Walk in faith

Picture of Anthony E Dundon

Anthony E Dundon

Anthony is a UK-based writer

About fifteen kilometres east of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the small village of Surmanci in the municipality of Capljina. The church at Surmanci, which is dedicated to the Divine Mercy, sits deep in a valley near the Neretva River. It has a tall steeple and a bell tower with a cross on top of the tower.

Divine Mercy implies God’s compassion for mankind and refers to the devotion that originated in the apparitions of Jesus as recounted by Sr Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun in Krakow, Poland.


In April 2002, the church, which contains the icon of the Merciful Risen Christ, was refurbished and consecrated to the Merciful Jesus on the Feast of the Divine Mercy. During a procession for peace in Split, Bosnia, Monsignor Franic, Archbishop of the city, directed that the relic be sent to Medjugorje. It remained in Medjugorje at the Chapel of Adoration but was later transferred to the altar at Surmanci.


Here it remains with the icon of St Faustina who died in 1938 aged thirty-three.

Until 1990, this icon was located in the sanctuary of the Church of the Divine Mercy in Trent, Italy, where Ugo Festa was miraculously cured. His story is inspirational.


Ugo Festa was born in 1951 in Vicenza, Italy.


Abandoned as a child by his parents, from the age of nine months he was cared for by adoptive parents. As an adolescent, his health deteriorated. In his youth, he contracted multiple sclerosis and by age thirty, he had also acquired muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, deformation of his spinal cord and poor eyesight.


Now doubly incontinent, a wheelchair provided Ugo with a certain amount of independence. But his doctors and numerous specialists deemed his condition hopeless. As a result of his predicament, Ugo started to rebel against God, but he was always aware of the power of prayer.


Some of his in-laws advised him to travel to Lourdes, but Ugo scoffed at the idea. In 1987, however, he made the journey and, although he did not receive a cure from the Healing Waters in Lourdes, he gained spiritual healing that convinced him of God’s existence.


On April 28, 1990, he went on a pilgrimage to Rome for the beatification of Fr Filipo Rinaldi, a Salesian priest greatly respected for his saintly virtues and many miracles. In Rome, Ugo met Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. On seeing Ugo, she took pity on him and urged him to go to pray at the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy at Trent.

“There is a shrine dedicated to the Divine Mercy,” said one of the sisters in her group.


“No, I’ll stay in Rome,” he said.


She handed him copies of the picture of the Divine Mercy and a Divine Mercy medal. The next day, Ugo asked to be taken to an audience with Saint Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. He wore the medal around his neck and held the picture of the Divine Mercy in his arms ready to be blessed by the pontiff.


Pope John Paul II made the sign of the cross over the images and gazing at Ugo asked, “How are you?”

Ugo told of his awful despair and how discouraged he was with his life. In his cry for help, we sense the true suffering – the lifelong pain and despair – that constantly assailed Ugo’s life.


But the pope, looking at the images of the Divine Mercy, smiled compassionately at Ugo and said, “How can you be undergoing this crisis if in your arms you have the Merciful Jesus? Entrust your whole self to Him and pray my Sister Faustina to intercede for you.”


Surprised and encouraged by the pontiff’s words, Ugo made the journey to the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy at Trent. He prayed before the image of the Divine Mercy for three days. On the following day, Ugo felt a twitch in his body. It seemed to Ugo that the image had come alive and Jesus was holding out His arms to him.


His whole being was now filled with intense heat, and he envisaged himself standing and facing the Lord with outstretched arms. In his prayers, Ugo overcame the intense bitterness he had towards his mother, who had abandoned him so long ago. Ugo could see Jesus in a white gown approaching him. He saw Jesus five times, and couldn’t help but exclaim, “He is actually coming towards me.”


Fearing for his sanity, Ugo was astonished. Suddenly all his disabilities were healed, and he was transformed into a new man. Ugo would later tell his friend Fr Seraphim, an American of the Russian Orthodox Church and co-founder of the Saint Herman of Atlanta Monastery in California, that Jesus told him to “Rise up and walk.”


“In fact, he ran out of the church,” added Fr Seraphim. “I don’t remember if he was frightened or what.”


On August 19, 1990, Ugo returned to Rome. He was seeking another audience with Pope John Paul II, which was granted. He recalled the invitation of Mother Teresa to go to Trent as something very different from the words of the pope who changed his mind. Ugo told the pontiff about the transformation in his life and the great grace he received from his devotion to the Divine Mercy.


To the amazement of his doctors, who could neither understand nor had any scientific explanation for his cure, Ugo was now healed of his disabilities and ailments. He soon worked as a volunteer nurse in Mother Teresa’s missions in India and later dedicated his life to the impoverished and needy in Africa.


In 2005, he returned to Vicenza to set up a hospice for the needy. He was now diagnosed with cancer, but he was not devastated. He said, “What should I worry about? Jesus saved me once, so everything will be fine again.”


Image: The church at Surmanci which is dedicated to the Divine Mercy.


Ugo was fully aware that he had this hidden gift in the deepest part of his soul, and he knew it was God.

Tragically, on May 22, 2005, at the age of forty-five, he was shot dead in Italy. Two men were arrested and charged with his murder. To borrow Fr Seraphim’s words, “But he predicted this. He said that his work in the streets was putting his life in danger, but he was willing to die for it.”


Ugo Festa’s healing did not contribute to the canonisation of St Faustina, but it does demonstrate the miraculous powers of the Divine Mercy and the value of prayer in the presence of the Divine Mercy. Young and old have been saved from many a calamity through the message of the Divine Mercy. For it is through divine intervention that many have prevailed against today’s evil forces.


In The Miracles of John Paul II, Polish author Pawel Zuchniewicz states, “Ugo Festa lived a month and a half longer than the man who fifteen years earlier told him to entrust himself to the Divine Mercy.”


Footnote: Maria Faustyna Kowalska reported having visions of Jesus and conversations with him throughout her life, which she noted in her diary which was later published as The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. She was canonised on April 30, 2000 by Pope John Paul II.


And another miracle

In her mid-teens American Maureen Dignan was struck down with a slowly progressive but terminal disease called Lymphedema, a cancer which causes massive swelling of the limbs.


During the next ten years, Maureen had about fifty operations and had lengthy stays in hospital for up to a year at a time. Friends and relatives suggested she should put her trust in God. But Maureen could not understand why God had allowed her to get the disease in the first place and had lost her faith completely.


Eventually the doctors decided that because of her deteriorating condition, it was necessary to amputate her leg. One evening, however, while Maureen was in hospital, her husband Bob went to see a film called ‘Divine Mercy – No Escape’. After seeing this film on the life of Sr Faustina, he was convinced of the healing powers through the intercession of a Saint.


He persuaded his wife and the doctors that she should go with him to the tomb of Sr Faustina in Poland. In March 1981, they travelled to Poland and Maureen went to confession for the first time in many years.

At the tomb, Maureen said, “Okay Faustina I came a long way, now do something.”


In her heart, she heard Sr Faustina say, “If you ask for my help, I will give it to you.”


Maureen thought she was having a nervous breakdown. All of a sudden, the pain seemed to drain from her body and her swollen leg which was due to be amputated reversed to its normal size. In the US, she was examined by five independent doctors appointed by the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints who concluded that she was completely healed. They had no medical explanation for the sudden healing of this incurable disease.


A group of theologians, and a team of cardinals and bishops also examined her case.


The cure was accepted as a miracle caused by Sr Faustina’s intercession to Divine Mercy. Sr Faustina was beatified on April 18, 1993 and canonised in April 2000 by Pope John Paul II.


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