A recent initiative of the Confraternity of Mary Help of Christians and the Monks of the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit is set to take shape in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. A beautiful statue of Mary Help of Christians was sent forth from St Stephen's Cathedral on 2 February 1999 to parish churches around Queensland and Australia.
His Grace Archbishop Bathersby signalled the statue's debut by celebrating a Cathedral Mass for the Feast of the Presentation with a candlelight procession led by the statue. A capacity crowd (around 1000 people) witnessed the launch and prayed the Rosary for its success. At the Mass the Archbishop especially commissioned the Pauline Fathers of Marian Valley (see April 1997 AD2000) to take the statue, together with its accompanying Program of Spiritual Renewal, to the people of the Archdiocese.
Several other Australian bishops have already consented to allow the pilgrim statue program into their dioceses.
Travelling statues are not uncommon in Europe and other parts of Christendom but are not an established practice in Australia. Nor does the concept of "pilgrimage" feature highly in Australian Catholic culture. Father Andrew Joachim Dembicki, the Prior at the Marian Valley Shrine where the idea was born, hopes to change this by bringing the statue to as many Parishes as possible in the lead up to the Great Jubilee 2000. "The Statue of Our Blessed Mother is itself on a pilgrimage to find souls and spiritually renew the nation," he said.
Custodians of the statue relate its many adventures on its long journey from Turin, through India under the care of Salesian Father Maschio, to Singapore, Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane and finally Canungra. The statue has already been to many homes, taken on televised processions and cruised the Brisbane River with a boat full of pilgrims to celebrate Mary's feast day on 24 May 1996.
Apart from the monks, the pilgrim statue is sponsored by the Confraternity of Mary Help of Christians. Formerly located at Surry Hills in NSW, the Confraternity is now under the care of the monks at Canungra. Membership of the Confraternity in every State now totals more than 9000, and fifty Masses are celebrated each year for the spiritual and temporal welfare of all members, living and deceased.
Father Andrew is careful to explain the proper use of religious images: "They are in constant use to recall the person or thing depicted. An image of your Mother, such as a photograph or painting, serves as a powerful reminder. These things are also an educational tool and can be especially useful with children. There is ample Old Testament evidence of their use; I am thinking of the cherubim in Exodus. 25:18-20 and David's plans given to Solomon (1 Chr. 28:18-19). Marian images have been a constant help to the Church since the earliest times."
The statue will be placed in the Sanctuary prior to Mass in the parishes visited and Marian devotions will be held after Mass. These will include the Angelus, a Scripture Rosary and procession, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin and the Act of Consecration of homes and families to Our Lady Help of Christians, Patroness of Australia. A focal point of any visit will be a spiritual talk by one of the Monks and concluding Benediction. Individual Reconciliation will be available after devotions.
Just as the Old Testament exhorted all to show hospitality to pilgrims (Deut 14:29; Lev 23:22), Father Andrew expressed the hope that Australian Catholic parishes would "open their churches to their Patroness and Mother - Auxilium Christianorum - Mary Help of Christians."
Parish Councils, prayer groups and other parish organisations wishing to host the statue are encouraged to approach their parish priest requesting him to invite the statue to the parish. A priest from Marian Valley will accompany the statue and conduct all devotions so as to minimise any call upon local resources.
Those wishing to contact organisers of the statue pilgrimage can call the Marian Valley Shrine at Canungra direct on +61 (07) 5533 3617 or write to PO Box 104, Canungra, Queensland 4275.
Patrick Quirk is Assistant Professor of Law at Bond University, Queensland.