Our Lady, Help of Christians
Many saints had particular devotions to saints which helped them in their journeys of faith. For St. Teresa of Avila, it was St. Joseph. She was reported to have said that she never found the if she turned to him for help that she was not aided. The French patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney, had a great devotion to St. Philomena. Through her intercession, he worked a number of miracles and helped turn around the town of Arls.
St. John Bosco, owed a lot to his own mother, Margherita Occhiena, who, interestingly, has begun on the path toward canonization and has been declared Venerable. And, consequently, it is not surprising, the he would have a great devotion to Our Lady. In particular, he was fond of Our Lady, Help of Christians.
Most of us might know the Blessed Mother under that name, but not be familiar with how that came to be a feast day for Our Lady on March 24th.
Pope Pius VII Establishes the Title
The title Our Lady, Help of Christians goes back to the early part of the nineteenth century when Pope Pius VII was a prisoner, first in Savona, and then at Fontainebleau by order of Napoleon Bonaparte. When the tide began to turn against Napoleon's conquest of Europe, the pope was freed in 1814 and returned to Savona. From there, the pontiff began a triumphal return to Rome.
In thanksgiving to Our Lady to whom he attributed his freedom and sustaining him during his years of imprisonment, Pius VII would stop at Marian shrines along the way from Savona to Rome and have the statutes and images of Our Lady crowned. Finally, to the jubilation of the people of Rome, the pope came home on May 24th, 1814. Later, he would establish this date of his return--May 24th--as Our Lady, Help of Christians.
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Obstacles to the Approval of Don Bosco's Order
One example of the help Don Bosco received came during the process in which he was trying to have his new order, which he called the Salesians, officially recognized by the Church. As most founders have experienced, there is often a fair amount of opposition to new orders, and the founders must trust in the Lord and their calling despite the apparent obstacles.
In the case of Don Bosco, he found that his own bishop was not on board with the new order. In fact, with the bishop's ideas, the order would quickly die because Don Bosco would not be allowed to recruit any priests from the diocese or to allow any vocations from among the boys to serve as priests for the Salesians. To the bishop, Don Bosco asked that the matter be settled by Rome. The decision wavered for years.
Finally, Don Bosco received a letter from the head of the Congregation of Regulars that apparently was the catalyst for him to take action and appeal to Rome himself. Everyone around him told Don Bosco that this was not the time. It would not be favorable for him.
First, the thinking in Rome was that his order did not have enough religious. Second, the rules for his order were considered too simple. Third, the fact that the order either had a zero or negative balance would be too much "poverty". And, finally, those who opposed approval of the Salesians had spread false reports that were rather unfavorable and probably too difficult to overcome.
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A Mission to Rome
The saint was not to be dissuaded, and he entrusted his mission from Turin to Rome to Our Lady, Help of Christians.
When the holy priest arrived in Rome, he actually found that all of the negative reports were essentially accurate, but instead of quitting the field, Don Bosco charged ahead with his most important weapon--prayer.
First, he learned that one of his opponents, Cardinal Berardi, was the uncle of a young boy who was dying of typhoid fever. The young boy was the only son and heir to a fortune and the parents were distraught.
At the insistence of the family, Don Bosco was prevailed upon to visit the family and the son where they pleaded to him for help.
Don Bosco recommended that the family entrust the boy to the care of Our Lady, Help of Christians and promptly begin a novena in her honor. Then, he blessed the boy and left their home.
When, Don Bosco returned three days later to see the young boy, the family expressed their complete astonishment because the fever was gone, the boy was laughing and chatting away in his bed and well on his way to a full recovery.
The cardinal thanked Don Bosco and asked him what he could do for him. The saint asked the cardinal to use his authority to recommend to the Holy Father that the new order be approved. Cardinal Berardi agreed to that request and was faithful to his promise.
Another Illness, Another Healing
Not satisfied with one cardinal in his corner, Don Bosco thought it best to get help from the Secretary of the State, Cardinal Antonelli.
When Don Bosco called upon the venerable cardinal, he was well-received despite the fact that the man was laid up in bed with a bad case of gout.
After being asked if he could support the new order, the cardinal was favorable to the idea but noted that he could not speak to the Holy Father in his present condition.
Don Bosco gave the Secretary of State the same advice he had given the parents of the ill young man, namely, entrust yourself to Our Lady, Help of Christians.
The cardinal replied, "I will. As as soon as I can move, I will speak with the Holy Father."
"Then that will be tomorrow," replied Don Bosco.
"Tomorrow?" questioned the cardinal, "I am afraid that will not be the case. You do not know what you are talking about."
"Yes. I do. Trust in Our Lady", Don Bosco gently answered.
The next day found Cardinal Antonelli felt so well by the early afternoon that he naturally rushed off to see the Holy Father to tell him of his miraculous healing and to recommend to Pope Pius IX that the order of Salesians be approved.
Soon after this, the pope summoned Don Bosco to see him. During their long talk in which Don Bosco gave many details about the work being done, the pope expressed a very favorable opinion. Then, he raised one further obstacle for the saint.
The pope let Don Bosco know that if he could persuade Monsignor Svegliati than all of his main opponents would have become convinced that the new order should be approved.
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One More Person to be Persuaded
Never afraid to face a challenge because of his trust in Our Lady, Don Bosco lost no time in making an appointment with Monsignor Svegliati. The priest from Turin was allowed to see the monsignor despite the fact that he was ill with the flu. Naturally, the monsignor was desirous of feeling better as soon as possible. He understood what Don Bosco wanted so he made him a bargain that if he felt better the next day, he would speak in favor of the new order to the pope.
Don Bosco, again, like the others, recommended that he entrust himself to Our Lady, Help of Christians and promise to do his very best by the Salesians and he would be healed in no time. Impressed by Don Bosco's confidence, the monsignor agreed to do so, and by the next day he was perfectly well.
The Order is Approved
After his audience with pope, the monsignor sought out Don Bosco to report what had happened and how he had spoken in favor of the order with Pope Pius IX.
Meanwhile back in Turin, the boys served by Don Bosco and his Salesians had been offering up constant prayer for the success of the mission to Rome.
When Don Bosco returned to Turin, he was filled with joy as a decree had been made that approved the order and allowed for him to present men to be ordained who would be able to remain and serve in the Salesians. The young men rejoiced in this news and all gave thanks to God when Don Bosco shared how Our Lady, Help of Christians had healed so many in order to have the order approved by the Holy Father.
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Want to learn more about St. John Bosco?
Throughout his life, St, John Bosco had many dreams which he recorded. The dreams helped him in his ministry and also revealed the future to him. You can learn about 40 of his dreams and their spiritual significance in this book.
Feast Day: May 24th (Our Lady, Help of Christians)