Last year, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria, was in his chapel praying the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament when Jesus Christ suddenly appeared to him.
Silently, Jesus extended a sword, and the bishop reached out to take it into his hands.
“As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a rosary,” the bishop said in April. Jesus then told him — three times — “Boko Haram is gone.”
The bishop, who has witnessed the flight of tens of thousands of Catholics from his diocese — amid a campaign of terror executed by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram — quickly grasped the mission Jesus had entrusted to him: “It was clear that with the Rosary we would be able to expel Boko Haram.”
Mindful that the Holy Spirit was “pushing him” to spread Jesus’ message, he began to spread the word to his priests, and then he spoke of it at the April 17-19 #WeAreN2015 Catholic congress in Madrid that addressed strategies to preserve the Christian presence in nations where they face intense persecution.
In Nigeria, an estimated 6,000 people have died from Boko Haram-fueled violence, and many have been abducted by the militants. In March, the group announced its allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), which now controls a swathe of territory spanning from Syria to Iraq, where Christians and other religious minorities have been executed, raped and forced into exile.
Can the Rosary defeat an enemy that has yet to be vanquished by military power? Bishop Dashe clearly believes the Rosary is a potent weapon against the “demon” of Islamic terrorism and a powerful tool in his own campaign to advance reconciliation and hope in a land scarred by fear and sectarian violence.
“These terrorists … think that by burning our churches, burning our structures, they will destroy Christianity. Never,” Bishop Dashe told his audience at the Madrid congress. “It may take a few months or a few years … but ‘Boko Haram is gone.’”
During the month of May — Mary’s month — the bishop’s words prompt us to pause and appreciate the enormous power of the Rosary as a spiritual sword in the fight against Islamic terrorism, but also in our work for peace and justice in the United States.
In another corner of the world, in the city of Baltimore, Archbishop William Lori also called for Catholics to pray the Rosary. His exhortation came as Church leaders and other pastors joined efforts to calm the city’s angry reaction to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Gray, 25, died a week after he was arrested on April 12, placed in a police van and found to be unconscious upon his arrival at the police station. Six police officers now face criminal charges.
Archbishop Lori asked Catholics, during an interview with the Register, to “say a Rosary for peace and justice in Baltimore. … The Rosary has done wonders throughout Christian history. Why not enlist our Blessed Mother’s help again?”
The Rosary can give us “the courage to go out in the community, to clean up and to be a force for order and understanding,” he suggested.
Indeed, the spiritual fruits of this prayer can help Catholics discern their unique and proper mission in moments of crisis — like the one that gripped Baltimore.
“The Church is a catalyst. We are not the government; we are not the police; we are not a political organization. We are Church: Our job is to bear witness to the Gospel and the beatitudes. Our job is to bear witness to Christ and to bring forth his holiness and to help our congregations to be that leaven in society,” explained Archbishop Lori.
Prayer brings the Church’s true mission and gifts into focus and renews our commitment to serve those on the margins. There are inner-city parochial schools that help prepare the children of single mothers to go to college. There are strong parishes, which provide an oasis of stability, the grace of the sacraments and wise, compassionate counsel during tough times.
Further, there are an array of social services offered to the entire community, from after-school programs to immigration, family and counseling services.
In prayer, the Church embraces the Gospel values that transform this outreach into soul-forming relationships. We don’t just facilitate “services” — we accompany the alienated teenager, the embattled mother, the parolee hoping to start fresh and so many others.
Pope Francis made headlines when he called on Catholics to go out to the “fringes” and touch the lives of the poor. But he has also urged Catholics to make the recitation of the Rosary a daily practice. He often speaks of his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Those knots, according to the Pope, are the sins that require Our Lady’s intercession.
“Mary, whose ‘Yes’ opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy,” he said.
The Church’s devotion to Mary — the New Eve, who brings forth the Savior, who breaks the reign of Satan — celebrates her intercessory power with her beloved Son. Pope Francis consecrated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima, a central figure in the papacy of St. John Paul II, who sought her help in the nonviolent overthrow of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe and who credited her with saving his life during a 1981 assassination attempt.
During the first apparition at Fatima, on May 13, 1917, Mary told the children to recite the Rosary daily to advance peace in the world.
John Paul II, in his 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), explained why the prayer retains its potency to “train” the faithful in holiness, to transform the hardest of hearts and to vanquish evil and injustice.
“At times when Christianity itself seemed under threat, its deliverance was attributed to the power of this prayer,” he wrote in the letter.
The Rosary’s strength grows in silence, said John Paul, as we ponder the “mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord.”
As we pray the Rosary, the “rhythm” of human life is brought “into harmony with the ‘rhythm’ of God’s own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life’s destiny and deepest longing.”
At this time, when our sisters and brothers face religious persecution, and as neighborhoods in Baltimore and elsewhere look for signs of hope amid the gathering darkness, let us seek counsel and safe haven for all those in need with Mary through the Rosary, bringing the Blessed Mother close to us.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19:26-27).