By: Jo Siedlecka
The largest prayer gathering in Europe since World Youth Day 2016, took place in Poland on Saturday, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In the morning, the faithful gathered in around 320 churches located along the Polish border from the Baltic to the Tatra Mountains for Masses, Adoration and conferences. At 2pm in the afternoon many hundreds of groups went out to designated 'prayer zones' in forests, beaches, rivers, roadside, airport chapels and parks to pray the Rosary together.
"We prayed for for reconciliation, health and good relationships in families and peace in the human heart in Poland and around the world," one participant told ICN. "We seek change not with a rifle, but with a rosary."
Some commentators have said the event could be seen as support for the government's refusal to accept Muslim refugees. Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic has refused to take part in an EU deal in 2015 to relocate refugees from frontline states Italy and Greece. Pope Francis has on several occasions urged countries to take in some refugees, and suggested that each diocese could look after a family or two. But the Polish government has always said that the country is already supporting refugees from the Ukraine and lacks the resources to take any more. Poland's bishops have echoed this argument, and expressed their opposition to taking in any Muslims.
During his sermon in the Saturday morning Mass broadcast on Radio Maryja, Krakow's Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski said people should pray for "Europe to remain Europe." "Let's pray for other nations of Europe and the world to understand that we need to return to the Christian roots of European culture if we want Europe to remain Europe," Archbishop Jedraszewski said.
Basia Sibinska told The Associated Press: "We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate."
The feast of the Holy Rosary was introduced by St Pius V in gratitude for the victory of Christian fleets under Don John of Austria against the Turkish forces on 7 October 1571.
The Turks had been advancing on Europe for nearly 80 years, after they invaded and occupied the Byzantine empire. In 1565 they attacked Malta and planned an invasion of Rome. Though they were repelled at Malta, the Turks captured Cyprus in 1570. The next year, three Catholic powers on the continent - Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States - formed an alliance called the Holy League, to defend their Christian civilisation against Turkish invasion. Its fleets sailed to confront the Turks near the west coast of Greece on October 7, 1571.
Crew members on more than 200 ships prayed the Rosary in preparation for the battle - as did Christians throughout Europe, encouraged by the Pope to gather in their churches to invoke the Virgin Mary against the daunting Turkish forces. Some accounts say Pope Pius V was granted a miraculous vision of the Holy League's stunning victory. All but 13 of the nearly 300 Turkish ships were captured or sunk. The bells rang and prayers of thanksgiving were said across Europe. Turkish victory in 1571 would have been a catastrophe for Christian Europe.
One Polish priest said he was concerned that some people were trying to 'stir up unnecessary fears'" in a country which has actually seen very few immigrants. He noted that "Europe's 'Muslim invaders' in 2017 are unarmed refugees, including many women and children fleeing war and persecution, and said, "they are arriving in Europe in rubber dingys - not warships."
In response to questions about the migrant issue, organisers said the prayer gathering was not directed against anyone or anything. The border was chosen, they said, because it symbolised their desire to encompass the world with prayer.
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, head of the Polish Episcopal Conference, told the commercial radio station RMF FM that "the key objective of this manifestation is to pray for peace."
See also: ICN 9 October 2017 - Poland: 'The Rosary to the Borders' - www.indcatholicnews.com/news/33558