Battle of Lepanto - the Power of Prayer Saves Christianity
Miracle of the Cross of Lepanto
One of the most rewarding events in the history of the Catholic Church was the Battle of Lepanto, which took place in 1571, forty years after Our Lady had appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill (what is now the famous shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City). We, the people of God, have always been blessed and rewarded for the trust we have had in Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary. Whenever we have prayed the Rosary, They have granted us the power to overcome the enemy.
We were in the days of the greatest of challenges to Christianity, with the fiercest battles fought and at times won and others lost. But they were important times! Battles decided whether the people of the land would continue to be Christian or follow Islam. So to say they were Holy Wars would not be far from the truth. Strangely enough, nothing has changed in these last 500 years.
We were in the 16th Century. Militant followers of Islam were attempting to destroy any vestige of Christ and His Church they could find. The annihilation of the entire Christian civilization was their aim and getting control of the Mediterranean shore an integral part of that strategy. They would, as they had at other times at other shores, subject the faithful to slavery and to heresy. Upon learning of this, the Holy Father Pope St. Pius V summoned all Christians to form the Holy League.
Pope St. Pius V could see the need of a new Crusade against the Moslems. They had been successful in threatening Christianity by sea in the Adriatic, by land in the Balkans, they were now attempting to split Europe in two by taking control of the Mediterranean. A meeting was held on September 10, 1571, of the Christian coalition of commanders on Don Juan of Austria’s ship. It was brought to the Pope’s attention that their fleet was outnumbered by the Moslems by 268 ships to the Catholic fleet of 208 ships. Caution and prudence was advised. “Let cooler heads prevail” was the thrust of the warning. But one of the captains intervened, and recommended they act immediately, even at the cost of their own lives. Moved by this encouragement, Pope Pius V gave his blessing for the plan to begin immediately. Part of the final preparation for the mission was for every one involved to receive Confession and Communion. The armada fasted for three days. Before departure, a Jesuit gave Don Juan the Pope’s final message, “Hesitate not to engage in battle, for, in God’s name, I assure you of victory.”
The formation of a powerful Navy was immediately instituted under the command of Don Juan of Austria. What followed was a fierce battle with the Moslem Navy at Lepanto Bay on October 7, 1571. This day would be dedicated to the Holy Rosary in thanksgiving for the Rosaries said, which ultimately brought about victory for Don Juan and his Navy.
Don Juan had an Image of the Crucified Christ placed in the Royal Galley, as inspiration and symbol of the Church and her Founder Jesus Christ. Their eyes on their Lord they would do battle and bring about victory. A ferocious and bloody battle ensued. It appeared all hope was futile! The Moslems were known for their zeal and willing death for victory. In addition they had 120,000 soldiers to Don Juan’s Navy comprising 80,000 Christians. Everything looked bleak for the Christian forces. But they would fight to the last man and die, if need be, to defend the Faith. A banner of the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who had appeared just 40 years before, was placed near the Crucifix.
At about this time, without having any definite information on the progress of the battle, Saint Pope Pius V turned to the entire Christian world and asked them to begin a Rosary Crusade! And the result? Out of the 170 enemy galleys (ships) only 40 escaped! 130 were either sunk or captured. The Christian forces lost 15 galleys and they were able to free 13, 000 Christian slaves.
At one point, it was reported that, during the heat of the battle, a vision of Our Lady appeared in the sky, visible to the Moslems. She terrified them with her queenly presence. She projected to them the omnipotence of the God of the Catholics. It was the main turning point of the battle.
Witnesses of the battle testified to the following:
The first one, daughter of the Moslem Admiral Ali-Baxa wrote to Don Juan of Austria,
“...how grateful I am to you for giving freedom to...after the death of my father...After the defeat of our Navy my brothers were taken into captivity by your Forces and I beg you to set these poor orphans free.” Signed Fatima Cadem
Then from a mutilated soldier of Lepanto, “The Armless of Lepanto,” Miguel de Cervantes wrote:
“At this moment I was standing
with my sword in my hand held
and with my blood gushing from the other.
