In this Easter Season, our attention is on the Cross and empty tomb of Jesus- and rightly so. But, Mary’s integral role in the redemption event cannot be overlooked and her Rosary must not be forgotten. Pope Pius XI (pope from 1922 to 1939) did not hesitate to say: "Tell your priests that they must pray a lot. Until the Pope has said his rosary, the Pope's day does not end."
The same Pius XI wrote to Bishop Richaud: "The rosary is the most privileged means of procuring the return to Christ of individuals, families and nations. It is a very powerful weapon for driving out demons, for preserving the integrity of life, for acquiring virtue more easily, in a word, for obtaining true peace for men." In 1938, in his Encyclical on the Rosary, Pius XI again said, regarding fidelity to the prayer of the Rosary: "How can we not hope for everything if we use this divine method with exactitude and piety?"
Pope John Paul II’s devotion to Holy Mary cannot be understood without reference to his beloved Poland, a country distinguished by its intensely fervent Marian fervor. In his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”, the Pope recounts the growth of his Marian devotion: from the devotion to Mother of Perpetual Help in his parish church in Wadowice, to his pilgrimages to the shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and ultimately to the Black Madonna icon in Czestochowa. In another book, “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way”, the Pope proudly writes of how the Black Madonna’s shrine in Poland is a “bastion of faith, spirit, and culture” for all Poles.
In May 1941, amid the pipes and boilers of a chemical plant where he worked Karol would often read the book “The Treatise on Perfect Devotion to the Most Holy Virgin Mary” by St. Louis Grignion de Montfort. Of how his devotion to Mary grew in maturity, the Holy Father writes in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”: It is from St. Louis de Montfort that the young Wojtyla got his motto lovingly addressed to the Madonna, “Totus Tuus” (Totally Yours). In autumn of 1942, Karol became a seminarian. By 1967, he was made a Cardinal.
In another part of Europe, in Fatima, Portugal, the Blessed Mother appeared to three Children in May 1917. She prophesied the errors Russia would spread through Communism. Indeed, during the second half of the twentieth century, it could be said that at least half of the world fell to the iron grip of atheistic Communism.
On Oct. 16, 1978, aware of the spread of Communism, the College of Cardinals chose the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, as the next Pontiff. Of the new Pope, Our Lady said to Fr. Stefano Gobbi, founder of the Marian Movement of Priest: “…I obtained from God for the Church the pope who had been prepared and formed by me…He is my Pope.” And indeed, aware of his role in Our Lady’s battle plan, Pope John Paul II portrayed Mary with an “M” in the Papal Coat of Arms, the first Pope in the Church’s history to do so.
On May 13, 1981, 64th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish terrorist, shot the Pope from a distance of less than twenty feet. In great pain, the Holy Father kept repeating, “Mary, my Mother! Mary, my Mother!” Exactly one year after, the Pope made a pilgrimage to Fatima to Publicly thank Our Lady for miraculously saving his life. To the Pope who believed that “in the designs of Providence, there are no more coincidences”, the assassination attempt was a heavenly reminder of the urgency of the Fatima message.
Then in 2002, Pope John II declared a Year of the Rosary and gave to the world the Christ-centered Luminous Mysteries. This was hailed by many as one of his greatest achievements and a great event in the history of Marian devotion.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the faith to which Pope John Paul II points is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (pronounced chens-to-ho-va) in Doylestown Pennsylvania. On June 26th, 1955, a small wooden, barn chapel has been dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa with the celebration of the first Mass, thus marking the beginning of the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA. The dedication of the first chapel created a new center of Marian devotion and a place of pilgrimage. Many pilgrim groups started coming to this little Shrine. The first pilgrimage ever recorded came from St. Laurentius parish in Philadelphia on June 26, 1955 for the dedication ceremony of the barn chapel. I lived with these Priests and Brothers for a time, as a candidate for their order, and I had an opportunity to visit this original structure and work side-by-side with Brother Casimir, who was credited with building the chapel. It is now a tremendous shrine. Celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Coronation of the Miraculous Image of Our of Czestochowa took place. The Mosaic of the Blessed Mother created from photos from “The Living Crown of Mary” project, has also been presented.
The Shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands each year. The guardians of the icon do their best to welcome you, even with a deli with delicious food. But, if you ever make the trip, which I recommend, find the small chapel in the back of the property. Go in, and you will find yourself in the presence of Mary.