Most Catholics have heard the title “Our Lady of Victory” applied to the Blessed Mother. However, probably few know the story behind this name, yet it involves an important event in history: the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571.
From 1299-1923, the Ottoman Empire ruled over much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks controlled commerce in the Mediterranean Sea and regularly raided the coast of Italy.
When this Muslim dynasty demanded the surrender of Cyprus from the Venetians, Venice appealed to Pope Pius V (1566-72). He assembled a fleet of ships from the combined Christian forces of Naples, Sardinia, Venice, the Papacy, Genoa, Savoy and the Knights Hospitallers.
This “Holy League” was comprised of 206 galley ships and 80,000 soldiers. They found the Turks in the Gulf of Lepanto in western Greece with 230 galleys and 120,000 soldiers.
Despite being outnumbered, the Christians prevailed with superior firepower. The Turkish flagship was captured, its admiral was killed, and 12,000 Christian slaves used to power the Ottoman galley ships were freed.
The Rosary Campaign
While the battle was taking place, the churches of Rome were ordered to stay open around the clock. All Catholics, particularly the Dominican Rosary Confraternity, were encouraged to petition the Blessed Mother for victory by praying the rosary.
Besides the victory, another miracle occurred that day. Pope Pius V was in a meeting with the Vatican Treasurer when he suddenly stood up and reputedly said, “This is not a moment for business; make haste to thank God because our fleet this moment has won a victory over the Turks.”
There was no way the pope could have known about the victory except by divine revelation. Once the official report reached Rome, Pius V declared October 7 to be the feast day of Our Lady of Victory.
Although Pius V’s successor, Gregory XIII, changed the feast day to that of the Holy Rosary, the devotion to Our Lady of Victory was established. Further, the course of European history had been changed.
After the Battle of Lepanto, the Ottoman Empire lost control of the Mediterranean. International relations between East and West were altered dramatically. Some historians claim the victory was more moral than military because the Europeans were no longer terrified of the Ottoman Turks.
The Ukrainian Cause
The current situation in Ukraine reminds me of the Battle of Lepanto. While the Christians there are not being attacked by Muslims, they are being attacked because of the greed of their neighbors.
As in 1571, our current pope asked Catholics to pray a rosary for the end to a war. Pope Francis chose Ash Wednesday as a special day of prayer for Ukraine, but since then I have read requests from various Catholic writers for continued appeals to Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady of Fatima.
At Fatima, Our Lady appeared to three Portuguese children. Of the three promises she made to them, the second dealt with the end of World War I and the coming of World War II. Therefore, it is most appropriate to call on her to help prevent World War III.
It was also part of Our Lady of Fatima’s second promise that we could avoid such conflict by following the First Saturdays Devotion and by consecrating Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Catholics did not do so faithfully, though.
So not only did we get WWII, but we have seen manifested Our Lady’s prediction that Russia would “spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church” (quoting Sister Lucia, one of the Fatima children).
Our Lady of Fatima promised that eventually her Immaculate Heart would triumph, Russia would be consecrated to her, and peace would follow. Maybe this invasion of Ukraine is our chance to make that prediction come true.
Just as the people of Rome prayed together for a victory at Lepanto, so now Catholics around the world should pray for Ukraine to be freed of its attackers and for the conversion of Russia.
Arguably, the Battle of Lepanto changed the world. It had that big an impact on the course of history and the balance of power. Now the conflict in Ukraine presents another opportunity to change the world through prayer.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
Our Lady of Victory, bring us peace!