Champions of the Rosary: A Powerful Read on a Spiritual Weapon

Earlier this year as I was returning to the friary from my summer assignment I found a championsoftherosarypackage in my mailbox from Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. It was a signed copy of his new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. In a couple of days I would be taking a silent retreat at a Trappist monastery and was in need of some spiritual reading, so the unexpected book could not have come at a better time.

To be honest, so many books have been written about the rosary, that when I first saw this one – although grateful for the gift – I was not expecting to encounter anything special. Was I ever wrong!

Fr. Don Calloway’s book on the rosary is probably the best book written on the topic since St. Louis de Montfort’s classic The Secrets of the Rosary, and – I say this without hesitation – surpasses even de Montfort’s work. It will quickly take its place – a special place – as the greatest book written on the rosary to date. Fr. Calloway should be proud of this achievement.

When one reads his book it becomes evident that a labor of love went into it, finding a beautiful balance between a fascinating and thorough history of the rosary and being a work that captures the spiritual dynamism of this devotion with the saints, mystics, and martyrs who, throughout Church history, have been its greatest advocates.

rosaryThe subtitle of the book – “The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon” – points to a profound reality, one that perhaps too often in our cultural thinking (which falls into secular norms of understanding) we tend to neglect – the reality that life is a battle between two kingdoms: between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of hell, between God and the devil, between light and darkness. And, what is most urgent not to neglect, is the reality that we are all born into this war and thus called to be soldiers on the battlefield.

Fr. Calloway understands well – as many saints and holy men and women throughout history have known – that in the rosary we have been given a powerful spiritual weapon, a sword in the battle against evil. “The first key is to understand the rosary as a spiritual sword made by God, the Divine Craftsman. This key unlocks the mystery of what the rosary is, why it has so much power, and why the devil constantly seeks to destroy it.”

The first half of the book is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written in the English language, including a history of popes, miracles, military battles, Marian confraternities, and various developments in Church history that has led to the promotion (and, at times, suppression) of the most popular devotion in Catholicism. It is so well-researched, and yet beautifully written, that Fr. Calloway admits it took him years to work on.

The second half of Fr. Calloway’s book pertains to 26 holy men and women – saints, blesseds, popes, Servants of God – who had an incredible Marian devotion and were great advocates of the rosary. This section constitutes the spiritual dynamite of the book, giving the stories and Marian spirituality of men and women whose holiness and devotion is contagious. Reading about these souls we are strengthened, edified, and encouraged by their radical witness to become holier, to pick up the rosary each day, and go deeper into prayer and intimacy with Jesus and Mary.

We see a nice combination of very well-known names like Maximilian Kolbe, Padre Pio Josemaria Escriva, John Paul II, Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos, and lesser-known (but equally important) names like Blessed Bartolo Longo and Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo.

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St. Josemaria Escriva

The work is so well-researched that often we discover new facts about known lives. For example, there is a section dedicated to St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), the founder of Opus Dei, and his dynamic Marian spirituality. I did not know that, as a child, St. Josemaria was on the verge of death but experienced a miraculous healing saving his life. Fr. Calloway explains:

“At the age of two, St. Josemaria suffered from an unknown illness (most likely epilepsy) and was expected to die. His devout mother took him to the Marian shrine of Torreciudad in Aragon, Spain, and earnestly prayed for him before a statue of Our Lady of the Angels that dates from the 11th century. Miraculously, he recovered. His mother attributed his healing to Our Lady. This event helped to form in him a strong, life-long Marian devotion.” St. Josemaria would encourage members of Opus Dei to make frequent Marian pilgrimages

The less-known names are also spiritual giants to discover. In this sense, the Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970), someone who Fr. Calloway remarks as being “born in Naples and is almost unknown outside of Italy,” has been a real discovery for me.

“A devout priest and an avid scholar, Dolindo has been called the ‘Scribe of the Holy Spirit.’ He penned a 33-volume commentary on Holy Scripture, as well as many other theological works. He wanted people to read good books on theology and devotion, and so he founded the Apostolato Stampa press in order to publish orthodox theological works. He was an extraordinary musician, a Third Order Franciscan, and slept less than three hours a night due to his intense prayer life.”

