Dear Friends in Christ,
The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. The special association of the rosary and October goes back to 1571. At that time, the world had seen three centuries of the rise and expansion of the Ottoman Empire. A key part of this imperial expansion was the forced conversion of the conquered peoples to Islam and the enslavement of the captured and conquered forces. The control of the Ottoman Empire covered Southeastern Europe, Central Europe, Western Asia, parts of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Northern Africa, and the Horn of Africa. In 1570, Ottoman forces conquered the Christians in Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean and attacked and burned Moscow in Russia. The Ottoman fleet had not suffered a defeat in more than a century and were viewed as invincible. They were now preparing for an invasion of the Italian peninsula and total control of the Mediterranean. Pope Pius V, a Dominican friar, arranged a coalition of Christian states known as the Holy League to defend the Christians of Europe. The Christian naval forces, consisting largely of ships from Spain and the Venetian Republic, sailed from Sicily under the command of John of Austria (Don Juan/Don Giovanni). Off the coast of Greece at Lepanto, they intercepted and engaged the Ottoman fleet in what was one of the largest naval battles in history on October 7, 1571.
Because Pope Pius V was a Dominican, he had a special devotion to the rosary. The pope encouraged the Catholics throughout Europe to pray the rosary, seeking the intercession and protection of the Blessed Mother from the invaders. Prior to the battle, the sailors of the Christian fleet prayed the rosary together. One of the lead admirals, Andrea Doria from Genoa, kept an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in his state room. He had a banner with the image flown from his ship as they went into battle. The image had been given to Admiral Doria by the King of Spain who had received it as a gift from the Archbishop of Mexico City. Against great odds the Christian forces were victorious at Lepanto. The victory changed the course of Western history, the invasion was stopped and the expansion halted even though the Ottoman Empire continued to fight for another two centuries.
Led by Pope Pius V, the leaders and the Christians of Europe credited the victory to God and to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. October 7 was declared a feast day under the title of Our Lady of Victory and the special title “Mary, Help of Christians” was added to the Litany of Loreto. In time, the feast day was renamed “The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary”. Today, we continue to celebrate October 7 as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. We now dedicate the entire month of October to the praying of the rosary. While most do not know the history of the feast, the power of the rosary is still available to us. Be it a pandemic or strife in our families, the loss of a job or a child experiencing difficulties, the rosary is a most powerful prayer. We all face battles every day. Pray the rosary together as a family and for your family. Mary is truly the Help of Christians who turn to her. She leads us to her son and she brings her son to us. I am continually touched and assured by the last recorded words of Our Blessed Mother in the scriptures “Do whatever he tells you!” (Jn 2.5) and in the last words of Jesus from the cross, “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19.28). What better way to follow the advice of both Mary and Jesus than by praying the rosary for victory in the battles we face today.
In pace Christi,