“My breast was wounded with a deep sorrow
and my left hand was already severed.
“But the joy was so great
that it reached at the depths of my heart
the joy of seeing the destruction
of the cruel infidel by the Christian one,
which did not even have the time to see my wounds...”
In another place he writes:
“(It was) the best days the Centuries have witnessed.”
Then there was the letter from Don Juan, Admiral of the Holy League to His Majesty the King Felipe II, in which he wrote::
“Petala, 8th of October, 1571....the great success of the battle must be attributed to God’s Grace.”
During this time, our Saintly Pope Pius V was in Rome, trying to conduct the business of the Church, and at the same time, pray constantly for the well-being of his troops, out in the Gulf of Lepanto. A heavenly vision informed him of the victory, at the very moment it was taking place. The Pope went to the windows of the Vatican, opened them and listened for a time, as if in ecstasy. Then he turned with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. He spoke to those with whom he was holding his meeting. “This is not a moment to talk business,” he told them, “let us give thanks to God for the Victory He has granted to the arms of the Christians.”
The Vicar of Christ on earth, His Holiness the Pope St. Pius V announced the victory himself adding:
“Your Right Hand, Lord, has wounded the enemy.”
The reports read, On October 7th, 1571, the troops of Selim II, Sultan of the Turks, were thoroughly destroyed in a disastrous naval defeat near the harbor of Lepanto. The victory was credited to Pope Saint Pius V and was mentioned in his canonization. As we mentioned before, a Rosary campaign had been started. A procession of the faithful reciting the Rosary, marched toward the church of Minerva. At the same time, the Pope was in a meeting, with his cardinals, when suddenly he stopped speaking and went to the window. He threw it open and stood there transfixed, as if in a trance. When he returned to these Princes of the Church, he gave thanks to the Mother Of God and Her Beloved Son Jesus. Just as he was saying these prophetic words “It is now time to give thanks for the great victory which has been granted to the arms of the Christians.” The records show the Christians were claiming victory over the infidels. But the real proof came from prisoners taken in battle. They testified with indisputable confidence that they had seen Jesus Christ, Our Lady of Lepanto, St. Peter and Saint Paul, accompanied by an army of Angels, swords in hand, fighting against the Turks, blinding them with smoke.
The Miracle of the Crucifix of Lepanto
But the greatest and most tangible witness to this miraculous victory was the Miracle of the Crucifix, which not many people know about, but which is still with us to this day. The Lord left us a sign using the twisted Image of Himself on the Cross. A Crucifix, the Image of Christ on the Cross, was placed on the galley, as an inspiration for the troops, to reassure them that God was with the Christians defending their land and their Faith. An enemy shell was fired directly at the Crucifix, hoping to shatter the faith and hope of the men on the Christian ship. As the shell sped toward the Crucifix, the Image of Jesus twisted His Body, and avoided being hit by the shell. The original Crucifix is there till today in the Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, for the procession of faithful coming and asking Jesus on the Cross for His intercession and also in thanksgiving for favors received here for more than 400 years.
God does not desire wars; but all wars help God’s Providence. A perfect example would be what has transpired since those heartless attacks on innocent people in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. The enemy wanted to bring us down on our knees; and he did! Only it was not the way he planned it. Those who believed in God suddenly remembered that victory could only be gained on our knees - praying! And so, God is back where He belongs - in our hearts and in our minds. As in Lepanto, God is the victor; and He will be again.
No one is bad, except those who want to be so, those who would enslave or kill their brothers. In this situation, the Bible tells us it is lawful to defend oneself. And God will help us, as He did when the Red Sea opened up and allowed the Israelites to pass through and then closed the Sea, drowning the Egyptian captives who would enslave them. God is with us; He always has been. It is always wrong to cause harm to one of God’s creations, except in the case of self-defense. May the Lord continue to bless our country and grant us His Peace.