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Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo, priest, scholar, mystic

This was a 20th century priest. When pilgrims traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio, he pointed to Fr. Dolindo, asking why were people visiting him (Padre Pio) when there is a saint in Naples. Fr. Dolindo, with a deeply contemplative prayer life, “regretted that Modernis had reduced the prominence of the rosary in the lives of many Catholics, and emphatically preached that the rosary was not a tedious prayer of repetition, but a method for contemplating the saving mysteries of the life of Christ.”

Fr. Calloway further explains: “Dolindo lived through World War I and World War II. He saw the rosary as a weapon in the spiritual life, referring to the rosary as a sword and a machine gun in our spiritual arsenal. In his homilies, he often informed his listeners that every Hail Mary was a shot fired at Satan and the forces of darkness.”

In Fr. Dolindo’s own words: “The rosary is a powerful prayer against Satan and against the assaults of evil. Our Church brought, and continues to bring, great triumphs because of this prayer. The decades of the rosary, from this point of view, are like the belt of a machine gun: every bead is a shot, every affection of the soul is an explosion of faith that frightens off Satan, and Mary once more crushes his head.”

In such spiritual gems, we see a much deeper understanding behind the reality of the rosary as a central weapon of combat for spiritual warfare.

Fr. Calloway’s book accomplishes a tremendous task, one that is threefold. It is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written. It captures the spiritual dynamism of Marian devotion and spirituality, especially conveyed through the lives of the men and women who reached heights of holiness through their Marian spirituality. And it also provides beautiful artwork about the Madonna and the rosary—many depictions of St. Dominic receiving the rosary, and of other saints with the Virgin. These artworks span from classics by baroque artists like Caravaggio to contemporary art commissioned by Fr. Calloway for the theme of the book, capturing a Madonna that is a mighty Queen with the rosary in one hand and a sword binding the devil in the other, surrounded by her army of saints.

The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, where it is explained that the Woman would stump on the head of the serpent, and finishes with the Book of Revelation, where the Woman with a crown of twelve stars with her child would do battle against the dragon and his angels. Meaning, throughout salvation history, from the beginning to the end, Our Lady’s has been given a pivotal role—even being prefigured—in destroying the works of the devil, leading souls to a deeper intimacy with her divine son Jesus: being chosen by God for a singularly unique mission in salvation history. It is the Queen of Heaven who is leading the armies of light against the kingdom of darkness.

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Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

Fr. Calloway explains: “I have written Champions of the Rosary to recap and pick up where St. Louis de Montfort left off. Three centuries have gone by since St. Louis de Montfort penned his monumental work, and many things have taken place. Many miracles, victories, conversions, developments, discoveries, and champions of the rosary need to be added to the story of the sword for the people of our times. Trust me: I know firsthand how the rosary can help a soul convert.”

Fr. Calloway, being someone who was saved from a life of sin and ruin as an adolescent—including addiction, crime, and promiscuity—through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, knows very well what it means to be saved from the grip of the enemy by the spiritual sword of the rosary. He has written a book in return that is a gift to the Church, speaking to a multifaceted and rich history of miracles, conversions, military victories, Marian apparitions, and holy lives who owe so much to the Virgin Mary’s intercession. The greatest compliment that a book by a Christian author can receive is that it’s a work that will lead readers to experience God and lead to lives of deeper devotion and conversion. Fr. Calloway’s book, an anointed work, possesses this rare capacity: it is a book informed not only by knowledge but also by the life of prayer.

The Face of Mercy

I highly recommend this new film, The Face of Mercy, which I recently saw at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It is easily the best documentary I have seen on the Divine Mercy message and image, one of Catholicism’s most popular devotions based on the visionary experiences of Jesus to the Polish mystic and saint Sr. Faustina Kowalska during the 1930s in Krakow.

The film includes appearances from a number of prominent Catholics, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Fr. Donald Calloway, Fr. Michael Gaitley, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, John Allen Jr., and the Rwanda genocide survivor and author Immaculee Ilibagiza, among others, with narration by Jim Caviezel.

