Black Madonna icon in Kenner Feb. 15-16
“From Ocean to Ocean,” a pro-life journey of a pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland, will stop Feb. 15-16 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 1908 Short St., in Kenner. Veneration will be Feb. 15 after the 4 p.m. vigil and 5:30 p.m. Latin Masses, and Feb. 16 after the Masses at 7:30, 9 and 10:30 a.m., and 12:30 and 5 p.m.
Father Peter West, vice president of Human Life International that sponsors the event, will speak at each Mass.
Kenner District Fire Chief Brian Hughes was instrumental in getting the icon to Louisiana. He first saw the Black Madonna icon at its home – at the Pauline Monastery of Mary, Mother of God at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa – in July 2013 on a pilgrimage with his daughter Madeleine Hughes.
“I wanted healing for both of us,” Hughes said, due to a divorce. “I wanted to rekindle my relationship with my daughter, and what better way than to go before the icon in Europe.”
He said he was amazed by the icon’s beauty and the faith of the people making pilgrimages to the basilica. The Black Madonna is believed to have performed miracles – saving cities under siege and curing diseases.
“I had tears in my eyes when I went there,” Hughes said. “You can read all the books you want, but when you go there, it reinvigorates your faith.”
By chance, while standing with 1,000 people viewing the icon, the director of the monastery asked Hughes where he was from. When he said Metairie, he was asked if he knew Father Richard Miles, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kenner. Hughes told him he often attends daily Mass there.
“I was thinking in my head, ‘You gotta be kidding me?’” Hughes said. “I knew Father Miles had a devotion to the Blessed Mother, and he had even talked about Our Lady of Czestochowa.”
Upon return from the pilgrimage, Hughes was watching an EWTN program about the icon and saw it was touring the United States. He knew he had to bring it here.
On the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, he went to the Ursuline Shrine in New Orleans and prayed, “Momma Mary – if you want to come here, you gotta make it happen.” A short time later, he got a call that it would come to Kenner.
A family icon
Hughes said the legend behind Our Lady of Czestochowa icon is that St. Luke painted her on the cypress family table used by Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She is gesturing toward the baby Jesus – showing the way to salvation – and the baby Jesus has his right hand up in a blessing toward the viewer and holds the Gospels in his left hand.
“(The icon) was believed to have been in Jerusalem, then taken purportedly by St. Helen and transported to Constantinople in the 4th century, where it was enshrined for approximately 500 years,” Hughes said. It spent another 500 years or so in the Ukraine, and has been in Czechoslovakia since 1382 in a monastery founded by Pauline monks.
In later years, an army tried to invade the monastery, and the Black Madonna was credited with saving the monastery. The next year, she was crowned Our Lady of Czestochowa, queen and protector of Poland. She also was credited with helping the Poles defeat the Russians in the early 20th century. Pope John Paul II also prayed before the Black Madonna on his visits in 1979, 1983 and 1991.
Today, the Black Madonna is “one of the most recognizable symbols of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland,” according to a website detailing its history (jasnagora.com).
The Black Madonna has two scars on her face. Legend states that an army stormed the monastery, stole the icon and a soldier made two slashes on the image with a sword. “The officer who tried to slash it a third time went into convulsions and died,” Hughes said, the others with him couldn’t get away. The scars remain despite attempts to cover them up, Hughes said.
“So you can reunite your scars with hers,” Hughes said. “She is there with you in your scars.”
The pilgrimage icon replica began in 2012 in Vladivostok, Russia, and has traveled more than 40,000 miles to 24 countries before reaching America. The pilgrimage is dedicated to the defense and support of life and family through the intercession of the Our Lady of Czestochowa, Hughes said.
“I would hope the graces of the Blessed Mother would touch them in such a way that they embrace life from conception to natural death and the healing of families,” Hughes said. “Graces will flow from this.”