Sixty years ago this month, the world stood on the brink of its ultimate destruction through a nuclear war. Many of us recall vividly what has been termed “13 days,” during which the United States entered into a confrontation with the Soviet Union over the covert build-up of offensive missile sites in Cuba. From Oct. 16 through Oct. 28, a drama unfolded over this Cuban Missile Crisis, during which it was believed that we would be involved in a nuclear catastrophe. Those who recall the crisis of the 13 days know well the fear and anxiety that was present. People went to church, prayed and desperately hoped that tomorrow would come. The crisis was resolved, and many tomorrows have come, but the lingering fear and anxiety of those 13 days have remained among us until this present day.
This October, we live with the fear of nuclear war once again. Many observe that we are now facing a time similar to that of the Cuban Missile Crisis when nuclear war was threatened. Even President Biden last week remarked that the threat of nuclear war is at its highest since President Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis because of the war in Ukraine and the threats of Putin to use nuclear weapons.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, made an impassioned plea in his Angelus message of Sunday, Oct. 2, for Putin to stop the war and for Zelensky to be open to serious peace offers. He said, “I deeply deplore the grave situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law. It increases the risk of nuclear escalation, giving rise to fears of uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide.”
Pope Francis’ plea is very similar to that of St. Pope John XXIII during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy sent a message to Pope John XXIII regarding the dire situation. After reading the president’s note, the pope prepared a message which was delivered both to the American and Soviet embassies. The following day, Pope John XXIII read his message on Vatican radio which said, “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save the peace. They will thus spare the world from the horrors of a war whose terrifying consequences no one can predict. That they continue discussions, as this loyal and open behavior has great value as a witness of everyone’s conscience and before history. Promoting, favoring, accepting conversations, at all levels and in any time, is a rule of wisdom and prudence which attracts the blessings of heaven and earth.” It is believed that the pope’s message was significant in encouraging Russia to a peaceful solution to the crisis in Cuba, and we pray that Pope Francis’ message will do the same for the present crisis.
As we look at the world situation this October, our response must be primarily one of prayer. Prayer for peace and an end to war and terrorism is our strongest weapon. We can never underestimate the power of prayer and its ability to overcome the evils which human beings harbor within themselves and can inflict upon each other. Prayer was a powerful force during the 13 days of October 60 years ago. It remains our most powerful means during this particular month of October dedicated to the Rosary.
The roots of the Rosary are ancient and even pre-Christian. The Rosary, as we know it today, dates back to St. Dominic to whom, tradition holds, it was recommended by Our Lady in a vision. However, the use of the Rosary is much older than its becoming popular through St. Dominic. The custom of saying a number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys by keeping count on beads goes back to the practice of the laity who imitated the praying of the 150 psalms by monks in the Divine Office or Breviary. Hence there evolved 15 decades of the Rosary or 150 Hail Marys. This prayer, which began in imitation of monastic prayer, was eventually given the name Rosary to signify a garland of roses given to the Blessed Mother. In 1571, Pope Pius V declared that a commemoration in honor of the Rosary would be held each year on Oct. 7 because of the spiritual assistance this devotion brought in obtaining victory during a time of war. Thus, October became the month of the Rosary. In October 2002, 20 years ago, St. Pope John Paul II added five new decades of the Rosary with the Luminous Mysteries, as we have it today.
The Rosary has been a popular and powerful prayer in the life of the Church. It is powerful precisely because it is a popular prayer, that of the people. While concentrating on the 20 mysteries, which are central to the life of the Lord and our salvation, one is led through Mary into the peace of prayer. The Rosary’s beauty is that it follows a natural rhythm and can be prayed by anyone at almost any time and in any place. As can be seen from its history, the Rosary is associated with everyday life, and that is where God is always found. Some find it difficult to pray, as did St. Therese of Lisieux. However, even the routineness of saying the Rosary leads one to peace. It almost prays itself. The power and peace of the Rosary are always immediately available to us.
During these days of October, the month of the Rosary, it is well for all of us to pray for peace, which is so much needed in our world. Our Holy Father’s call to use this powerful prayer as a means for peace is one that will also bring peace to our personal lives. Sixty years ago, it is quite possible that the prayerful recitation of the Rosary during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis diverted world disaster. While powerful leaders made important decisions, the prayers of ordinary citizens made the true difference. Such is also true for this October. While world leaders are involved in making decisions for the future of the world, it is the power of our prayers that will make the difference. May the Rosary be one of our most powerful weapons.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 14, 2022