“Off to the left,” said our guide in a heavy Greek accent, as our tour bus cruised down the road, “is the Gulf of Patras, where the Battle of Lepanto was fought in 1571.”
A feeling of excitement rose in me as I looked out over the sparkling blue water in the surprisingly narrow channel. This was one of the sites I’d been most looking forward to seeing, even if only in passing. As the lone Catholic in our group, the name of Lepanto had a very particular significance for me. I pulled out my Rosary beads and offered up a brief decade. How could I not pray at least part of a Rosary at the very location of one of the greatest victories won through its power?
Most Catholics have probably at least heard of the Battle of Lepanto. In the second half of the 16th century, as the Ottoman Empire was expanding ever further into what had once been Christian lands, Pope St. Pius V assembled the Holy League, made up of warriors from the Papal States, Spain, Genoa, and Venice. He appointed Don John of Austria as commander of the League’s fleet and instructed him to track down and confront the numerically superior Ottoman invasion force lurking in the Mediterranean.
In addition to the regular weapons of 16th century naval warfare, Don John gave his men Rosaries and instructed them to use them. Priests came along and offered daily Mass aboard the ships. Back in Italy, Pius V asked the people to fast and to pray the Rosary for the success of the military venture, and he himself led Rosary processions through the streets of Rome.
The battle finally took place on October 7, 1571. Lasting over five hours, it was hard fought but resulted in a total victory for Don John and the Holy League, checking the Ottoman conquest.
In thanksgiving for the victory of the Christian fleet, Pope St. Pius V declared October 7 to be the Feast of Our Lady of Victory. The name was later changed to the “Feast of the Holy Rosary,” and finally to the “Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.” Under these successive names, the date has for several centuries been celebrated as an example of the power of Our Lady’s intercession through her most favored devotion.
The triumph of the Christian fleet at Lepanto is quite significant for Catholics today and is perfectly in line with Our Lady’s promises to those who honor her and her Son through the praying of the Rosary. According to Sister Lucia of Fatima, the Rosary is even more efficacious in our day than it was at the time of Lepanto. As she put it,
“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
With all of the wickedness that surrounds us today, these are important words to remember. There’s no denying that we live in extremely evil times. The threats to our eternal salvation are very real, as Satan and his minions are working overtime to bring about the damnation of as many of our souls as possible before his final defeat.
But while our situation is dark, and even almost hopeless at times, we need to remember that the forces of heaven are here at our side in this fight. Our Lord has seen to it that we have powerful weapons for the mortal combat in which we are engaged, and one of the most powerful of them all is the Rosary.
Catholic culture was saved through the efficacy of the Rosary in the 16th century. Catholic culture can be restored through the prayer of that same Rosary in the 21st.