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Atlantic contributor Daniel Panneton said the Catholic rosary has become a “symbol” of religious radicalism.
The rosary is a string of beads or knots used by Catholics when praying a sequence of prayers, but one author has warned they have taken on a much darker meaning in modern times. “Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic significance for radical-traditional (or ‘rad trad’) Catholics,” Panneton said in the article. Sunday titled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol.”
He added: “On this extremist fringe, prayer beads have been woven into conspiratorial politics and an absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have embraced a spiritual notion that the prayer beads can be a weapon in the fight against the wrong and turned it into something dangerously literal.”
Panneton criticized an entire online ecosystem for spreading images featuring historic and modern Christian warriors, suggesting that “social media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over guns, warriors praying, crossover memes Deus Vult (“God wills it”), and exhortations for men to rise up and become Church activists.”
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He observed that rosaries “provide an aide-memoire for a sequence of devotional prayers, are a widely recognized symbol of Catholicism and a source of strength. And many truly draw on the concept of Catholic Church Militant theology and of the tradition of considering the rosary as a weapon against Satan.”
The Atlantic contributor gave a wide variety of examples of how the modern association between rosaries and fighters has become marketable to a niche audience, noting that “radical-mainstream Catholics maintain their own cottage industry of goods and services”, such as a store that “sells replica prayer beads issued to American soldiers during World War I as ‘battle beads’.”
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The Swiss Guards, who had been protecting the Vatican in their iconic 16th-century armor and uniforms for centuries, were also challenged, as Panneton recounts: “In 2016, the Pontifical Swiss Guard accepted a donation of battle beads; during a ceremony in the Vatican, their commander described the gift as “the most powerful weapon that exists on the market”.
He also called out a clergyman, saying “Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued an apostolic exhortation calling for a renewal of traditional understandings of Catholic masculinity titled ‘Into the Breach,’ which led the Knights of Columbus, an influential fraternal order, to produce a series of videos promoting Olmsted’s ideas.”
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Warning that Catholics are a “growing contingent of Christian nationalism”, Panneton commented that “Catholic imagery now mixes freely with grassroots alt-right memes that idealize ancient Rome or idealize the traditional patriarchal family”. He also noted that as the divide between American Catholics and Protestants has blurred, they have become “cemented in common causes such as hostility toward abortion rights advocates.”