VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—A joyful group of young American Catholics spent today, Oct. 7, on pilgrimage to Rome’s four ancient basilicas, singing the Rosary in Latin for the feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary as they went.

“We’re doing this to celebrate the feast day today and as a pilgrimage,” said 19-year-old Jonathan Wanner from Mandan, N.D. He was leading the procession with a five-foot cross made of palm leaves.

Braving the Roman rain, the party of 10 filed behind Wanner and his cross, each wearing a bandanna and greeting locals with a wave and cry of “Buona festa!” or “Happy feast day!” On the whole, the Romans responded in kind.

The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted by Pope Pius V in 1571 to honor the Blessed Virgin for her help in winning the naval battle at Lepanto in the Mediterranean. The conflict saw a coalition of Catholic maritime states decisively defeat the main fleet of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

“If they hadn’t been victorious, then Europe would have been destroyed, and Catholic culture in Europe would be non-existent,” said 19-year-old Elizabeth Rochon from near Detroit. “And it’s through the intercession of Mary that we were victorious,” she added.

Amidst the singing of the Rosary, Psalms and Marian hymns, there was also time for poetry, courtesy of 20-year-old John Audino from Albany, N.Y. He offered his rendition of G.K. Chesterton’s Lepanto.

“I love the poem. It has a great rhythm to it,” said Audino, who first learned it in high school. He described it as “a very epic poem” that gives “a very good portrayal of Europe at that time” which also carries lessons for Europe today.

“I believe that Europe really needs to go back to Our Lady because Christ came into the world through Our Lady, and it’s only through Our Lady that we can go to Christ.”

The group was drawn from three Catholic colleges in the U.S.:Thomas More College in New Hampshire, Ave Maria University in Florida and Aquinas College in Michigan. Each of the students is part of a larger group spending a semester in Rome as part of their studies.

“I think the young who are really getting involved in their faith now are really getting involved in the Rosary,” said 25-year-old Corinne Mannella from Somerville, N.J. “And I think a lot of that is thanks to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, who have really encouraged young people to grow close to Our Lady and to grow in holiness.”

“I find the Rosary a way to come closer to Christ through the eyes of Mary,” said 20-year-old Deidre Littleton from Chicago. “I find it a really soothing prayer, actually.”

At the rear and carrying the homemade banner depicting Our Lady surrounded by the four key Roman basilicas was 22-year-old Adam Kubiak from Albany, N.Y. He likes to “pray the Rosary as a meditative prayer, getting lost in the repetition.” He also likes to attach a special intention to each mystery.

EWTN News caught up with the group just as they had completed their visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. The group had already made it to St. Paul Outside the Walls and was set to visit St. John Lateran and, finally, St. Mary Major. The deadline for completion of the pilgrimage was 2pm, when the group planned to catch a train to Assisi for another pilgrimage.