Joe Pisani (opinion): How did the rosary become so political so fast?

Joe Biden bows his head in prayer as he visits Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., in June 2020.

Joe Biden bows his head in prayer as he visits Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., in June 2020.

Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

I asked my wife to take the rosary beads off her rear-view mirror after an article in The Atlantic said they’re a symbol of right-wing extremism (as opposed to left-wing extremism). Hey, I really don’t want our neighbors, or the FBI or the IRS for that matter, to put us on a surveillance list the way they did suspected Communists back in the ’50s.

The piece in The Atlantic, originally titled, “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol” was accompanied by a graphic of bullet holes in the shape of the rosary. The article provoked responses throughout cyberspace and really took off when Fox News did a takeout on it, followed by the National Review and other conservative outlets. How did the rosary become so political so fast? Never deny the power of the press. Since the story appeared, online stores have said rosaries are flying off the shelves ... and selling a lot faster than The Atlantic.

Why the stampede? Maybe in light of the article, people are afraid Congress may pass a bill for rosary control, so they want to buy them before they’re banned.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have a rosary made of hematite, otherwise known as gun metal, although I don’t consider it a lethal weapon. And in the interests of further full disclosure, I had a subscription to The Atlantic for decades during a period in my life when I wanted to be an intellectual. In high school, I would even carry it around to impress girls. It didn’t work so I went back to Mad Magazine.

Unlike my classmates who bought Playboy for the articles, I bought The Atlantic for the pictures because the articles usually took a few days to read, and I could never remember what I read.

What troubles me about this brouhaha over what Woody Allen might characterize as a “pseudo-intellectual” piece of writing, is that it proves a terrifying hypothesis I have. Suddenly, everyone in America is suspect — parents who argue with school boards, people who have off-shore accounts in the Cayman Islands, people who wear masks, people who don’t wear masks, people who didn’t get their fifth booster, people who voted for Joe Biden, people who voted for Donald Trump ... and now little old ladies who pray the rosary.

Every time I’m rushing out of church to get to Trader Joe’s before the morning mob, there’s always a group of women (and an occasional man) who stay behind to pray the rosary. Why? Because they believe prayer is more effective than politics when it comes to making the world a better place. Looking at them, it’s highly unlikely they’re the type of people who would brandish an assault rifle or any other weapon, except maybe a rolling pin.

And I think of my Italian grandmother who raised nine kids alone on the East Side of Bridgeport and sat in her rocking chair every day to pray the rosary that they wouldn’t get into trouble. Admittedly that prayer wasn’t always answered.

Truth be told, the no-nonsense Capuchin Padre Pio, who could get pretty grumpy at times, once said, the rosary is “the weapon” in spiritual warfare. For people who don’t understand the concept of spiritual warfare, I suppose it’s easy to assume people with rosary beads are part of some coterie planning an insurrection.

That having been said, it’s no secret that Joe Biden prays the rosary and is proud of it. He was pretty honest about that during his interview with fellow Catholic Stephen Colbert.

And an account in a recent issue of America Magazine: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture reported on the president’s trip to the Middle East and said: “He (Biden) took a rosary out of his pocket, saying, ‘I always pray with a rosary,’ and remembered his son Beau. ‘He cried. He was very emotional,’ Father Faltas said, about the moment in which Mr. Biden kneeled alone in a wooden pew, the rosary in his hands, and prayed.”

The president, accompanied only by a Secret Service agent “went on a personal pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Nativity and the Church of Saint Catherine to pray,” the magazine said. The occasion wasn’t reported by the mainstream media, and certainly not The Atlantic.

President Biden isn’t alone. Tough guy Mark Wahlberg openly prays the rosary as does Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Simone Biles, who keeps a rosary her mother gave her in her bag and prays before a competition.

And what about President Barack Obama, who was given a rosary by Pope Francis and said, “I so admire him, and it (the rosary) makes me think about peace and promoting understanding and ethical behavior.” It certainly didn’t inspire him to militarism, at least I hope it didn’t.

You see, people who pray the rosary are liberals, conservatives and everyone in between, who are looking for a better way.

It’s worth noting that in one of the most celebrated Marian apparitions, when the Blessed Mother reportedly appeared at Fatima in 1917 and described herself as the “Our Lady of the Rosary,” her message was a simple one — pray the rosary every day for peace. One thing we can all agree on is that America could sure use some peace.

Former Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Editor Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.