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HISTORY OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP IN BACLARAN
HISTORY OF THE ICON
DEVOTION TO OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP

 

BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP IN BACLARAN

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            The Redemptorists brought the picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help to the Philippines in 1906. Forty years later, the Redemptorists introduced the Perpetual Novena to the nation. The honor of conducting the first Perpetual Novena in the Philippines goes, not to Baclaran, but to the Iloilo community, in May, 1946 in the Redemptorist Church of St. Clement.

            That same year, the Redemptorist Rector of Lipa City in Batangas happened to be visiting Iloilo. He was present at the Novena devotion and determined to introduce it in Lipa.  There it was started the following year. When the Rector of Lipa, Fr. Gerard O’Donnell, became Rector of Baclaran, his first thought was of the Novena which he began at 6.00 pm on June 23, 1948.

            That same year, the Redemptorist Rector of Lipa City in Batangas happened to be visiting Iloilo. He was present at the Novena devotion and determined to introduce it in Lipa.  There it was started the following year. When the Rector of Lipa, Fr. Gerard O’Donnell, became Rector of Baclaran, his first thought was of the Novena which he began at 6.00 pm on June 23, 1948.

            Fr. Leo English conducted the first Novena in Baclaran. There were only 70 people present. The capacity of the church at that time was only 300. Within the next year, a second session had to be provided, and some extensions were made to the small wooden church. Before the end of 1949, there were eight crowded sessions of the Novena. The Wednesday of each week became a day of prayer to the Virgin of Perpetual Help throughout the entire nation.

            The increasing attendance of the devotees forced the Redemptorists to consider a more spacious church. Fr. Lewis O’Leary, Superior at the time, assumed management of the massive construction. The bulk of the money that financed the building came from the small offerings of ordinary people. An appeal made from the pulpit was for ten centavos per person per week. This is why it took six years to complete the construction of the church. When the money ran out, the construction was suspended; when more money came in, the work began again. The old church continued in use as the new rose over it; the Novena continued as usual.

            The foundation stone had been laid by Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney on January 11, 1953. On January 1958, the Philippine hierarchy officially declared the Baclaran Church to be the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help. And on December 1st, 1958, the completed church was solemnly consecrated by Archbishop Santos of Manila, assisted by Bishops Antiporda and Shanahan.

            The official opening ceremony was held on December 5, 1958. Archbishop Santos celebrated the Mass, assisted by Cardinal Agagianian and several other bishops. Since the day when the Shrine was opened, it has never been closed, day or night.

            The Church’s architecture is described as Modern Romanesque. Cesar Concio, its architect, and Jesse Bontoc, his associate, had planned a higher church with a bell tower. But because of its proximity to the airport, civil aeronautic regulations prevented them from carrying out their plan in full.

            The church has a seating capacity of 2000 persons, with another 9000 standing. On each Wednesday, seven sessions of the Novena with benediction along with three novena Masses and two sung Masses are held. About 120,000 devotees visit Baclaran each Wednesday to pray the Novena. Far larger crowds attend on the first Wednesday of the month. Devotees arrive from 4.00 am and are still entering the church past midnight.

            Confessions are heard daily in the Shrine at almost every hour of the day. On Wednesdays, the Confessional boxes are occupied all day long. The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation makes the Shrine an important centre of spiritual renewal.

            Every week, hundreds of Petition and Thanksgiving letters are received at the Shrine. Many are from foreign lands wherever Filipinos happen to be. The more significant Thanksgiving letters are kept on file.

            The Feast day of the Mother of Perpetual Help is celebrated on June 27. A Novena of nine consecutive days precedes the annual celebration of the feast.

HISTORY OF THE ICON

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            The Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome is an important centre of Christian spirituality and contains the original Picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

            According to popular tradition the Picture was stolen on the island of Crete by a merchant who shipped it to Rome in the XV century. It is said that during the voyage a terrible storm threatened the lives of the passengers and that thanks to the intercession of Our Lady all were saved. A short time before his death the merchant decided to entrust the Picture to a friend so that it might be given to a city Church. The friend, however, retained the Picture until he was at the point of death. Then the Virgin appeared in a dream to his little daughter and expressed the desire to be venerated in a Church between the Basilicas of Mary Major and St. John Lateran. His wife finally consigned the Picture to the Church of St. Matthew.

            For three centuries it was the centre of devotion in Rome, but after the destruction of the Church of St. Matthew by Napoleon’s troops, it was transferred to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula (Rome). The Picture remained there for almost seventy years until the Redemptorists came to Rome. They were building the Church of St. Alphonsus on the former site of St. Matthew’s and became interested in the Picture. It was rediscovered thanks to a happy coincidence. Fr. Michael Marchi, a Redemptorist, recalled having seen it when he was an altar server, in one of the chapels of St. Mary in Posterula.

            In 1866, after the Picture had been restored by a Polish artist, Leopold Nowotny, Pope Pius IX officially entrusted it to the Redemptorist. A year later when it was being carried in solemn procession through Rione Monti, Our Lady worked a miracle by curing a child. This is recalled by a copy of the Picture which can be seen at the church in Via Merulana.

            Since April 26, 1866, the original picture has been preserved in the Church of St. Alphonsus, which is today an important Marian Shrine. Piligrims come there in great numbers from every part of the world and find in the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help an oasis of prayer, a rich centre of sprituality and human friendliness. Everthing helps to facilitate an encounter with the Mother of God.

DEVOTION TO OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP

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            According to tradition when handing over the Icon to the Redemptorsit in 1866. Pope Pius IX expressed the desire that they should make her known to the world. From that time until the present, devotion to the Mother of Perpetual Help has spread all over the world. Thousands of copies of the Picture have been dispatched throughout the world and there are many shrines where copies of the original Icon are venerated and regarded as miraculous.

            Among the best known shrines are those in Boston and New York (USA), Haiti, where Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the Patroness of the country; Santiago in Chile, Curitiba, Belém and Manaus in Brazil, Tequisquiapan in Mexico; Belfast and Limerick in Ireland; Bussolengo in Italy; Torun and Cracow in Poland; Singapore and the most famous of all in Manila (Philippines).

            The Perpetual Novena which began in St. Loius (USA) in 1927, has made a notable contribution to the spread of this devotion. The Novena has been called ‘Perpetual’, because it is held on a fixed day each week of the year. During the Novena devotions, the faithful not only say the traditional prayer, but they also present written petitions and thanksgivings for favours received. There is also a meditation on some aspect of the spiritual life.

            Each year in the month of June, in preparation of the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, There is a Solemn Novena, nine days of prayer and reflection on the christian life.

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