Saturday, November 11, 2017

(196) MARINE LT. FR. VINCENT CAPODANNO: the Grunt Padre's Heroism and Holiness on the Battlefield in Vietnam Earned Him the Congressional Medal of Honor---- Beyond the Call of Duty


      Part of an Italian-American family of 12, Vincent Capodanno’s vocation was developing through high school on Staten Island, NY and Fordham University as well as a regular at daily Mass.  God was persistent in His call and finally, giving the Lord his “fiat” (yes), he joined the Maryknoll Fathers in Maryknoll, NY in 1949 and was ordained in 1958 as a Maryknoll missionary as part of a class of 48.  It was a time of an abundance of vocations in the American Church.  Maryknoll had a minor seminary (high school) at the time and still has a major seminary for both Philosophy and Theology.  Today each ordination class hovers around five.  
The newly Fathers of Maryknoll, Class of 1958.  A friend of mine from the Class of 1961 hardly knew Fr. Vincent Capodanno.  He did not stand out.  Nobody would have guessed at the time that some day he would be a war hero and some day, a saint.  Fr. Capodanno is circled in the upper right.
         The newly ordained priest was sent to school to learn Chinese as part of his assignment in Taiwan, an anti-communist island nation off the coast of mainland China.  While doing parish work, teaching native catechists, distributing food and medicine, and directing a youth hostel, Fr. Vincent felt called to something else.

       The Vietnam War was raging and his upbringing during World War II (born in 1929) made him very patriotic.  Replying to the great need for Catholic chaplains (today the need is even more urgent), he obtained permission from his superiors to volunteer as a Marine chaplain in 1965.  After finishing the tough Officer Candidates School and being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain’s Corps during Holy Week of 1966, he was assigned as a chaplain of a Marine battalion.
Fr. Vincent lived the life of the marine grunt in the hot and humid jungle……eating and sleeping under the same conditions.  Wherever his men went, he went and shared their burdens.  He established makeshift libraries for the men and even organized outreach programs for the local villagers.  His Maryknoll training convinced him of the importance of considering the welfare of the people, understanding them and their culture……..Fr. Vincent had the heart of a missionary.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno ministers and prays with his troops before a combat mission.

He spent hours counseling and reassuring the weary and disillusioned, consoling the grieving, hearing confessions, instructing converts, and saying Mass with all his heart with such grace, intensity, and love on improvised altars in combat zones.  Reflecting his devotion to the Christ bearer and patron of those on a journey, he distributed St. Christopher medals.  He always had something for the men……cigarettes, candy, a cold soda or a book from his reading library.
Christmas in Vietnam with Fr. Capodanno and the troops.
      According to Fr. Daniel Mode in his well researched book, “The Grunt Padre”, “No problem was too large or too small to take to Father Vincent---- he was available to them day and night."  He was a true father to young boys thrust into the terrifying reality of battle, giving them comfort and guidance.  He shared his salary and rations with anyone in need. When Christmas came around and soldiers felt forgotten, Father Vincent saw to it that no Marine was without gifts which he obtained from friends and organizations.  His granting of General Absolution before battle unburdened the consciences of the Marines and instilled in them the courage to fight.  His mere presence in a unit gave comfort and lifted morale.  His love for the men showed in his devotion to them and in the relevance and simplicity of his homilies on a basic level.

When men died, he was at their side so they would not die alone, giving them the last rites, encouraging them to repent and persevere.  In addition, he wrote countless letters of personal condolence to parents of wounded and dead Marines, also offering solid grounding and hope to those who lost friends.  He comforted wounded, blessed troops, and gave Communion to Catholics, before taking off for another battle zone.  His goal was to visit each unit once a week.  He also attracted Protestants and many attended  his Masses, “giving spiritual succor to all” according to Lt. Frederick Smith.  Cpl. Bill Kuffrey noted: “I am not a Catholic, but this man of God meant more to me than I ever could have imagined.  He inspired me in so many ways, in my times of need.”

Fr. Vincent Capodanno in front of his makeshift chapel.
According to one account, two men were lost crossing a jungle stream.  Fr. Capodanno took it on himself to find the drowned men and the Lord guided him to them.  He gave the men the last rites and brought them back.

