On September 11th 1683, Vienna was besieged by Islamic Ottoman Turks. Christians throughout Europe prayed the Rosary in the midst of a desperate situation. At Vienna, vastly outnumbered European Christian forces miraculously and wonderfully delivered a crippling blow to Muslim expansion into Europe, preventing a grim invasion of the continent by Muslim forces. 41,000 Christian forces (including 30,000 troops of Polish King Jan III Sobieski that Pope Innocent XI had called upon) defeated a 140,000 man strong Turkish army the night of September 11th over three centuries before the 9/11 attacks on the United States that were also caused by Islamic terrorism. September 12th, the day after the great victory of Christianity at Vienna, came to be known as the feast day of the Holy Name of Mary (a feast day that has been restored to us thanks to Pope John Paul the II doing so not long before he died.)
Over a century before, On October 7th, 1571, Christian Europe stood on the verge of collapse before the onslaught of a large Muslim navy fleet. The battle of Lepanto it was known as. Also widely recognized was our Lady’s intercession at that historic moment when Christianity’s European fate stood on the edge of a knife. When hopes were fading, the Admiral, one Andrea Doria, pleaded in his cabin before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sent him by Archbishop Montufor of Mexico. In sending this image, the good Archbishop had been well foresighted in ascertaining the grave consequences of a potential defeat of Christianity on the high seas. Such a loss would likely mean that the waves of Islam would sweep Christendom away, changing dramatically the spiritual landscape and the course of history if it came to pass.
We are told that as the admiral prayed before the Guadalupe image, the tide turned against the Muslims, with winds literally changing directions unfavorably against them, and an encouraged Christian fleet triumphing over Islam that day, shattering two-thirds of the Muslim Navy, the 200 Christian Ship Navy magnificently overcoming the previously presumed unbeatable 300 ships. Also important to note is the fact that the Pope implored, and people indeed did, pray the Rosary to Mary, “Our Lady of Victory”. Ultimately, October the 7th came to be known as Our Lady of the Rosary, and the month of October dedicated to the Rosary.
For many years now, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, unpainted by human hands, the great mover in the mass conversion of the Aztecs to Christianity, has held many enthralled and brought so many to Christ. It seems likely, especially considering the Great Battle of Lepanto, that the quarter moon on which Mary stands in the miraculous Guadalupe image represented not only the Aztecs, but also the Muslims, each of which had as symbol that same quarter moon. Mary triumphs over both the Aztecs and the Muslims. Mary’s triumphs are for the defense of Christ’s Church, and for the conversion of all mankind to Christ. She sought to gather the Aztecs to her son. She wishes to do the same for the Muslims.
It may have been the beloved Archbishop Fulton Sheen that first inspired more serious consideration of the subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her relationship to Islam. In what I, and many, consider to be one of the best Catholic books of the 20th Century, The World’s First Love: Mary Mother of God, Archbishop Sheen devoted a chapter to this topic in his book titled “Mary and the Moslems”. In this chapter, his very words concerning the coming powerful rise of Islam were prophetic, but so too, it appears, were his reflections on the means to convert the hearts that beat for Islam.
In this regard, an encouraging characteristic of Islam is its devotion and honor to the Virgin Mary. Inarguably, there are errors and misconceptions with the Koran regarding Mary, including the false view that Christians worship Mary and consider her part of the Holy Trinity. On the other hand, Muslims do believe that Mary stands above all other women. Mohammed stated “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary”, speaking in reference to Fatima, his own daughter. And as for Fatima, that name should ring a bell to you.
You may recall that in the early 20th Century, in the 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in the small Portugese village of Fatima. The apparitions would go on to become Church approved, and Our Lady took on the title of Our Lady of Fatima. More than ironically, that very village of Fatima, once reigned over like so much of Portugal and Spain by Islam (recall that many were the onslaughts of Islam against Christian Europe through the Middle Ages, and that Europe did not always keep Islam completely at bay), was named after the daughter of the last of the Muslim chiefs who ruled over Portugal, she who in turn had been named after Mohammed's own daughter, Fatima. This chief’s daughter fell in love with a Catholic young man and converted to the Catholic Faith for him, staying behind in a Portugal reclaimed for Catholicism whilst Islam had finally been banished from the southwestern coasts of Europe.
This is all fascinating because, given the Muslims already warm reception of Mary, her now title of “Our Lady of Fatima” was sure to, and has been, an effective mechanism in relations with Islam, with Muslim nations embracing the devotion to Mary under this title in many regards. With God there are no coincidences.
It is widely recognized that Muslims are exceptionally difficult to convert to Christianity, but it has become clear in recent decades to at least some theologians that the way home to the hearts of the Muslims is through the heart of Christ Jesus’ Mother, Mary, whom they already have a soft spot for. As Mary prepared the world for, and brought us our Savior, so she can, and it is the belief of many Christians that she will ultimately bring the Muslims to Jesus. Though Muslims refuse to believe that Jesus is himself God, As Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out to us, “The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima [Mohammed’s daughter] must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world and that without Christ she would be nothing.”
It thus appears that Muslims will come to Christ not through a direct encounter and conversion, but gradually, through our encouraging and fostering their devotion to Christ’s Mother. We know that the Blessed Virgin Mary always points us towards, carries us to, and forms us in Christ. At a time when Hellish and cruel Islamic terrorist attacks rage against Christians, we have cause to pause and reflect on the fact that the Holy Spirit is working gently through Mary’s hands to establish a peaceful, beautiful widespread conversion of the Muslim people that some in the past and today consider an incredibly unlikely feat to achieve. But I hope they will recall that momentous day when the Angel Gabriel, in Luke Chapter 1:37, announced to Mary just before she gave her assent to become the Mother of God, “For with God, nothing will be impossible.” The time will come when the Muslim people, gazing at Mary lovingly and devotedly, shall look upon her as did the servants at the Wedding Feast of Cana once also looked upon her when she said to them regarding her son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), and following her direction, they will follow Christ and she shall triumph over the quarter moon of Islam, and even for the converted Muslims, remembrance of the watery waves of Lepanto shall be turned into the wine of gladness recalling the victory of Mary for her Son, their Lord Jesus.