10 Perpetual Devotion - Fr. John Rose, SJ

posted Sep 7, 2017, 1:52 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Sep 7, 2017, 1:52 AM ]
Mahim, on either side of the two main arteries - Lady Jamshedji Road and Cadell Road - still has the look of a sleepy suburb, a hapless bit of territory between Dadar and Bandra. Looking out westwards from a window in my room where I stay, at St Xavier's Technical Institute, there is a blur of low-lying buildings and trees and some bit of sand across the start of the SV Road, and strolls in the surrounding areas provide not much of interest, except carpentry workshops turning out exquisite filigree frames. Come Wednesdays, I would deter friends or any one else from visiting me, because of the hassles involved, but not if they wish to witness a wonderful spectacle on roads that issue out of Mahim Junction. Mainly around St Michael's Church, nondescript though modern, and hardly noticeable from a hurrying transport, there is an almost day long mixture of a mela, marketplace, pilgrimage centre, attractive junk food stalls, jostling crowds and noisy traffic snarls. The chief, if not the only, cause of it all is the weekly Perpetual Succour Novena, a misnomer, since it goes right through the year, and is not limited to nine Wednesdays at a time. The Church is packed with people absorbed by Novena prayers, Masses, homilies, Confessions, personal devotions, rosaries, or long lengths of silent contemplation, and is spontaneously decorated with lighted candles and flower bouquets, gift items and garlands.

What is most striking to me, and deserving of comment, is that, according to what I surmise, more than eighty per cent of the devotees streaming into the church are from other faiths, and the devotion on their faces doesn't appear to be in any way different from that of the Christians. A similar feature is to be seen in the crowds that go up to Mount Mary's during the Bandra Feast, but this event is only for a week. To Fr Francis de Melo, who has been here at St Xavier's since the early '80s, there is no explanation for this non-denominational devotion to Our Lady, and for her devotees to give excuses for being late to work or leaving the office early on Wednesdays other than: "I've to be in time at Mahim." Our Mother of Perpetual Help deserves perpetual devotion from her devotees.

The drawing factor is a Byzantine icon of Mary, originally venerated in Italy since the 14th century, and later entrusted to the Redemptorists in Rome by the Pope. Recently arrived in India, accompanied with the devotion associated with them, they found a very responsive agent for it in one of their mission rounds. In 1948, the pastor of St Michael Church, Fr Edward P. Fernandes, installed with much fanfare a large facsimile of the icon in the church; and it was his successor, Fr George Fernandes, famous for his sanctity and sermons, who drew in greater crowds, and since that time, the intensity of devotion and the numbers involved have not abated.

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