       Fr, Vincent would attend intelligence briefings and find out from friends in Intelligence which unit would most likely encounter the heaviest enemy contact and then make it a point to accompany them.  He would simply hop onto the helicopter without even bothering to obtain formal permission.  Refusing to carry a rifle or even a pistol as a priest, a soldier was assigned to protect him against his will.

The grunts welcomed his presence and positive influence as a source of strength.  It sometimes helped to rally the men.  They wanted him out there.  Going from man to man, he prayed with them; assisted with first aid as necessary, encouraged, and blessed the wounded often scared even if minor; giving the last rites to the dying.  At times he would accompany the battalion commander around the perimeter and comfort the men.  He always wanted to be where the action was and was most needed whether a patrol or the battalion.

According to Capt. Richard Alger, Fr. Vincent was a man the men could relate to and depend on.  He even ministered in the Officers Club over a drink or a cigarette.
Fr. Capodanno’s first tour was so fulfilling that he volunteered for another one year tour in June 1967.  Even during his home leave, he longed to be with his men.  He loved them with the zeal of bringing the Lord and His compassion to them.

       On September 4 fifty years ago he was accompanying the men of the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment on the Operation Swift Offensive in the Queson Valley.  Ambushed by 2500 men of the 2nd NVA Division and outnumbered five to one on Hill 51, Fr. Capodanno was like a ray of hope in the midst of the storm with its yelling and screaming; he went up and down the line encouraging, caring for the wounded, and anointing the dying.  Cpl. Ray Parkins recalled that when he was wounded, Fr. Vincent laid hands on his head and blessed him.
During the fierce fighting, the grunt Padre spotted a wounded corpsman unable to move after being hit by a burst of automatic fire from a machine gun nest. Fr. Capodanno ran to his aid and began to care for his wounds and used his own body to shield him.  He received 27 bullet wounds in his spine, neck, and head.  He emulated Our Lord with his love and by giving his life for his men.

    Awe inspiring is an eye witness account (see by Lt. Joseph E. Pilon, MD: “Over here [Vietnam] there is a written policy that if you get three Purple Hearts you go home within 48 hours. On Labor Day, our battalion ran into a world of trouble- when Father C. (Capodanno) arrived on the scene; it was 500 Marines against 2500 North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Needless to say, we were constantly on the verge of being completely overrun and the Marines on several occasions had to advance in a retrograde movement. This left the dead and wounded outside the perimeter as the Marines slowly withdrew. Casualties were running high and Father C. had his work cut out for him. Early in the day, he was shot through the right hand which all but shattered his hand.  One corpsman patched him up and tried to med evac him, but Father C declined, saying he had work to do. A few hours later, a mortar landed near him and left his right arm in shreds hanging from his side. Once again, he was patched up and once again he refused evacuation. There he was, moving slowly from wounded to dead to wounded using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution or Last Rites, when he suddenly spied a corpsman get knocked down by the burst of an automatic weapon. The corpsman was shot in the leg and couldn't move and understandably panicked. Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the automatic weapon. Suddenly, the weapon opened up again and this time riddled Father C. from the back of his head to the base of his spine- and with his third Purple Heart of the day- Father C. went home.”  A pall of deep sadness descended over the entire regiment.

      Cpl. Richard L. Kilgore relates: “I was Fr. Capodanno’s aide for a period of time in Vietnam with Henry Hernandez.  I have never met a man in my life time like Fr. Capodanno--- it was like he had an aura around him (others noticed it as well).  I knew during the tough times in Vietnam God was with him.”  He epitomized the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis” in being faithful to the end.  The men, including a Protestant chaplain called him a saint.  Jerry Bain of Pt. Pleasant, WV confirmed to me that the men loved him and held him in such high esteem.  Lt. Col. Peter Hilgartner, his battalion commander, believed that Fr. Capodanno improved the fighting spirit of the men and called him “the finest, greatest military chaplain I ever met in my career”.

Even the Presbyterian regimental chaplain, Eli Takesian praised him: “Fr. Capodanno had deep, sad, compassionate eyes that ignited people.  He had the courage of a lion and the faith of a martyr.  He lived the Christian life.  He laid down his life for his people and changed a lot of lives.  Fr. Capodanno emulated Christ as much or more than anyone I ever knew”.  It was Rev. Takesian who gave the eulogy at Fr. Capodanno’s funeral.

