October is traditionally known as the month of the rosary, but this year Pope Francis is asking Catholics to pray the rosary for peace every day in May. His request was made last Sunday during the “Regina Coeli” (Queen of Heaven) prayer, which he leads every Sunday during the Easter season.
“We will recite the rosary praying particularly for peace in Syria and the whole world,” Pope Francis told some 30,000 people gathered at St. Peter’s Square on April 29. “I invite you to spiritually join me and to prolong for the whole month of May praying the rosary for peace.”
It is a long-held tradition in the church to pray the rosary for peace. In his 2002 apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae (“The Rosary of the Virgin Mary”), St. John Paul II wrote that many historical circumstances make a revival of the rosary timely.
“First of all, the need to implore from God the gift of peace,” he wrote. “The rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer for peace.” He pointed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the start of the new millennium “which witnesses every day in numerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence.”
“To rediscover the rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who ‘is our peace,’” said the late pope. “Consequently, one cannot recite the rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace, especially in the land of Jesus, still so sorely afflicted and so close to the heart of every Christian.”
While nearly 16 years separate the two papal appeals on praying the rosary for peace, it’s as if the need is just as great today as it was in 2002.
Witness the tragic events in Syria this past decade. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2018 world report, more than 400,000 people have died in the land that saw St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.
The civil war has forced 5 million people to seek refuge abroad (leading to another form of violence: scorn and contempt of refugees) and another 6 million are displaced internally. Not only have civilians been targets of cluster bombs (Human Rights Watch says 238 separate attacks using “cluster munitions” occurred between August 2016 and July 2017), they have also been subjected to chemical weapons.
A few things are certain in this tragic war. First, violence will only beget more violence. Secondly, man’s failure to end this protracted war demonstrates his failures and limitations. Thus, Pope Francis asks us to turn to the Blessed Mother through prayer for her intercession.
St. John Paul II addressed this topic in his 2002 apostolic letter.
“The grave challenges confronting the world at the start of this new millennium lead us to think that only an intervention from on high, capable of guiding the hearts of those living in situations of conflict and those governing the destinies of nations, can give reason to hope for a brighter future,” he wrote.
Making prayer, through the rosary, a priority this month can put our hearts and minds focused on achieving peace.
“By focusing our eyes on Christ, the rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world,” stated St. John Paul. “By its nature as an insistent choral petition in harmony with Christ’s invitation to ‘pray ceaselessly’ (Lk 18:1), the rosary allows us to hope that, even today, the difficult ‘battle’ for peace can be won.”
Now it’s time for prayer.