Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led a procession through the streets of Rome on Sunday to honor Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose feast is celebrated on June 27.
The rosary procession began with Mass in the church in Rome that holds the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori.
More than 70 priests and religious sisters processed two by two ahead of a large image of the Marian icon down the Via Merulana, the street that leads from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
The modern road follows the historic route Pope Gregory XIII created for religious processions between the two basilicas during the Jubilee of 1575.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, is a Byzantine icon painted on wood believed to date back to the 13th century.
The icon was brought from Greece to Rome near the end of the 15th century and was enshrined in 1499 in the Church of St. Matthew, which was located on what is now the Via Merulana, where pilgrims venerated the image for centuries.
The icon shows the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus, who is being shown the cross, nails, and other instruments of his Passion by the archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel. In the image, the child Jesus has lost his sandal, which has led some to interpret that the depicted child ran with haste to the arms of Our Lady.
The Church of St. Matthew was destroyed when Rome was occupied by Napoleon’s French troops and the icon was lost for decades until it was rediscovered in an oratory of the Augustinian Fathers in the 1860s.
Pope Pius IX, who had memories of praying before the icon as a boy when it hung in the Church of St. Matthew, asked for the icon to be returned to its original location on the pilgrimage route between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. At the time, the Redemptorists order had built a church on the site of the former Church of St. Matthew.
In 1866, the icon was carried in a great procession through the streets of Rome to the Redemptorists’ Church of St. Alphonse of Liguori, where it was enthroned above the high altar. The report of miraculous healings spread rapidly throughout the city of Rome and people came by the hundreds to visit the shrine.
Pope Pius IX himself came to the church to pray before the icon two weeks later. His successor, Pope Leo XIII, kept a copy of the icon on his desk so that he might see it constantly during his working day.
St. Pius X sent a copy of the icon to the Empress of Ethiopia and granted an indulgence of 100 days to anyone who repeated the phrase “Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us.”
Pope Benedict XV had the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help placed immediately over his chair of state in the throne room. Here it could be seen by all just over his head, as if to say: “Here is your true Queen!”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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