In times of acute danger and hardship, we must always fly into the arms of the most powerful Mother of God and turn to the recitation of the Rosary. The Battle of Lepanto is a great lesson of confidence for us today.
When Saint Pius V ascended to Saint Peter’s throne, Christendom faced perils perhaps unequaled in its history of continual conflict, not the least of which came from the agitated and violent followers of Mohammed.
All the information and intelligence that Pope Pius V had been gathering indicated that the Ottoman juggernaut was about to roll across the Mediterranean and adjacent lands, spearheaded by the Turkish fleet, with Italy and Rome as one of its targets. No nation could stand up to the marauding infidels and the candidates for an alliance were few.
Northern Europe had risen up in armed rebellion against the Church with France deeply involved in the conflict, while much of Europe felt that neutrality was the best policy to follow after the Turks occupied a large chunk of its land in the Danube River Valley.
Only Spain and Venice had the resources to resist, and they hated each other along with deep mistrust. Yet Saint Pius — calling down divine grace as only a man of prayer could — forged an alliance with them as the core of an organized fleet of over 200 galleys. With his considerable tact and diplomatic skills, he not only kept them unified, but he convinced them to attack the enveloping menace.
The Archbishop of Mexico had an exact copy of the Holy Image of Guadalupe sent to King Philip II, who in turn gave it to Andrea Doria, one of the three principal admirals of the fleet, who placed it in his cabin. When the Armada went from file to line abreast and attacked on the morning of October 7, 1571 the blue standard of Our Lady of Guadalupe was also flying from the masthead of Don Juan’s flagship. But Our Lady’s presence that day was more acutely felt through the Holy Rosary.
Our Lady of the Rosary
Pope Pius V, a Dominican prelate before his elevation, did what Catholics have always done in times of acute danger: fly into the arms of the most powerful Mother of God. As a follower of Saint Dominic, he knew the most effective means of imploring her help was through the recitation of the Holy Rosary. He ordered all monasteries and convents in Rome to increase their prayers for the impending battle and organized rosary processions in which he, as sick as he was, participated.
As the Christian fleet sailed toward the great clash of cultures, Mass was celebrated and the rosary recited daily on each vessel. This heartfelt request for divine assistance resulted in a crushing defeat of the Ottomans at Lepanto that ended their dominance in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate Our Lady’s intercession, the Church has designated October 7 as the Feast of the Holy Rosary and Saint Pius V added Help of Christians (Auxilium Christianorum) to the Litany of Our Lady (Loreto). Similar acknowledgement to the Blessed Virgin’s intercession through the rosary were made when John Sobieski forced the Turks to lift the Siege of Vienna in 1683 and after the victory of Prince Eugene of Savoy at Temesvar in his successful campaign to remove the Ottomans from Europe in the next century.
While the din of battle gradually diminished at the bloody waters off Lepanto, Saint Pius V was going over accounts in the papal apartments with Bartolo Busotti, his treasurer. Suddenly, he arose with his face radiant with joy and announced, “Let us go and thank God, for this moment our fleet has defeated the Turks.” Human agency brought news to Rome two weeks later.
“Finally My Immaculate Heart Will Triumph!”
Some may object to the historical paradigm, not that it is inappropriate, but that it happened a long time ago. Yet, the Blessed Virgin made another historical visit to earth just ninety years ago, bringing roughly the same message to a larger distressed population. As Our Lady of the Rosary, she appeared six times at Fatima in Portugal to three related children, two of whom have been beatified.
In essence, she warned that God was terribly offended by the sins of mankind and unless that sinfulness subsided the world as a consequence would face horrible chastisements. Immediately following, we had a bloody conclusion to World War I, then six years of the most depraved slaughter of World War II and continual wars, atrocities and mutilations ever since instigated by two of the enemies of Western Civilization: Communism (as Our Lady predicted) and Islam. Sinfulness has not abated, but only increased, especially in the areas of family life, immoral fashions and lewd entertainment.
Our Lady will intervene once again in history, either to help her suffering children who have recourse to her or to bring down the wrath of God on those who refuse to pray, make sacrifices and stop offending Him. During the third apparition she announced the ultimate result, “Finally my Immaculate Heart will triumph!”