August, 1920. As the shadow of tens of thousands of Red Army soldiers appeared on the banks of the Vistula River outside Warsaw, Cardinal Ratti—the future Pope Pius XI—raised the monstrance and processed through the streets of the city.
The current pope, Benedict XV, had called on the Catholic world to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the dire situation in which Poland now found herself. The people of Warsaw prayed desperately to their patroness, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
It seemed that only a miracle could save them now.
Three years prior, Russia had been engulfed by the fire of Bolshevism, and now—as the newly-rebranded U.S.S.R.—was Lenin’s vehicle for spreading his atheistic regime to all of Europe.
Poland was first on his list, because it stood in the way of the real prize: Germany.
So Lenin sent 100,000 Soviet troops across the Polish border. It wasn’t looking good in the first days of this onslaught, as the woefully outmanned, outgunned, and unprepared Polish forces were overrun by the red wave that was heading straight for Warsaw.
The leader of the Polish forces, General Piłsudski, planned a seemingly crazy attack on the Soviets’ left flank, ignoring the British advice to surrender. The odds looked horrible.
General Piłsudski also knew the importance of faith to his soldiers, and had asked for priests to be sent to his troops, among them the famous Father Jan Skorupka—who would later be killed on the battlefield as he strove to inspire courage among the Polish soldiers.
The Soviets attacked the city on August 13th, and it looked like it was all over. But on the 15th—the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady—the tide seemed to unexpectedly turn. The Poles started pushing back the Soviets whose quick victory had seemed all but assured.
Piłsudski launched his attack on the 16th. His troops encountered little resistance and advanced with inexplicable ease. It was so easy he thought it might be a trap—but it wasn’t.
Charles de Gaulle, a military adviser during the conflict, said:
“Our Poles have grown wings. The soldiers who were physically and morally exhausted only a week ago are now racing forward in leaps of 40 kilometers a day. Yes, it is victory! Complete, triumphant victory!”
Captured Bolshevik soldiers attested that the Mother of God had appeared in the skies on the battlefield, visible only to the Soviets. This happened twice, once on the 14th—during the battle in which Father Skorupka fell—and once on the 15th elsewhere. The soldiers that saw her fled in terror, leaving the path open for the Poles.
Warsaw was saved. Lenin called it an “enormous defeat” for his forces. Poland’s war with the Bolsheviks ended that fall and peace terms were signed the following spring. The march of Communism had been halted, for now.
Today, on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let our faith be renewed through this powerful reminder of Our Lady’s constant intercession.
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