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It was 100 years ago, on September 7, 1921, that the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay movement, came into being; in a short time it spread to all countries across the globe.
Its origins were humble enough. A group of young people led by Frank Duff met without any inkling of the momentous circumstance. On that day, the eve of the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, they discussed how best to instil the love of God in the world.
The gathering was held around a simple altar with the statue of the Immaculate Conception, the new woman of Genesis who had to crush the evil serpent’s head. This first meeting was held in Dublin, where the headquarters of the Legion’s highest governing council, the Concilium Legionis, now stands.
Duff was a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. He had been deeply impressed by the spirit of the society in offering assistance to the ever-growing number of poor and marginalised people in early 20th century Dublin. In them he saw the person of Christ Himself, an approach transposed in the standing orders of the Legion of Mary, which call on every legionary to see Christ in others and to serve Him as Mary herself would have done.
Additionally, Duff was inspired by the teachings of St Louis Marie de Montfort, as expressed in his Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. St Louis considers true devotion to Mary as the shortest and surest way to Jesus. Those who follow this authentic devotion not only imitate her virtues but also yield themselves completely to her will and offer all their temporal and spiritual merits emerging from the good deeds of their apostolate.
Initially, the movement was referred to as the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, since it focused mainly on visits to the sick and elderly in hospitals and homes.
The Legion of Mary today has about three million active members around the world who attend a weekly meeting and perform a statutory two-hour apostolic work and an even greater number of auxiliary members who recite the Legion prayers daily.
In time, the pastoral work of the Legion flourished, with particular emphasis on family visits, usually with the statue of Our Lady, and personal contacts as members reach out to everybody.
Alternative tasks include visits to the elderly and homebound and to families in difficulties and the care of junior groups, not to mention other work that is carried out in the silence of humble service. In these difficult times we are passing through due to COVID-19, certain visits had to be temporarily halted or carried out according to the instructions issued by the health authorities.
The Legion came to Malta in 1936 but was officially approved by Archbishop Maurus Caruana in 1940. Dun Karm Psaila, the national poet, was its first spiritual director. The Legion eventually strengthened its presence on the islands as it spread to all parishes.
Besides the local undertaking, many members carry out apostolic work abroad.
Particularly effective is the Peregrinatio Pro Christo, where, for between eight and 12 days in parishes abroad, volunteer groups visit families and contact passers-by, offering the love of God and Mary. Such projects are mostly carried out in England, Italy and other countries.
In addition, the Concilium Legionis in Dublin has given Malta the responsibility of supervising the Legion’s progress in Albania, Greece, Turkey, Libya and Syria.
From time to time, these countries are visited by Maltese legionaries who help in the administration and promotion of the Legion.
The Legion of Mary is now focused on the beatification of the Venerable Edel Quinn, who took the Legion to southeast Africa and who died in 1944; Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion, who died in 1980; and Alphonsus Lambe, who spread the Legion in South America and died in 1959.
Alongside these three, one must also mention the martyrs of the Legion who gave up their life in China during the persecutions of the second half of the 20th century.
Undoubtedly, the Legion of Mary has been God’s gift to the Church and the world at large.
In the secular environment we live in, the Legion’s mission has become all the more important in that it retains its original aim of infusing the spirit of Christ within a humanity living apart from God.
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