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As we have seen in other sections, from a very young age, John Bosco had a special bond with the Virgin Mary. It is certainly no surprise that he chose Mary Help of Christians as the patroness of his Salesian society, and that in Her honour he established the Associazone Di Maria Ausiliatrice (ADMA) – Association of Mary Help of Christians.

Indeed, John had his first great dream at the age of nine, where he saw a horde of very poor boys, playing and blaspheming. John wanted to react aggressively, but a Man of majestic appearance told him, “With meekness and charity you will conquer these friends of yours”; and a Lady just as majestic added, “Make yourself humble, strong and robust. At the right time, you will understand everything.” When people praised Don Bosco, he always replied, “I have done nothing by myself. It is the Virgin Mary who has done everything.”

A born organiser, he gave this devotion structure and stability by founding the ADMA. First-hand witnesses saw in this institution one of the initiatives most dear to Don Bosco, and the one with the widest impact after that of the two religious Congregations and the Association of the Co-operators.

Don Bosco promoted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Help of Christians, by means of written directions for the associates. He integrated the Association in the Salesian congregation through tasks which could be undertaken by the majority of ordinary people. In 1869 the Association was recognized by Mgr A. Riccardi, Archbishop of Turin, and by 1894 the Pope granted the right to include associations of the same name and with similar aims in all Salesian churches and houses. In 1896 this right was also extended to Diocesan churches.

In Malta, the ADMA was officially formed in 1928, at St. Patrick’s Sliema (Association of Devotees of Mary Help of Christians). Today, through the ADMA, this devotion to Mary is still spread across the Maltese islands, and an annual procession to commemorate the feast of Mary Help of Christians is held on the 4th Sunday of the month of May, and on the 24th of every month, Holy Mass is celebrated at St. Patrick’s Church in Her honour.

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“Our Lady is waiting for you to give Her your heart.” – Don Bosco

Historical origin of this title

The title Mary Help of Christians goes back a long time in history. Actually, in the year 345, St. John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople 397 – 404) was the first person to use this title, as a devotion to the Virgin Mary. St. John is one of the great doctors of the Eastern Church. As Archbishop, his courageous stance against the vices of even the wealthy caused him to be exiled several times. In fact, he was in exile when he died in 407. This devotion to Mary became popular in Europe during the wars against the Islamic Ottoman Empire. In 1572, the Ottomans intended to invade Christian Europe. Pope Pius V called Christian armies from all over Europe to defend the continent and asked the believers to pray to Mary in order to defeat the Muslims. The Christian victory was attributed to the intercession of Mary under this title.

A feast day for Our Lady Help of All Christians was instituted in 1814 when, after praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Pius VII was released from years of imprisonment (by Napoleon). The Pope’s triumphant entrance in Rome, on May 24, 1814, was a cause of great celebration for all Christians. It is quite remarkable that John Bosco was born just a year later, and after a few years he had his first great dream, which led to such amazing work, based on Our Lady’s love.

Paul Camilleri Cauchi 8th December 1986