Hundreds of thousands of Polish Catholics gathered around the country’s 2,000 miles of borders, around its Baltic coastline, and in Polish airports to pray the Rosary for peace, for Poland and for Europe. Alongside last year’s edition of World Youth Day in Krakow, “The Rosary to the Borders,” held Oct. 7, is one of the biggest religious events in Europe in recent years. Many Poles also prayed the Rosary in their homes, and the Catholics in several other countries also took part.
“The Rosary to the Borders” is the initiative of Maciej Bodasiński and Lech Dokowicz of the Solo Dios Basta Foundation. Their intention was to gather as many Catholics as possible to surround Poland’s borders and pray the Rosary to protect their homeland, Europe and the world at a time when the nefarious influence of secularism is growing and violent conflicts rage in many places.
“To me, this was a prayer for Poland and for Europe, just like the prayer crusade in Austria in 1946. This was so especially here near Ukraine, from where 1.5 million young people have fled to Poland to escape war,” said Jan Wiśniewski, a computer programmer from Rzeszow who traveled to the Marian shrine of Kalwaria Paclawicka (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Calvary and the Finding of the Holy Cross) near the Ukrainian border to pray.
While the event’s organizers denied having a political agenda, Prime Minister Beata Szydło — herself a devout Catholic; her son was ordained a priest earlier this year — praised “The Rosary to the Borders” on her Twitter account.
The prayers were not limited to Poland’s borders. Many Polish immigrants in Western Europe and Catholics in countries as far-flung as Cambodia and New Zealand took part. In the chapel at the military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Polish and American soldiers prayed.
Many Poles who were unable to travel to the borders prayed the Rosary at home. Among them was Dawid Gospodarek of Warsaw, an editor of the Polish edition of Magnificat. “Prayer creates no borders. Instead, it transforms the hearts of those who pray so that their witness can change the world,” he said, explaining his motivation for praying the Rosary at home.
It is difficult to estimate how many Poles took part in the event across the country, but estimates run in the hundreds of thousands, some going up to 1.5 million. In six station churches in the Diocese of Siedlce alone, 30,000 people prayed. In many seminaries, all the students traveled to the border to pray. Such was the case of the archdiocesan major seminary of Wroclaw, Metropolitalne Wyższe Seminarium Duchowne we Wrocławiu, in southwest Poland, whose students prayed at the Czech border.
“This campaign showed me how vibrant the Church in Poland is. To me, it was a great religious experience. Each of us is different, but Christ brought us together, as did the desire to surround our country by prayer,” said Łukasz Gołąbek, a Wroclaw seminarian.
The prayer event took place on the 446th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, during which the Holy League, led by Spain and the Venetian Empire, saved Europe from invasion by the Ottoman Empire. To commemorate the victory, Pope St. Pius V established Oct. 7 as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The event also references the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, when Mary asked the faithful to pray the Rosary for peace.
Undoubtedly, the prayer campaign also reflects the role played by prayer throughout Poland’s difficult history. Many Poles resisted state-sponsored atheism under communism, peacefully fighting the regime through prayer, inspired by Pope St. John Paul II and their primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. In August 1920, when the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw and planned on bringing the Bolshevik Revolution to Europe through military conquest, millions of Poles prayed for a victory. Miraculously, the Polish Army swiftly defeated the Bolsheviks and saved Europe.
Some have claimed that since “The Rosary to the Borders” took place on the anniversary of the defeat of the Turks by a Christian flotilla it was an anti-Muslim and anti-refugee event. It was mostly the media outside Poland that made these accusations; for example, the BBC described the event as “controversial,” claiming that it could be interpreted as approving the Polish government’s hesitance to take in Muslim refugees (it should be said, however, that Warsaw has sent humanitarian aid to war- and genocide-ravaged countries in the Middle East like Syria).
Such accusations betray ignorance. In an interview with the Polish Press Agency, Maciej Bodasiński, the initiator of the mass prayer, denied having an anti-Muslim agenda, adding that “[o]ur purpose was to break down walls that arise in people, not to build them. We encouraged the Poles to fight, but to a spiritual fight against sin and evil, not a fight against a person, because this would be a contradiction of the idea of prayer.”
Additionally, it should be noted that the “The Rosary to the Borders” has been publicly supported by the Polish bishops, who have also strongly supported Pope Francis’ call to take in refugees from the Middle East.
Participants in the prayer also did not sense any anti-Muslim or anti-migrant rhetoric. “When I went to pray the Rosary, I was afraid this would be some anti-refugee campaign, but in the end, it was nothing like that,” said Piotr Marchewka, a firefighter from Krakow and father of three who prayed in the Tatra Mountains near the Slovak border.
From the Austrian Catholics who saved their country from Soviet occupation in 1946 to Catholics in the Philippines who peacefully defeated the Marcos dictatorship and Polish Catholics who played a crucial role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, throughout history, the Rosary has proved to be capable of altering the course of world history. The enormous number of Poles who prayed to Our Lady for their country, continent and world give hope in these troubled times.
Register correspondent Filip Mazurczak writes from New York.