Please check out the film’s official Web site for more information. Here is also a link to the DVD. Again, I strongly recommend this moving and edifying film on one of the most important spiritualities of our time.

The Awe-Inspiring Beauty of “Apparition Hill”

By Daniel Maria Klimek, T.O.R.

“Poignant, beautiful, and heart-breaking, Apparition Hill ends where it began, with the mystery of faith and hope shining through the darkest struggles of life, giving them meaning. It is a remarkable movie that takes you on a remarkable journey—a film underscored by a poetic beauty and transformative prowess that can lead to a metamorphosis of the soul, changing the lives of those who see it.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE OFFICIAL WEB SITE OF APPARITION HILL

Seven strangers chosen to take a pilgrimage to a mysterious, Slavic village located between the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina where miraculous and supernatural things are said to occur. This is the premise of Apparition Hill, a film by Sean Bloomfield, Cimela Kidonakis, and Jessi Hannapel.

It is not easy for me to write this review. It is not easy because, without an iota of exaggeration, Apparition Hill is one of the most powerful films I have ever watched in my life, and I know that no words – no matter how eloquent or beautiful – would be sufficient to truly capture the awe-inspiring and breathtaking prowess of this movie. I am a film buff, someone who loves the cinema and who studied film in college with a minor in digital cinema. In other words, I have seen hundreds of movies, and Apparition Hill remains on top as one of the most spiritually and emotionally inspiring I have had the privilege of viewing.

ALSO SEE: HELP BRING “APPARITION HILL” TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS

I had the pleasure of giving a short talk at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame this past summer. Before I got the chance to address the audience, Apparition Hill producers Cimela Kidonakis and Jessi Hannapel came up to speak about the film and show the trailer. It was perfect timing, as I recently saw the movie at a screening in St. Charles, Illinois, and coming up to the podium right after the producers afforded me a brief opportunity to comment on how moving the film was. I emphasized to the crowd that it is such a powerful movie that, when I saw it, there was not one dry eye in the theater.

Again, these were not exaggerations. These were facts, facts that speak to a remarkable documentary about the pilgrimage of life, about suffering, joy, spiritual renewal, and some of the biggest questions surrounding the human condition.

Apparition Hill begins with a contest, a contest seeking video entries from individuals interested in going on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a famous site in Bosnia-Herzegovina wherein in 1981 six Croatian children reported experiencing Marian apparitions, supernatural visitations from the Virgin Mary. Three of the six visionaries continue to report daily apparitions of Mary to the present day, 35 years later. Medjugorje has become a popular pilgrimage site visited by an estimated 20 million people.

“It’s either the most important miracle since Jesus walked the earth, or it’s the biggest hoax in the history of mankind,” director Sean Bloomfield remarks during a radio interview in the film. It is a diversity of travelers – nay, pilgrims – on this journey, each bringing with them something they are carrying, some with heavier burdens than others. Each searching for something.

hollyapparitionhillAmongst them there is Holly, a beautiful young mother and wife with four children who has terminal (stage-four) cancer. Holly quips that her son tells people that his mommy is very good at having cancer—that she’s definitely going to beat it, “because she’s already at level four and that’s the hardest level to beat.”

There is Peter, an atheist from Leeds, England, who admits that if God would spell out for him in the heavens that He exists then he (Peter) would be more inclined to think there is something wrong with his perception than believe what he is seeing.

There is Ryan, a young man from Chicago who is struggling with addiction, trying to get his health and life back on track. In his entry video, Ryan solemnly tells the producers, “I hope to hear from you. I hope you can help me save my life.”

James Roose-Evans once poignantly wrote: “Although a pilgrim is an ordinary person, he is proceeding through extraordinary space, en route to his roots.” That is the difference between the pilgrim and the tourist. The latter seeks to have the cultural experience of visiting a place, taking pictures and site-seeing; the former seeks to discover the meaning of his life on the journey.

“To be objective the group had to be as diverse as possible,” Bloomfield tells us in a voice-over. “But they shared one thing in common: they were all searching for something.”

