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Don Bosco And Mary Help Of Christians

May 12, 2020 Featured Today No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

The Feast of Mary Help of Christians falls on May 24, and although devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of “Help of Christians” or Auxilium Christianorum goes back to at least the 1600s, this particular feast was not officially established until the early nineteenth century. This title is also found in the Litany of Loreto, where it is probably a variation on an older invocation calling on our Lady as Advocata Christianorum or “Advocate of Christians.”
The Church suffered a great deal during the French Revolution and its aftermath, and the situation reached a low point when Pope Pius VII, who reigned from 1800 to 1823, was imprisoned by Napoleon for three years from 1808 at Savona in northern Italy, and then at Fontainebleau near Paris. Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, and in January 1814, Pope Pius, who is now venerated as a “servant of God,” was brought back to Savona, and finally freed on March 17, the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. Thus he was able to return to Rome.
This journey to the Eternal City turned into something of a triumphal march, as the Pope visited a number of Marian shrines on the way in thanksgiving for his deliverance. Crowds of people turned out to greet and acclaim him, and to acknowledge his courage in standing up to Napoleon.
He finally entered Rome on May 24, 1814 to an enthusiastic welcome. After the final defeat of Napoleon, at Waterloo in 1815, the Pope instituted the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which was to be held on May 24, the anniversary of his return to Rome. This feast was initially celebrated in the Papal States, the Italian territories ruled by the Popes between the eighth century and 1870, before spreading more widely in the Western Church.
The person who did more than anyone to bring this about was St. John Bosco (1815-1888), the founder of the Salesians, better known simply as “Don Bosco.” He is also famous for his dreams and predictions and for the way that he was guided by our Lady and the Holy Spirit in the building up of his congregation and in the wonderful work it did for the Church.
He founded his first Oratory in Turin in 1847. This became a boarding school for young boys and apprentices, and it gradually grew in size and importance. He did everything he could to promote devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Mary Help of Christians, a devotion with deep roots in Turin and the surrounding area.
Quite often, he would have dreams or presentiments of future happenings and these guided him in carrying out God’s will. In April 1854, he told his boys how he had seen a luminous globe of fire hovering above the site of what would in the future become the great church of Mary Help of Christians.
On another occasion, somewhat later, the saint was with one of his young clerics, John Baptist Anfossi, when the following incident happened, which the young man later recounted to his fellow Salesians.
“I distinctly remember that one day, while I was close to Don Bosco in the playground, he pointed to the spot where the Church of Mary Help of Christians now stands, and said, ‘A great church will rise there.’ He lifted his eyes upward as if it were there already within his gaze, then went on, ‘It will have a huge dome, and great solemnities will be celebrated in it’.”
Don Bosco also had a famous dream or vision, that of the Two Columns, which depicted the struggle between the Church and the forces of evil as a naval battle between two opposing forces of ships. He described how the papal vessel, after a terrific storm and struggle, tied up at two lofty columns, one topped by a gigantic host, and the other by a statue of our Lady under which there was the Latin inscription Auxilium Christianorum — that is, Help of Christians.
Don Bosco also promoted the devotion to Mary Help of Christians in regularly produced booklets which were sent out to subscribers all over Italy. Another way he spread the devotion was through medals of Mary Help of Christians which were widely distributed. These were seen as powerful safeguards against misfortune and as remedies for illness.
On one occasion, he was staying with the pastor at a place called Revello, when a sudden hailstorm arose, darkening the sky. As the hail began to fall, many of the villagers ran to the church to pray that their crops would not be ruined. Don Bosco also went into the church and invited them to pray earnestly to Mary Help of Christians. They did this, and to the great joy of all the storm ceased. Many such miraculous incidents were recorded in the life of the saint.
The actual building of the church of Mary Help of Christians required a monumental effort on the part of Don Bosco. He relied for everything on divine Providence, but at the same time did as much as was humanly possible to advance this project and his many other works to build up the Salesian Order. One of his ways of raising money involved lotteries, and while they did bring in much-needed funds, they also required a great deal of work if they were to be successful.
The church of Mary Help of Christians took three years to build, between 1865 and 1868, and Don Bosco relied on both Providence and the generosity of the faithful for this work. The feeling grew that those who contributed to the construction of the church would be specially blessed by our Lady. This great basilica, which contains the relics of the saint, stands today as a wonderful monument to the great Marian devotion of Don Bosco.

A Great Reflourishing

It was common knowledge that miraculous healings could be obtained through a blessing from Don Bosco, but he attributed all such cures to the intercession of Mary Help of Christians. He also strongly promoted a novena to the Blessed Virgin under that title, consisting of three Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes, along with three Hail Holy Queens, followed by the invocations “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us” and “Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us.” He particularly encouraged this novena in the nine days leading up to the feast on May 24.
In 1868, Don Bosco himself wrote of how “Countless people, had recourse to her with a novena, promising offerings if their prayers were heard. If I had to list all the graces received I could fill large volumes. . . . I am not aware that anyone prayed in vain. Spiritual and temporal favors, more or less extraordinary, always resulted from praying to our most merciful Mother, the mighty Help of Christians.”
We are living in times where the Church is struggling to make its presence felt in the world, in an echo of the situation following the French Revolution. If the Church is to regain its strength we need to turn once again to Mary Help of Christians both for our own personal spiritual and personal needs and for the greater good of the Mystical Body of Christ, of which she is the Mother.
Then we may expect to once again see a great reflourishing of Christian charity in the world, as happened through the ministry of Don Bosco in the nineteenth century.

+ + +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, and the third in the series is due to be published next year — details can be seen at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk.)

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