by Father Ian Doulton
MUMBAI, OCT 10, 2017: The Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna is a 'must-see' stop for anyone, especially for a Marian devotee who comes to Mumbai. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Shrine will be ushered in by the Salesian Rector Major, Father Angel Fernandez Artime on November 12. The Shrine recently turned 60 but it still looks as fresh as if it were consecrated only the other day.
The journey from conception to construction is a hymn of gratitude to Our Blessed Mother from her grateful children who heeded the earnest plea of that great visionary, Father Aurelius Maschio. With generous donations gradually trickling in, it took barely two years for this magnificent Marian monument to be completed.
On August 5, 1957, auxiliary Bishop Longinus Pereira blessed the Shrine and declared it open for public veneration. Seven years later, on November 28, 1964 that the Shrine was formally consecrated by Archbishop Hubert D'Rosario SDB along with seven other bishops who assisted him in consecrating the side altars and the altars in the crypt; and barely a week later, on December 4, 1964 no less a personage than his Holiness Pope Paul VI, visited the Shrine and blessed the statue of Mary Help of Christians, which to this day is venerated especially during the novena and the solemn feast of Mary Help of Christians on May 24.
Over the years people from all corners of the globe have made their way here either to fulfil a promise or to make a request, or simply to sit in gratitude, just resting in the soothing and serene environment of her Shrine. None of this would make any sense unless the raison d'etre is known. All those who have any association with the Shrine know that these hallowed portals exude much devotion, faith and love.
Besides the personal fervour that draws people here, the Shrine's many services and tracts continue to be disseminated, enlivening the faith of Mary's devotees. The vast and lively correspondence even in this digital age continues to meet the need of simple Catholics seeking enlightenment and consolation, encouragement and inspiration.
Nothing draws these Marian devotees as much as their faith in the intercessory power of Mary, the Madonna of Don Bosco. The novenas conducted at the shrine and the services celebrated are a tribute to the faith of the many who know that it is through Mary that they will most certainly reach her Son Jesus. Innumerable Christians have returned to the Church thanks the Sacrament of Reconciliation that is made available to penitents coming from near and far to avail themselves of God's mercy freely offered.
Those who are able to come to the Shrine or those who don't find it possible, still find ways and means to bring to our notice that they wish to express their love and gratitude for favours received and most of all for the palpable presence of Mary in their lives. Not to be outdone Mary continues to shower on them blessing after blessing, and like children, the devotees continue to express their love and devotion to the Madonna who has taken up residence in their humble homes.
Several devotees have passed on their devotion to their children and their grandchildren and it is a delight to see entire families making their way to the feet of Our Lady to rededicate themselves to her and to reaffirm their filial devotion to the Queen and Mother of their homes.
The Shrine is a also feat of art-deco architecture considering that it was built in the 1950's and was completed in all its intricate detail, in a record period of two years. The main dome over the sanctuary and the two smaller bell-towers - with electric chimes - over the entrance are typical of Roman church architecture. The façade is marked by an arched doorway above which is a huge mosaic of the Madonna, the inspiration of all Don Bosco's work. The entire shrine has an exterior of Malad granite, golden-brown in colour with its eye-catching 12 foot-high gilt statue of Mary Help of Christians standing majestically atop the main dome.
The interior of the church is totally clad in imported Italian Carrara marble of different hues, with amazingly symmetrical striations. A little above eye-level are the fourteen rectangular panels of the Stations of the Cross intricately done in mosaic and shipped here from art studios in Italy. Even more arresting are the 15 mysteries of the Rosary and the five scenes from Don Bosco's life captured in stained glass that are situated above the mosaics together with the three stained-glass panels that stand atop the main altar with their Marian motifs. All 23 stained-glass panels were tempered by master Italian craftsmen in special kilns there, to endure the brilliance of the Indian sun.
But the walls of granite and marble, the stained glass and mosaic are no match for the greatest treasure of the Shrine which is the faith of the countless devotees and penitents who have streamed through its portals over these past sixty years. Young and old, rich and poor, Christians and others... have kept coming back to this beautiful masterpiece of Marian art and devotion to seek solace and serenity.
No pilgrim to the Shrine should ever miss a visit to the crypt. It enshrines the relics of hundreds of saints and martyrs in ornate reliquaries that were lovingly sourced and shipped here by generous benefactors. Most of the time the crypt is enveloped in green and gold semidarkness giving the place a calm and prayerful atmosphere which makes it the preferred venue for many bridal couples who insist on having their nuptials solemnized beneath the maternal gaze of Our Lady.
It was Father Aurelius Maschio's love for Mary which touched the people of Mumbai, the entire subcontinent India and the world over. He revealed to them the extent of the love of Mary Help of Christians, and the devotees in turn have never ceased to thank this humble Italian missionary for leaving them this inestimable treasure. While this intrepid crusader of Marian devotion rests, interred in the Shrine that he built to the powerful intervention of Our Blessed Mother, he invites all to enter this hallowed place, to experience the maternal intervention of Mary to see what miracles are!