It all began in 1990. Theresa was attending a Rosary Congress weekend in Massachusetts with the youth group from her parish and one of the parish priests. They were blessed to have found free lodging in the local town through a connection the priest had with someone in the area. Each morning, they would go to the local church to celebrate mass. It was then that Theresa first saw her. She remembers thinking how strange she looked, this Lady of Czestochowa, with her black face and scars on her cheek and throat. Theresa asked the parish priest about her since she had no knowledge of the icon. He himself knew little about her except that she was Polish, so she vowed to ask a Polish friend about her when they returned home. However, her friend was also lacking in knowledge except to say that the picture had been damaged in a war which caused the face to be scarred. It was not until much later that Theresa learned more about this mysterious image of Our Lady.
About six months later, Theresa went to confession in a neighboring parish. She was feeling very down at the time, struggling with many difficulties, most prominent her own battle for healing from an abortion she had while in her teens. Though many years later and deep into her faith, she still experienced times of despair. She couldn’t seem to grasp the forgiveness of God, to feel it in depths of her soul. The priest in the confessional had just returned from a pilgrimage to Poland, and as her penance he gave her a 3-day novena to Our Lady of Czestochowa. She doesn’t know exactly why, but she didn’t stop after 3 days. The prayers to this Lady became a part of her daily prayer time, still not knowing much about her, but deeply drawn to her .
“She was trying to tell me something, this Mother of Mercy, and I trusted in her intercession through this image, which somehow had a very strong impact on me” Theresa relays.
After some research she found out various things about the icon. The picture is sometimes called the Black Madonna and is said to have been painted by St. Luke. Many miracles have been associated with the icon, which was moved various times and saved from destruction during the siege of Jerusalem. It was moved by St. Helena who gave it to her son Constantine the Great who then erected a Church at Constantinople dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary. There, it became very famous and many graces and miracles were received by all that prayed before the image. It was in the reign of Casmir the Great that the icon made its way to Poland and was placed in the Castle of Belz which was attacked by Tartars.
The bow of a tartar warrior entered the chapel and struck the throat of the virgin, a mark that to this day remains. Many attempts were made to restore the icon but no matter what was done or how various artists attempted to cover the scars, they would reappear again. It was obvious Our Lady was making a statement, and it was then that Theresa realized the significance of the icon – how our society tries to cover the scars of abortion. There is a refusal to acknowledge the very real suffering, and even in the best of circumstances the feelings of those who mourn are often not legitimized.
So often these feelings are pushed aside by even well meaning people, who tell those in pain to “forget about it,” “you are forgiven,” “it is in the past.” But the wounds keep on appearing and crying out to be heard.
In thanksgiving for her healing, Theresa decided to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA. How could she ever express her gratitude? When she went into the chapel in Stockbridge she was not surprised to see a stained glass window of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It was then that Theresa recognized it was Our Lady who had led her to her son and healing. She also, for the first time, realized how recently, it had become more publicized that Pope John Paul II had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Czestochowa and how he must pray for his children, to these devotions. That through his prayer unbeknown to her at the time, she was probably drawn into these devotions.
The Holy Father’s great devotion and her own consecration to Our Lady, led Theresa to thank God for Pope John Paul II, Our Lady who always leads us to her son, and Jesus who in his infinite mercy took pity on her, a poor sinner, and lifted her up to Himself allowing her to experience the depths of His love and mercy…a love waiting for each and every one of us, no matter what the sin.