Above is a statue in Staten Island, NY of Fr. Capodanno ministering to a wounded soldier.  If not Catholic, he would give a spiritual word of encouragement, “Stay calm, Marine; there will be someone soon to help us.  God is with us all today”.  If Catholic, he would give a blessing and/or absolution.

    Posthumously in 1969 Fr. Vincent was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in addition to his other medals.  The Navy commissioned a destroyer escort in 1973: the U.S.S. Capodanno in his honor. 
       In 2006 he was declared Servant of God or Venerable by the Catholic Church, the first step to canonization.  His death was followed with cures and conversions.  More detail can be found on, and  

The USS Capodanno, a destroyer escort of the United States Navy

For a fascinating history with bibliography of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military go to  For the official Dept. of Defense Medal of Honor Citations of Fr. Joseph O’Callahan (Blog #164), Fr. Emil Kapaun (#180), Fr. Charles Watters, Fr. Angelo Liteky, and  Catholic chaplains, go to my Blog #127 “Heroic Catholic Chaplains Who Have Been Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor”.

Friday, October 13, 2017

(195) OUR LADY OF FATIMA AT 100……..The Apparition of October 13, 1917 And the Miracle of the Sun


        Mary had promised a miracle to convince the many sneering unbelievers that her apparitions to the three shepherd children were authentic.  Lucia’s parents were especially anxious and jumpy, taking it all out on their now famous daughter.  What will happen?  What if nothing happens and neighbors carry out their threats to severely punish the children?  The Church would be discredited and its enemies would celebrate and cry out that the people were duped by a hoax perpetrated by the Church.  They would gloat with endless repetitions of “I told you so”.  The local pastor was of no help.  In fact he exhorted the children to admit they made it all up……a hoax, halucination, or witchcraft.  Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta had no doubt whatsoever.
The long awaited day finally arrived, foggy and pouring rain since the night before as thousands from all over Portugal came to Fatima since the day before by foot, donkey, oxcart, horse and buggy as well as bicycles and autos to witness the miracle the children told them to expect.  Many had expected to camp out during the night.  They sloshed through the mud for miles, many barefoot to save their shoes.  Despite umbrellas and raincoats, the people were soaked and cold from the rain, now a drizzle.  Streams of people, the faithful and the curious, came.  Their ardent faith showed in the singing and praying, many the Rosary.  The skeptical daily newspapers from Lisbon, the capital, sent reporters and photographers, reporting what they saw.  It’s all on the public record in the archives of the newspapers……O Dia and O Seculo of Lisbon and Ordem of Oporto, etc.

By 10 am the skies were overcast for a while and the rain resumed along with a chilly autumn wind.  The children were getting ready as people overflowed into their homes, making a mess while many others waited outside.  In tears Lucia’s mother even feared for the life of her daughter.  Outside it was a sea of mud.  The children were calm.  As they left for the Cova da Iria, the rain increased into a torrent.  It was difficult to get through the great crowd.

Francisco, Lucia, and Jacinta Praying before or during the arrival of Mary
It was noon by the sun (1:30 pm official time).  Some had doubts until there was a flash of light in the East.  “Silence, silence, Our Lady is coming!”, Lucia cried out.  Mary’s feet rested upon the tree adorned with flowers and ribbons as the branches bent forward.  “What does Your Grace want of me?”, Lucia asked Our Lady.  “I want a chapel to be built here in My honor.  I am Our Lady of the Rosary.  Continue to say the Rosary everyday.  The war will end soon and the soldiers will return to their homes.”  “I have many things to ask of you: to heal some sick people and to convert some sinners, etc.”  “Some, yes; others, no."  With tenderness and pain, she said: "People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins.  They must not offend Our Lord any more for He is already too much offended.”  “Do you want anything more?’  “Nothing more.”  “Then neither will I ask anything more of you.”

