So much of the human ‘search’—for meaning or freedom or happiness—is also the search for peace. Peace amid the vicissitudes of life and its tragedies; peace in knowing that no matter how far we fall, there is a mercy—boundless and divine—that can carry us heavenward again.

If we want true peace, however, we must first look within, to our souls, says John Canavan, Director of Divine Mercy Publications. ‘You have to have peace in your soul first before you can find true peace in the world,’ he explains. This peace is ultimately found in the hope-filled experience of Christ’s abundant mercy.

John Canavan has been promoting the message of Divine Mercy for nearly 34 years. From a humble 1940s weatherboard house in Camberwell, and with a group of volunteers that keep the gears turning, John and his team at Divine Mercy Publications have devoted their lives to spreading what they believe to be the most important message of all: that of God’s infinite mercy, especially as communicated through the Polish saint Maria Faustina Kowalska.

For John, who spent years as an R-rated comedian in the entertainment industry, the discovery of this mercy altered the course of his life forever.

He first discovered it in the sacrament of Reconciliation, which he returned to after two decades of refusing to believe in God because of a tragic death in the family. This discovery was then deepened through the writings of St Faustina, whose diary recounts a number of mystical experiences and private revelations given by Jesus about his mercy.

‘Life is like a jigsaw,’ John says, ‘and sometimes God takes a big part of that jigsaw out of your life and you question, you say, “Why why, why?” But he replaces it with his love and mercy, and that binds and fills the void … A lot of people turn away from God because of suffering, particularly tragedy, but I did that and it made my life worse. It’s only with God’s grace you can get by.’

Receiving the gift of divine mercy is like ‘becoming spiritual millionaires,’ he says. ‘We sit in front of the TV waiting for our numbers to come up, thinking we’re going to be millionaires overnight, but here is the greatest thing. Imagine the greatest sin—whatever it may be—and if someone sincerely repents with an act of love, they would go to heaven that night if God took their soul.’

This is ultimately what the message of Divine Mercy, through St Faustina, is about: creating those opportunities for people to open their hearts to mercy.

In her diary, St Faustina records one particular request from Jesus that has become the high point of Divine Mercy devotion every year: the feast of Divine Mercy.

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John Canavan and team at Divine Mercy Publications

‘I desire that the first Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy,’ Jesus told her (Diary, §299). ‘On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy’ (§699).

On 30 April 2000, at the beginning of the third millennium, Pope John Paul II made this request a reality during Faustina’s canonisation. The Sunday after Easter has ever since been known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Parishes around the world celebrate additional Masses for the occasion, accompanied by the sacrament of Reconciliation beforehand and recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Divine Mercy Publications has produced a booklet detailing every parish across the Archdiocese of Melbourne that is celebrating the occasion and what they are doing.

Over the years, John has seen the powerful effects of this feast and regularly hears from priests about the people who come to confession on Divine Mercy Sunday.

‘On the day when you’re there, and you see the big Divine Mercy image, there’s a special sense of holiness, and there’s a special sense of our Lord’s mercy evident from the tabernacle,’ he says, ‘and people’s hearts are open to receiving grace, particularly to confession.’

[People] want to start a new life, and the feast of Divine Mercy gives them that opportunity to come closer to the merciful heart of Christ.

‘There are a lot of people, I’m told by priests, who haven’t been for a long time. And why do they come? Because of the promise of total forgiveness of sins,’ John explains. ‘One priest said the amount of confessions he hears on Divine Mercy Sunday is so much more than all the confessions he hears on Easter, Saturdays and Christmas combined.’

‘Priests are humbled themselves, because they’re touched by people’s sincerity and genuineness ... that they want to be healed. They want to start a new life, and the feast of Divine Mercy gives them that opportunity to come closer to the merciful heart of Christ.’

The sacrament of Reconciliation is so powerful, John says, because ‘you get an infusion of grace in the soul. You get that divine grace and that strength’ that comes from the healing touch of Christ.

Some of Jesus’ famous words to St Faustina were: ‘When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting there for you’ (§1602).

While John recognises that the diary of St Faustina constitutes ‘private revelations’ that nobody is obligated by faith to believe, he also thinks it would be an ‘injustice’ to ignore the fruits of it in people’s lives. ‘Look around the world … it is bringing so many back.’

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John Canavan

Divine Mercy Publications’ promotion of the Divine Mercy image—which St Faustina says in her diary Jesus asked her to paint—is also an important part of their mission. There is something about the image that has a powerful effect on people, just as it did for John when he first discovered it over 30 years ago.

‘Over the 30 plus years that I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen people come and go, but I’ve always found that an image of the merciful Jesus can bring peace to people,’ he says. ‘It gets them to trust again in our Lord … Jesus said, “My gaze from this image is like my gaze from the cross”(§299).

‘You may think it’s just another devotion, but it’s God’s devotion to us in these times of mercy,’ he says.

Unexpectedly—or perhaps not—the COVID pandemic proved ‘spiritually amazing’ for the spread of St Faustina’s message, John says.

‘A lot of people were looking, were searching ... I think it was great for the Lord because people had more time to think about life. All of a sudden, the things they were used to doing were put on hold and they had time. So they searched.’

It was during the pandemic that Fr Chris Alar MIC, with whom John and Divine Mercy Publications have partnered before, became an online sensation for his teachings on St Faustina and the Divine Mercy.

Over the years, there have been many times that John thought their apostolate would close entirely, either from lack of volunteers or lack of funds. But God has always provided. ‘He keeps the whole thing going.’

‘It’s not about financial gain; it’s about the ability to help, to be an instrument that our Lord uses to bring people closer to his mercy.’