Pope Francis closed the month of May with a Rosary for peace, recited in front of the Regina Pacis, a statue of Mary at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, in union with others at the most important shrines throughout the world. While many faithful followed the ceremony by live stream, the choir of the Cappella Liberiana made the words of the traditional hymn, Salus Populi Romani, “O Mary, Holy Mother, for the Roman people you are salvation, light and guide”, echo before the monument — sculpted by Guido Galli at the behest of Benedict XV to implore the end of the First World War.
The prayer of the Holy Rosary is certainly more effective than are trips to Moscow or Kyiv, and telephone or Skype meetings between world political leaders. The situation that arose after the Russian invasion of Ukraine is so dramatic and complex that it can only be resolved supernaturally. And of all the spiritual weapons that man has at his disposal, the Rosary is certainly the most effective. Devotion to the Rosary is an instrument of intercession recommended by popes, practiced by saints, requested by the Mother of God herself, as a source of innumerable benefits for souls and for the world.
Devotion to the Holy Rosary is usually considered in its purely individual aspect; however, it also has an important social dimension. In fact, the practice of praying the Rosary not only helps individuals in life’s problems and difficulties — material and spiritual — but also has a social impact that extends to the life of peoples and nations.
During the First World War, with a letter dated 5 May 1917, Benedict XV established that the invocation “Regina pacis, ora pro nobis” was to be part of the Litany of Loreto. In Portugal a few days later, on 13 May, there appeared to three little shepherds playing in Cova da Iria “a Lady all dressed in white, brighter than the sun”, with a rosary draped over her right hand. In the brief conversation that she had with the three little shepherds she said to them, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war”.
In the second apparition, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary asked for the recitation of the Holy Rosary and announced that “Jesus wants to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world”. In the third apparition, on 13 July, she asked them to “continue to recite the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, to obtain world peace and an end to the war, because only She can merit this”. In this apparition she gave the children a glimpse of hell and announced a divine punishment, for the sins in which humanity was immersed. “To prevent all this,” she said, “I will ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays.”
Our Lady also taught the prayer to be recited after each mystery: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”
The fourth, fifth and sixth apparitions also began with the request for the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary. In the sixth and last apparition, Our Lady asked that a chapel be built in honour of the Queen of the Rosary, and was so attired that she appeared glorious in Heaven beside Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus.
On 10 December 1925, Our Lady appeared again to Sister Lucia in her cell at the convent of the Sisters of St Dorothy in Pontevedra (Spain), to explain to her how the recitation and meditation of the Rosary should be combined with the practice of reparative communion on the first Saturdays of the month. Placing one hand on her shoulder, she showed her a heart surrounded by thorns that she held in her other hand, and said to her:
“Look, my daughter, at my Heart encircled with thorns, which ungrateful men fasten in me every moment with blasphemies and ingratitude. See to it that you at least console me, and to all those who for five months, on the first Saturday, will confess, receiving Holy Communion, will recite a Rosary and keep me company for fifteen minutes, meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary with the intention of alleviating my pain, I promise to assist them in the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of these souls.”
On 15 February 1926 the Child Jesus appeared to Sister Lucia and asked her if she had already spread devotion to his Most Holy Mother. She told him that her Mother Superior was willing to propagate it, but that her confessor had said that this latter could do nothing on her own. Jesus replied, “It is true that your Superior can do nothing on her own, but with my grace she can do all.” Lucia expressed the difficulty that some souls had in getting to confession on Saturday and asked that the confession be valid for eight days. Jesus replied, “Yes, it can be even more (days), provided that, when they receive Me, they be in the state of grace and have the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” She asked, “My Jesus! [and] those who forget to formulate this intention?” Jesus replied, “They can do so in another confession, taking the first opportunity they have to confess.”
Four years later, in the early hours of 29–30 May 1930, the Lord gave an interior revelation to Sister Lucia with further details relating to reparatory communions on the first five Saturdays. “And those who cannot fulfil all the conditions on Saturday, can they not satisfy them on Sundays?” [I asked. Jesus replied,] “The practice of this devotion will also be accepted on the Sunday after the first Saturday, when my priests, for good reasons, will so grant to souls.”
We must continue to repeat this: along with the daily Rosary, Our Lady asked for the devotion of the five first Saturdays of the month. God wants to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the world, and the two pillars of this devotion are the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart and the practice of the five first Saturdays of the month.
Pope Francis, on 25 March 2022, completed the act of consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but he has not yet said anything about the devotion of the first Saturdays of the month, which is the other great request from Heaven. The Rosary of 31 May at Saint Mary Major was, in this respect, a great missed opportunity. However, while the consecration was his alone to carry out, the devotion of the first Saturdays is also left up to the good will of the bishops, priests and ordinary faithful. In all parts of the world, the devotion of the first Saturdays of the month is practiced with fervour by families and groups of the faithful; but for a great Marian movement to develop, the initiative must start from above, and possibly from Rome.
Pope Francis has announced a great event for the end of this August. A consistory will take place in Rome on 27 August with the creation of 21 new cardinals, 16 of them electors. The College of Cardinals, now made up of 208 cardinals, will therefore be expanded to 229 cardinals, 131 of them electors. On 29 and 30 August, a meeting of all the cardinals will be held to reflect on the new apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium. It will be the first time since 2014 that the cardinals will be able to speak freely before the pope in a consistory. It will therefore be a great plenary assembly of the Church, to which the whole world is already looking.
Might there not be a cardinal who, on this occasion, could ask Pope Francis to publicly promote the devotion of the first Saturdays of the month, in order to fully satisfy the requests of Our Lady? And until then, would it not be possible to urge the cardinals to understand that this is not a marginal issue, but a central point in the history of the modern world?
If peace is a gift, then war, like any social scourge, is always a punishment for the sins of the nations. Our Lady has shown us the means of averting catastrophe. It is time for prayer, for reflection, for repentance.