       As she departed, Mary opened her hands which emitted a flood of light.  While rising, Mary pointed toward the sun and Lucia did the same, then announcing: “There she goes”.  The all morning downpour suddenly stopped and the clouds parted.  The sun was now pale as the moon, like a silver disk.  St. Joseph appeared with the Holy Family, holding in his left hand the child Jesus.  Both made the sign of the cross three times over the world while Mary stood to the right of the sun, dressed in the blue and white robes of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Only Lucia saw Our Lord dressed in red as the Divine Redeemer, blessing the world as Mary had foretold.  Beside Him stood Our Lady, now dressed in the purple robes of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Finally the Blessed Virgin appeared again to Lucia, this time in all her ethereal brightness, clothed in the simple brown robes of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel holding a scapular.

Part of the throng of over 70,000 awestruck people witness the Miracle of the Sun. 

The people saw none of this, but they did see supernatural phenomena as taken from eye witness accounts, including that which is well reported in archived Portuguese newspapers that were biased against the Church.  Thus the Miracle of the Sun is probably the best documented miracle ever.  Contradictions among accounts are minimal.  Everyone could easily see that the sun took on extraordinary colors.  It seemed to be continually fading and glowing in one fashion, then another.  It threw shafts of light, painting everything in different colors……blue, purple, white, spots of yellow, all the colors of the rainbow.
The Miracle of the Sun was covered by secular newspapers in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

Perhaps the greatest proof of the miracle was the fact that the sun, appearing as a pale disk with a silver tint, did not bother the eyes.  The surroundings seemed to darken.  The sun stopped its play of light and began to tremble and dance until it seemed that this spinning ball of fire was falling from the sky onto the terrified crowd who fell to their knees on the muddy ground in their Sunday best, weeping and praying.
The multitude of over 70,000 people screamed in terror.  Some begged for mercy or made acts of contrition.  “Our Lady, save us”.  Some said that they saw the smiling face of Mary herself.  Lucia reassured the people:  “Everything is going to be all right. Pray and pray hard. Pray the rosary every day for sinners around the world, that God was too much offended.”  Finally, the sun returned to its normal place in the sky.

    Finally, the sun returned to its normal place in the sky.  Everyone gave a sigh of relief, grateful to be still alive.  All agreed that this ten minute spectacular episode was the most awe-inspiring sight they had ever seen.

      Incredible was the fact that the people, previously standing in pouring rain, soaked to the bone, noticed that after a few minutes of a strong wind, the ground and their clothes were perfectly dry as though they came out of the laundry.  Our Lord rewarded them for braving the elements.  Many of the sick and crippled were cured in Fatima.  

        Fr. Inácio Lourenco, testified on what he saw as a nine year old boy in the village of Alburitel ten miles away from Fatima, also visible up to 25 miles away.  It was similar to what the people saw in Fatima.  Inácio was in school at the time, but upon hearing the cries and exclamations of the people outside, teacher and students ran out.  People cried and wept on the street.  A godless man, who was making fun of those “stupid people” who went to Fatima, trembled, crying out on his knees: “Our Lady, Our Lady”.  Everyone was crying and weeping, asking God to forgive their sins.  When the miracle was over, the people ran to the village’s two chapels.

       A poet 30 miles away did not expect to see the miracle and did when he looked out of his window.  Even those on ships at sea off the coast of Portugal 70 miles away saw that something was going on in the direction of Fatima.

      Lucia asked Mary for a sign so that the skeptics would believe that her apparitions and message were real.  The miracle was pre-announced and it happened.  Even the secular newspapers reported it although those outside of Portugal did not pick it up.

      It was a real wake-up call to be always ready for when it's one's time to die.  It was scary, a case of tough love from Mary's perspective of eternity.  Her mission for the rest of time is to nurture our faith, lead us to her Son and ultimately to Heaven.  We can only speculate how many people repented that day and are now in Heaven.  

      As Jacinta later exclaimed, the miracle would have been much greater and at that moment Our Lord would have stopped the World War had it not been for the jailing and mistreatment of the children by the local authorities.  Instead, the war continued on for another year until an armistice was agreed upon on November 11, 1918.   The United States had been in the thick of it since April 6, 1917. 

Almost all who witnessed the miracle were convinced.  Still, after reading the newspaper accounts of the miracle, many atheists refused to believe, resorting to their standard rationalization that it was an illusion and that science someday will be able to explain it.  Their blind “faith” in nothing was undeterred.

