With its trademark depiction of Christ emitting blue and red rays, the Divine Mercy image is easily familiar, found everywhere from church chapels to living rooms to the rear windows of cars on local freeways.
Now, it’s making itself at home in one of the most familiar neighborhoods in the world.
At a special Oct. 14 Mass presided by Archbishop José H. Gomez, Christ the King Church in Hollywood became LA’s official Divine Mercy Shrine, a place where the popular devotion can be venerated and celebrated in the presence of relics belonging to the saint who introduced it to the world, Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska, and the pope who championed it, St. Pope John Paul II.
In his opening remarks at the Saturday evening liturgy, Archbishop Gomez acknowledged the recognition was one more than two decades in the making for Christ the King.
“It has taken a long time, so I hope you are happy!” he said to a crowd of nearly 400 at the Mass. In the parish hall next door, some 150 others followed via livestream.
Devotion to Divine Mercy at the parish began in the 1990s thanks to its promotion by longtime Christ the King pastor Msgr. Alexander George. In 2003 his successor, Father Antonio Cacciapuoti, traveled to Rome with a group of Christ the King parishioners to have an image of the Divine Mercy from Poland blessed by John Paul for the parish.
Twenty years later, it remains the only known Divine Mercy image in the U.S. to be blessed by a 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.
Among those at the Mass was LA Auxiliary Bishop Slawomir Szkredka, a native of Poland who’s been devoted to Faustina and Divine Mercy since high school. He explained that in her famous diary, Kowalska quotes Jesus as telling her in a revelation that he would attract people to his love and pour graces upon them through the image.
“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 removes the temporal punishment due to sins.
The liturgy — which drew nearly 20 priests and a diverse mix of faithful that included Polish, Filipino, and Latino Catholics from around the archdiocese — was also a moment to pray for peace and healing days after the outbreak of war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. The theme of redemption in the weekend’s Sunday 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,” said 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.”