Mirjana Soldo, Medjugorje visionary

A prominent presence in the film is Mirjana Soldo, one of the Medjugorje visionaries who still reports to receive apparitions of Mary. Her mystical experiences are filmed in Apparition Hill. When the group encounters the visionary, the greatest testament to her experiences is her normalcy. The authenticity of Mirjana’s joy, her sense of humor, her wisdom and maternal nature, are all conveyed in this exchange in the most human and natural ways, beyond the grasp that any interview (no matter how thoughtful or sincere) could capture. Few things are as revealing as the sublime intimacy of human beings spontaneously conversing with each other.

Mirjana’s presence in the movie is a delight to watch, the balance between her solemn integrity and her light-heartedness is captured beautifully. At one point Mirjana tells the group, “For example, when I go to confession, they tell me for penance to pray three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and three Glory Bes. What kind of penance is that,” she laughs. “That is a joy.” You see a spiritual maturity in her witness which, through grace and happiness, exudes the depths of her spiritual life.

Scenes in the movie find a healthy balance between the solemn and the light-hearted. One of the earliest activities that the group partakes in at Medjugorje is visiting the Risen Christ statue, a statue that for years has exuded the mysterious and unexplainable phenomena of dripping a liquid substance. The substance comes from the knee of the Christ statue.

During the day, the group venerates Christ in front of the statue; during the night the tworisenchriststatue skeptics from the group, Peter and Mark, the latter a police officer and family man from a suburb outside of Chicago, come to perform “scientific experiments” on the statue. They bring with them Rich, a devout Catholic, father of nine, and widower who lost his wife to cancer. Rich assists Peter and Mark with their investigations by using his smart phone as a flash-light as they examine the statue. They eventually conclude that their experiments were “somewhat inconclusive.”

Both Peter and Mark, as the skeptics on the pilgrimage, make the decision to change their approach from trying to disprove the phenomenon to allowing themselves to partake in the pilgrimage experience as much as possible: praying rosaries, climbing Cross Mountain, being at Adoration, going to Mass, camping out overnight on Apparition Hill to be present for Mirjana’s apparition in the morning. The result will surprise many.

There is a sublime beauty to this movie which captures some of the deepest and most difficult depths of the human journey. It is a film about dichotomies—faith and doubt, the miraculous and skepticism, healing and suffering—but also about the things that unite believers and skeptics, things that the human condition cannot avoid: finding meaning in life, in suffering, in spirituality, in addiction, in disease, in death, in the afterlife. All of which Apparition Hill touches with grace and impressive affection.

Yet it is an affection that is not sentimental, nor overly pious, but real. Apparition Hill observes the lives of several pilgrims who deal with their crosses with a conviction and strength that speaks wonders to the power of their journey.

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Apparition Hill director Sean Bloomfield

Sean Bloomfield has made many documentary films about religious experiences and Marian apparitions, most recently The Triumph (2013) and If Only We Had Listened (2011), the latter starring the Rwanda Genocide survivor and bestselling author Immaculée Ilibagiza. Cimela Kidonakis and Jessi Hannapel are newcomers, yet both showing to be gifted young talents, as the pace, cinematography, and style of Apparition Hill shows.

Bloomfield and Kidonakis found each other because Kidonakis made a video entry to go to Medjugorje as a pilgrim. Bloomfield saw that the video had something very special to it: it was made by a talented filmmaker. He emailed Kidonakis remarking how well done her video was. Next thing she knew, Kidonakis was joining the crew not as a prospective pilgrim in the film but as producer, director of photography, and editor.

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Cimela Kidonakis, producer & director of photography

Hannapel was a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, where she studied filmmaking. Only a few weeks after graduation she became part of the film crew on Apparition Hill, playing a pivotal role as a producer with Kidonakis. In a note that she wrote to one of her film professors, Hannapel explained:

“Working on this film continues to be the greatest experience of my life. If anyone had asked me two years ago what I wanted to do with my film degree, I would have said that I wanted to make a movie that would let people see the world in a different way. Apparition Hill is a story of hope. It shares a message of peace from Medjugorje. It encourages people in their faith. But this film also allows you to connect with the people we followed and see the world from their perspective.”

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Jessi Hannapel, producer

Together these filmmakers and their crew have delivered a powerful work. The power of the film is underscored by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, with original music from Michael Nolan.

