Invoking Mary's intercession for the U.S. together as Catholics is imperative for a country beset by multiple crises, said bishops participating a virtual "Rosary for America" Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The event will premiere at 3 p.m. Eastern time (12 p.m. Pacific time) via the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' YouTube channel. Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, who announced the event Sept. 30, has invited several bishops from different regions of the U.S. to pray a part of the rosary.
"I think this is a fantastic way to strengthen our bonds as a Catholic community in a very challenging moment," said Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of Boston, one of the 11 bishops participating in the event via recorded video.
Bishop Reed, who was asked to pray the decade of the rosary dedicated to the fifth glorious mystery, pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent incidents of inner-city violence, and the Nov. 3 election, as difficulties that need to be entrusted to Mary.
"To face those challenges and the divisions we're experiencing by turning to the Mother of God, and doing so together as a national Catholic community on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, is just the absolute best thing to do at this time," Bishop Reed said in a phone interview with Angelus.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, was asked to recite in Spanish the decade corresponding to the third glorious mystery, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles.
Since replying "yes" to the invitation from Archbishop Gomez, Bishop Flores said he has been thinking about the need for Catholics to invoke that Spirit for guidance on the often difficult decisions to be made in the voting booth in November.
"Elections can get very contentious, but I think as Catholics, we have to try to keep our focus on our unity, our discernment and praying for the common good of everybody," Bishop Flores said in a phone interview.
Another prelate invited to take part in the event, Bishop William M. Joensen of Des Moines, Iowa, agreed the prayer initiative is needed at a time of so many different "sources of tension," including political ones.
"I think we all know that civil discourse right now is not always displaying the kind of comity and appreciation of each other and people that we disagree with," Bishop Joensen said.
"So I think our faith calls us to transcend some of those differences and ultimately hold a view of how we can be a community in a way that diversity is respected, but at the same time we honor each other's individual dignity, too."
Bishop Joensen, who just marked a year since his ordination and installation as Des Moines' bishop, said praying to Mary and following the example of her "singular yes" to God has helped guide and encourage him in the first year of his new ministry.
"Mary is kind of a lightning rod for the Holy Spirit, so I'd be foolish not to draw upon her help," the 60-year-old Iowan told Angelus.
Bishop Joensen said he was "very happy to participate in the very modest role" that Archbishop Gomez asked him to carry out for the event: leading the first Our Father of the rosary for the intentions of Pope Francis. He also appreciates the initiative's attempt to represent different parts of the country.
"I think each region has its own particular cross that they're carrying right now, and we're looking for signs of hope," said Bishop Joensen, citing the recent fires on the West Coast and drought conditions in parts of the Midwest as examples. "This could be one moment when we reflect God's light and abiding presence to one another."
The "cross" of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a particularly heavy one in the Diocese of Brownsville, already one of the poorest regions of the U.S. and a major arrival point for Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence.
Bishop Flores, who has celebrated numerous funeral Masses for coronavirus victims since the start of the pandemic, said that Mary offers an example of the "tenderness" that the Gospel calls Christians to show in the face of so much "grief" caused by the pandemic.
"Christ is the one whose arms embrace the whole world, especially those who suffer, and as the mother of our Savior, she shows us how we can join in that, which is a spirit of not turning our back on the suffering of the other," said Bishop Flores.
Looking back on the course of the pandemic, he recalled feeling "a strong Marian presence" watching Pope Francis give his "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing in St. Peter's Square March 27 in the presence of the revered "Salus Populi Romani" icon of the Blessed Mother.
"Seeing the Holy Father there in the rain with Christ crucified on one side, and (the icon) on the other gave a sense that we have been and are being accompanied by the Mother of God," said Bishop Flores.
"I do believe that she helps our people and is close to us, especially because of this great sorrow," he added.
For Bishop Reed, the idea of "generating a powerful prayer community across the country, all at the same hour" is a "brilliant" one, especially since so many people have grown more accustomed to following virtual events in recent months.
"I believe it's going to be very successful in terms of numbers of people joining in," he predicted.
Bishop Reed will certainly be doing his part. Apart from his duties as a Boston auxiliary, he also is the president of the national television network CatholicTV, based in Watertown, Massachusetts, which will be broadcasting the event across its platforms Oct. 7.
"I know from my experience and my work that this is going to not only be appreciated by people, but that it's going to be a powerful moment for our Catholic community and for our entire nation," said Bishop Reed.
But it is Bishop Reed's third job — being a pastor of two parishes — that has shown him best what Mary's intercession does in people's lives, especially since churches began to reopen in Massachusetts in the late spring and early summer.
"I've seen how being able to come to a church that is open and safe to pray the rosary, to sit with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to pray outside of one's home, is so important," Bishop Reed said.
"I can see, as a pastor, how important the devotion to Our Lady has been to get people through these difficult times."