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May 24 - Mary Help of Christians

Our Lady Help of Christians

The feast day to Mary Help of Christians has been celebrated in Australia since 1844 but the history to this day dates back to the start of the 1800’s.

Napoleon Bonaparte had jailed Pius VI who died in jail. When Pope Pius VII was elected he too was jailed by Bonaparte, who kept him prisoner at Fontainbleau. The Holy Father vowed to God that if he were restored to the Roman See, he would institute a special feast in honour of Mary.

The military eventually forced Bonaparte to release the Pope and on 24 May 1814, Pius VII returned in triumph to Rome. Twelve months later the Pope decreed that the feast of Mary Help of Christians be kept on 24 May..

Mary Help of Christians is the patroness of Australia, and Australia was the first country to adopt Mary Help of Christians as its patroness.

In September 1844 Archbishop Polding of Sydney met with the new Bishops of Adelaide and Hobart, and with about half of the approx. 3 dozen pioneer priests in Australia at the time. One of their decisions was to place Australia under the patronage of Mary Help of Christians. This was confirmed by the Holy See in 1852.

At the beginning of the 19th. century, Napoleon had occupied Rome and imprisoned the Pope (PiusVII). On 24th. May 1814 the Pope was released, and in thanksgiving he introduced into the Roman Calendar the Feast of Mary Help of Christians on that very day.

In the year 2001(the centenary of Australian Federation) which was also the begining of the new millennium, the Australian Bishops decided on renewing this patronage of the Virgin Mary under the title of "Help of Christians". This was one of the main official church events for the centenary of Federation.

Amongst other things, a new image of Mary Help of Christians was designed, which while basically following the traditional image, tried to give it a more contemporary appearance. The map of Australia is beneath Mary's feet, the Southern Cross shines in the night sky behind her. Her Queenship of heaven is proclaimed by the Crown she wears. The traditional sceptre in her right hand has been removed, and instead she is shown reaching out with an open hand to all her children, as she always does, and in particular in this title of "Help of Christians".

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