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Two moments awakened in Pope Francis a deep devotion to Our Lady

Francis says the month of May is a fitting time to start the habit of a daily rosary

By on Monday, 19 May 2014

Pope Francis prays in front of the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima during a Marian vigil in St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis prays in front of the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima during a Marian vigil in St Peter's Square (Photo: CNS)

Ten years ago I read about Our Lady’s request at Fatima that we say a daily rosary. At first I flinched at the notion of saying one every day. I thought it impossible; I’d never have the time, the concentration or the patience to meditate on five decades each day. But it got easier. Now, even if I have worked for 12 hours, and struggle to fit in the five decades, I still manage it, even if I forfeit sleep or a social occasion or have to eat a late dinner and pray the rosary at the same time.

But I’d never measure up to Pope Francis. Our Pope recites 15 decades of the Rosary every day, three times that which Our Lady asked for at Fatima. Two days ago he tweeted that the month of May is dedicated to Our Lady and it is “fitting” to start the habit of a daily rosary now. The rosary is a time-honoured prayer, but difficult to say, but by promoting it, Pope Francis is giving people the means to win graces that will enable them overcome their problems. One of the 15 promises given those who recite the rosary is that “they will never be conquered by misfortune”. I often tell my friends of mine to say a rosary when they are in-between jobs, stumped with a huge bill or they have been reminded of their student debt.

The Pope’s confidence in Our Lady developed because of two key personal awakenings that happened in the mid-1980s. In 1985 he attended a rosary that was being led by St John Paul II. The sight of the Polish Pope on his knees greatly moved him. He did some acute soul-searching as to how much he trusted Our Lady, and he later reflected: “I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to St Juan Diego: ‘Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?’”

From that day forth, he said 15 decades of the Rosary.

In 1986, the then Padre Bergoglio finished as rector in the seminary, and was sent to Germany for six months. At the time, to borrow modern parlance, Fr Bergoglio was not in a good place – the Dirty War had exacted a heavy toll on his nerves and he worried that the Jesuit community would never recover from the many mutinies that had taken place in their ranks.

But it was here in Germany that he would find solace when praying before the painting of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, in Augsburg. He carried the devotion from Germany back home to Argentina.

A copy of the original German painting was done in an ordinary Argentinean church, San José del Telar. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he would stroll into this modest church and pray before the painting.

Now as Pope, he has used the symbolism of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, to explain matters of the faith. For Pope Francis, the knots represent the sins that separate us from God, and Our Lady, in untying them, brings us closer to God.  As the Pope has said: “Mary, whose ‘yes’ opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy.”