Our Lady Help of Christians (Latin: Sancta Maria Auxilium Christianorum; Spanish: Nuestra Señora María Auxiliadora; Filipino: Maria, Mapag-ampon sa mga Kristiyano), is a Roman Catholic Marian devotion with a feast day celebrated on May 24. Saint John Chrysostom was the first person to use this Marian title in year 345 as a devotion to the Virgin Mary. Don Bosco also propagated Marian devotion under this title.
The title of Our Lady Help of Christians is associated with the defense of Christian Europe (Latin and Greek), the north of Africa and the Middle East from non-Christian peoples during the Middle Age. In 1572, the Islamic Ottoman Empire intended to invade Christian Europe. Pope Pius V called Christian armies from all over Europe to defend the continent and asked the believers to pray to Mary in order. The defeat of the Muslim Turks was attributed to the intercession of Mary under this title.
Pope Leo XIII granted a Canonical coronation towards the Marian image bearing the same title on 17 May 1903, now presently enshrined within the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. Pope Benedict XVI during his Regina Caeli papal address on 24 May 2009 invoked this Marian patronage, under the venerated title of Our Mother of Sheshan, calling for Chinese Catholics to renew their fidelity to the Pope as the sole successor of St Peter.
Around 1576, Bernardino Cirillo, archpriest of Loreto, published at Macerata two litanies of the Blessed Virgin, which, he contended, were used at Loreto. One is in a form which is entirely different from our present text. Another form (“Aliae litaniae B.M.V.”) is identical to the litany of Loreto approved by Pope Clement VIII in 1601 and now used throughout the entire Church. This second form contains the invocation Auxilium Christianorum. Possibly warriors returning from the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571) visited the sanctuary of Loreto, and saluted the Holy Virgin there for the first time with this new title. It is more probable, however, that it is only a variation of the older invocation Advocata Christianorum, found in a litany of 1524.
Torsellini (1597) and the Roman Breviary (May 24, Appendix) say that Pope Pius V inserted the invocation in the litany of Loreto after the battle of Lepanto. But the form of the litany in which it is first found was unknown at Rome at the time of Pius V.
The feast of Our Lady Help of Christians was instituted by Pope Pius VII. By order of Napoleon I of France, Pius VII was arrested on June 5, 1808, and detained a prisoner first at Grenoble, and then at Fontainebleau. In January 1814, after the battle of Leipzig, he was brought back to Savona and set free on March 17, on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the Patroness of Savona. The journey to Rome was a veritable triumphal march. The pontiff, attributing the victory of the Church after so much agony and distress to the Blessed Virgin, visited many of her sanctuaries on the way and crowned her images (e.g., the “Madonna del Monte” at Cesena, “della Misericordia” at Treja, “della Colonne” and “della Tempestà” at Tolentino). The people crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the venerable pontiff who had so bravely withstood the threats of Napoleon. He entered Rome on May 24, 1814, and was enthusiastically welcomed. To commemorate his own sufferings and those of the Church during his exile Pope Pius VII extended the feast of the Seven Dolours of Mary to the universal Church on September 18, 1814.
When Napoleon left Elba and returned to Paris, Murat was about to march through the Papal States from Naples; Pius VII fled to Savona 22 March 1815.After the Congress of Vienna and the battle of Waterloo, the Pope returned to Rome on July 7, 1815. To gave thanks to God and Our Lady, on 15 September 1815 he declared 24 May, the anniversary of his first return, to be henceforth the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.
The Marian feast was celebrated by the order of Servites since the 17th century. The veneration to Mary became popular under this title in Rome especially, where the feast was especially promulgated by Saint John Bosco and Saint Vincenzo Palotti .St. John Bosco was an ardent promoter of devotion to “Our Lady Help of Christians”. He even built a huge Basilica in her honour in 1868 and founded a religious Congregation for women, under the title of, “The Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians”.
Vatican II, in the Constitution on the Church (sections 61, 62), cites this title of Mary, placing it in the context of Mary’s maternal role. “In an utterly singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Saviour’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace…By her maternal charity, Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who still wander through this world in the midst of dangers and difficulties until they are led to the happiness of their heavenly home”.
The Church has traditionally focused on two aspects of Our Lady’s help on the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians. Firstly, the Church focuses in this feast upon the role of Our Lady’s intercession in the fight against sin in the life of a believer. Secondly, the Church has focused upon Our Lady as one who assists Christians as a community, through her intercession, in fighting against anti-Christian forces.
It has attained special renown since Don Bosco, founder of the Salesian Congregation, dedicated his foundation to Our Lady Help of Christians the mother church of his congregation at Turin on June 9, 1868. The Salesians have carried the devotion to their numerous establishments.
It was established due to the great appreciation of Saint Don Bosco for this Marian title and the development of the Salesian works in many countries since the second half of the 19th century. Although it is commonly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church has also known the devotion since 1030 in Ukraine, when the country was defended from a barbarian invasion.
The Salesian National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians is located in Stony Point, New York.
The Abbey of Mary Help of Christians, better known as Belmont Abbey, is a small American monastery of Benedictine monks in the town of Belmont, Gaston County, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The minor basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
There is a chapel of Our Lady Help of Christians at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.
Under this title, the Virgin Mary is venerated by many Chinese Catholics, particularly at the Shrine of our Lady of Sheshan. In May 2007, Pope Benedict XVI designated her May 24 feast for the Roman Catholics in China, who face persecution and restriction from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.