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Blessed Bartolo Longo and devotion to the rosary

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October is the month of the rosary, and the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is Oct. 7. I recently asked a group of people to describe how they pray the rosary. I was surprised by their answers. One expressed difficulty in praying the rosary but held the beads in hand because it felt like holding the hand of the Blessed Mother. Another prayed one decade each day to complete at least one rosary a week. Some enjoyed praying the rosary as they walked alone and others with a group of people before or after Mass.

Most Catholics have some memory of praying the rosary or have witnessed a family member’s devotion to it. What is this attraction to the rosary? 

The rosary is often mistaken as a rote prayer, vain repetition that Jesus warns us about (Mt 6:7). Understood properly, the rosary is an intimate look into the life of Christ. Each mystery — Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious — allows one to enter into the story of Christ,  why he came and what he came to do. A friend of mine told me when he prays the rosary, he is caught up in the details of the story. Each decade comes alive as if he could see the mystery unfold before his eyes, picturing each person in the Scripture passage, what they were doing, their expression to the last detail. That is the purpose of the rosary, to be immersed in the life of Jesus. In this way, Mary brings us closer to her Son, to know him intimately.

Mary herself is seen in apparitions praying the rosary. The Mother of God has appeared all over the world telling nations and peoples to repent, turn away from sin, do penance and pray the rosary in reparation for the offenses committed against her Son. Her message is befitting during this time of discontent, anger and hatred toward the church, authority and our neighbor. The music and TV industries have made sin and sexual immorality attractive, leading people astray, especially our young people. There is a mass exodus of people leaving the Catholic Church, either rejecting God altogether or embracing a spirituality without the rules or commitment of the church. Mary speaks to us in these apparitions. She asks us personally to pray the rosary so that people will return to the church, the body of Christ.

There is no doubt that the allures of the world are attractive. It is difficult to give up habits of sin to turn to Christ. Yet, there is hope. Blessed Bartolo Longo was an Italian lawyer in the 20th century who turned so far from the Catholic faith he became a Satanic priest. His life was filled with confusion and emptiness. Bartolo’s family prayed he would change his ways. A professor finally convinced Bartolo to meet with a priest and go to confession. Even so, he struggled with his past life. 

“I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan … I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity,” he wrote. “So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your rosary.' ”

Bartolo Longo dedicated the rest of his life to spreading devotion to the rosary. He died a holy man. St. John Paul II beatified him in 1980, where he said, “Rosary in hand, Blessed Bartolo Longo says to each of us: ‘Awaken your confidence in the Most Blessed Virgin of the rosary. Venerable Holy Mother, in you I rest all my troubles, all my trust and all my hope!' " 

Piñon is the director of faith formation and evangelization programs for diocesan Office of Faith Formation.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020