Rome (Italy). On 24 May 2023, the Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians is celebrated all over the world. One might think that invoking Mary with the title Help of Christians is out of place today or, at least, should be adapted to the times of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. How can we interpret Don Bosco’s advice to invoke Her with this title today?
On the evening of Pentecost, 20 May 1877, Don Bosco gave a Good Night to the young people of the Oratory which, after almost 150 years, retains its effective freshness. The Saint stated that in the Novena to Mary Help of Christians “not one, but many graces are obtained every day from Mary Most Holy … amazing graces obtained from Mary Help of Christians.”
The Father and Teacher of youth went on to say, “I recommend to you, as far as I know and can, that you always have engraved in your mind and heart and that you always invoke the name of Mary in this way: Maria Auxilium Christianorum, ora pro me, [ Mary, Help of Christians, pray for me]. It is a prayer that is not very long, but which is seen to be very effective” (cf. Historical Salesian Institute, Salesian Sources- LAS Rome 2014, pp. 941 – 943).
He dedicated some of his works to this theme, recalling Mary’s intervention in historical events such as the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and in his personal life, for example the “dream at nine years of age”. To the boys of the Oratory during that good night however, he indicated Mary Help of Christians as teacher and help in the spiritual life. “When, therefore, you want to obtain some spiritual grace, and spiritual grace can be understood as liberation from temptations, from afflictions of spirit, from lack of fervor; if any of you want to free yourself from some temptation or acquire some great virtue, you have nothing to do but invoke Mary.”
In his wisdom as a profound expert of the human soul, Don Bosco knew that the path of faith is difficult for boys who often have a difficult past and lack of cultural tools. Mary Help of Christians, whom he himself welcomed as a Teacher and whom he experienced infallibly present in his personal life, can validly support those who wish to live their faith to the fullest.
Mary is a help to grow as Christians, as believers who embody the faith they profess in the time and place where they find themselves. Mary is the Immaculate; she knew how to listen to and fully believe the Word, consenting to the incarnation of the Word of God. It could be said that no other word found space in her except the one spoken by God. Totally regarding the Word, Mary generated the Son of God, fulfilling God’s promise and dream to dwell in the human heart and inhabit history.
Without Mary Help of Christians, we cannot grow as “Good Christians and honest citizens”. And by “Christians” we can certainly mean all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, but also all those who profess other faiths. And perhaps today, Mary is a help especially for those who feel they have no hope or reasons to believe and to commit themselves. In Her, anyone can find help and comfort in every circumstance.
Don Bosco knows that his sons and daughters are living in “difficult times”. Mary Help of Christians, who is also assumed into heaven, She who experienced in her body the victory of the Risen Christ, can guide them even in the tribulations woven into human existence. Invoking Mary Help of Christians means recognizing the vocation of a disciple of Christ: open to all, ready for dialogue and acceptance, available for encounter.
In Nizza Monferrato in 1885, Don Bosco clarified unequivocally the relationship between Mary Help of Christians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. “I mean that Our Lady is truly here, here among you! Our Lady walks in this house and covers it with her mantle” (MB XVII, 557). Faith allowed Don Bosco to see what others did not see and to experience a real, concrete, and maternal presence, to which he referred throughout his life.
The Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, in the desire of the Saint, was therefore to be his “monument of gratitude to the Help of Christians” and the FMA to be, in every part of the world, the presence of Mary among the youth. This entails having experienced her maternal and powerful protection and, in her faith, perceiving her closeness every day, to the point of being “helpers” especially among the young, as stated in Article 4 of the Constitutions.