveness for us," said Cornelio.

"We can't give love unless we receive love and when we look at the cross and look at the crucifix, we are reminded of how much Jesus Christ has loved us and how much he's forgiven us.

"So if I remember how much he's forgiven me, then as hard and challenging as it can be, how can I not forgive my neighbour?"

LOVE IN ACTION

The sisters see mercy, as described by Pope John Paul II, as love in action.

The world is in need of God's love and he is asking us to be his hands, his smile and his heart, to be a reflection of his divine mercy to others in need, said Cornelio.

"It's a way of life, not just for us as a congregation, but for all of us to live: It's a means of healing for the world because that's what we lack," she said.

St. Faustina

St. Faustina

It was during a time when it was common for people to only see God as a God of judgment, as a wrathful and punishing God, when the Lord appeared to the young Polish nun Faustina Kowalska, the spiritual mother of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus.

Born Helena Kowalska on Aug. 25, 1905, Kowalska was a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

The Image of Divine Mercy is one of the five elements that the Lord revealed to Faustina that he desired to be used to make his love known to the world.

God wanted people to see him as the Father of mercy, as the God who loves us and forgives us, so it would be easier for us to approach him, said Cornelio.

FIVE ELEMENTS

The other four elements which the Lord wanted Faustina to make known are the hour of divine mercy; the chaplet of divine mercy; the novena to the divine mercy, and the establishment of the feast of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter.

Faustina died in 1938 due to tuberculosis and was unable to fulfil the additional task she received from the Lord, which was the founding of the order devoted to the divine mercy. Before she died, one of the important obligations Faustina impressed upon her confessor, Father Michael Sopocko, was that he must never stop proclaiming the message of divine mercy.

Sopocko would go on to found the Sisters of Merciful Jesus in 1941.

OUTSIDE DANGERS

Due to the war, it was too dangerous for the sisters to live in community. So the co-foundresses lived with their families until 1947, the year the congregation began its community life. The main ministries of the order were in education and health care.

Faustina was beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

While reading the lives of the saints two women in Stony Plain first heard of Blessed Faustina. The lay women were living in community at Ephphata House conducting a faith formation program when they came across Faustina's Diary: Divine Mercy in my Soul.

CALL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

They felt they were being called by the Holy Spirit to live the way of life described in the diary. But the Sisters of Merciful Jesus was still a new, very small and unknown congregation at the time, so they were not even sure if the congregation existed.

With the permission of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, on the condition that they continue the search for the congregation, the lay women began living in community in 1994.

In 1997, after identifying the motherhouse and taking part in formation by correspondence, two delegates were dispatched to help start a novitiate house in Stony Plain, where the two lay women made their first vows.

In 1999, the archbishop dispatched the sisters to Maskwacis, where they have been serving ever since at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish which serves four First Nations reserves.

Today, the religious order has about 150 members around the world and continues to garner vocations. The sisters work in 17 monastic houses in Poland, where they have established a hospice, a house for the protection of unborn life, where they give retreats and catechize.

In addition, they have 16 houses abroad, including the house in Maskwacis and a retreat centre in Calgary, which was opened in 2014.