The countdown is on for the opening of the annual Otpust (pilgrimage) in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The image above provides a good explanation of the patronal holy icon.
According to popular tradition, a merchant acquired the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the island of Crete and had it shipped to Rome towards the end of the fifteenth century. During the voyage, a terrible storm arose, threatening the lives of all on ship. The passengers and crew prayed to our Blessed Mother and were saved.
Once in Rome, the merchant, dying, ordered that the image should be displayed for public veneration. His friend, who retained the image, received further instructions: in a dream to his little daughter, the Blessed Mother appeared and expressed the desire for the image to be venerated in a church between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in Rome. The image, consequently, was housed at the Church of St. Matthew, and became known as “The Madonna of Saint Matthew.” Pilgrims flocked to the church for the next three hundred years, and great graces were bestowed upon the faithful.
After Napoleon’s troops destroyed the church of St. Matthew in 1812, the image was transferred to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula, and remained there for nearly forty years. There, the image was neglected and forgotten.
By divine providence, the forgotten image was rediscovered. In 1866, Pope Pius IX entrusted the image to the Redemptorists, who had just built the church of St. Alphonsus, down the street from St. Mary Major. As a boy, Pope Pius IX had prayed before the image in the church of St. Matthew. He ordered the public display and veneration of the image, and fixed the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In 1867, when the image was being carried in a solemn procession through the streets, a young child was cured, the first of many recorded miracles attributed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
To this day, the church of St. Alphonsus displays the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and welcomes pilgrims for prayer. May each of us never hesitate to invoke the prayers and intercession of Our Blessed Mother in time of need.
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