On a late Wednesday afternoon in October, 2002, I attended mass at the chapel of Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital in Manila. My wife's brother had a heart attack, complicated with a serious kidney condition and was awaiting further arterial bypass operation.
Immediately after the mass, a novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help followed. “Immaculate Mother, we come at thy call…” the beginning hymn brought back my childhood memory 60 years ago, kneeling beside my grandmother at a chapel in Baclaran, a suburb eight kilometres from Manila. An old illiterate Cantonese woman, she simply could not follow the English prayers and the hymns. She was not baptized at that time, yet during the hour-long novena she concentrated devoutly on Our Lady. Regardless of the weather, she never missed her devotion.
Devotion to Our Lady under this special title is widespread throughout the Philippines. Every Wednesday over 100,000 attend the novena at the National Shrine of Our Mother Perpetual Help at Baclaran. This number is almost half of Hong Kong's total Catholic population. In addition, 1,000 churches throughout the country offer the novenas to their parishioners. More than million others, including the sick and disabled, participated at home through radio broadcast.
From a small chapel of the Redemptorist religious order in 1948, weekly donations of small coins from the poor and larger generosity of the rich help built the largest church in the Far East. It provides 12,000 seats, the largest seating capacity outside of St. Peter Cathedral in Rome. Every Wednesday, packed public transportation brings thousands of worshippers who intermingle with those coming on chauffeured luxury sedans. They came to seek favours, to give thanks for favour granted or simply to honour Our Lady under the special title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
During the homily, the priest reads letters of thanks for favours granted through the intercession of Our Mother. These favours cover healings of both the body and the spirit, the conversion of a sinner or a non-believer, financial and life's other difficulties. Not surprisingly, many favour-seekers are also mothers themselves who are asking for the sympathy of another mother, Our Lady, to help their children. For novenas outside of the scheduled masses, a benediction is given to the devotees.
In the main altar stands the icon of Our Mother, a painting of the crowned Virgin Mary holding her child, Jesus. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel each appeared on a side of the Virgin. There are Greek alphabets representing the initials of the Virgin, Jesus and the Archangels. The Virgin's serious expression, bordering on sadness, gives the impression that she is reassuring her child by protecting Him with her arms. The child Jesus is seeking the protection of His mother like someone expecting harm coming his way.
No words can describe it better than the website of Redemptorist Parish in Ellicott City:
“Frightened by the vision of two angels showing Him the instruments of the Passion, the Christ Child has run to His Mother, almost losing, in His haste, one of the tiny sandals. Mary holds Him in her arms reassuringly, lovingly. But notice her eyes. They look not at Jesus, but at us. Is this not a touch of genius? How better express Our Lady's plea to us to avoid sin and love her Son?”An unknown13th century artist painted this icon in Byzantine style or similar to that of the Eastern Greek Church. On the icon's rediscovery in 1855, Pope Pius IX instructed the Redemptorists to “make her known throughout the world!” With a long legend behind the rediscovery, the icon carries also the title of “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour” in some parts of the world. The word succour means help in times of hardship and danger. The Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help falls on June 27th.
In Hong Kong, the novena to our Mother is held at the Catholic Centre, Connaught Road, Central on Wednesday afternoon. Fr. Helmuth Peter, SVD serves as the Spiritual Adviser of The Filipino Catholic Wednesday Group undertaking the activities. In Singapore, the novena is so popular that people call the Redemptorist's St. Alphonsus Church as the Novena Church and the nearby commercial area as Novena. But the novenas are held on Saturday in Singapore.
Do not hesitate, even if you are not a Catholics, to seek help and to ask favours from Our Lady, whether under the title Perpetual Help or Help of Christians as enshrined in our St. Anthony's Church or any other special titles. Don't hesitate in running to Our Mother for help - be it big or small, whether we are worthy or not, young or old, man or woman, a billionaire businessman or a labourer. She is our mother. Let us remember the following prayer of St. Bernard:
most loving Virgin Mary,
never was it heard
that anyone who turned to you for help was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
though burdened by my sins,
I run to you for protection for you are my mother.
Post-script: My brother-in-law recovered fully and the kidney stones that his physicians cannot removed mysteriously disappeared.
February 10, 2006