        Yet Mary’s message continues to resound in the world 100 years later as thousands continue to make pilgrimages to Fatima and the church that she requested.  The question is:  Will we listen and follow the Fatima message?  Or wait for a loving chastisement to set us straight?  Help Mary spread her message among family and friends!


                                   The Miracle of the Sun
An Eyewitness Account by Dr. José Maria de Almeida Garrett, Professor at the Faculty of Sciences of Coimbra, Portugal

"It must have been 1:30 p.m when there arose, at the exact spot where the children were, a column of smoke, thin, fine and bluish, which extended up to perhaps two meters above their heads, and evaporated at that height. This phenomenon, perfectly visible to the naked eye, lasted for a few seconds. Not having noted how long it had lasted, I cannot say whether it was more or less than a minute. The smoke dissipated abruptly, and after some time, it came back to occur a second time, then a third time.

"The sky, which had been overcast all day, suddenly cleared; the rain stopped and it looked as if the sun were about to fill with light the countryside that the wintery morning had made so gloomy. I was looking at the spot of the apparitions in a serene, if cold, expectation of something happening and with diminishing curiosity because a long time had passed without anything to excite my attention. The sun, a few moments before, had broken through the thick layer of clouds which hid it and now shone clearly and intensely.

"Suddenly I heard the uproar of thousands of voices, and I saw the whole multitude spread out in that vast space at my feet...turn their backs to that spot where, until then, all their expectations had been focused, and look at the sun on the other side. I turned around, too, toward the point commanding their gaze and I could see the sun, like a very clear disc, with its sharp edge, which gleamed without hurting the sight. It could not be confused with the sun seen through a fog (there was no fog at that moment), for it was neither veiled nor dim. At Fatima, it kept its light and heat, and stood out clearly in the sky, with a sharp edge, like a large gaming table. The most astonishing thing was to be able to stare at the solar disc for a long time, brilliant with light and heat, without hurting the eyes or damaging the retina. [During this time], the sun's disc did not remain immobile, it had a giddy motion, [but] not like the twinkling of a star in all its brilliance for it spun round upon itself in a mad whirl.

"During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described, there were also changes of color in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. Everything both near and far had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same color.

"Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed all at once to loosen itself from the firmament and, blood red, advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was truly terrible.

"All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind without any emotional disturbance. It is for others to interpret and explain them. Finally, I must declare that never, before or after October 13 [1917], have I observed similar atmospheric or solar phenomena."

Professor Almeida Garrett's full account may be found in Novos Documentos de Fatima (Loyala editions, San Paulo, 1984)

Questions That Come Up

* It is often asked why the Blessed Mother would reveal horrifying images to innocent children such as the visions of Hell? To many people this seems incongruent with a pure, loving, gentle Mother who loves us and is in Heaven. It would almost seem like child abuse?

Secondly, during the miracle of the sun, which the Blessed Mother orchestrated to help prove to people that indeed it was her that the children were seeing, why again would part of that miracle be the horrifying moment when the sun seem to come charging toward the earth?  The accounts of the eye witnesses all say they were terrified and thought the sun was going to crash on top of them and that this was the end of the world.

 I've never heard that interesting and valid question.  To anybody who would ask me, I would say this.  I don't think Mary's showing Hell to the children and the horrifying aspects of the Miracle of the Sun are incongruent with her as a pure, loving, gentle, mother.  Is tough love incongruent?

  First of all, Mary, as the ultimate missionary and messenger of God, does not go off on her own to bring souls to her Son.  She is completely subservient to the will of her Son.  Since the Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart are united as one, Mary knows exactly what her Son wills.  I'm sure that Our Lord sends Mary on every mission the same as He sends each one of us on a special mission.  Mary would not do anything that does not conform to the will of her Son.  In any event she has no power of her own, only that given to her by God to be used as He wills.  All of Mary's actions are from the perspective of eternity for our good and to get us to Heaven.  That's what it is all about.

           We can only speculate why Mary, following the will of her Son, would show the children Hell and permit the horrifying aspects of the Miracle of the Sun.  There is no way that we can get into the mind of God.  He knows what He is doing; His ways are not our ways.  His mind is beyond our comprehension and the greatest human brain.

