On January 1st, 2019, the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, we were blessed and privileged to celebrate the beginning of this new year in a unique way honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, we were able to receive and house the icon of Our Lady, Help of Persecuted Christians while she was between parish visitations.
The Knights of Columbus have for many years had a Marian Prayer Program sending a specially blessed image or icon of Our Lady around the country with the Knights organizing holy hours and prayer services in conjunction with the image visiting a local parish. In this case, it has distinct resonance as Christians are being persecuted on a more widespread and deadly level than we have known before. It is estimated that in the 20th century, more martyrs died for Christ than in the first three centuries of the Church’s existence. Now, sadly, in the third millennium the situation seems even worse. Thus the idea of having an icon written particularly for persecuted Christians hits home.
When we look at the figures huddled under Mary’s royal blue mantle, we see representatives from around the world and from various Churches and ethnicities. But, like a news photo, we see faces and clothing that cannot fail to bring to mind martyrs we know by name already, even if they haven’t been formally canonized. Indeed we have many living martys now, persecuted all their lives. An elderly man in a white chasuble; might that be Father Jacques Hamel? A young woman; could that be Asia Bibi? A prisoner in a concentration camp uniform; Saint Maximillian Kolbe? A Missionary of Charity; do we not remember the attack in Yemen? A man in a bright orange jumpsuit; do we not shudder to recognize the now trademark death uniform of so many ISIS victims in that figure? Each figure may indeed be based on an individual and bear a likeness. But each also, and unfortunately, represents so many, many more persecuted Christians. Many known, and a vast many more unknown. But they will all have this in common: Mary will be there for them and they will look to her for strength when they need it most. And after the battle of this life, they will rejoice forever with her Son, Jesus Christ, bearing the palm leaves of victory that we see at the top of the icon.
May we prove as faithful as these Christians.
Our Lady, Help of Persecuted Christians, Pray for Us!