History of Devotion to Mary Help of Christians
When Constantinople fell in 1453, the whole of the East was under Islamic rule. In 1571, a giant Turkish armada set sail to capture the Eternal City and destroy Christianity. An insignificant fleet manned by Christians assembled at Lepanto.
From the human point of view the outcome was inevitable — destruction, enslavement, spoliation, desecration.
Pope Pius V called upon every Catholic to invoke the aid of the Mother of God under her title “Help of Christians”, and to storm heaven unceasingly with Rosaries. The people responded with enthusiasm, and on Vatican Hill, the Pope prayed to Mary Help of Christians with arms outstretched.
The vastly outnumbered Christian Fleet, sailing under a blue banner dedicated to the Mother of God was lead by Don John of Austria. They met the Admirals of Islam in the Gulf of Lapanto, near Corinth in Greece and the powerful Turkish Fleet was conquered in this momentous battle. It would be many days afterwards before word reached Rome of the outcome of the struggle; but the Pope had been granted a vision in which he saw that Christendom was saved. The great victory at Lepanto occurred on October 7th 1571. In gratitude to Our Lady for this great victory, the Pope instituted a new Feast in honour of Our Lady. Feast of the Most Holy Rosary October 7th.
A new threat came by lead in 1683 when 200,000 Ottoman Turks besieged the city of Vienna. By human standards this was hopeless for the Christians as they were outnumbered seven to one. Once again the cause was commended to “Our Lady Help of Christians” by the Pope, Blessed Innocent XI who united Christendom again with the Rosary. Emperor Leopold I took refuge in the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians at Passau, where he fell to his knees in prayer. Prince John Sobieski and his legions of Polish troops, en route to Vienna to fight the Muslim Turks, visited Passau to implore the assistance of the Mother of God in the forthcoming battle. The Battle for Vienna began on September 8th, the Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity. It ranged for 4 terrible days, and on the 12th of September, the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, the siege of Vienna was lifted. The Turkish army was now crushed, and would never again present a threat to Christendom.
However, a little over a century later, in 1800, what the Turks had failed to do, the French under Napoleon succeeded in doing. The Eternal City of Rome fell, fifty venerable churches in Rome were put to the torch, and Pope Pius VI was imprisoned and died from the effects of the ill-treatment he received during his internment.
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France. His campaigns of deceit and persecution against the Church multiplied. Pope Pius VII excommunicated him, but in 1809 Napoleon entered the Vatican, and a Pope was once again arrested, and this time Pope Pius VII was taken in chains to Fontainebleau, for a period of 5 years.
This intrepid bu frail, physically week old man managed to smuggle out from prison orders for the whole of Christendom to prayer to Our Lady Help of Christians for deliverance. The Pope made a vow to Our Lady that if she would restore freedom to the Church, he would honour her with a new Feast. Once again the whole of Europe become a spiritual battle ground — not of arms against arms, but of Rosaries against ruthless military might.
Outside Moscow, Napoleon, at the head of an army of one million men, suffered his ultimate defeat. The Russian Winter destroyed, and of his fine troops only a mere 30,000 were left to carry the sorry tale back to France.
God will not be challenged! On this very day 24th of May, 1814, as Napoleon signed his abdication, Pius VII made his triumphant re-entry into the Eternal City. The Pope, true to his vow to Our Lady, proclaimed as his first official act, the Feast of Mary Help of Christians to be celebrated on the 24th May.
It was at Fatima in 1917 that Our Blessed Lady warned the world about the looming menace of atheistic communism, and promised us that, by means of the Rosary, this great evil would be defeated. The power of the Rosary in this regard has been demonstrated many times since then.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Our Lady’s help was invoked, through continuous and ceaseless Rosaries, to rout the communists and lift the siege of the city of Alcazar.
In the aftermath of World War II, Austria fell under military occupation by communist Soviet forces. A nation-wide Rosary Crusade was launched by Austrian Catholics, imploring the Mother of God to liberate their country from communist tyranny. On May 13th 1954, the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, Russia announced its intention to withdraw from Austria with immediate effect. No officials explanation was ever given but the Catholics of Austria knew that, as always, Mary had answered their pleas for help.
We remember Mary’s victory in Brazil in 1964. During Holy Week, the Brazilian people, with the aid of the Rosary Crusade, defeated a conspiracy that threatened to make them victims of a communist tyranny. Mary answers the call again.
On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. 1984, His Holiness Pope John Paul II knelt in St. Peter’s Square and in union with many of his bishops, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That same year, to the great alarm of Western leaders and NATO military chiefs, Russia mobilised all its military forces on a hitherto unprecedented scale for what were claimed to the ‘exercises.’ On October 11th 1993 during an interview with Sr. Lucia, Filipino Cardinal Ricard Vidal was told by the principal Fatima seer that the 1984 consecration prevented a nuclear war which would otherwise have broken out in 1985. In another great victory through the intercession of Our Lady, brought about by means of the consecration made by the Holy Father in 1984, (and with the assistance of many thousands of Rosaries prayed by her faithful children), dramatic changes began to occur in Russia, and by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated and for all the Eastern Europe, the communist era was at and end.