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Our Lady Help of Christians: Pray for us

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Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

The celebration of the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians in Australia traces its roots back to 1821, yet its historical significance stretches as far back as the 1500s.

During Napoleon Bonaparte’s tumultuous reign, Pius VI was unjustly imprisoned and died in captivity in France. Several years later his successor, Pope Pius VII, was captured and facing the same fate.

In a pledge to God, Pope Pius VII vowed to establish a special feast in honour of Mary, should he be restored to the papal seat. He asked all Christendom to pray the rosary to Our Lady Help of Christians for this intention, a task the Irish willingly obliged.

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Eventually, military pressure compelled Bonaparte to release the pope.

He returned triumphantly to Rome on 24 May 1814 and officially decreed the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians to be observed on this date a year later.

From this moment, the title of Our Blessed Mother became dear to the Irish as a sign of her presence and fidelity.

In the early stages of the Australian Catholic community the faithful relied heavily on the rosary to sustain their faith as Mass was forbidden, and the devotion to Our Lady Help of Christians became a cornerstone of their religious practice.

Their steadfast devotion to Mary culminated in Australia being the first nation to adopt her as principal patroness under the title “Help of Christians.”

St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney became a focal point of this devotion, thanks to Fr John Joseph Therry.

As the only priest in Sydney until 1825, he encouraged devotion to Our Lady through the recitation of the rosary and intercession of Our Lady Help of Christians.

His perseverance drove the dedication of Australia’s Mother Church to her, marking a significant milestone in Australian Catholicism.

Fr Therry’s pioneering work sowed the seeds of devotion we see today, including in 2020 when the Australian bishops made an act of entrustment to Mary Immaculate Help of Christians for protection against coronavirus.

The feast highlights two fundamental aspects of Our Lady’s assistance.

Firstly, her intercession is recognised as pivotal in the individual believer’s struggle against sin.

Secondly, she is revered as a collective protector, aiding Christians in their battle against evil forces.

In this prayer for Our Lady Help of Christians, the church prays that through her intercession God will “grant wisdom to our leaders and integrity to our citizens”, so that “under her protection Australia may be granted harmony, justice and peace”.

Mary Help of Christians patroness of Australia and of the Military Ordinariate
Almighty God, deepen in our hearts
our love of Mary Help of Christians.
Through her prayers and under her protection,
may the light of Christ shine over our land.
May Australia be granted harmony, justice and peace.
Grant wisdom to our leaders and integrity to our citizens.
Bless especially the men and women
of the Australian Defence Force and their families.
We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us.

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