RMG – The houses of "Don Bosco's Madonna" around the world: the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Lima, Peru

24 May 2024

(ANS – Rome) – Enthroned on the front of her Basilica in Lima, an almost eighty-year-old image of Mary Help of Christians is a silent witness to the daily movement of the thousands of passers-by who pass daily before her. Located right where Avenida Brasil is, one of the main and busiest roads in the capital of Peru, the figure is protected from the elements by a glass screen placed ten years ago during the restoration work of the church, declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation.

Located in the district of Breña, in the heart of the capital of Peru, the Basilica of María Auxiliadora de Lima is about to turn 100 years since construction came to an end. In 1924 its facade and its spiked tower were completed, which was for some decades the tallest structure in the city.

Its architect, Father Ernesto Vespignani, designed the tower to be decorated with a bronze cross, a four-disc clock and a monumental statue of Mary Help of Christians. At the time of the opening ceremony of the tower and general conclusion of the works, on December 8, 1924, the cross and the clock were installed, but the image of the Virgin had not even been made. For twenty years her niche remained empty, while ornamentation efforts were concentrated inside the shrine.

At the end of 1943, the Salesians entrusted Peruvian artist Natalicio Delgado with the task. Delgado had painted the vault of the apse  for the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Magdalena del Mar, opened in December 1942. After this work, he was commissioned to make the image for Breña, and be inspired by the wooden processional statue that had been venerated inside the Basilica since 1921.

It had a height of 4.20 m being cast in white cement, given by Casa Roselló, whose headquarters was located in front of the Basilica. Finally, the statue was placed in May 1945, Father José Cóggiola being Porvincial of the Salesians in Peru and Bolivia and Father Jerónimo Gordini being Parish Priest of Mary Help of Christians. It is the largest sculpture in the entire enclosure, and in its time was the largest of the Virgin of Don Bosco throughout the Peruvian Republic.

"Since then, until today, it is the main external indicator of the church's dedication and the first thing that passers-by on Avenida Brasil see, with a universally Salesian Marian iconography developed by Don Bosco himself" says David Franco Córdova, Historian of the Peruvian Salesians.

During the nine days of the novena in honour of Mary Help of Christians, the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Breña, located in the heart of Lima, becomes a meeting point for thousands of people who come daily to pay homage to the Virgin. The most significant celebration takes place at 7:00 pm with Holy Mass, attracting faithful from all over who come to venerate Mary Help of Christians, our mother under this title.

Over the years, devotion to Mary Help of Christians has grown significantly, becoming the second busiest celebration or procession in Lima, after the Lord of Miracles.

The main preacher of this year 2024, Father Juan Pablo Alcas, Provincial of the Salesians, has focused his message on the figure of Mary as "The Woman of the Dream", referring to the dreams of Don Bosco. During his homilies, he stressed the importance of modesty, humility and purity, and how, with the help of the Virgin and the presence of God, all dreams can be achieved.

On 24 May the celebration reaches its climax. Masses from 7 am, accompany all the faithful who come to venerate the beautiful image of Mary Help of Christians. At 4:00 in the afternoon, the procession of Mary Help of Christians goes through the most important points of Breña, ending with a mass and a celebration that ends at midnight. This day brings together thousands of faithful of all ages, from students of Salesian schools, past pupils of various classes, to members of various orders and congregations. The procession and the novena masses are not only acts of faith, but also of community, where devotees recognise in Mary a guide that leads them to Jesus.

The novena of 2024, under the motto "Mother Help of Christians, Beauty of Virtue", has reinforced the bond of the faithful with the Virgin. The celebrations, presided over by prominent figures.

Looking at the Virgin Mary at the biggest event in her home, in the centuries-old Basilica, is important for all Christians. This celebration not only reaffirms our faith, but also strengthens our community, uniting us in an act of devotion and love shared by our heavenly mother. This holiday is a beacon of hope and spiritual guidance for all.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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