Rome (Italy). 14 November 2023, marks the 146th anniversary of the 1st missionary expedition of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, who left from the port of Genoa towards America on 14 November 1877. Together with Fr. James Costamagna and other Salesians of Don Bosco, embarking that day were: Sister Angela Vallese (23 years old), Sister Giovanna Borgna (17 years old), Sister Angela Cassulo (25 years old), Sister Angela Denegri (17 years old), Sister Teresa Gedda (24 years old), Sister Teresina Mazzarello (17 years old).
Having recently returned from Uruguay, where she experienced the Spiritual Exercises together with the Provincials of America, organized by the team of Project Missionary Spirituality (PEM) in the first FMA House in Villa Colon, Montevideo, the Superior General of the FMA Institute, Mother Chiara Cazzuola, in a Goodnight to Mary Help of Christians Community of the General House (RCG) and to the FMA participants in the XXV Permanent Formation Course of Missionary Pastoral recounts:
“Of the six, three were 17-year-olds. One had made her vestition and profession on the same day in order to leave. We are talking about another era and another century, but it is very interesting to think back to our history.
More than anything, I would like to emphasize the presence of the Help of Christians, who was very present on this journey to Uruguay, through two pillars: Fr. Costamagna and Fr. Cagliero. The Sisters of Mornese say that at a certain point the painting of Mary Help of Christians disappears. They think that Fr. Costamagna brought it with him to console himself for the pain of separation from Mother Mazzarello, in the days before the departure. Instead, he takes it with him and entrusts it to Sister Teresa Mazzarello, telling her not to give it to anyone until she gets to America. This was the painting that is now in Buenos Aires, in Argentina.
At the same time, Fr. Cagliero arrives in Mornese with the painting of the Help of Christians with the smiling child and saying, ‘I stole it from the sacristy of Valdocco’. In fact, it was a joke. He had taken it, but brought it to Don Bosco to bless it.
This painting is miraculous, because the painter had eye problems and was going blind. He goes to Don Bosco with the painting to finish. Don Bosco takes his hand, helps him, blesses the painter, invokes Mary Help of Christians, and the painter is healed, continues alone and completes this beautiful Madonna which is currently in the Chapel of Villa Colón.
The Child is ‘unique’, because He really makes you want to smile. The Chronicle also says so, ‘It is therefore a miraculous painting; it gives joy just to see it!’ And Don Bosco says, ‘Bring it with you, and may the Madonna bless you and accompany you on the long journey’ (Cronistoria 2, p. 288).
Before this picture the missionaries cry, suffer, pray, hope… Until a few years ago, when in Montevideo, right in our house, there was a huge flood (June 23, 2020). The water uprooted the gate, think of its power. It took everything away, raised the floor, and when it got to the chapel, it made a mess, but it stopped a millimeter under the painting that was not touched at all. They had to throw everything away. The Institute helped and now she is all in place. Here is Sister Angela Marzorati who collaborated in this renovation which is faithful to the story of this ‘casita’ which had two floors, one underground. The Sisters lived downstairs; they had the cellar and they made wine to sell it, because they didn’t have anything to eat…
These facts remind us of our missionary spirit, which belongs to all of us, and it is this being faithful to the da mihi animas cetera tolle and to ‘I entrust them to you’ – the mandate given to Mother Mazzarello – that still resonate in us.
We are all invited to take this journey of renewing our vocation, a call that the Lord makes to us every day so that we can truly renew ourselves and ‘rekindle that fire’ of which Mother Mazzarello speaks in Letter 27.
The child has open arms. He welcomes us and always smiles at us, as long as we allow ourselves to be welcomed and welcome His smile. Our Lady accompanies us and is always with us, as a guide, as a light, and as a powerful help”.