          As to show innocent children hell, the Angel of Peace prepared Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta for their great mission in three apparitions in 1916.  Mary continued that spiritual formation.  Thus the children had an amazing amount of spiritual maturity and holiness, more than we can develop in a lifetime.  They could handle seeing Hell, especially through actual grace.  Mary is acting not only as mother of the three children, but also as mother of all humanity.  The apparitions and message are directed not only to the three children, but also to all humanity.  Any mother would or should vividly show the consequences and dangers to her children of their deeds........both to body and soul.  An example might be the danger of running onto the street and its consequences.  Mary wanted to show all mankind the reality of hell (not theoretically) and that Our Lord is not only a God of mercy, but also of justice.  As a loving mother, she had to tell it like it is.  Mother Mary continues trying through the Fatima message to mobilize us to pray (the rosary especially), make sacrifices, and offer up crosses for the conversion of sinners.  Showing Hell, vividly demonstrates the urgency in a very convincing way not easily forgotten.
            As for the horrifying aspects of the Miracle of the Sun, it's a wake up call to straighten out our lives.  It demonstrates the power of God.  It took 9/11 to wake us up at least for a while.  The Miracle of the Sun must have had a deep and lasting impression on the 70,000 plus people, not to mention all of Portugal (it got little newspaper coverage outside of the country) and millions in the generations that followed to the present.  I wonder how many of the 70,000+ made it to Heaven because of the Miracle of the Sun.  Without the horrifying aspect, the Miracle of the Sun would have been more like a glorified fireworks display.  Of course the sudden drying of the drenched people and their ability to see the sun were miraculous.  What people remember today from the Fatima story is the horrifying aspect, not the beautiful aspects.

  I hope that during this centennial year the Fatima Message gets through.  I fear that the way the world is going this is our last chance to live the Fatima Message and thus avoid a loving chastisement.

* Did World War II start during the reign of Pius XI as Mary prophesized or during the reign of Pius XII?
The official start of World War II is considered to be September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.  Pope Pius XI died on February 10, 1939.  Since Hitler annexed Austria on March 13, 1938, it can be said that World War II really started on that date.  Furthermore, during the might of the great unknown light of January 25-26, 1938, leaders of the Soviet Union were plotting a deal to make with Germany to divide up Poland, ceding western Poland to Germany and taking eastern Poland for the Soviet Union.  Both sides probably saw it as the 4th Partition.  From 1795 to 1918, Germany, Austria, and Russia each took a third of Poland, wiping the country off the map for 123 years.  The Soviets craftily believed that Germany would be blamed and the allies would retaliate against Germany.   From the perspective of Heaven World War II did indeed start during the reign of Pius XI.

* Was the Miracle of the Sun a vision or was it really the sun?  An explanation of the Shroud of Turin can be hypothesized as a burst of radiation when the soul of Christ entered His body at the Resurrection.  But what about the Miracle of the Sun?  We can only speculate.  The sun apparently gave enough physical heat aided by the wind to dry the ground and everyone’s clothes as though fresh out of the laundry.  The Miracle was clearly seen ten miles away and beyond……up to 25 miles.  Ships at sea off the coast of Portugal 70 miles away saw that something was going on in the direction of Fatima.  Yet the phenomena was not noticed  by any astronomical observatory around the globe.        

Sources - An interview of Dominic Reis, whose father was an eye witness to the Miracle of the sun. or - the website of the Blue Army or World Apostolate of Fatima (WAF). – America Needs Fatima website. - the Fatima Center and Fatima Network website.

Videos – Our Lady of Fatima, the 13th Day – The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima 1952 movie. – the message  of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima for the 100th  anniversary. – The Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s talk on Our Lady of Fatima. – Our Lady of Fatima Centenary Conference.  It’s hours long. – 1957 interview of Sr. Lucia.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

(194) Poland: the Biggest Rosary Rally Ever?


The promotional drawing has a Rosary surrounding the map of Poland with the theme, “Rosary at the Borders”.  In this unique Rosary Rally the organizers asked the people to travel to the nearest border and pray at one of the 4000 prayer zones for reparation and for peace as well as for the faith in Poland, Europe and the world.  This was really a reaction against the threat of secularism.  Thus for a couple of hours Poland is surrounded by people praying the Rosary. 

