Throughout the course of history, the Christian people have experienced the protection of the Virgin Mary. The title of Help of Christians, which Don Bosco associated with that of Mary, Mother of the Church is an indication of the special intervention of Mary in the most difficult trials of personal human life, of the Church, and of the whole human family. The title of Mary Help of Christians was present in 1500 in the Loreto litanies, and Pope Pius VII initiated the celebration of Mary Help of Christians, fixing the date as May 24th, the day of his return to Rome after liberation from Napoleonic imprisonment in 1814. Mary Help of Christians is the heavenly Patroness of Australia since 1844, China since 1924, Argentina in 1949 and Poland in the early decades of the 1800s.
In the basilica to you entitled to Turin-Valdocco, erected by Don Bosco in just three years in 1868 , there is the beautiful and majestic framework, commissioned by St. John Bosco himself, which represents the Virgin Mary Help of Christians. The Mother of God is pictured with the scepter of command, and with the Child Jesus in her arms, surrounded by the Apostles and Evangelists, and suspended on a cloud. In the background, the tip of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians and Don Bosco’s oratory as they appeared in 1868. The meaning of the whole picture is very clear: as Mary was present together with the apostles in Jerusalem at Pentecost, at the beginning of the Church, she remains the protector and guide of the Church throughout the centuries. In the painting, the apostles represent the pope and the bishops. Finally, remember that Don Bosco used to always say, “Have faith in the Blessed Sacrament and Mary Help of Christians and you will see what miracles are.”
Devotion to Mary Help of Christians was spread far and wide through the work of St. John Bosco and continues to be propagated in the world by the Salesian family which recognizes and invokes Mary Help of Christians as its principal patroness. From the very beginning, St. John Bosco, the great educator, placed his work as a priest and founder under the protection of Mary Help of Christians, to whom he turned for every need. His confidence in Our Lady’s help and protection was greatest when when things were difficult or confusing, and he would often turn to her, saying, “So, shall we begin to do something? “. Don Bosco placed the Institutes he founded under her maternal protection: the Congregation of St. Francis de Sales, called “the Salesians of Don Bosco”, and the “Daughters of Mary Help of Christians,” Sisters established with the collaboration of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, and finally, the “Salesian Cooperators,” for lay people and priests who want to live the charism of Don Bosco. Our Lady Help of Christians is therefore inseparable from the great Salesian Family, which has given the Church a host of Saints, Blesseds, Venerables and Servants of God. In 1862, Don Bosco said to Fr. Cagliero, one of his early Salesians, “Our Lady wants us to honor her with the title of Mary Help of Christians. The times are so sad that we need the Holy Virgin to help us preserve and defend the Christian faith”.
Our community has has been specially protected by Mary Help of Christians from its very inception.“Mary Most Holy was the inspirer of our Institute and continues to be its Mother and Teacher. We are therefore a religious family that belongs entirely to Mary.”(FMA Constitutions #4) The precious memory that Don Bosco left us regarding great devotion to Our Lady Help of Christians is two-fold. In the first place, Don Bosco wanted our Sisters, our Institute, to be a living monument of gratitude to Mary Help of Christians. The second is a singular experience which Don Bosco had on his last visit to Nizza, Monferrato, on August 23, 1885. After the new Sisters had received their habits, and the young women had entered the novitiate, Don Bosco, moved to tears, spoke to the Superiors who had gathered there. Several times, Don Bosco repeated: “Our Lady is really here, here in your midst … strolling in this House and the covers with her mantle.”
On her part, Mother Mazzarello also inspired our first Sisters, and is still an inspiration to us today, encouraging us to love Our Lady. Two specific memories that we hold dear are Mother Mazzarello’s reference to herself as the Vicar (second in line) to Our Lady, and her habit of calling Mary Help of Christians the true superior of our community. The second is her simple but very meaningful act of placing the keys of the house at the feet of Our Lady every night, asking Mary’s continued protection on the house and each of the Sisters.