Merciful Like the Father Icon - 24x36, Brich Panel, 24k Gold, Acrylic. Copyright © Vivian Imbruglia
Vivian Imbruglia was in her studio when she first heard news of Pope Francis’s Jubilee of Mercy.
“I had this burning feeling that the Year of Mercy was so needed. And what could I do?” she said.
Imbruglia, who creates icons for religious groups, churches, and other commissioners, began praying and researching everything she could about the Year of Mercy—a year dedicated to the Pope’s call for a “revolution of tenderness.” The Jubilee, which began last December, runs until November 20, 2016. On April 3, Catholics will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast day that celebrates St. Faustina’s revelations on mercy.
Imbruglia came up with a sketch for an icon, which she brought to Adoration on a crumpled piece of paper. She knelt, laid open the sketch, and asked if this was the image that would draw people in. In response, she felt peace.
For the next month, Imbruglia worked feverishly, spending 10 to 12 hours a day in her California studio creating—or to use the technical term, writing—an icon inspired by Pope Francis’s prayer for the Year of Mercy. Her neck strained, her arm hurt, but she kept going. She prayed the Our Lady Undoer of Knots novena over and over, played a musical meditation on divine mercy more than 50 times, listened to St. Faustina’s diary twice, gobbling everything she could about divine mercy.
She began on July 1st. By July 31st, she was done. It was the most physically exhausting icon she’d ever written. Imbruglia sat back, poured herself a half a glass of wine, and stared at her painting, praying that it would pull people in and help them understand the Pope’s message of mercy.
“I can only tell you that that burning feeling in my heart, when it was done, it was lifted. I did what I could do,” she said.
After that, the icon was out of Imbruglia’s hands. It was sent to Chicago’s National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a saint who appears in her painting, where it still sits today (you can view the icon via a panoramic video on the shrine’s website.
But that wasn’t the end of the icon’s travels. Reprints and images of it have spread around the world—with churches and religious groups from Hong Kong to Scotland to Denver clamoring to use it in their bulletin or website.
And it’s easy to see why. Imbruglia created a “softer, gentler” version of the official logo of the Year of Mercy, which depicts Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a “lost soul” on his back, one of their eyes merging. She started off by painting the Holy Door, emblematic of the Pope beginning the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is only opened during a jubilee year. She then painted Christ on top of the doors.
Imbruglia created the painting to be viewed alongside the prayer, so viewers can read a line and then look at the painting. As the viewer’s eye trails down the image, she or he will see Zacchaeus, Matthew, Mary Magdalene, Peter, who are mentioned in the prayer, and then next to them, ordinary people. She included everyday people because, “it’s you and I who need to be practicing these acts of mercy throughout this year,” she said.
Imbruglia hopes each viewer will take away something different from the painting—from the unusual color choice of red for Mary, to the bright light that connects Jesus and Mary, to the lost soul’s one drooping eye gazing up at Jesus.
Imbruglia says it’s hard to take credit for writing this icon, because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and the words of Pope Francis. In her eyes, she’s anonymous. Though that doesn’t mean it was easy to let go of. Sending off her icon, Imbruglia said, is like dropping your child off at camp—tough and sad, but afterwards, out of your hands.
“The first time you see somebody venerating it, you know it is no longer yours and it’s where it’s supposed to be. It’s home. And that’s a beautiful feeling.”