On October 7, 1571, a great victory over the mighty Turkish fleet was won by Catholic naval forces primarily from Spain, Venice, and Genoa under the command of Don Juan of Austria. It was the last battle at sea between "oared" ships, which featured the most powerful navy in the world, a Moslem force with between 12,000 to 15,000 Christian slaves as rowers. The patchwork team of Catholic ships was powered by the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Knowing that the Christian forces were at a distinct material disadvantage, the holy pontiff, St. Pope Pius V called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. We know today that the victory was decisive, prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe, and evidenced the Hand of God working through Our Lady. At the hour of victory, St. Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away at the Vatican, is said to have gotten up from a meeting, went over to a window, and exclaimed with supernatural radiance: "The Christian fleet is victorious!" and shed tears of thanksgiving to God.
What you may not know is that one of three admirals commanding the Catholic forces at Lepanto was Andrea Doria. He carried a small copy of Mexico's Our Lady of Guadalupe into battle. This image is now enshrined in the Church of San Stefano in Aveto, Italy. Not many know that at the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain, one can view a huge warship lantern that was captured from the Moslems in the Battle of Lepanto. In Rome, look up to the ceiling of S. Maria in Aracoeli and behold decorations in gold taken from the Turkish galleys. In the Doges' Palace in Venice, Italy, one can witness a giant Islamic flag that is now a trophy from a vanquished Turkish ship from the Victory. At Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome, close to the tomb of the great St. Pope Pius V, one was once able to view yet another Islamic flag from the Battle, until 1965, when it was returned to Istanbul in an intended friendly token of concord.
At Lepanto, the Victory over the Moslems was won by the faithful praying the Rosary. Even though they had superior numbers, the Turks really were overmatched. Blessed Padre Pio, the Spiritual Father of the Blue Army, said: "The Rosary is the weapon," and how right he was!
The Battle of Lepanto was at first celebrated liturgically as "Our Lady of Victory." Later, the feast of October 7th was renamed "Our Lady of the Rosary" and extended throughout the Universal Church by Pope Clement XI in 1716 (who canonized Pope Pius V in 1712).
ST. GERTRUDE: A UNIQUE INFLUENCE ON CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
Born in the year 1256, at the age of five "she entered the convent, as often happened at that time, for education and study. There she spent her whole life".
Gertrude "was an outstanding student. ... She went on to dedicate herself totally to God in monastic life and for twenty years nothing exceptional happened: her principal activities were study and prayer". Then, at the age of twenty-five, "she had a vision of a young man who took her by the hand and guided her to loosen the knot of thorns oppressing her soul. In that hand, Gertrude recognised ... the One Who saved us with His blood on the cross: Jesus.
"From that moment her life of intimate communion with the Lord became more intense", the Holy Father added. She abandoned "the profane humanistic sciences for theological studies, and in her monastic observance she moved from a life she herself defined as 'negligent' to one of intense mystical prayer, showing exceptional missionary ardour".
Gertrude, Pope Benedict explained, "understood that she had been distant from God, ... that she had dedicated herself too avidly to liberal studies, to human knowledge, disregarding the spiritual sciences and depriving herself of the taste of true wisdom. Now she was being led to the mountain of contemplation where she abandoned the old self to clothe herself in the new".
This German saint "dedicated herself to writing, to revealing the truth of faith with clarity, simplicity, grace and conviction, serving the Church with love and faithfulness, and becoming much appreciated by theologians and men of piety". Among her writings - of which few remain "because of the events that led to the destruction of the convent of Helfta" - are the "'Herald of Divine Love' or 'The Revelations', as well as the 'Spiritual Exercises', a rare jewel of mystic spiritual literature", said the Holy Father.
"Gertrude added other prayers and penance to those imposed by the monastic rule, with such devotion and faithful abandonment to God that she aroused in those who met here the conviction of being in the presence of the Lord. And in fact God Himself brought her to understand that He had called her to be an instrument of His grace. Yet Gertrude felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure, and confessed that she had not protected and cherished it". She died in 1301 or 1302.
In closing, Benedict XVI highlighted how the example of St. Gertrude "shows us that the focal point of a happy and authentic life is friendship with Jesus the Lord. This is learned through love for Sacred Scripture and the liturgy, through profound faith and through love for Mary, so as to gain increasing knowledge of God and, therefore, to know true happiness which is the goal of our existence".
Having concluded his catechesis, the Holy Father reminded the various pilgrim groups present that October is the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary, and that tomorrow marks the feast day of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary.
"The Rosary", he said turning to address Polish pilgrims, "is a special prayer of the Church and a spiritual weapon for each one of you. May meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary be a light for all of us on our evangelical journey of spiritual renewal and conversion of heart".