The Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome celebrated the feast day of our Mother of Perpetual Help on Sunday 26 June 2016 as well as the countdown to the close of the 150th Jubilee anniversary of the Icon.
This feast was preceded by a 9 day Novena led by Fr Gilberto Silvestri in Italian. It consisted in a series of mediations on the Sacred Icon. The Eucharist each day was celebrated in a variety of languages like Vietnamese, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Polish, Malayalam, French and Portuguese. It was also celebrated in different Liturgical Rites like the Greek Catholic Romanian, Ukrainian and Syro-Malabar Rites. These celebrations, since they were held in different languages and rites attracted persons who, in regular circumstances, would not have come to the Shrine. It attracted people from different walks of life and also included Ambassadors from the Philippines, Brazil and Haiti. These Novena and Mass celebrations were followed each day by a series of musical concerts that included some very talented performers. The last day in particular was a folklore presentation of music from different cultures like Italian, Albanian, Romanian, Philippines, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, etc. It drew the attention and admiration of the passers-by since it was held at the foot of the steps of the Church.
These 9 day preparations and celebrations came to a climax on Sunday 26 June. The Solemn Eucharistic Feast was celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Prior to this Mass, some confreres and the Laity carried the Icon in procession to the Basilica and it was placed in the piazza in front of the Basilica. The Police Band played music in homage to the Icon.
The Mass began at 4 pm and the Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life was the Presider. He was introduced by the Superior General Fr Michael Brehl who welcomed the Assembly in Italian and English. The Basilica was packed with pilgrims who had come specifically for this Jubilee celebration from all the five Continents and Conferences that the Redemptorists live and work in. Some of them carried their country flags, and even wore their national dress.
Taking a cue from the bilingual introduction of the Superior General, the Cardinal said that he hoped that someone would translate his Italian homily into English. It was extempore and Fr Michael Brehl rose admirably to the. The Cardinal recalled the Redemptorists’ ardent devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and how they have sought to be faithful to the mandate given by Pope Pius IX: Make her known to all the world. In his experience of Redemptorists, he found that every Redemptorist carried with him Our Mother of Perpetual Help and she herself was never far away from them. In this year of Mercy, it is important that she is experienced as such and is proclaimed as revealing the mercy of the Father. Although the Mass was in Italian, the prayers of petition were offered in various languages representing the various cultures and different needs. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the Rector, Fr Arturo Martinez Soto presented the Cardinal with a copy of the Icon.
Then the entire assembly went in procession from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore going around the neighbourhood on foot, so as to arrive at the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the Church of St. Alphonsus. We were accompanied with prayers and music provided by the Police Band. Despite the rather searing heat, there was a good turnout for the procession.
On arrival at the Shrine, the people gathered on the steps of the Church to salute the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help. But the celebration continued as the icon was led into the Church and placed in front of the altar. The Superior General then led the faithful in a meaningful ceremony of commissioning icons to the 5 Continents and Conferences of the Congregation. The Jubilee Year has been a time of gratitude as well as a time to commit ourselves to the mandate of Pope Pius IX and the mission of evangelization by means of the Icon. So now the icons would now be sent to the different continents to visit the countries, communities and churches where the Redemptorists live and work. Thus every continent was represented either by the Conference Coordinator or a Member of the Jubilee Commission. They were accompanied by the Laity who had come from these respective Conferences and Continents for the Jubilee.
The Superior General led the ceremony using languages appropriate to each Conference, as he entrusted the icons. He spoke to the Conference of Europe in Italian; North America in English; Latin America and the Caribbean in Spanish, Asia – Oceania in English and Africa and Madagascar in French. It was a beautiful sight to behold as all were gathered with these icons just below the original and miraculous icon. There was palpable joy in the celebration, with a burst of colours and cultural manifestations whether in clothes or expressions of joy. What captivated many was the ululation of the pilgrims from Burkina Faso which gave a sense of the universality of this great affection and devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Many titles to Mary, tend to locate her in a particular country or Region. But the appeal of our Mother of Perpetual Help is universal, as she transcends boundaries of nation, culture, language and even religion. In the words of the Book of Revelation….people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The celebrations during these preceding days and especially the Feast day showed how real this is. Devotees see in Mary, a Mother, ever ready to help us, and with her Son, she offers plentiful redemption and perpetual help. And the feast and the Jubilee was really a celebration of this!
Fr. Juventius Andrade, CSsR