       The United States has its National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May in front of almost every county courthouse in the land and some schools and colleges.  Thousands participate.  The American Needs Fatima ( group promotes Rosary rallies all over the country at noon on the Saturday closest the October 13, the anniversary of the final appearance to the three shepherd children and the Miracle of the Sun.  Thousands participate.  This year they expect 21,570 rosary rallies.  In addition there is a National Prayer Rally at the Upper State Park, 200 New Jersey Ave NW in Washington D.C. and also in San Francisco today.

       The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  As laudable as those efforts are, they cannot compare in participation with the Rosary Rally that Poland had today, October 7, to commemorate the Feast of the Queen of the Holy Rosary and also Our Lady of Victory, both of which coincide with the anniversary of the decisive Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).  The Rosary Rally also commemorates the centennial of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and her promised Miracle of the Sun (October 13, 1917) along with the 140th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Gietrzwald.  Finally, today is the First Saturday of the Month, which is Mary's Day.  She had asked us to go to Mass, Confession, Holy Communion, and say the Rosary with 15 minutes of meditation on five consecutive first Saturdays.  She promised to assist those at the hour of their deaths.

      In 1571 Pope Pius V had organized the victorious Holy League, an alliance of Western European nations, to stop the advance of the radical Islam of Turkey which threatened to conquer all of Europe.  One goal was to take Italy and to convert the Basilica of St. Peter into a mosque.

   Realizing that this was also spiritual, a clash of civilizations of Christianity and radical Islam, he mobilized the faithful to pray the Rosary for victory to halt the advance of radical Islam.  Although outnumbered, almost 3 – 1, miraculously, the wind favored the Holy Alliance flotilla under the command of Don Juan of Austria and put the Turkish ships into disarray.  Europe was saved from radical Islam for the next 112 years although Hungary and Slovakia continued to be occupied by the Ottoman Turks (1541-1699).

         Goals and Prayer IntentionsOrganized by Catholic laypeople of the Solo Dios Basta (“God Alone Suffices”) Foundation, the event was sponsored by various state-owned companies.  Radio Maryja (and its TV affiliates) helped in the promotion and the Polish Bishops Conference endorsed the rally.  They called the people to travel to the nearest border in order to pray the Rosary in reparation and for Poland…….for protection from the secular influences of the European Union and for the preservation of its Christian roots, for the people of Poland to remain faithful to the Church, for the solution of its socioeconomic problems, for peace, for Europe and for the world.

       Although people did pray for protection against Islamization and terrorism, the Rosary Rally was not anti-Muslim.  It was to celebrate the October 7 feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  True, Catholics attribute the October 7, 1571 victory that halted the advance of radical Islam in Europe to the mobilization of prayer, particularly the Rosary.  It is also true that Poland refuses to accept refuges, but is willing to help in other ways such as providing safe haven for them in a Muslim country for the purpose of returning them to their original homes and culture when peace is restored instead of permanently uprooting them.  Furthermore, Poland and Hungary had to fight the threat of conquest by radical Islam through much of its history.   Hungary was forced to live under the yoke of radical Islam for 158 years.  The fear is terrorism and the threat to its rather homogeneous culture because Muslims don’t assimilate as most immigrants do.  Western Europe has learned this the hard way.
       Priests I talked to in Poland say that the number of vocations is still sufficient to man each parish with two or three priests, sometimes four and to send missionaries to foreign lands.  Sunday Mass attendance is still very good with most churches filled to capacity.  But a significant number of people have fallen away from the faith or have become lax.  But a significant number of people have fallen away from the faith or have become lax.  As in the U.S., they bring up as an excuse the small minority of lax priests who have betrayed  their vocations.  Secularism, rampant in western Europe, is perhaps the greatest threat to Poland in all of its history.  

     A few thousand demonstrated in the capital demonstrated against the pro-life laws, known as the Black Protest for their black clothes.  They received $270,000 in monetary support from abroad.  Thus there are fears that Poland is slipping and vocations will decrease in the future.  All seem to agree that the Church was strongest under the scourge of Communism, the enemy of freedom.  It was the Church that united the people and kept the culture alive during the 125 years of the Partition (Austria, Prussia, and Russia each took about a third of the country), Nazism, and Communism.

