National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help



Facade of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Near the end of the 1400's a ship was being tossed badly in a storm. It was in the Mediterranean Sea traveling to Rome from the island of Crete where war was raging. A merchant on board the boat was fleeing to escape the war. He had with him an ancient looking picture, which he kept by him at all times. It was from one of the churches destroyed by the war and was an icon of the Mother and Child. Had he taken it to save it? He would not say. The sailors believed that he had stolen it. However when they arrived safely in Rome he said that he believed that the picture had protected them in the storm.

Soon after the merchant fell sick and was dying. He called a Roman friend and asked him to have the picture taken on one of the big churches in Rome for veneration. However when he died his wife refused to part with the picture, which she loved very much. One day the Blessed Virgin appeared to a little girl and daughter of the Roman and told her to tell the wife that the picture would be placed in the Church of St. Matthew which was between the famous Churches of Maria Maggiore and John Lateran. She also said that the name of the picture was Holy Mary of Perpetual Help. When the woman still refused, a number of unfortunate happenings took place and eventually she agreed to give the picture to the Augustinian Friars who were in charge of St. Matthew's Church. It was installed on March 27, 1492.

For three hundred years the picture was venerated at St. Matthew's and many miracles were claimed to have taken place there. Then in 1798 the army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome and thirty Churches were destroyed. Among these was the church of St. Matthew. The picture seemed to have disappeared.

The Redemptorists

Interior of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

The Redemptorist Congregation was founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1732 and for more than one hundred years Naples, where they were founded, was the location of their head house. In 1853, the Pope asked them to transfer their head house to Rome as many of the Orders and Congregations had done. They had great difficulty finding a place in Rome but eventually were able to purchase the Villa Caserta, very close to the Church of Maria Maggiore. After a while they decided to build a small church on the property. While digging the foundations they discovered the ruins of an old church, the church of St. Matthew.

In 1865, a young man Michael Marchi was ordained a Redemptorist and was transferred to the Roman Community. One day, as they were discussing the discovery of the old church and its famous picture, Michael suddenly said, I know where it is and as they look at him he said, Well I know where it was. And he recounted how as a young altar server at the Augustinian Church of the Blessed Virgin Our Lady of Grace, he had gone with the Senior Sacristan Brother Augustine Orsetti inside the Convento where he was shown the picture which the old Brother loved to talk about as the Holy Mother of Perpetual Help which was once famous for favors and miracles when it was in the Church of St. Matthew.

The Beginning of the Love Affair

Altar of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

The picture was found and the Redemptorists requested that their new church should become the home of the picture of the Holy Mother of Perpetual Help. After negotiations between the Pope, Pix IX, and the Augustinians, the picture was given to the Redemptorists with the command of the Pope, Take Her and make Her known to the whole world. On April 26, the picture was enthroned in the new Church of St. Alphonsus now standing on top of the relics of the Church of St. Matthew. From then on, wherever the Redemptorists went in their Missionary works, a copy of the picture went with them.

The Love Affair Spreads to the Philippines

In 1906 the Redemptorists came to the Philippines in response to a call from another Pope to help in a country desperately short of priests as a result of the Revolution against Spain. First they went to Cebu and later to Manila where they worked in the Parish of Malate. In 1929 it was decided to get their own place where they could concentrate on their main work, the giving of Parish Missions. In 1931 they came to Baclaran and of course they brought with them an authentic copy of the picture from Rome. This hung in the small church near the monastery until the war broke out.

The Lady Goes into Hiding Again

Image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

When the Fathers and Brothers realized that they would be imprisoned by the Japanese as enemy aliens, they took down the picture and entrusted it to a family living near La Salle College in Taft Avenue.

The Fathers and Brothers were interned until February 23, 1945 and when they returned to Baclaran, they discovered that the house where they had left the picture had been sacked and burned and the picture had been taken away. The family only knew that the Japanese had taken the picture but they suggested that it could be in the Old Bilibid Prison on Azcarraga where a lot of artifacts had been stored. Then they heard from a La Salle Brother who had been looking for some of their own furniture in Bilibid that he had seen a picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help there and he thought that it might be the one from the Redemptorists. When they went to inquire they were told that there was no record of such a picture in the list of stored objects, but with the help of an American army chaplain they were able to get in a found the picture. When they told the guard that they had found it he said that they could do what they like with it because as far as he was concerned it didn't exist. The picture came home and can still be seen hanging over the high altar in the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran.

The Perpetual Novena

After the war, the Novena to our Mother of Perpetual Help was flourishing in many places in the world especially America. A group of G.I.'s still stationed in the Philippines went to Fr. Pat Nulty, C.Ss.R. the Redemptorist Superior of Iloilo, as they had known it in the States. Fr. Nulty knew of the Novena since he had seen it in Belfast, Ireland and willingly gave permission and so in 1946 (May) the first Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines was conducted. In the same year, Fr. Gerard O'Donnell visited Iloilo and witnessed the Novena. On his return to Lipa City, where he was Superior, he mad moves to begin the Novena there. In 1948, Fr. O'Donnell was transferred from Lipa to Baclaran where he was appointed Superior and he was responsible for the establishment of the novena there. The first Novena in Baclaran was conducted by Fr. Leo English on June 23, 1948 with seventy people present.

The Lady Takes Over

The small church in Baclaran could hold just three hundred people. By the end of 1948, there were two sessions of the Novena and both were overflowing. Extensions were added to the church.

By the end of 1949, there were eight sessions of the Novena and the extended church was already overflowing in spite of the fact that the Novena was now being held in many parishes in Manila and even in the provinces. The people started to clamor for a bigger church but where would the money come from? Someone had the bright idea and so boxes were places all over the church and its grounds and on the boxes were written, Ten cents a week can built us a new church.

The people gave their ten cents and the church construction began and most of the money for the church came from those boxes.

The simple people with small but regular gifts made the dream come true and today we can see their church packed with people every Wednesday with thousands still standing outside.

Excerpt from Shrines, Incarnating Christ Today. St. Paul Philippines, 2004. Photos from travelpod.com, panoramio.com, mydiscerningsoul.blogspot.com, ourcatholicprayers.com.

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