In early October of this year, an estimated one million Catholic Poles gathered on the borders of their nation to pray the Rosary for peace in the world and for the protection of their country. The event, which was wholly organized by lay people, even received recognition from the Polish prime minister, who tweeted his support.
Of course not everyone was in favor of the Rosary event. Various secularists and liberals attacked it as backward, xenophobic, and anti-Islamic. Even the BBC got in on the hysteria, reporting, “Poland Catholics hold controversial prayer day on borders.”
How is it that the praying of the Rosary for peace can provoke such a backlash? The critics of the event claimed that it was directed against Muslim migrants, especially in light of the fact that it was held on the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the great naval victory that saved Europe from Islamic invasion in 1571. This, however, is simply not true.
The praying of the Rosary, in keeping with the request of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, has as its goal the conversion of all nations and peace for all the peoples of the world, regardless of ethnicity, skin-tone, or socio-economic status. But it’s not necessarily a misunderstanding of this end that turns the secularist fanatics against it. It’s not that they genuinely see this traditional Catholic prayer as being anti-migrant. Rather it’s that they recognize and fear the growing influence of religion in the public sphere. The Rosary alone they could be content to scoff at, but the public praying of the Rosary by large numbers of the faithful is a major threat to their atheistic vision of the world. Religion kept in its own, private sphere is acceptable, but religion brought into the public sphere might have consequences, political and otherwise.
In its reporting on the Polish event, the New York Times noted that Poland is “a nation moving increasingly to the right.” It would perhaps be more accurate to say that Poland is a nation moving increasingly back to its Catholic roots.
In November 2017, the Associated Press reported that Polish lawmakers had approved a law to end most shopping on Sundays by 2020. While western economists and libertarians decried the move as unnecessary government intervention that will be harmful to the Polish economy, the bill received the support of trade unions, who wanted workers to be able to spend Sundays with their families, and the Polish Catholic bishops who take seriously the fourth commandment to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
As even modern, secular news outlets implicitly recognize, there is undoubtedly a connection between public prayer events and the social and political direction of a nation. In this regard, Poland should serve as a model and inspiration for American Catholics who, it should be added, already have an established and growing practice of public prayer, as can be seen in the 4,121 public Rosary rallies held in the United States on October 14 of this year.
The Rosary rallies, which are always held on the Saturday closest to October 13, are sponsored by the unabashedly Catholic organization America Needs Fatima. Like the rallies in Poland, they are meant to be a public expression of the Catholic faith. They are also an answer to Our Lady’s 1917 call for prayer, penance, and conversion. Most encouragingly of all, they have been steadily growing in size for the past several years.
As even a casual glance at the week’s headlines will reveal, it is far too soon to declare victory in the battle against evil in our modern world. But the growing pattern of Catholics gathering in public to affirm their faith and petition God for His blessings may well mark a turning point in the supernatural war in which we are engaged.