As part of the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the veneration to the icon of ‘Mother of Perpetual Help’ Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin on Monday 19th January launched a jubilee pilgrimage which will see the popular icon visit every cathedral in the country between April and May.
Speaking at today’s launch, Archbishop Martin said, “The pilgrimage of this icon will certainly bring help to many who are troubled, and will hopefully lead those of us tempted to be closed in our own security to open our hearts more fully to those in need and to change our Church for it to be more fully a true icon of God’s mercy.”
He commended the Redemptorists for organising the jubilee pilgrimage, which he said would undoubtedly have the support of people on all parts of the island.
Fr Seamus Enright CSsR, Rector of Mount St Alphonsus in Limerick and Chair of the 150th Jubilee celebrations, explains in a recent article in Reality magazine that Blessed Pope Pius IX presented the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists for veneration in their newly-built Church of Sant’Alfonso in December 1865.
“It was much in need of restoration so it was April 26th 1866 before it was solemnly installed there.The Holy Father gave the Redemptorists a mandate: they were to promote devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help throughout the world. Just over a year later, the first copy arrived in Ireland.”
According to the Fr Enright, the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has a long connection with Ireland.
It had been in the care of Irish Augustinians since 1656, first in the Church of San Matteo and later in their Churches of Sant’Eusebio and Santa Maria in Posterula.
It had been available for public veneration until 1819, when it was placed in the community oratory of the Augustinians. This broke with a tradition of public veneration going back to 1499 when the Icon was first venerated in San Matteo.
The Irish connection was restored in December 1867 when one of the first copies of the icon to be made was received in Mount St Alphonsus, then the only Redemptorist church in the country.
It was from Limerick that devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help spread in time to new Redemptorist communities, first in Dundalk and then Belfast, as well as to churches and homes throughout Ireland.
Irish Redemptorists setting out off from Limerick took copies of the icon with them to Australia and New Zealand (1882), to the Philippines (1906), to Sri Lanka (1939) and India (1940).
Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help was already well established in Teresina (Brazil) when Irish Redemptorists replaced their American brethren there in 1964.
“The spread of devotion from Limerick shows how faithfully Irish Redemptorists have taken the mandate of Blessed Pope Pius IX,” Fr Enright said.
In his address at the launch of the Jubilee Pilgrimage, Archbishop Martin said that, “Despite a growing interest here in Ireland in icons, there is still a lack of widespread understanding of what an icon is in religious art. Icons are not photographs.”
“They are not attempts by an artist to portray his or her personal ideas of how Jesus or the Blessed Virgin or a Saint may possibly have looked like. They are more like an impressionist portrait than a photograph: their task is to lead us in contemplation into the mystery of God.”
An icon speaks to the heart and evokes prayerful reflection, the Archbishop explained.
“An icon is an attempt to draw us into something deeper, rather than define a static flash-photographic image. That is why the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has touched hearts all around the word.”
He added that it is an attempt to draw us into the Mystery of a God who wishes to be close to us in all things and especially in those times when we are in distress or anxiety or troubled by a sense of helplessness.
“It is not an image which tries to cover up our powerlessness, an opium of the people. It is an image which enables us to realise that in every moment of distress God is there with his compassion and care.”
“In that way, the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help is an icon of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: a reminder of the fact that compassion and care are icons of who God is and who we should become.”
At the launch, Fr Enright said the Redemptorists have learned through their ‘Annual Novenas’ in Limerick and elsewhere that “many people on this island still value the opportunity to pray together and show devotion. Devotion to the ‘Mother of Perpetual Help’ is important to many people here in Ireland and all around the world – and these 150th anniversary celebrations reflect this reality.”
The 150th Jubilee Pilgrimage will begin in Limerick on the evening of 4 April. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown will bless a new outdoor ‘Mother of Perpetual Help’ shrine in the grounds of Mount St Alphonsus.
The statue was carved by Seamus Murphy for the Redemptorists in 1959 and is being relocated to Limerick as part of the Jubilee celebrations.
The Pilgrim Icon of the ‘Mother of Perpetual Help’ will be taken in procession from the Redemptorists to St John’s Cathedral where Archbishop Brown will be the chief celebrant at a Jubilee Mass at 7.30pm.
This will be followed by an evening of prayer and an all-night vigil.
The Pilgrim Icon will be taken to a Limerick centre for the homeless on the morning of 5 April, after which the Redemptorists will host a lunch for the homeless.
The pilgrim journey of the icon will conclude in Clonard Monastery in Belfast on 15 May.
Full programme of jubilee events can be found at: www.followtheicon.ie
Article on the History of the Mother of Perpetual Help Icon in Reality Magazine – October 2015 by Fr Seamus Enright HERE.