April 12, 2017

Holyoke parish hosts performance of ‘Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy’

By Stephen Kiltonic

Actress Maria Vargo, pictured in a photo collage, travels the country portraying St. Faustina in a multimedia presentation, "Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy." St. Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in 1905 to a large peasant family in Poland. Blessed John Paul II was a longtime adherent of the saint's Divine Mercy devotions. He beatified her in 1993 and canonized her in 2000. (CNS photo/courtesy Saint Luke Productions) (April 1, 2014) See FAUSTINA April 1, 2014.

Actress Maria Vargo, pictured in a photo collage, travels the country portraying St. Faustina in a multimedia presentation, “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy.” (CNS photo/courtesy Saint Luke Productions) 

HOLYOKE – On April 7, the story of St. Faustina came alive at Our Lady of the Cross Church with the live multi-media drama, “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy.”

Nearly 300 people witnessed the riveting production which was presented by St. Luke Productions and directed by Leonardo Defilippis. It stars Maria Vargo as the 20th-century Polish mystic who was pivotal in creating the worldwide devotion to Christ’s Divine Mercy.

The production is based on the diary of St. Faustina, but Defilippis wanted to create a modern story that would resonate with today’s audiences. So, in addition to Vargo’s role as St. Faustina, the show featured two parallel narratives. In one, Divine Mercy touches the life of a dying man without faith and in the other, a modern woman, also played by Vargo, full of all the sins and anxieties of our age and culture, comes to know the peace of Christ. Taken together, the three stories contain all the elements of St. Faustina’s message – mercy, trust and forgiveness.

Throughout the performance, Vargo interacts seamlessly with the audience and other characters in the show, including Jesus, Satan (played by Defilippis) and Faustina’s confessor priest who appear on a large screen behind the simple design set on the altar. A soundtrack also set the mood and tone for each scene.

“There is something for everyone to relate to whether you relate to Faustina and all her love or her suffering or whether you relate to one of these modern characters because we all have some element of brokenness inside of us that needs healing,” said Vargo.

Vargo was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools growing up in St. Louis. “Even though faith was a part of my life, I don’t think I really had a clear understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus,” she said in an interview with Catholic Communications.

Over the course of a number of years, Vargo had a deep spiritual conversion which started when she visited Fatima, then Lourdes. “I had been praying always to God to please use my gifts and talents to serve him so when this came along, I just tried to surrender to it and put it in God’s hands,” said Vargo. “I believe the Lord chose me because I have experienced his mercy in such a great way.”

That was three and half years ago and she’s played the role of St. Faustina ever since. “I get to play a role that I believe in every word that I’m saying. So, every night it’s prayer to perform.”

To prepare for the part, Vargo read St. Faustina’s diary and spent time with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, which was St. Faustina’s order, in Dorchester, Mass. Here, she read their constitutions, which revealed how St. Faustina would have lived in the convent which is a large part of the show.

“The diary helped me internally as an actor to prepare for the spirituality of life, the intimacy of what she had with our Lord,” said Vargo.   

Faustina 1

Maria Vargo performs “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy” at Our Lady of the Cross Church in Holyoke April 7. (Photo by Stephen Kiltonic)

St. Faustina, born Helena Kowalska, grew up a poor Polish peasant girl when Jesus appeared to her telling her to become a nun. In 1930, she began to receive regular mystical visits from Jesus, asking Faustina to spread devotion to his Divine Mercy. Her mission was fulfilled after her death when St. John Paul II declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday. In April 2000, Faustina Kowalska was declared the first saint of the 21st century.

The performance has gotten rave reviews wherever it has appeared. “This is a play that changes people’s hearts and minds through God’s Divine Mercy. It deserves to be lived in the moment so I work very hard to try to be as present as I can possibly be and to put as much passion and energy because I love it. I believe in it,” said Vargo who is nearing her 300th performance as St. Faustina.

“It was so moving. Such a powerful message, transformative almost, and I just wasn’t expecting to be so moved by the message, of the story behind St. Faustina,” said Tina Grass, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Cross Parish. “She’s (Vargo) extraordinary. The best 90 minutes I’ve spent in a very long time.”

Vargo also is a talented singer who has released her own CD of original Christian music and more recently, a Christmas CD.  But, she doesn’t have any plans to give up her role just yet.

“I know I’ll always continue to talk about his mercy and his love because it’s the greatest message to share,” said Vargo.

A video version of this story will be featured on the April 22nd edition of “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.