Today Pope Francis called on Catholics worldwide to pray the rosary during the month of October, asking the Mother of God and St. Michael the Archangel “to protect the church from the devil, that always aims to divide us from God and among ourselves.”
The pope’s appeal to Catholics comes at a moment of great turbulence in his five-year pontificate. Revelations of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clerics, and their cover-up by cardinals, bishops and religious superiors are publicized in the media in the United States, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Chile and elsewhere. There have also been accusations by a former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, that Pope Francis and Vatican officials under his two predecessors covered up cases of abuse.
The Vatican released the pope’s invitation to prayer at noon, Saturday, September 29, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, who according to the scriptures and tradition is the leader of the army of angels against the forces of Satan in the world.
It said, “Pope Francis has decided to invite all the faithful, of the entire world, to pray the Holy Rosary every day during the Marian month of October, and to join together in prayer and penance, as the people of God, in asking the Holy Mother of God and St. Michael the Archangel to protect the church from the devil, that always aims to divide us from God and among ourselves.”
The press statement revealed that the pope took this decision before his departure for the Baltic States (Sept. 22 to 25), when he met Fréderic Fornos S.J., the international director of the Worldwide Network of Prayer for the Pope. Pope Francis then asked Father Fornos to pass this call to prayer on to Catholics, “inviting them to conclude the recitation of the rosary with the ancient invocation “Under your protection” (Sub Tuum Praesidium), and with the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, that we be protected and helped in the battle against evil.”
The invocation is an ancient Christian hymn to the Mother of God, dating back to around the 3rd century, and is well known in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions. The Vatican provided the text of the prayer in Latin and Italian. The English translation is as follows:
We fly to thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
do not despise our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.
The Vatican statement recalled that in a homily on September 11, Pope Francis quoted the first book of Job, and said: “prayer is the weapon against the Great Accuser that ‘goes around the world seeking how to accuse’. Only prayer can defeat him.”
The statement from the Holy See Press Office explained that with this appeal “the Holy Father asked the faithful of the whole world to pray so that the Holy Mother of God places the church under her protective mantle: to preserve her from the attacks of the evil one, the great accuser, and to make her at the same time always ever more aware of the faults, of the errors, of the abuses committed in the present and the past and (to make her) committed to fight without any hesitation so that the evil does not prevail.”
The Vatican said that Pope Francis has also asked that the recital of the rosary should conclude with the prayer written by Leo XIII in 1886. The English translation of the prayer is as follows:
Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Pope Francis, for his part, since the beginning of his pontificate, has often spoken about the devil and has constantly reminded people that the devil is ever active, seeking to sow division in the world and in the church. Now that the church is being rocked by the sex abuse crisis and by internal conflict, as the letters of Viganò have demonstrated, the pope says he sees an even greater need for prayer. Hence his appeal to Catholics worldwide to pray fervently during the month of October asking the Mother of God’s and St. Michael the Archangel’s intercession and assistance in protecting the church from the devil.