Under Thy Protection
Today, May 1st, begins the month of Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. People with troubled hearts have turned to Mary for comfort and encouragement ever since the Apostles gathered around her in the Upper Room anxiously awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost [cf. Acts 1:13-14]. In the centuries that followed, people have turned to Mary asking her intercession in times of both public and personal peril. One of the oldest prayers in the Church is the Sub Tuum Praesidium (“under thy protection”). The earliest record of this prayer to Mary comes from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt around the year 250 AD.
Mary’s intercession has brought about profound effects,
sometimes changing the very course of history.
Whether it was in times of illness, or persecution, or war, or personal need people have turned to Mary. In both big and small ways, Mary’s intercession has brought about profound effects, sometimes changing the very course of history. Let me share with you just five such examples:
1. In the year 590, what was known as the “Plague of Justinian,” which began in the Middle East, reached deep into Europe. By 590, the plague had claimed the lives of more than one third of the entire population of Europe. So on April 25, 590, a young deacon named Gregorius led a solemn procession through the streets of Rome. Many thousands joined in to pray for Mary’s intercession. Within a few weeks the plague ended. (In September of that year, Dcn. Gregorius was elected Pope Gregory I). Interestingly, the same icon of Mary, Maria Salus Populi Romani, that was carried by Gregorius was brought to St. Peter’s Basilica for Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Blessing on March 27, 2020.
2. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured the Byzantine Empire's capital of Constantinople and promptly forced the Islam religion on all of the inhabitants of Eastern Europe. Over the next hundred years, they systematically moved toward Western Europe. In 1571, Pope Pius V called for public praying of the Rosary for Mary’s intercession, throughout all of Europe. From dawn to dusk, in all the main cities and towns in Europe, public recitation of the Rosary took place every day. In Rome, the pope and the cardinals gathered for prayer and penance each day in St Peter’s Square. The outpouring of prayer to Mary through the Rosary was enormous.
On the morning of October 7, 1571, an invading Muslim fleet was intercepted by a much smaller Christian fleet at the Gulf of Lepanto, Greece, only 150 miles from the coastline of Italy. All day long the battle raged, and all day long Christians by the millions prayed the Rosary. A miraculous shift in the late afternoon winds moved part of the Christian fleet behind the Ottoman Turks forcing the much larger Muslim fleet to surrender. Western Europe was saved. The Battle of Lepanto is regarded as the single most important battle in the history of Europe and the victory by the Christian forces is attributed to the miraculous intercession of Mary.
3. In the years that followed, unfortunately, the Ottoman Turks continued to pose a threat to the Christian world. In the summer of 1683, the Holy Roman Empire’s imperial city of Vienna was besieged by a large Turk force. On the evening of September 11, the Polish King Jon Sobieski, who led the badly outnumbered Christian forces defending Vienna, placed his troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The following day, the Christian forces miraculously defeated the Turks effectively ending a more than 200-year long struggle to preserve Christianity in Europe.
4. In 1817, the first world-wide cholera pandemic began in India and quickly swept throughout Asia. It reached Europe by 1830 and, aided by the Polish-Russian War, it devastated much of Europe. It reached North America in 1832. Cholera is particularly frightening because it can produce death within only hours of being infected. On August 15, 1837, Pope Gregory XVI, following the example of his predecessor, Pope Gregory I, processed the icon of Mary, Maria Salus Populi Romani, through the streets of Rome with thousands of people invoking the intercession of Mary. Within six weeks, the pandemic was declared ended and, in gratitude, that icon of Mary was “coronated” on August 15, 1838 (the Feast of the Assumption of Mary).
5. One of the greatest threats to religion and world peace was communism in Russia. From May 13 through October 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta in Fatima, Portugal. She spoke several times about praying the Rosary for the conversion of communist Russia. Over the following decades, millions of rosaries were offered to Mary asking her intercession.
On March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II carried out the wish of Our Lady of Fatima to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shortly after this consecration, the Solidarity Movement in Poland gained momentum, and a series of changes in Russia began. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and the next month President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union traveled to the Vatican to meet with Pope John Paul II to begin a series of steps signaling the end to the Communist persecution of religion in Russia. Without a single shoot being fired, communism in Russia ended on December 26, 1991 – one of the greatest triumphs of Marian intercession.
Whether we beseech Mary’s intercession on the grand scale of saving Christians by the millions or on the scale of our own personal petitions, in turning to Mary we find a supreme intercessor for our needs and for those of the whole world. Under Thy Protection, Mary, you have come again and again to the aide of those who turned to you. Is it not time that we do the same?
“Till next time,
Dcn. Bob Evans