VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis launched a marathon to pray the rosary every day in the Marian month of May to ask for the end of the pandemic. The event highlights the pope’s own devotion to the Virgin Mary and his views on the handling of the pandemic.
Thirty sanctuaries located all over the world and dedicated to the Virgin Mary will take part in reciting the rosary in unison, each one in turn leading the prayer. From Poland to Nigeria to South Korea, faithful Catholics will join together with special intentions for those who have been affected the most by COVID-19.
“In this month of May, led by the shrines scattered throughout the world, we are reciting the rosary to pray for the end of the pandemic and for the resumption of social activity and work,” Pope Francis said at the end of his general audience on Wednesday (May 5), encouraging the faithful to join.
On Wednesday the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary in Namyang, South Korea, led the recitation of the rosary, with a special intention for children and adolescents who have been deprived of in-person education in most countries and might have lost family members to the pandemic.
In the next days of May, Pope Francis’ beloved sanctuary of Our Lady of Lujan, in Argentina, will pray for communication workers, while in Ireland’s Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock, the rosary will be dedicated especially to people with disabilities affected by COVID-19. Marian sanctuaries in countries struggling with the spread of the virus will also join in the pope’s prayer, including Our Lady of Health in India and Our Lady of Lourdes in Myanmar.
The National shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., will lead the recitation of the rosary on May 17, praying for “all world leaders and for all heads of international organizations.” The global event, reaching to all continents, will end on May 31 with a prayer led by Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens for “the end of the pandemic and the resumption of our social and economic life.”
The pope’s initiative, promoted by the Vatican Council for the New Evangelization, follows his appeal at the end of May 2020 to join him for the prayer of the rosary in the Vatican gardens, where a shrine is dedicated to the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes. Pope Francis visited this sanctuary to pray only two days after his election, signaling his fidelity to the mother of Jesus.
Francis has “a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, rooted in the devotion of the holy people of God, which is experienced with the faithful people of God,” said the Rev. Nunzio Capizzi, Mariologist at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome’s theological department, in an interview with Religion News Service.
Even before becoming pope, he added, Francis “spread the devotion to the Virgin Mary in Argentina when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.” In particular, Francis has a spiritual connection to the sanctuary Our Lady of Lujan, the patroness of Argentina, writing in a letter last April that his “heart travels to Lujan.”
Last December, Pope Francis walked in the rain to the altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near the Spanish Steps in Rome to ask for the end of the pandemic, while the death tolls in Italy were skyrocketing.
“All of us turn to our moms when we are struggling or facing a challenge,” the pope said Saturday while inaugurating the rosary marathon. He asked Mary to intercede so money intended for military arms might be used instead “to promote adequate research to prevent similar catastrophes again.”