Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
“Jesus said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother and from that hour the disciple took her into his own home (John 19: 27)’”
A Thumbnail History of the Icon
The story of this famous icon in Sri Lanka traces back much further in time. Chronologically speaking its origins cannot be traced back with absolute precision. All the same, there is adequate scientific evidence to say that this icon existed sometime on or after A.D.1300; probably on the Island of Crete. The artist responsible for the icon however remains unknown. The icon was brought at some point in the 1400’s to Italy and was venerated in a family home for some year before being placed in the Church of St. Matthew on Via Merulana in Rome on the 27th March 1499. Tradition tells us that while the icon was in the possession of the said Roman family, Mary herself appeared to their young daughter. Identifying herself as the Mother of Perpetual Help, Mary had instructed the girl to tell her parents to place the icon for public veneration in the Church of St. Matthew. For 300 years the icon was honored and venerated in the Church of St. Matthew. This veneration spread far and wide in the city of Rome.
In A.D. 1798, the city of Rome faced a sudden invasion resulting in the Church and the monastery of St. Matthew being almost totally destroyed. The icon was said to have been discovered by some Augustinian monks and had remained hidden and unknown in a private chapel for nearly 65 years. Following a remarkable chain of events, the Fathers of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, better known as ‘Redemptorists’ purchased the land on which the old Church of St. Matthew and the monastery had stood and built their international headquarters along with the Church of St. Alphonsus. After many years in obscurity, quite miraculously the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help was re-discovered. Fr.Nicholas Mauron the then Redemptorist Superior General requested Pope Pius IX to restore the icon for public devotion. Thus the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help returned to Via Merulana to the place where she had revealed herself to the young girl almost 400 years ago. The 26th April 2016 is the day 150 years ago when the icon of Our Mother Perpetual Help came to the Church of St. Alphonsus and was restored for public veneration.
Proclamation of the Jubilee Year of Our Mother of Perpetual Help
On the 27th June 2015, the feast of our Mother of Perpetual Help, Very Rev. Fr. Michael Brehl C.Ss.R. the Superior General of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer officially convoked the Jubilee Year to begin. It would continue till the feast of our Mother of Perpetual Help on 27th June 2016. This yearlong celebration was intended to commemorate 150 years of public devotion of the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help.
To be precise it was exactly 150 years ago on the 11th December 1865 that the Holy Father Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help to the then Superior General of the Redemptorists namely, Fr. Nicholas Mauron with the instruction: ‘Make her known throughout the world’. Since then Redemptorist Missionaries throughout the world have been faithful in fulfilling this request of the Holy Father of making her known throughout the world.
The Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Sri Lanka
It is an undeniable fact that propagating the devotion of our Mother of Perpetual Help has been an integral part of the Redemptorist Apostolate. It has gone hand in hand with the preaching of the Good News to the poor and the most abandoned bequeathed to them by their holy founder St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori himself. It has to be admitted that it is thanks to the herculean efforts of Redemptorists over the years that the devotion of our Mother of Perpetual Help has become so famous, with Novenas being conducted in Churches all across the globe.
It was in 1939 that the three Redemptorist pioneers, namely Fr, Matthew Hickey, Fr. Gerald McDonnell and Fr. Leo O’Halloran came to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) to found the Redemptorist Congregation in the Island. They came carrying with them the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help. After their arrival the Redemptorists chose a beautiful house perched atop a hill in Kandy which was then known as ‘Mount School as their permanent residence. They named it ‘Sancta Maria’ after the first two words of the Latin for our Mother of Perpetual Help which was: ‘Sancta Maria de Perpetuo Succursu’.
The Fathers did not take long to begin the weekly public Novena to our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is also important to note here that Sancta Maria also was the first Shrine dedicated to our Mother of Perpetual Help of the entire Indian sub-continent. Since then the devotion to our Mother of Perpetual Help has spread all over Sri Lanka, thanks mainly to the Redemptorists who travelled to various parts of the Island to preach the good news. It may be good to remember that it was a Redemptorist, Fr. Christie McCarthy by name who went from Sancta Maria to start the novena at All Saints Church, Borella, Colombo when Fr. John Herath O.M.I. was the Parish Priest. It were the Redemptorists also who started the Perpetual Help Novena at St. Sebastian’s Church Moratuwa and at many other Churches in Sri Lanka. Thus the public devotion which started at Sancta Maria, Kandy has spread to almost every parish in Sri Lanka like the ripples of water in a pond, thereby fulfilling the request of Pope Pius IX to ‘Make her known throughout the world’. It is from Sri Lanka that the Redemptorists spread the devotion to our Mother of Perpetual Help even to India.
This devotion to our Mother of Perpetual Help has been so popular to such an extent that today it is very difficult if not almost impossible to find a Church, even in the remotest of areas in Sri Lanka, without an icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help. Thousands of Catholic families have this miraculous picture adorning their homes. They lovingly gaze on her whose motherly love has assured them of her perpetual help and protection.
In 2016, the Redemptorists around the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of the handing over of the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists by Pope Pius IX. In the celebration of the jubilee the Redemptorists in Sri Lanka initiated a mission to go to the Parish Churches, even in the remotest of areas in Sri Lanka, where the Novena of our Moher of Perpetual Help is held. Our intention was to energize and empower the people once again of the reality of our Mother of Perpetual Help being someone close to them, always interceding for them and being a perpetual help to them at all times. This loving and consoling message goes out from Sancta Maria, the first Shrine dedicated to our Mother Perpetual Help. It is indeed a providential coincidence that the celebration of the 150th jubilee of our Mother of Perpetual Help coincided with the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis which began on 8th December 2015.
In the icon Mary not only cradles her son and clasps his hands but also her right-hand point to Him symbolizing that ‘Jesus is the way’. As Mary accompanies us she constantly and gently guides us to Jesus our Redeemer the Merciful and Compassionate Lord. It is this encounter with Jesus that fills our hearts and our lives with joy. With infinite tenderness Mary’s gesture tells us: “Do whatever he tells you! (John 2: 5)”