Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Many people know the familiar image of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Mother of Perpetual Help. They might have this image in their home but can’t travel to see the original icon enshrined in Rome.
Then there are many people in the world who still don’t know our Blessed Mother in that miraculous image and title.
But the Redemptorists, who are the custodians of the original icon, have just done something great for both groups. In time for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, June 27, the order launched a website with a live feed of this original centuries-old icon that is enshrined in their mother church in Rome.
People all over the world can now see one of oldest miraculous images of the Madonna and Child over live-streaming video at Mary Pray for Us. They can contemplate it, pray before it, and submit prayer requests 24/7.
Over this live feed, the original miraculous icon inspires holy awe. The camera gradually takes us from seeing the image enshrined over the altar and tabernacle, where it has been since 1866, to the icon close up. The background lighting changes with the time of day.
The website provides quite a detailed story of this icon. Briefly, it was painted around the mid-1400’s and eventually was brought from Crete. In Italy, Our Blessed Virgin appeared to the family’s young daughter and told her the image should be placed in the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle, which was located between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. It was placed there on March 27, 1499.
Redemptorist Brother Dan Korn, an expert iconologist and missionary for the order’s Denver Province, said that, in 1798, when Rome was attacked and churches destroyed, Augustinian monks caring for the icon took the image as they fled for their lives. People thought the icon was lost in the destruction, but the monks put it in their private oratory in another monastery, where it was forgotten.
In the mid-1800s, the Redemptorists built their mother church, Sant’ Alfonso, on the exact site where St. Matthew’s had stood. They learned about the icon and petitioned Blessed Pope Pius IX to allow the image to come back to the original site our Blessed Mother had chosen centuries earlier as her sanctuary between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
On Dec. 11, 1865, Pius IX gave permission, made the Redemptorists the custodians, and told them “to make her known throughout the world!" Within two weeks after the image was enshrined, the Pope himself visited this image and said, “How beautiful she is!”
Redemptorist Father Gary Ziuraitis, director of communications for the Redemptorists’ general government, stationed at Sant’ Alphonsus in Rome, sees this 24-hour streaming website as a new phase in the order’s mission to make our Blessed Mother known, as Pius IX mandated.
“The Holy Father (Pope Benedict XVI) and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications have recently emphasized the importance of the Internet and social media in the spread of the Gospel and of the faith,” he explained. “Along with the time-honored weekly novena, this is simply the fastest and the best method to make available the original icon to millions who have prayed before copies in hundreds of churches -- many of these copies originating from our motherhouse here in Rome and touched to the original -- or have never seen or heard the story of the icon before. We hope this will also spark renewed interest in the icon as we look forward to 2016 and the 150th anniversary of the Holy Father's mandate.”
Redemptorist Father Harry Grile, provincial superior of the Denver Province, agrees.
“We had been talking with our Redemptorists in Rome for some time about how we could work together to bring Our Mother’s holy icon to Christians around the globe,” he explained. “In the course of our discussions, we both realized the best way to do that would be through a live video feed. And so, the Rome video project was born.”
Now people can spend time with this holy icon in the quiet of their homes.
The website also includes sacred music choices, the Mother of Perpetual Help novena and audio/video mysteries of the Rosary.
Brother Korn, who travels the country giving retreats on the icon’s meaning, said, “Icons are said to be the Scriptures in image form. There are five main elements in this icon: our Blessed Mother’s faith, her right hand pointing to the Infant, the Infant himself, the angels, then the gold background. From them you can read all the implications of the Gospels.
“Look at the eyes of Mary. They do not look at Jesus or the activity of the angels, but directly at you or whoever is standing in front of the icon. She constantly looks at you and draws you into the space of this image.”
Because icons are also “windows into the mystery of God,” Mary “draws us into the Gospel of Jesus as she holds this Gospel, the Word of God, in her arms,” Brother Korn noted.
In just one main symbol, Mary’s hand points to the Child and to his heart, then continues in the same line up to the cross, his passion.
“The icon is all about Mary bringing us to Jesus Christ, guiding us to what she holds in her arms, the Word of God. The large eight-pointed star in the center of her veil is symbolic of Mary, dating to the catacombs, because she is the star that shows us the way to Christ.
“This icon is all about Mary looking at us and drawing us into the mystery of Christ.”
The hopes are now for even more people worldwide to see this icon, so that Mary draws them into this mystery of her Son.
“Blessed Pope Pius IX told us to make Our Mother of Perpetual Help known throughout the world and became the first member of the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Pereptual Help when it was established for this purpose,” said Father Ziuraitis, who grew up in a Redemptorist parish in Grand Rapids, Mich., and now is privileged to pray before the original icon. “Web streaming is the logical extension of continuing this important pastoral mission he gave to us Redemptorists and to encourage people to submit their needs in writing for her perpetual help. I think he would be pleased.”
View at MaryPrayForUs.org.