On the first working day of the International Congress of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Campo Grande, Brazil, the Redemptorists shared some missionary experiences of the devotion on several continents. In the morning, some stories of this work in North America were presented.
The United States
Fr. John Murray, from the Province of Baltimore, told how the Redemptorists arrived in the United States in 1832 and some years later, in 1867, already received, in Annapolis, Maryland, the first copies of the Icon. The devotion spread rapidly. In 1870, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, the Mission Church, was opened near Boston. It became one of the greatest devotional centers in the United States. When the movement began, four novenas were celebrated, and within a short time there were 11 novenas celebrated weekly. About 20 thousand people would participate.
During the Second World War, on the American Military Base in the Philippines, according to Fr. Murray, the soldiers asked the chaplain to pray the Perpetual Help novena as it was prayed in Boston. By 1942, the Perpetual Help devotion, therefore, had already spread to other parts of the world. In 1932, the Redemptorists created a center for the production of devotional material in the United States and this center sent medals and prints of Perpetual Help to parishes around the world. 500,000 rosaries were sent, but the center was closed in 2009. There was a magazine called Perpetual Help that also stopped publication in 2007.
Fr. Murray ended the presentation, giving his personal witness: “In August of 2008, in West End, I fell and broke my neck. I was paralyzed. I prayed to Blessed Francis Seelos and was partially healed. I looked at the original picture of the Lady of Perpetual Help, which can be seen on the Province of Denver’s Web site, and began praying before the Icon. And I still pray to this day. While I’m praying, I ask myself what Mary is saying to me, personally. In the Gospel, she does not speak much. But when she speaks, she speaks with power. And she said to me, “Do not be afraid!” In the icon, the boy is afraid and Mary is looking toward me and toward all of us, saying, “Do not be afraid of the cross, of the future, of pain. Do not be afraid to die.” And for me, that experience was a great gift from God. Have no more fear, not even of falling.”
Brothers Dan Korn and Larry Lujan, from the Province of Denver, presented innovative work with the devotion of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They said that in the Province there exists a long history of promoting this devotion, but because of changes in the world today, the number of devotees, in the churches, is decreasing. So, the confreres went to the social networks on the internet. “We created a Facebook page and now have 3 million followers. Each day we post 6 messages on this page and we have 12 million people engaged, either liking, commenting or sharing,” said Br. Dan.
He also recalled that every year the Province sends 36 messages, in the spirit of the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to a list of 3,000 e-mails. He also informed us that more than 100,000 people visit the Web site of the Province every month. And Br. Dan concluded: “We have placed a camera in Rome for the direct transmission of the Icon from Rome and have 7,000 prayer requests every month.”
Br. Larry Lujan has written a book of meditations on the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and briefly presented the content of this work. He believes that Redemptorists have the mission of explaining the meaning of the Icon to people. In this book, Br. Larry proposes that people look at the Icon of Perpetual Help as if they were looking at a book with 5 chapters. The first is represented by the look on Mary’s face. The second is the meaning of the hands. The third is the boy. The angels are the fourth and the fifth is the golden background of the Icon. The title is “An Icon,” and according to Br. Larry it is a “wonderful book for understanding the Icon.”
Fr. Doug Stamp, from the Province of Edmonton-Toronto, presented the work that Redemptorists are doing in a TV program that began in 1995 when the brother of a Redemptorist donated $25,000 to missionary work, which was applied to the project. In the program, the environment of a family living room was created, where a family prays the rosary. The experiment worked and in 2001 the program became self-sufficient.
In this television program, women can preach. And according to Fr. Stamp, the way a woman preaches appeals more to men. Every week the program transmits moments of prayers from different parishes. Each program has two homilies and every week people appear to give witness to their faith. “Our program is made by a team and always presents our sanctuary/shrine. We publish the homilies and every two years we change the TV director, in order to renew and reinvigorate our program. In 18 years, we have received about 8 million letters,” said Fr. Stamp.
(Translation: Fr. Joseph Dorsey, CSsR)