Catholics pray amid fears of Islamic extremism

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Polish Catholics gathered in locations along the country’s 2,000-mile border on Saturday, in a prayerful demonstration as they asked for salvation for Poland and the world.

The event, “Rosary at the Borders,” commemorated the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, between Christian and Muslim fleets, prompting some to see the demonstration as anti-Muslim.

“Rosary at the Borders” was described by some participants as a reaction to fears about Islam, and the spread of Islam’s influence in Europe.

Organizers from a lay organization called the Solo Dios Basta Foundation, or God Alone Suffices, said the event commemorated not only the Battle of Lepanto but the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them.

They said it was not organized as a reaction to any group or particular fear. They did note, however, that in the 1571 battle, “the Catholic fleet defeated the much larger Muslim fleet, saving Europe from Islam.”

According to The Associated Press, 320 churches from 22 dioceses took part at some 4,000 locations, with prayers taking place all along the border of a country in which 90-percent of its 38 million citizens declare themselves Roman Catholics.

The all-day event, endorsed by Polish church authorities, began with a morning mass and a rosary prayer following, at 2 p.m., ending approximately two hours later.

On its website, Solo Dios Basta Foundation said that “the rosary is a mighty weapon against evil.” They anticipated that around one-million people in Poland and around the world would participate.

Marek Jedraszewski, the archbishop of Krakow in southern Poland, reportedly said during a Saturday morning message: “Let’s pray for other nations of Europe and the world to understand that we need to return to the Christian roots of European culture if we want Europe to remain Europe.”

Reverend Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, a spokesman for the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said, “During the prayer, I was at the Chopin airport in Warsaw, and there were so many people that they were pouring out of the chapel.”

Rytel-Andrianik said the event was the second-largest prayer event in Europe, the first being after the 2016 World Youth Day.

“This was an initiative started by lay people, which makes it even more extraordinary,” Father Rytel-Andrianik continued. “Millions of people prayed the rosary together. This exceeded the boldest expectations of the organizers.”

One of the participants in the northern city of Gdansk, Krzysztof Januszewski told the A.P. that he’s worried Islamic extremists are threatening Europe.

“In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians,” said Januszewski. “Today, Islam is flooding us, and we are afraid of this, too. We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith.”

Basia Sibinska, another participant, reportedly said, “It’s a really serious thing for us. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate.”

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo tweeted an image of rosary beads with a crucifix, sending greetings to all the participants, in a show of support.

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