Artist's icon honors Mary
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
Carmelito “Lito” Santos has spent his life reciting praises and giving honor to the Virgin Mary.
True to the traditions of his Filipino heritage, Santos affectionately calls her “Mama Mary” and has recited novenas to Our Mother of Perpetual Help for decades.
With the urging of the Redemptorist order—among whose mission it is to spread devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help—Santos took his love for Mary and translated it into art.
In April, he finished painting his own rendition of the ancient Greek icon called “Our Mother of Perpetual Help” with bright yellow, orange and blue brush strokes.
“I always had a special feeling for Mary,” Santos said at his home and studio in Centennial. “I want to bring in the whole congregation (of our parish) to our monthly novenas.”
The large oil painting will be unveiled today at Queen of Peace Church after its monthly Mass and novena devoted to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as started by the Bayanihan Society at the parish some 30 years ago, Santos said.
The society has worked with the Redemptorists to bring greater devotion to Mary, especially during May, a month traditionally dedicated to showing her honor.
Since the early days of the Church, Mary has been honored with the title “Mother of God” and venerated as the special protector of the faithful in all their needs and struggles. The Catholic Church’s devotion to Mary is intrinsic to Christian worship, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Redemptorist Brother Daniel Korn said he works to promote the icon through his work at Liguori Publications in Missouri, a collaborative ministry with the Redemptorists.
He said icons are considered the Gospel but in the form of an image. This specific icon tells the story of redemption, which lies at the heart of the congregation’s mission, he said.
“The icon is very important, because we are Redemptorists and we preach the mystery of the great redemptive love through Jesus for all of us,” Brother Korn said.
In 1732 the Redemptorist order was founded in Italy by St. Alphonsus Liguori as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer to respond to the spiritual needs of the poor. Later, Pope Pius IX entrusted the order with the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help—which can be traced to 16th century Crete, Greece—and the responsibility of “making her known throughout the world.”
Devotion grew over the centuries to the Byzantine-influenced icon, originally called the “Virgin of the Passion,” and pilgrims still travel to see it in Rome, Brother Korn said.
“She is perpetually helping people,” he said of Mary.
Today the congregation’s 5,300 members are working to spread devotion among the 78 countries it serves, including the United States where one of its provinces is headquartered in Denver.
Today’s Mass and novena at Queen of Peace Church, 13120 E. Kentucky Ave. in Aurora, will be celebrated at 7 p.m. by Redemptorist Father Bob Halter. Santos’ painting will be unveiled.
Santos said he began painting in February and worked to replicate the original icon while translating his own personality into the artwork.
According to Eastern Catholic tradition, icons tell stories, and the Our Mother of Perpetual Help icon shares the story of Christ’s redemption.
In Santos’ painting, viewers will see Mary holding Christ in her arms, with one hand pointing to his heart.
“Her hand is pointing to this infant—this infinite Word in her arm,” Brother Korn explained. “He is the incarnate and crucified work of redemption.”
Two angels hover on the right and left side of Mary holding the instruments of Christ’s passion. One angel holds the cross and nails signifying Christ’s crucifixion, and another holds the jars filled with gal and vinegar.
“These are venerated and holy objects,” Brother Korn said. “Although they did terrible things to Jesus on the cross, they are holy, sacred images because of the resurrection. That is why the back of the icon is all gold. (It) represents the resurrection light.”
In the icon, Christ’s head is turned toward the cross.
Santos said in painting the image, he felt sorrow for Mary, who witnessed her son suffering on the cross.
“Can you imagine looking at your son going through something like that?” Santos said. “I would have wanted to be there in his place rather than have Mary see that.”