Today we have the pleasure of celebrating the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a feast very dear to all Dominican hearts since that devotion has been associated with our Order since at least the 1500s. It is also particularly appropriate for us at this time, because the very feast itself owes its existence to the conflict between the Church and Islam back in the 16th century.
After having tried several times and failed to invade Europe by land, the Muslims tried to do so by sea. They amassed a huge fleet coming from what is now Turkey and were on their way to the Adriatic sea to conquer the city-state of Venice and thus enter Europe from that direction. The pope at the time was our Dominican brother, Saint Pius V. He was well aware of the danger of the Muslim threat, and asked the people of Rome to pray, especially using the Rosary, to Our Lady for deliverance from this threat to the Church and all of Western Europe. A Christian fleet went out to meet the Muslim ships, and the great sea battle was engaged off the Greek town of Lepanto. The Christian fleet totally defeated that of the Saracens. Even before the news had time to reach Rome, the Holy Father knew by supernatural revelation that the Christians had defeated the Muslims, and announced it with much gratitude to the people of Rome.
That battle took place on October 7, 1571, and because of that, October 7 each year is celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, subsuming an older feast of Our Lady of Victory.
Today, the Church is again involved in conflict with Islam. Just 25 years ago, a Muslim attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II, and nearly succeeded in doing so. Within the last few weeks, we have seen all sorts of hostility leveled by many Muslims throughout the world at our present Pope, Benedict XVI, because of a speech he gave in Germany. However, now we pray not for any kind of military victory over Islam or defeat of them, but rather that there may be peace between the two religions, and the opening of Islam to the Church of Our Lord with its way, its truth, and its life. Let us pray the Rosary for this intention now and in the future. Let us remember that when Our Blessed Mother appeared early in the 20th century, she said of herself: I am the Lady of the Rosary. And she appeared at a Portuguese town called Fatima, the name of one of Mohammed’s daughters, given to that town by the Muslims during their long occupation of Spain and Portugal. Thus “the Lady of the Rosary” is also “Our Lady of Fatima,” and associates herself with her Son’s great love for all men, including the Muslims, and desire that they, too, become members of his “one flock,” over which he is the one, good Shepherd. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.