MEXICO CITY — In response to the world's heightened awareness of terrorism since Sept. 11, Pope John Paul II is again turning to the rosary as one of the Church's greatest instruments for peace.
Speaking Sept. 20 to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father said: “Given the present international context, I appeal to all — individuals, families and communities — to pray the rosary for peace, if possible daily, so that the world will be preserved from the dreadful scourge of terrorism.”
The Pope also reminded his listeners that October is the month when the Church venerates Mary as Queen of the Holy Rosary.
“The terrible tragedy of last Sept. 11 will be remembered as a dark day in the history of humanity,” he said. “In the face of this, the Church intends to be faithful to her prophetic charism and reminds all men of their duty to build a future of peace for the human family.
“Of course, peace is not separate from justice,” the Pope said, “but the latter must always be carried out with mercy and love.”
John Paul II added: “Jews, Christians and Muslims adore the One God. Therefore, the three religions have the vocation to unity and peace. May God grant the faithful of the Church to be in the front line in the search for justice, in the rejection of violence, and in the commitment to be agents of peace.
‘May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, intercede for the whole of humanity,” he said, “so that hatred and death will never have the last word!”
The Pope's call for prayer highlighted the upcoming Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Oct. 7, celebrated by Catholics around the world at rosary rallies and events. The feast day was established by Pope Pius V in 1571 after the Christian fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria defeated the much larger Muslim fleet at the Battle of Lepanto, saving Christendom through the intercession of the rosary.
Since then, the prayer has been credited with a myriad of conversions, the peaceful overthrow of communist governments in the 20th century, and countless other miracles.
One of the 20th century's best known advocates of Mary's inter-cession for humanity was Holy Cross Father Patrick Petyon. His “Rosary Crusades” drew crowds of as large as a million in various locations around the world, gathered to pray and to hear his trademark phrase: “The family that prays together stays together.”
Holy Cross Father Tom Feeley, vice-postulator of Father Peyton's cause for canonization and director of Holy Cross Family Ministries, sees this particular time of crisis in the world as a good time for people to develop or increase their devotion to the rosary. “When a tragedy like this occurs, people begin to see how fragile life is,” noted Father Feeley. “They put their faith in stocks, and you see what happened.” Now that people are beginning to reevaluate their priorities, Father Feeley hopes they “will return to God as the bedrock of their life” — especially by praying the family rosary.
Father Feeley also lost a Holy Cross colleague and former assistant of Father Peyton, Father Francis Grogan, in one of the hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11.
Devotion to the rosary in the United States has been on the rise since last month's attacks. Peter Sonski, director of communications for the national shrine of the United States, the Ba-silica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., said “there has been a special focus on the rosary” at the shrine. He also noted that the proximity of the terrorist attacks to October, the month of the rosary, will lead more people to take up this powerful prayer. “Sometimes Providence is on your side,” he said
Claretian Missionary Father Robert Billet, who is based in Los Angeles and has been compiling an encyclopedia of Marian shrines and churches around the world, told the Register that the rosary is something that can be used by anyone, from “the simple to the sophisticated.”
Father Billet said he doesn't believe “Fatima's warnings are over,” and hopes that more people will “say the rosary every day for peace,” as Our Lady asked in 1917. He believes that much good can come of an increase in praying the rosary. “It only would have taken ten people to save [Sodom and Gomorrah],” said Father Billet. Throughout history, though, he says there is a worrisome pattern of ignoring such calls. “Those in Nineveh were the only people that listened” to a call for prayer and repentance, he explained.
Father Feeley, who recently interviewed Dolores Hope, wife of entertainer and recent convert Bob Hope, agrees with Father Billet about the power of the rosary because he has seen the prayer work wonders. Reminiscing about his predecessor, he recalled: “Father Peyton went to Hollywood and brought Hollywood to its knees.”