The image of Our Lady of Czestochowa over the altar of the chapel of the shrine.  According to tradition, it was painted by St. Luke.  It is called the Black Madonna because of the soot from so many candles over the centuries.  The scratches on her right cheek are the result of a Tartar who tried to destroy the image with his sword.

       Impressive was an experience we had while visiting relatives in Kielce, Poland in all night (8 pm – 3:30 am) prayer vigil at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa two hours away.  Each diocese of Poland has a designated day of the month to promote.  Thus there is an all night prayer vigil at the shrine practically every day of the year.  The parish filled up the bus it chartered.  Close to 500 people crammed the chapel that houses the precious centuries old image of Madonna and Child.  The evening consisted of song, a homily, and prayer which included the Stations of the Cross and all 20 decades of the Rosary.

          Poles even go abroad to enrich their faith.  A couple of weeks ago we joined 238 people from the Diocese of Rzeszow in southern Poland for an eight day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  It was enough people to charter an Israeli jet for the three hour flight to Tel Aviv.  They were all subdivided into four groups, each with its own bus and hotel.  Our group had two priests, who said Mass each day in a different holy place with vestments and sacred vessels provided by the Franciscans, the principle custodians of the holy places.  One of the priests, a professor in the seminary  gave theological depth to the pilgrimage as we followed in the footsteps of the Lord.  On the River Jordan we renewed our baptismal vows and at Cana we renewed our marital vows.  There were a number of other groups from other dioceses as well during the month and there will be more pilgrimages next year.  The fellowship was also beautiful.   

       The people were asked to register for the Rosary Rally in advance in choosing one of 320 designated churches and 400 prayer zones near their closest border.  The goal was to surround the country with people praying the Rosary for Poland.  Thus the organizers expected over a million people to pray the Rosary at their chosen churches near the border.  My wife’s sister and brother-in-law, the Pozogas of Kielce traveled over three hours south to Zakopane; our friends, the Kaplitas from Rzeszow drove well over an hour to the Slovakian border.  Over its 2000 mile border that encloses an area of 120,726 sq. miles, Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea and Russia in the North; Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine in the East; Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the South; and Germany in the West.

Praying along one of  Poland's borders.  For a video of one of the border rallies, click on
        The eastern and northern borders were not as well attended since the faith is weaker there.  In southern Poland Sunday Mass attendance is about 80%, but in the north it’s about 40%.  The typical border church had Mass at about 11 am and an hour or so of adoration before going to their prayer zone and then pray all 20 decades of the Rosary at 2 pm.  At the same time millions more assembled in their neighborhood churches, major airports (the largest was in Warsaw), invalids in their homes through television), and 70 locations abroad to pray in a similar way.  Thus 10 – 15% of the population of 38 million participated.  Overall, about 90% of the people are Catholic.  At the same time millions more assembled in their neighborhood churches to pray in a similar way.  

Walking through a forest to the Czech border and praying on the way.

       Clearly the Church continues to thrive in Poland as a beacon of faith for all of secular Europe.  Since 1717, 300 years ago the Polish people chose Mary to be the Queen of Poland with a Canonical Coronation (approval of the Pope).  The tercentennial was designated as a National Jubilee Year.     Just last November the Hierarchy of Poland designated Christ as the King of Poland in the presence of President Andrzej Duda which is tacit approval (  Perhaps there is considerable truth in the claims of a few mystics who say that Poland is a chosen nation, despite having suffered so much in its history.  Can any nation in the world come up with a Rosary Rally of the same magnitude?   Let us at least try to follow the example of the Polish people.  All of this makes me proud of being Polish by marriage.

APPENDIX - The Rosary On the Borders (in Polish) - Radio Maryja live broadcasting (in Polish) - A large selection of videos in Polish. – Another Rosary led by St. Pope John Paul II. – Mass October 7, 2017 for Rosary on the Borders (in Polish).  – Short Report of the October 7, 2017 Rosary on the Borders (in Polish) - why Poland holds on to its sovereignty. - a report in English. - The New York Times.