Bishop's Column

Our Lady of Victory

On October 7, 1571, the rosary saved Western Civilization.

In 1571, the Christian nations of Europe were under siege in the Mediterranean. Ships of the Turkish Ottoman Empire were bent on capturing port cities and expanding the rule of their empire. Pope Leo XIII wrote that “the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism.”

In Cyprus, thousands of Venetian colonists were trapped by the Turks, starving and exhausted, entire cities were tortured and executed. If the Ottoman Empire were not stopped in the Mediterranean, the colonists would die and the Catholic nations of Europe would likely be overtaken—forced to submit to Ottoman rule.

To defend Christendom, Pope Pius V brought together forces from across Catholic Europe to form the Holy League, who agreed to work together to defend Europe. Under the leadership of the Captain Don Juan of Austria, more than 200 ships sailed to defend Cyprus, and push back the Ottoman Empire. As they sailed, the sailors prayed the rosary together. And across Europe, Catholics everywhere prayed the rosary in solidarity, entrusting the fate of their nations to Our Lady.

Against a much larger Turkish force, the Holy League prevailed off the coast of Lepanto. Don Juan led his fleet into battle Oct. 7, and defeated the Turks. In fact, the battle came to a conclusion shortly after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the hour of Divine Mercy, during which Christ hung on the cross.

The Venetian colonists were freed, and the threat of European invasion was quelled. Pope Pius V credited the outcome to Our Lady of Victory, who prayed for Christendom as the battle was waged. Each year on Oct. 7, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, remembering her intercession for the fate of Catholics across Europe.

The rosary is a powerful prayer, because Our Lady is a powerful intercessor in heaven. She is the Queen-Mother of heaven, and the Lord hears and answers her prayers.

It is Providential that we remember Our Lady of the Rosary during October, which the U.S. Bishops have proclaimed “Respect Life Month.” The “superstition and barbarism” of our time is the culture of death: the lie of pro-choice rhetoric, and the barbarism of abortion, euthanasia, and other sins against human life.

Pope St. John Paul II called the culture of death “a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed.”

During Respect Life Month, we recommit ourselves to defeating the culture of death, and building a culture of life, a civilization of love.

The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the Battle of Lepanto, gives us powerful lessons about how to build a culture of life.

The first lesson is that all of our pro-life work must begin and end with prayer. Prayer is the most important pro-life activity we can undertake. And the rosary, which invokes the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is especially powerful. During Respect Life Month, I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln to commit to praying the rosary—each day, or each week, to end abortion and euthanasia, and to build a culture of life.

I especially encourage Catholics to pray, peacefully, at abortion facilities themselves—to bring the grace of Our Lord’s mercy, and the consolation of Our Lady’s maternal love, to places of evil. Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln pray each day outside abortion facilities, with untold spiritual effect on those who work there, and those who go there considering an abortion. We need to continue this practice, even if we are discouraged, because our prayers can effect great change.

Because of the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I solemnly consecrated the Diocese of Lincoln to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sept. 7, the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, at the annual Marian Mass, entrusting our sacred mission to her powerful intercession (please see the text at left).

The second lesson is that we need to work tirelessly and generously to build a culture of life. We need to provide support to families and mothers in need. We need to live as if each life has dignity and value, and we need to witness to that. We need to be known, as a Church, as those who will generously support the dignity of every human life, and the needs of every human person, because of God’s love. We need to be known as a great force for love to those who are victimized, marginalized, or discarded by the culture of death. And we each need to discern how to work in the public square, as good citizens, to end legal protection for abortion, euthanasia, and other sins against human life through our actions, and through our votes.

When we tire in these efforts, we need to depend upon the grace of God, and the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary. When the sailors of Don Juan’s armada tired, they depended upon God’s grace, and he aided them and strengthened them.

Christ brought victory at Lepanto, securing the peace and freedom of the Church, and protecting her people for the mission of sanctifying the world. Christ will bring victory to the great battle of our time, the battle to build a culture of life. In God’s Providential plan, we will share in Christ’s victory of life over death. May Our Lady of the Rosary—Our Lady of Victory—intercede for us, as we build a culture of life.

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Bishop Conley

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