On Sunday, May 13, 1917, towards noon, three shepherd children – Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco were playing at the top of the slope of the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal, building a little wall around a thicket when they suddenly saw something like a flash of lightning. As they began to go down the slope, steering their sheep towards the road to go home, they saw another flash of lightning and a Lady on a scarlet oak tree, dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, projecting rays of clear and intense light. The “Lady” asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners and an end to the war (First World War), and to come back on the 13th of every month for the next six consecutive months. Further apparitions took place June 13 and July 13.
On August 13, the children were prevented by local authorities from going to the Cova da Iria, but they saw the apparition on the 19th. On September 13, the Lady requested recitation of the Rosary for an end to the war. Finally, on October 13, the “Lady” identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary” and again called for prayer and penance: “I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to say the Rosary every day. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon of their sins; they must not offend Our Lord anymore, for He is already too grievously offended by the sins of men. People must say the Rosary. Let them continue saying it every day…” Our Lady pleaded and insisted that men must say the Rosary daily, ask pardon for their sins and make reparation for them. Reparation holds back the hand of God from striking the world in just punishment for its many crimes.
The Rosary is like a sword or weapon the Mother of God can use to overcome the forces of evil. It is the most powerful weapon and many times has saved the world from situations as bad, if not worse than the ones facing us as a nation now. On the fifty-sixth anniversary of the October apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, the Mother of God repeated her warning at Akita in Japan on October 13, 1973: “If men do not repent and amend their lives, the Father (God) is going to inflict a terrible chastisement on all of mankind. It will be a chastisement more serious than the Deluge, such as no one has ever yet seen. A fire will fall from the heavens and will annihilate a great part of humanity … the only arms which will remain to you then will be the Rosary and the sign which the Son has left.
Say the Rosary everyday”. Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical “On Devotion of the Rosary” issued September 1, 1883 “earnestly exhort all Christians to give themselves to the recital of the Rosary publicly or privately in their own house, and family, and that unceasingly”. Benedict XV describes the Rosary as perfect prayer “because of the grace it obtains and because of the triumphs it achieves”. Pius XI noted with admiration the innumerable multitude of holy men of every age and every condition who have always held the Rosary dear”. They have recited it with great devotion, and in every moment they have used it as a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight, to preserve the integrity of life, to acquire virtue more easily, and in a word, to attain real peace among men”. After enumerating the advantages of saying the Rosary, the Pope urged all Bishops to see it that the Rosary is more highly esteemed by all the faithful under their care. “
Through your work and that of the priests who help you in the care of souls, its (Rosary’s) praises and advantages shall be preached and repeated to the faithful of every social class” (Encyclical on the Rosary, September 29, 1937). Pope Pius XII prayed the fifteen-decade Rosary daily. “Ever since we were raised by the design of Divine Providence to the Supreme chair of Peter we have never ceased, in the face of approaching evils, to entrust to the most powerful protection of the Mother of God the destiny of the human family. We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that we put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times. Not with force, not with arms, not with human power, but with Divine help obtained through the means of this prayer (the Rosary), strong like David with his sling, the Church undaunted shall be able to confront the infernal enemy, repeating to him the words of the young shepherd: “Thou cometh to me with a sword and a spear, and with a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of armies … and all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with the sword and spear, for this battle is his battle and he will deliver you into our hands” (I Samuel 17:45-47)”.
Encyclical on Reciting the Rosary, September 15, 1951. Pope John XXIII who gave us Vatican II in his five years Pontificate from 1958 through 1963 spoke out 38 times on the Rosary. He prayed the fifteen-decade Rosary daily. “We want to declare in complete frankness and simplicity that the years have made Mary’s Rosary all the dearer to us. We never fail to recite it each day in its entirety and we intend to recite it with particular devotion during the coming month (Encyclical on the Rosary, September 26, 1959). Paul VI in his Marialis Cultus described the Rosary as “the compendium of the Gospels”. And in his Encyclical – Christi Matri – of September 15, 1966 he instructed all the Bishops of the world to take the lead in urging and encouraging people to pray ardently to our most merciful mother Mary by saying the Rosary. “This prayer is most pleasing to the Mother of God and most effective in gaining heaven’s blessing”. On October 29, 1978 Pope John Paul II told the faithful assembled in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus that the Rosary was his favourite prayer.
He led the Rosary on Vatican Radio on the first Saturday of the month. Like his predecessors, he, on several occasions, urged the faithful to say the Rosary to obtain God’s blessings for themselves, their families, their nations and the whole world, through the intercession of the Mother of God. The history of the Church abounds in the instances of the intervention of Mary the Mother of God on behalf of men; and amongst the most remarkable are the favours connected with the Rosary. The Office of the feast of the Most Holy Rosary enumerates three such instances. The first was the overthrow of the formidable heresy of the Albigenses in the 12th Century, when St. Dominic, instructed, as we are told, by the Blessed Virgin herself, preached the devotion of the Rosary for the first time with such success that faith, piety and union were at once restored to the Churches of Southern France. The second was the great victory gained by the Christian forces over the Turks at Lepanto in the 16th century, on the very day that the Rosary Confraternities at the bidding of Pope Pius V filled the churches of Christendom with their prayers. Yet another victory over the Turks in Hungary in the 18th century was attributed to the Rosaries offered in solemn supplication by the people of Rome at the very hour of the battle.
In memory of these triumphs, the first Sunday in October, the anniversary of the battle of Lepanto, was dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the Rosary. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is now celebrated on the 7th of October. In more recent times Pope Leo XIII, confronted with the grave perils that threatened the Church of his day, could find no surer means of relief than the Rosary. Hence he introduced the daily recitation of the Rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament during the whole month of October, and he added to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin the invocation “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us”. In 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a small community of eight Jesuit Fathers, whose house was very close to the epicentre remained unharmed (the people and the building itself) while everyone else in a radius of 1.5 kilometers from the centre was killed.
Father Huber Schiffer (one of the eight priests) told the Eucharistic Congress of Philadelphia in 1976, that all eight members were alive and well, that 200 Scientists had carried out investigations for several years in search of scientific explanation of their survival. He told them that there was only one thing that made their house different from the others: THEY (THE 8 PRIESTS) RECITED THE ROSARY TOGETHER EVERYDAY. Today, we are threatened on all sides by all forces of evil. The Blessed Virgin can overcome these forces of evil overnight if enough people will say the Rosary every day.
• Prof. Michael Ogunu is International President of the World Apostolate of Fatima