Over the past year, you might well have been forwarded a video of massed ranks of kneeling men praying in a city street.
Across Poland, Ireland and beyond Catholic men have been making public shows of Faith, in a way that can be shocking to us in secular Scotland. Events such as Rosary on the Coast have encouraged public praying of the Rosary more broadly in the past decade.
However, the trend of groups of men publicly praying seems to have increased in the past decade, for a range of causes including the conversion of Ireland, the end of abortion, and an end to Covid lockdowns.
The first examples are from Poland, which directly encouraged those in Ireland, and inspired by those social media videos it’s since spread to Lebanon, Australia and beyond.
Owen Gallagher, Co-Founder of the Irish Men’s Rosary, said the first time he and 80 other men took part last autumn ‘we were all a bit nervous about kneeling down. But once you kneel down, it’s not a problem.’
“A lot of people passing by joined us or blessed themselves or stopped to look,” he said. “We had one or two slightly abusive calls or looks of disgust, but who cares about them?
“The thing about the men’s Rosary is that it overwhelms as the men pray aloud, it seems to subdue those people who shout. We used to gather in a circle, but we realised it was much more powerful visually and spiritually if we got into rows like soldiers.”
The next event in December, in Belfast city centre, drew 150 men, with thousands of Christmas shoppers passing by.
“My wife comes with me and observes,” she said. “A woman came up to her and asked what was going on. She told her that the men were praying the Rosary for women. She burst into tears and gave my wife a hug.
“She was in her late 50’s, purple hair and tattooed – not your stereotypical Rosary prayer – but she said she got off the bus and there was a sense of peace. Another young woman who had lost the Faith was walking by, and she said the sight of those men praying brought back her Faith.”
There have been many public prayers since, with many drawing hundreds of men together.
“The men are coming from all walks of life and they have this great bond of friendship,” Owen said. “If you go to a chapel now, everybody just disappears, but the men at the Rosary spend half an hour afterwards talking and then go off for coffee with their new-found friends.”
Dr Joe Bradley, who has arranged Rosary events in Scotland at Carfin Grotto said the sight of men doing it was ‘revolutionary’.
“There’s probably not a country where the Catholic Faith isn’t visually dominated by women,” he said. “Men run the Church, but women are very much the backbone of it. The idea of men getting together to say the Rosary culturally, it’s quite revolutionary.”
He said that women saying the Rosary together doesn’t have the same impact of surprise on passersby.
“I’ve been going to Lourdes since I was an undergraduate and I’ve always been a practising Catholic, so saying my prayers isn’t alien to me,” he reflected. “But I am conscious in certain situations if I go on my knees or I bless myself, you can feel the eyes looking at you as if to say, ‘do you do that in front of people?’ For our parent’s generation it was normal.
“But it’s not normal anymore. And not only is it not normal but there is a huge amount of hostility to those things. It’s like that anti-Catholic saying for many, many years: ‘We don’t mind you being a Catholic, but just keep it to the house.’”
These public displays of belief also seem to be a response to increasing secularisation. It’s no coincidence they started in Poland and Ireland, two historically deeply Catholic countries that are rapidly turning away from the Faith.
Yet what may seem like an act of reaction is clearly inspiring others around the world, in strange and powerful ways.