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The Rosary: 'a weapon of mass conversion'

Archbishop Wenski's column for the September edition of the Florida Catholic

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October is the month of the holy rosary. This venerable prayer has been a popular devotion among Catholics for centuries. Pope Saint John Paul II considered it his favorite prayer and shortly before his death he urged Catholics to “rediscover” this crown jewel in the Church’s treasury of prayers. 

The feast of the Holy Rosary is celebrated each year on October 7 and commemorates the victory of Christian forces over the Ottoman Turks at the famous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. (The Diocese of Miami was also established on this day in 1958.)

In modern times, however, the rosary has had a particular association with the apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Fatima in 1917. At that time, Mary told the three shepherd children to pray for peace and foretold the social and political upheavals that would characterize much of the 20th century. 

This October 13 marks the 97th anniversary of the “Miracle of the Sun,” the final in the series of apparitions associated with Fatima. On that day, more than 70,000 people, including newspaper reporters and photographers, gathered near Fatima at the Cova da Iria in response to the children’s claim that a miracle would occur “so that all may believe.” It rained heavily that day, yet countless observers reported that the clouds broke, revealing the sun as an opaque disk spinning in the sky and radiating various colors of light upon the surroundings, then appearing to detach itself from the sky and plunge itself towards the earth in a zigzag pattern, finally returning to its normal place, and leaving the people's once wet clothing now completely dry. 

Lucia Santos, one of the three children, died just nine years ago. A Carmelite nun, she lived to see her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 13, 2000. The pope was shot on May 13, 1981 (the feast of Our Lady of Fatima) and he attributed his survival to Mary’s protective hand deflecting the assassin’s bullet from hitting any vital organs. The famous “third secret” of Fatima had predicted this attempt on the pope’s life.

In the 97 years since these apparitions, many more than just John Paul have experienced this protective hand of Mary. The American journalist, James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS in August, turned to the rosary during a previous captivity in Libya. Counting the “Hail Marys” with his knuckles, he prayed with his fellow captives, and he drew strength from this prayer which he described as “the glue” that gave him inner freedom.

At Fatima, Mary urged prayers for peace and for the conversion of Russia. If we examine history through the lens of faith, it would be hard not to see the connection between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, which had so threatened world peace throughout much of the 20th century, and those countless rosaries offered for peace especially by those who lived behind the Iron Curtain.

During the latter half of the 20th century the world lived under the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. The great powers pursued a policy of MAD (mutually assured destruction). Of course, while that threat has subsided, the 21st century has brought new threats — threats that took the lives of James Foley and Miami journalist Steven Sotloff and have decimated Christian communities throughout the Middle East. And so, even as non-state actors wield weapons that wreak mass destruction on innocents, the message of Fatima has lost none of its urgency — and the rosary continues to be, for those who will avail themselves of this powerful prayer, a “weapon of mass conversion.”

The rosary inspires trust in God and helps us to imitate Mary. We echo the words of Elizabeth and say, “Blessed are you among women.” With Mary, we place ourselves at the Lord’s disposal. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

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