One hundred Redemptorists and Lay Associates gathered recently in Campo Grande, Brazil to attend the First International Congress on Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Congress opened with greetings from Archbishop Dom Dimas (Archbishop of Campo Grande), from Fr. Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R. (Superior General) and Fr. Parron, C.Ss.R. (Redemptorist Provincial in Campo Grande).
Our 4 day congress followed a simple three step process: listen/reflect/act. We began with specific reports of what is happening in various Redemptorist Conferences around the world on such topics as: Devotions in a secularized culture; Evangelizing with the Icon; The Devotions in a national context and Devotions using the television media. Reports were also given by confreres from the Philippines, Ireland, Italy and Singapore.
Wednesday and Thursday included four main one hour presentations as follows:
– “The Significance of the Perpetual Help Icon as a Special Icon” by Fr. Marek Kotynsky
– “Perpetual Help as seen from Mariology” by Fr. Jose Alfonso Tremba
– “The Spiritual, Pastoral and Missionary Message of OLPH” by Fr. Serafino Fiore
– “Popular Devotion and Evangelization” by Fr. Jose Ulysses da Silva
It was clear these men are well read, highly competent, and have a great love for the Congregation and for Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Each of the talks/presentations was followed by group work according to language. The group sessions provided the opportunity for further discussion and reflection on what we had heard.
Thursday afternoon and Friday morning was spent focusing on how we celebrate the Devotions in our various Conferences/Provinces, what we can learn from one another, and what actions we could take to celebrate the 150 anniversary of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in 2016, locally, within our conferences, and internationally.
The above description of the events of the congress may seem a bit “dry” however that was not the case. Throughout the week the hospitality of the Brazilian Redemptorists was second to none. As we spoke in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese there was a real effort to make one another comfortable. Simultaneous translations for the various talks made for an easy understanding of what was said. The food was great, the energy in the room was high, and there was an unspoken feeling that there is still much to do to “Make Her known throughout the world”.
On Wednesday we participated in the local parish celebration of the Perpetual Help Devotions. Seventeen services are offered every Wednesday, 3 of these are Eucharist with the Devotions. The remaining 14 consist of the Perpetual Help Devotions with a communion service. Fr. Dirson Ferreira is the director of the Shrine. He wears a perpetual smile, invites participation from those present and sends the crowd away knowing they are loved by OMPH.
The church seats about 500 people but each of the 17 services includes at least 3 times that many. They estimate that 35,000 attend over the course of the day. Keep in mind that Campo Grande is a city of about 130,000 people. So more than 25% show up at this Redemptorist Parish each Wednesday.
The energy in the church is invigorating. The people sing. They applaud the Gospel when it is read and they applaud the icon as it is carried throughout the church. The people are warm and friendly. Many of those arriving are wearing tee-shirts with images of Our Mother of Perpetual Help colorfully displayed on the front and words of faith emblazoned on the back. No one wants to leave the church without first touching the icon as well as receiving a blessing from one of the priests.
Over the course of the four days much was shared about the icon and its power. We were reminded “the icon is a window”, “we do not look at the icon but through it” and ‘the icon speaks to us of the incarnation, the passion, the tenderness of Mary, of Redemption”. Finally we were reminded that the Redemptorists do not own the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It is not our icon. It belongs to all the people who come to her in faith.
Here is the closing message from the Congress:
Mother of Perpetual Help, Icon of Love
We are beginning our journey toward the solemn celebration of the 150th anniversary of the handing over to the Redemptorists by Pope Pius IX the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The Redemptorist Province of Campo Grande, together with the sub-Conference of the Redemptorist Union of Brazil (URB) and the Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, took the initiative of holding an International Congress concerning this Icon so well loved and so popular worldwide.
The coordination of the Congress was assumed by the Provincial Superior of the Province of Camp Grande, Father Jaoquim Parron and by the confreres of his Province in the person of Father Dirson Gonçalves, Rector of the Shrine of Perpetual Help in Campo Grande, and by his team of confreres and lay people. Campo Grande, a city located in the central western part of Brazil, the gate to the famous Wetlands of Mato Grosso, welcomed us so very well.
The presence of confreres from all the Redemptorist Conferences, together with many laity who are Redemptorist missionaries, was admirable. Their presence demonstrates the Redemptorist love for Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the interest of all in promoting a special time of grace during the period of this upcoming Anniversary. There were 102 participants, coming from 28 countries, with representatives of 5 Conferences. In this initiative, fully supported by the General Government, we were very pleased to have among us the Superior General, Father Michael Brehl, who presided at the opening of the Congress, and the Vicar General, Fr. Enrique López, as well as the Coordinator of the Conference of Latin American and the Caribbean, Father Manny Rodrigues, who helped in all the activities. Also present with us was Father Ben Ma, the Coordinator of the Conference of Asia and Oceania. The participants express their gratitude to the Redemptorist Province of Campo Grande for the initiative and organization of the Congress, and to their respective Provinces for allowing them to participate in this event.
The assembly proceeded with the sharing of experiences, especially in relation to the novenas of Perpetual Help, reflection about the Icon and its message and proposals for activities of evangelization which may help to deepen and to renew the command by Pope Pius IX and taken up by the Redemptorists 150 years ago to make her known throughout the world.
It was wonderful to hear what is being done in various parts of the world, through the representatives present at the Congress; and also to have the opportunity to participate in the Novena of Perpetual Help celebrated with all so many devotees in the Church. This Novena, an example of popular piety expressed with such devotion and joy, proved to be an incentive to our own devotion.
We sought to contemplate the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at its very origins flowing from the Byzantine, Oriental tradition, to reflect on its Mariology, to meditate on the spiritual, pastoral and missionary message that springs forth from this Icon, to discuss the dimension of Popular piety and liturgy in regard to the Icon, in view of renewing our zeal for Evangelization.
This first international event leads us explicitly to the proposed motto for celebrating the 150th anniversary: “Mother of Perpetual Socorro, Icon of love!” The whole history of the devotees over the course of these 150 years together with the personal, communitarian and pastoral dedication of generations of confreres that propagated this devotion, has been a profound and constant experience of the maternal love of Mary, who accompanies us with her serene and attentive gaze, ready to offer us the help that she brings in her arms, Jesus, our Most Holy Redeemer.
This congress enkindled in our hearts a deeper love for our beloved Mother of Perpetual Help. We leave from this place with a commitment to be involved with joy in the celebration of this 150th anniversary. We would like to invite every confrere, every entity and every conference to assume with us and with creativity a new command of making her known and loved throughout the world as the Icon of Love, a living and vivid expression of Plentiful Redemption.
Following the Congress Fr. Santo Arrigo and I (at the insistence of the Vicar-General) took a brief side trip to Aparecida (a two hour bus ride outside of Sao Paulo). This Shrine, run by the Redemptorists since the 1940’s is in a small town of 35,000. The Shrine averages more than 11,000,000 pilgrims a year. That works out to more than 30,000 pilgrims a day. One is left with a profound sense that God’s people continue to hunger to hear God’s word, to acknowledge their faith, but also to know more of Mary’s love, tenderness and compassion.