ABOUT 19 years ago Manly woman Crescentia Anderson, then living in her native Papua New Guinea, had the spark of an idea to start an apostolate to the Divine Mercy.
The inspiration came from a little leaflet on the devotion she picked up in St Monica’s Cathedral in Cairns.
Today the awesome Shrine of Divine Mercy Chapel, taking shape in PNG’s Mt Hagen district, can be traced to that initial response.
Meeting Crescentia, a force of nature, is an experience in itself, and an inspirational one.
“Brother Paul, God is great,” she says, before taking me back to that day in January 1994 when she invited three other women to start devotions in honour of the Divine Mercy at St Mary’s Cathedral, Port Moresby.
“The Spirit moved me and ‘bang’ that was it – I realised if I didn’t do it, who would.
“I handpicked each of them; I didn’t really know them but was somehow led to them.
“Each immediately said ‘yes’, starting with a very helpful lady who worked in a chemist in Port Moresby where I sometimes got cough mixture.”
It wasn’t until later, Crescentia realised how fortuitous her choice had been.
“One day in 1998, a young man in the Divine Mercy prayer group said to me: ‘Aunty did you realise four of you represent the four regions of PNG (the Highlands, the New Guinea islands, the PNG mainland and the southern region)?’
“I said: ‘Son, you’re right; this is truly the work of God’.”
Crescentia was initially led in a dream to devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Full of enthusiasm, she led a pilgrimage group from PNG to South Korea’s Our Lady of Naju shrine in October 1993.
“We brought back two litres each of holy water from Mother Mary’s well there as well as two small statues each,” she said.
“But, I believe the Mother ultimately led me to the Son.”
On her return to Port Moresby, she approached St Joseph’s parish priest Fr Paul Guy about forming a Divine Mercy prayer group at St Mary’s Cathedral.
“Fr Paul had not been enthusiastic about the pilgrimage to South Korea and was not keen on the prayer group either,” she said.
“He said he’d seen others who had tried to start similar prayer groups and had failed.
“I said: don’t compare me with other people, pray for me and if it’s God’s will it will happen; if it’s not, I will have done my best.”
The prayer meeting, to be held each Sunday, had a 1.45pm arrival for a 2pm start.
Prayer and hymns were held for an hour, concluding with the Divine Mercy 3pm prayer.
The apparently miraculous healing of Mt Hagen’s Rose Ume – who suffered from a chronic back problem – at this first prayer meeting would ultimately lead to the start of the Shrine of Divine Mercy Chapel.
At this first meeting, Crescentia challenged the other three women to each bring someone along next time.
“Next Sunday numbers had increased to seven, then they went to nine, then to 12, then to 17,” she said enthusiastically.
“We lost count after that – and by June 1995, we had two other Divine Mercy prayer groups formed in other parishes and soon these had up to 100 attending.”
In December 1995, another significant event occurred when two members of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy visited Australia to promote the Feast of the Divine Mercy.
It had been one of their congregation, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, who had laid the foundations for what became proclaimed by Pope John Paul II as Divine Mercy Sunday on April 30, 2000.
The pope made the proclamation in his homily at the Polish saint’s canonisation.
The Sisters were speaking in some southern states and going as far north as Cairns.
For the ever-enthusiastic Crescentia, the chance to divert these spokeswomen for the Divine Mercy cause was too good to miss.
“Through fundraising around Port Moresby, we managed to find enough money to pay their fares to PNG,” she said.
“St Mary’s Cathedral was packed to overflowing to hear the Sisters’ message, as were other churches they visited.”
Another significant link in the chain of events to start the Mt Hagen chapel came in October 2005 when Crescentia and two other members of the St Mary’s Cathedral group went to Cracow in Poland to attend the Second International Congress on the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
The group lit a candle from one originally lit by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
The candle re-lit and placed in a lamp was welcomed to Port Moresby at a Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in 2006.
The lamp was then taken by eight women on the invitation of Rugist village, Rose Ume’s home.
“We celebrated the Feast of Divine Mercy there in 2006 and many wonderful things happened,” Crescentia said.
“After we left, I heard people had been touched by the message of the Divine Mercy.
“They were particularly impressed by healing of a young man with epilepsy and saw the power of Divine Mercy.
“It was the people from the village who initiated and decided to build the shrine – I had no hand in this, only God had.”
Funding has been a challenge.
“Business houses in Mt Hagen were approached but there was no response,” Crescentia said.
“The people’s Polish parish priest Fr Bogdan said ‘How are we going to afford to build this?’
“They said they trusted Jesus and the chapel would be built.”
In 2010, the priest went to Poland to appeal for help and received financial support.
Local fundraising began after a statement by Archbishop Douglas Young of Mt Hagen during his celebration of the Feast of Divine Mercy at the incomplete chapel.
So far about 80,000 kina (about $35,000) has been raised and spent but a further 150 to 200,000 kina is still needed to complete the chapel.
“God willing, more money will come in even after the chapel is completed to build a pilgrim house and a convent for St Faustina’s congregation,” Crescentia said.
It’s a huge project but already well on the way. The chapel still needs a roof.
“How do they do it?” Crescentia said.
“To tell the truth, I don’t know … all I asked for was space for images of Mary, St Joseph and the Divine Mercy.
“I’m so amazed with the dedication, love and joy they’re doing this.
“The hope is the chapel can be completed by Divine Mercy Sunday next year so it can be blessed and become a house of prayer.”
Meanwhile, the devotion continues to spread, with five PNG dioceses now involved.
In 2006, 10,000 copies were printed in PNG’s lingua franca, Tok pisin.
In 2009, 20,000 copies on the Divine Mercy were printed in English either to be sold or handed out free to disadvantaged people.
Donations for the Mt Hagen chapel continue to come in from various sources including $1000 recently from a Wynnum couple.
People often ask Crescentia why she is so passionate about the apostolate.
“Because the most beautiful thing in my life is to have known the Mercy of God – his love is above and beyond our sins; his love is unfathomable,” she said.