Most Australians would have little knowledge of its great patroness, Our Lady Help of Christians.
First, a bit of background.
Most would only know about Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ. And that would be about it.
Her life is not often contemplated but it is worthy of great meditation.
Mary led a hidden life, although she was the Mother of God. This speaks volumes of her humility and is a great example for all men, especially today. She is the antithesis of everything we are – even our most inane activities are proclaimed to the world through the internet.
Mary was also a virgin, and, through the work of God, a mother.
In a post-feminist world, these attributes are ridiculed. But she is an example of true beauty and feminism and for this she holds the greatest position under the Holy Trinity. The Blessed Mother is Queen of all Creation.
Even people who don’t believe these facts about the Blessed Virgin Mary must still recognise the sublime beauty her story holds.
However, Mary is much more than the silent, humble Mother of God.
She wields great power through the will of her son, Jesus Christ, who was subject to her for thirty years.
And that is where we come to her title as Our Lady Help of Christians.
In 1571, the Islamic fleets from the Turkish Empire threatened Europe. St Pope Pius V arranged for a defence to be made and ordered all Christianity to pray the rosary to ask the Blessed Mother for assistance.
On October 7, 1571, the Christian and Turkish fleets met at Lepanto. Although the Christian fleet was outnumbered it won a great victory – with the aid of Our Lady Help of Christians. The wind, which had favoured the Turkish fleet, changed direction just as they moved into battle and captured Turkish prisoners spoke of seeing a terrible lady in the sky, wielding a sword.
That same day, St Pope Pius V received a vision of the Christian victory and ordered it to be celebrated, although news confirming this did not reach Rome from the fleet until 26 October, 1571.
A formal feast day was given to Our Lady Help of Christians after she came to the aid of another pope two and half centuries later. In 1815, Pope Pius VII proclaimed that May 24 would be dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians after her intercession secured his release from Napoleon’s prison at Fontainbleau.
The early Catholic Church in Australia quickly established a devotion to this title of the Blessed Virgin.
The first church in Australia was named after her and in 1852, Our Lady Help of Christians was officially proclaimed as the patroness of Australia. It was the first nation on earth to have this patroness.
I am honoured to have received my first holy communion on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians and I pray that she will continue to watch over Australia.
Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.