There is a heart-breaking scene toward the end of Apparition Hill, an event whose emotional gravity pierces straight to the heart. When I saw the film at a screening there was, as previously mentioned, not a dry eye in the theater. In the note that Jessi Hannapel wrote her film professor, she explained: “The most important thing I learned was to always keep the camera rolling and film as much as possible. There was even a time I had to film while I was crying and try to focus the shot through my tears.”

After the film ended the first time I saw it in a theater at St. Charles, Illinois, we – the audience – knew that evening that we had witnessed something special in this movie which spoke to an unavoidable dimension of the human journey—of the deepest struggles, hopes, and joys of being alive. Poignant, beautiful, and heart-breaking, Apparition Hill ends where it began, with the mystery of faith and hope shining through the darkest struggles of life, giving them meaning. It is a remarkable movie that takes you on a remarkable journey–a film underscored by a poetic beauty and transformative prowess that can lead to a metamorphosis of the soul, changing the lives of those who see it.

CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ON “APPARITION HILL” – OFFICIAL WEB SITE

ALSO SEE: HELP BRING “APPARITION HILL” TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS

(Poetry) Hands of a Saint

by Br. Zachary Burns, T.O.R.

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Illustration by Br. Zachary Burns, T.O.R.

Brown cotton gloves clinging to fragile skin. Blood beneath a buffer of bandages.

The hands of a saint. Regal vestments with gaudy gold trim worn by a priest with thick dark eyebrows, silver beard, and a face made gruff by the air of the Italian mountains. God’s mountains. Or perhaps it was the old Franciscan friar who first brought these mountains to God.

White smoke rising from burnt incense and permeating the few open spaces in the crowded church. Farmers, laborers, housewives. They have come to see him. Their personal miracle. Christ walking a twentieth century earth. From behind a marble altar, the friar trembles. A life’s march to Calvary nearing completion. Suffering and misery, ecstasy and joy. It was all for them; it was all for Him.

The hands of a saint raised high in blessing. The hands that, in their youth, excitedly sifted through stacks of holy cards, each one the portrait of a hero. The hands that, with sadness, had embraced a mother and father before leaving for the monastery, before dying to the world. The hands that, with longing, venerated Christ’s crucifix after being reborn. The hands that healed, that pardoned, that turned bread into flesh and wine into blood. These were the hands of a saint. The hands of a man who bore the wounds of Christ.

At the altar, he collapses. Jesus, too, knew what it meant to fall. It would be the third and StPadre Piofinal time. The women of Jerusalem weep as they look on. Then he is led by the crowd through the city gates. The tired Franciscan gazes for the last time upon the faces of the ones whom he has loved.

Father, please do not abandon us. How will we go on without you?

I will wait at the gates of heaven until the last of my children have entered.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Br. Zachary Burns, T.O.R., is a Franciscan friar of the Third Order Regular from the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For more of his writings, fiction & non-fiction, visit his blog This Too Shall Pass.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth on Medjugorje

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With the recent news of the passing of Fr. Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016), the most prominent exorcist in the Church, here is a video of Fr. Amorth on national TV speaking about Our Lady of Medjugorje, a topic he was not shy about. Fr. Amorth emphasizes that Satan’s biggest success has been constructing “a world culture without God, and the Madonna of Medjugorje has come specifically to bring back the world to God.” He stressed that Medjugorje is a place of great conversions and where people return to confession.

“Hillsong – Let Hope Rise” in Theaters this Friday

Please check out the release of Hillsong – Let Hope Rise, a movie hitting theaters this Friday on one of the most popular Christian bands in the world. Here is the trailer and also an interview with a couple band members, including lead singer Taya Smith.

Help Bring “Apparition Hill” to the Academy Awards

Friends, please help bring Apparition Hill, a life-transforming movie about a group of pilgrims experiencing Medjugorje, to the Academy Awards. When I saw the film, months ago, there was not a dry eye in the theater it was so powerful. Please watch this video of one of the producers, explaining the situation of getting the film to the Academy Awards and allowing it to reach millions of people. If you are able to contribute to this important project here is the Web site to go to.